Report by Laura Flagg

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are glad that the season is over.

Despite being the only Americans to medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo last month, this season was not what Belbin and Agosto had hoped it would be. Due to a busy post-Olympics touring schedule and multiple off-ice commitments, the U.S. champions got off to a late start and lost their season debut at Cup of China to Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin for the first time in their career. While Belbin and Agosto managed a victory at Cup of Russia, they again lost the free dance. This prompted them to do something pretty rare in ice dance: create a whole new free dance in the middle of the season. Armed with their new program to “Amelie,” Belbin and Agosto won their fourth straight U.S. Championships title. At Worlds, they started with their strongest compulsory dance of the season, but had a tiny bobble in the original dance and two larger ones in the free dance. Despite this, their overall strong performances were enough for their third straight world medal, a bronze. Somewhat upset with the poor performances (at least for reigning Olympic silver medallists), they vowed that next season would be different.

The theme of “out with the old, in with the new” was even mirrored in their program selection at the Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Showcase, the year-ending exhibition for the top U.S. skaters. In the first half of the show, they did a modified version of their Latin original dance from the 2005-2006 season. In the second half, Belbin and Agosto debuted a new program–created after Worlds–to seldom-used hip-hop music. Skating to “Sexyback” and “My Love” by Justin Timberlake, their new exhibition was filled with completely original choreography and moves. (The one exception was the “candle” lift they developed this past year.) Always crowd favorites, this program highlighted Belbin and Agosto’s strengths: their charisma, chemistry, rhythm and ability to just dance. Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov started the season with a bang, winning the silver medal at Skate America, their highest placement ever on the Grand Prix circuit. A bronze at NHK qualified them for their first ever Grand Prix Final. They took that confidence into the U.S. Championships, where after a slightly rocky start, they captured their fourth straight silver medal highlighted by a sublime free dance performance that earned them the Professional Skaters Association award for Best Dance Performance. At Worlds, they again started somewhat weakly, finishing 11th in the compulsory dance. They were able to pull up to 10th by the end of the competition, but that was still one spot lower than last year’s placement. Despite being passed by new teams, the improvements Gregory and Petukhov made under their new coaches, Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov, and their success on the Grand Prix circuit show promise for next season.

At Marshalls, Gregory and Petukhov’s first program was an older exhibition choreographed by former coach Nikolai Morozov where she plays a doll brought to life by his magic wand. While they displayed a good sense of humor in this program, they have improved so much since they first developed this exhibition that their improved skating was not displayed to its fullest here. This was not the case in the second half of the show. Together with three-time U.S. men’s singles champion Johnny Weir, they performed a modified version of their Adam and Eve free dance based on the theme of fallen angels. Having three people on the ice allowed them to perform innovative moves not possible with only two.

Unlike Gregory and Petukhov, Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s season ended stronger than it began. Despite making their senior international debut with a splat, falling in the Golden Waltz at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships and again at Skate Canada, the University of Michigan students managed to pull up to fourth place at Skate Canada and repeated that result at NHK, placing one spot behind Gregory and Petukhov. This order changed at the U.S. Championships where after skating a gorgeous – and clean! – Golden Waltz, they placed ahead of Gregory and Petukhov in the compulsory dance for the first time in their career. Davis and White captured bronze in Spokane and their first trip to the senior World Championships. (Davis and White were third at the Junior World Championships in 2006.) Competing against the very best in the world in Tokyo, Davis and White skated three flawless programs, achieving personal bests in both the original dance and the free dance, and ended up seventh, the highest debut for an American team since Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert placed sixth at the 1980 event in Dortmund, (West) Germany.

While they were not quite as sharp at Marshalls as they were at Worlds, Davis and White’s youthful energy made their performances extremely enjoyable. For the first act, they chose to skate their fabulous tango original dance from this past season. They opened the second half of the Showcase with a new program to Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” The program was light, playful and romantic and thoroughly enjoyable.

If one needs to be reminded just how good U.S. ice dancing is today, watching the Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Showcase will surely do it. The ladies may get the most attention, but the dancers are making strong bids to change that.