by Melanie Hoyt
The junior dancers had a busy Wednesday at the 2008 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships. After a warm-up that began at 6:00 a.m., they were on the ice at 9:00 a.m. for the compulsory dance, and then again at 1:25 p.m. for the original dance. This is not a typical schedule for the Canadian Championships, but the junior dancers had to do the same thing last month at the BMO Skate Canada Eastern and Western Challenges.
The draw for the original dance was done in the traditional manner. The field was split in two, based on results from the compulsory dance, and the bottom nine drew for spots in the first two groups, while the top ten drew for the final two groups.
Lindsey von Bloedau & Stefan Schneider skated first in the original dance, performing to German folk music. Although they struggled with their twizzle sequence and their circular step sequence was quite tentative and slow, they ended the program well with a fast rotational lift and a great dance spin. They captured the character of this dance perfectly and skated with a lot of energy to earn 37.31 points, which placed them 14th in this event.
Second to skate were Helen Ramful & Justin Mohr whose program was a tribute to the First Nations. After withdrawing from the Western Challenge this year, this is the first major competition of the season. Unfortunately, they struggled with this program. Mohr fell right at the beginning of the spin, and then just before the straightline footwork, he fell against the boards and missed the first part of the step sequence. Both of those elements were given a level one with negative GOE. Their score of 28.39 points left them in 19th after this portion of the competition.
Clara Gosselin & Sebastien Lapointe skated next, and they followed suit with another rough program. They dropped quite a few steps in the circular step sequence, which reduced the difficulty to a level one, and her early exit from the twizzles meant that this element was also reduced. Although the elements gave them problems, they fought to stick with the character of the Cuban music that they chose for this dance, and their opening spin was quite good. With a deduction for an extended lift, their score of 31.80 points meant that their original dance was ranked 17th, dropping them two spots after the compulsory dance.
With one of the most energetic dances of the early groups, Tamiko Uyeda & Martin Nickel delighted the audience with an exuberant Greek folk dance. The clap track in their music may have certainly helped them, especially with a couple of field trips from local schools in the audience who were eager to participate. All clapping biases aside, though, they skated with solid attack throughout the dance, leaping in the standings to finish 11th in the OD with 39.33 points. Their first straightline lift was one of the best elements in the program. With a bit more speed and more difficulty in the holds between and during the elements, they could have placed even higher.
Natalie Feigin & Jason Cusmariu began the second group with a dance to traditional Scottish music. This dance was very secure, and they appeared to be controlled and confident throughout the program. However, it did not match the energy of Uyeda & Nickel before them, and they placed just below them in the original dance, with 38.92 points. They also only received level two on three elements: the spin, the circular step sequence, and the straightline step sequence.
Alicia Williams & Thomas Williams were next, staying true to their Alberta roots with a country dance to “Fishin’ in the Dark” and “Cadillac Ranch.” Although the siblings gave a good effort, it seemed like the music was too much for them, especially for Thomas. He did not match Alicia’s energy. They opened the program with their straightline footwork, which was fairly solid, and the first set of twizzles were particularly fast, although they lost unison on the second part of the sequence. They received a deduction for an extended lift, resulting in 33.60 points, which placed them 15th in this segment.
With a charming dance to Italian folk music, Catherine St-Onge & Alexander Browne finished 13th in the original dance and earned 37.86 points. They received only nine negative GOE marks (seven of which were on their straightline footwork) in their very secure performance. However, it was the levels that really hurt their marks. Last year’s fourth-place finishers on the novice level did not receive level four on any of their elements in this dance, and until they can increase their difficulty, they cannot place higher than the middle of the pack on the national level, despite having a delightful character piece for this dance.
Alissa Pettinicchi & Derek Green’s Irish waltz and jig was an adorable dance, but Green’s problems on the twizzles–that reduced that element to a level one–may have cost them a placement or two. Overall, this team needs to dig a little deeper into the ice and work on polishing their performance, but they have a good presence for a first-year team. They were 16th in the OD with 32.65 points.
Mélodie-Tara Tremblay & Jonathan Arcieri reached their goal this year by competing at the Canadian Championships after only six months as a team. Although Tremblay fell on the second twizzles in their sequence and their elements appeared labored and careful, they made it through their Turkish program with a reasonable amount of character. With a score of 31.33, they were 18th in this portion of the competition.
Anna Stanislavska & Dylan Fieldhouse drew first to skate after the flood. Their flamenco program, despite being set to a piece called “Rockin’ Gypsies,” had good character and energy throughout the performance. The high quality of their elements was quite the contrast to the first two groups, since they had no major problems. The only elements that were not given a level four were the footwork sequences, and their score of 42.03 was ranked fifth in the original dance.
With their energetic Italian folk dance, complete with a tambourine prop, Patricia Stuckey & Christopher Mior were the perfect team to follow Stanislavska & Fieldhouse, matching the high energy level. While the prop was a nice effect, they did not use it throughout the entire dance, which made the program feel a bit unbalanced. Their only real problems were on the twizzles, which were downgraded to a level three. Although their score of 41.21 was less than a point behind Stanislavska & Fieldhouse, the close competition between the teams in the top ten resulted in Stuckey & Mior finishing eighth in this portion of the competition.
Skating to a bluegrass dance that included a rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Sarah Arnold & Christopher Steeves’ confident dance vaulted them to fourth place in the OD, although they were held to sixth in the overall standings. Their solid effort earned them 42.61 points and they received only seven negative GOE marks. In addition to increasing the difficulty of their step sequences, choosing lifts that matched the character of the dance may have improved this dance, which was already very well skated.
Alexandra Nadeau & Charles-Edouard Bouthillette were the first team to skate to French music for the original dance. The highlights of their program were their lifts and a fast spin that even earned a +2 GOE from one judge. While their straightline footwork was performed accurately, they were fairly far apart as they moved down the ice, which may have resulted in a -1 GOE from two judges. Still, this dance was more secure for them than their 10th-place compulsory dance. Their original dance earned 41.78 points, and it was ranked seventh in the event.
The final team in the penultimate group was Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle, one of the favourites going into the event. After a second-place compulsory dance, Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle attacked their original dance with good energy in an effort to gain control of the lead. They were one of only two teams to earn a level four on the straightline footwork, which they executed with great control and decent speed. However, a level two spin cost them a few points. They were very smooth, but in order to compete with some of the top junior teams in the world, they will need to use a wider variety of holds, particularly in their circular step sequence, which looked a little thin. The 44.70 points that they earned with their second-place OD kept them in second overall.
Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon kicked off the final group with a bang, skating an energetic Ukrainian dance, backed by the exuberant clapping of the local school kids. They had a slight mistake on the twizzle sequence, when Gagnon had to fight to keep his balance, but he recovered well. They had good energy and a fair amount of speed throughout the program and ended with a fast rotational lift. A score of 41.92 dropped them to sixth in the original dance after a fifth-place compulsory dance, but they remained fifth overall, allowing them to skate in the final group for the free dance.
Krista Wolfenden & Justin Trojek had the distinction of being the only team besides Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle to be awarded level four for their straightline sequence, but they lost points on a mistake on their spin, which was downgraded to a level one. Because the teams were so tightly packed in the scores, although their program was given a respectable 39.99 points, it dropped them to tenth in this segment of the competition.
It was not until the last group that the junior dancers finally performed their first Russian gypsy dance, probably the most common folk rhythm chosen internationally this year. Sophie Knippel & Andrew Britten skated a charming program to “Dark Eyes,” showing off their attention to detail and staying in character throughout the program. Their footwork sequences seemed much slower than the rest of their skating, but they were not judged too harshly on them. With 44.27, they were third in the original dance and held onto third place overall going into the free dance, establishing a bit of a buffer between them and the rest of the pack.
Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill stole the show with their innovative African dance. Although their step sequences only earned level twos, they made up for the point difference with positive GOE almost across the board. Only one judge gave them a -1 GOE for their twizzle sequence. In addition to executing their elements without any hesitation or insecurity, they showed off their wonderful performance skills, remaining in character with the music and drawing the audience into the dance. Their score of 47.35 elicited gasps from the knowledgeable members of the audience, along with quite a bit of applause, since the marks were well deserved. They established a solid lead with this program, heading into the free dance.
The team with the difficult task of following Ralph & Hill was Maja Vermeulen & Andrew Doleman. Last year’s silver medalists behind Ralph & Hill on the novice level did not disappoint the audience with their solid, energetic Russian gypsy dance. However, a downgrade to a level two on the twizzles hurt their marks, and their score of 40.51 was ranked ninth in the original dance.
With quite a bit of movement among the junior dancers and such a close race between the teams in fourth through tenth places, the free dance promised to be an exciting conclusion to the competition.