by Melanie Hoyt

With their program to “Singin’ in the Rain,” Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev danced their way to the top of the free dance standings and the top of the podium.  Of the three teams that competed, Wester and Barantsev were the only team with experience together, and it showed.  After performances that were somewhat disappointing in the first two phases of the competition, they soared to the finish with an overall seventeen-point lead on the silver medalists.  They performed with a lovely light quality and appeared secure in their elements and with the choreography.

“It went well,” Wester said of their free dance.  “We just tried to put it all together.”

Although this is the first season that they have been able to compete internationally, Barantsev insists that their training been at the same level of intensity during the past couple of years.  “No, we’ve been training the whole time,” he said.  “It isn’t any different.”

Mauri Gustafson and Joel Dear put on a great show for the crowd assembled at the Onyx-Suburban Skating Academy with a hip-hop program that earned them a silver medal.  Set to a medley of music that ranged from “Tainted Love” to “Sexy Love” to “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” Gustafson and Dear performed with great enthusiasm and executed all of their elements confidently.  They have quite a presence on the ice, especially for a new team.

“We felt really good about today,” Gustafson said.  “We were a little nervous, because it’s a hip-hop program and it’s something new, but we just really enjoyed it.”

Although they haven’t set specific goals for Nationals, Gustafson said, “I think it’s more to make a splash than to go for a specific placement.”

Dear knows that the hip-hop program is a risk.  He explained, “One of the things we realized when we started doing this program and we came up with the concept for it is that a lot of people probably won’t like it – and probably several people on the panel.  We just want to perform well.”

Performing well was also a goal for Stacy Kim and Jonathan Harris, who skated a brand new free dance to “Aranjuez.” Their skate was rough around the edges, and some of the elements were shaky, but they are a well-matched team with long lines. Since their program was only three weeks old, getting through it as well as they did was certainly an accomplishment.

Harris was up-front about their expectations for this weekend. “I think the biggest goal for this competition was to get out the jitters and compete before Nationals. You definitely don’t want the first competition, the first showing of a program, to be at Nationals.”

All three teams will compete at Nationals in January.