by Melanie Hoyt

Keiffer Hubbell has only been back on the ice for a month, but the Hubbells’ original dance was impressive even without this qualification. Their score of 51.06 is comparable to what some of the top teams on the Junior Grand Prix have scored this season. In their season début, they presented a charming Bavarian folk program. Her long legs and a skirt that is more of a traditional length for pairs than for ice dance highlight their strong unison. Their first element, a straight-line lift where Keiffer is on one foot, was a little shaky, but they pulled it off. Their footwork sequences, first a serpentine and then the midline, were solid. The twizzles in the midline sequence were excellent and they choreographed claps into their footwork. The highlight of the program came at the end, with cute dancey steps leading into a rotation lift where she was in a split position with her blade to her head. Overall, the program was on the cautious side, but they did a great job.

“We’re pleased with [the original dance],” Madison Hubbell said after the performance. “We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to prepare, but we’re happy to be here and we’re happy with how we skated.”

Her brother is optimistic about Nationals. “I’m in a lot better shape,” Keiffer said, “and it’s only up from here!”

In second place, with 48.44 points, were Piper Gilles and Timothy McKernan. After beginning the season with a New Orleans Blues original dance, they have now switched programs and are skating to a collection of traditional Irish music. Afterwards, they said that they have had about eight weeks with this program. In fact, they started working on it the day they got back from the Junior Grand Prix event in Vienna, because their first program was not being as well received as they wanted it to be.

In lovely lavender costumes, Gilles and McKernan looked composed and much more confident than expected with a new program. She executes a nice leap into their first element, a straight-line lift with him in a crouched position. They have good speed and excellent control, something that was apparent when they made a sudden increase in speed halfway through their diagonal footwork, right with the music. Although I think they need some time to get more comfortable with that element, it was effective already and it can only improve. On their last element, a rotational lift, they took a hard backwards fall. When they quickly hit their ending pose, I noticed that the strap on his pants had come undone. Gilles pointed to it, and they skated over to the referee. After a bit of discussion, they were allowed to re-skate the last element. On the second try, it was beautiful, but I wondered if the fall had affected the impact of their program, even though it wouldn’t count.

“I noticed it about ten seconds before [the lift],” McKernan said when asked about the costume mishap. His partner broke in and explained, “I noticed it in the spin. Patti [their coach] tells us not to stop, so usually the referee calls us over, but he didn’t, so we just kept going.”

From my perspective, it seems like the referee made a mistake by allowing them to continue. Fortunately, they were not seriously injured, but there are protocols to keep the skaters safe for good reasons. McKernan laughed it off, though. “Nothing a little Advil can’t fix,” he said.

With a Japanese folk original dance that reflects their heritage, Maia and Alex Shibutani were third in the OD, but remained in fourth overall. Since Lake Placid, they have added a fan to accent the choreography and they used it well. Their circular footwork, which was highlighted by fantastic twizzles, seemed to melt into the rest of the program from out of nowhere – they were probably a third of the way around the circle before I noticed that they had started the element. Their spin was fast, but I thought that her knee was bent quite a bit in the Bielmann position. The midline step sequence was done to a drum beat, and I thought that they needed more energy, and that the steps were not quite on beat with the music. After the twizzles about halfway down the ice, the second half of the midline seemed stronger to me. They carried the energy through to the end, and I loved seeing something unique as a part of this rhythm.

Shannon Wingle and Ryan Devereaux fell to fourth in the original dance, but at this point in the competition, remained in third overall. Skating to a traditional arrangement of “Hava Nagila,” it was evident that they had a lot of fun performing this dance. Their program begins with the midline step sequence, which they entered with good speed. Their straight-line lift was impressive, done without using hands and on one foot. Lifts appear to be a strength for them, since their final element, a rotational lift, began from a lunge. The performance was pretty good, and I think that the next step for them is to add more speed and to subtract some of the two-foot skating.

Rachel Dickinson and Kurt Lingenfelter came in fifth with what I guessed was an Arabian-themed program, since she was dressed up like a genie. I noticed almost immediately that she looked a bit more confident than in the compulsory dance. They struggled with the first lift, which was rotational, but he managed to save it without making any major mistakes. Their footwork was careful, but accurate, and they seemed more comfortable with the midline than with the circular sequence. Their only noticeable error came on the spin, when he came out of the second position too early. A nice straight-line lift was the last element in the program, incorporating a one-foot lift with an upside-down position from her. Overall, the performance appeared cautious, but fairly accurate. I think it was choreographed well within their range.

In sixth place were Kaitlin Miller and Jason Deveikis. In hoedown costumes, they skated to Zydeco music. Their program was free from major errors, but it was apparent to me that their steps were simpler than those of their competitors. They appeared awkward going from element to element, and I thought they needed more energy to really make this kind of music work. Their circular footwork was particularly well-done, and their lifts were solid. The whole program seemed very tentative, though. I’d like to see them skate with more freedom and speed, so maybe that is something that they can work on for the future.