Report by Karen Frank


This year’s original dance theme, “Music from the 1920s, ’30s, or ’40s,” allows the teams to choose from a large pool of possible styles and rhythms (for example, Charleston, blues, quickstep, Boogie-Woogie, swing, foxtrot, Lindy Hop). So like last year’s “Folk Dance” theme, it’s very possible that an original dance event could include extremely diverse programs. At Skate America in Everett, the dancers in general seemed to stick to one of two themes: a 1920s foxtrot/Charleston or some form of World War II swing dance.


Since last season, the required elements for the original dance have changed. Teams are required to do five required elements: one lift, one dance spin, a diagonal or circular step sequence in hold, a midline step sequence, and synchronized twizzles. They are allowed to do a second lift, which is not scored in the elements mark, but is taken into consideration in the choreography component. Performing the second lift may only add a couple hundredths of a point to the overall score, but falling on it could be disastrous.


France’s Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder slightly increased their lead with an Andrews Sisters medley. Their program tells the story of an American nurse (Delobel, wearing a khaki one-piece shorts outfit) who is in Paris during the French liberation. Wearing a bit of gray theatrical makeup to age him, Schoenfelder portrays a grandfather who wants to dance with the pretty girl. Though the dance had a few technical issues, — especially with the last element, the twizzle sequence — both skaters did a good job keeping in character. With tottering steps and a hand kept to his aching back, Schoenfelder was the old man trying to impress his much-younger partner. Both skaters clearly enjoy performing this program; in fact, Delobel attributes their error in the twizzles to this.


“I was too much happy,” she said. “I was having too much fun.”


Aside from the problematic twizzle sequence at the end of the dance, they received all +1s and +2s on their other required elements (level 3 for the footwork elements and level 4 for the lift and spin). Their program component scores were very strong, from 7.25 to 8.50, with the highest marks in choreography and interpretation.


“We were very happy with what we did tonight,” Schoenfelder said. “Of course the technique marks wasn’t as good as we wanted, because we made mistakes, so that’s normal. But what we liked very much was to see the audience enjoy it.”


Second place in the original dance belonged to Great Britain’s Sinead & John Kerr. Choosing a high energy Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing medley (“The Boogie Bumper” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway) the siblings never stopped moving — from their smooth and fast midline steps, to the moment when Sinead flips John over her hip.


“You want something in the program that’s going to catch the audience attention, a little bit of a wow factor,” Sinead explained. “So I guess tossing the guy is always going to get that.”


Although their step sequence was “only” given a level 3, the Kerrs received enough +1s and +2s on it to get 1.20 extra GOE on the element. These numbers reflect that this sequence went almost halfway across the arena on one foot and kept good speed throughout. They also got high GOE (+1s and +2s) on a stunning curve lift, in which John is in a bent-leg outside spread eagle, and Sinead performs a handstand on his legs. The Kerrs received the highest TES of the afternoon.


“We are trying to fight for the top spots as much as everyone else is,” Sinead said.


This program really suits the effervescent Scots, an assessment that Sinead does not deny.


“The original dance this year and the 1940s are something that actually we happen to really feel an association with,” she said. “It feels like [the Lindy Hop style] is ‘us,’ rather than a tango. Swing feels like our kind of dance, so for us it really feels natural to skate to this music.”


Still in second place overall but finishing in third in the OD, Americans Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto skated to “Stepping Out.” Although their official stated rhythm is tap, aside from a few introductory tapping steps by Agosto in the first moments of the program, the team does little tap dancing. In general, the movements come across more ballroom than tap, and the program seems to incorporate a bit of waltzing and foxtrot. Agosto, however, promises that the program is still a work in progress.


“The music in the program is more than what was shown,” Agosto said, “so that’s our job — to bring ourselves up to the level of the program.”


Perhaps the issue is more that their stated rhythm is a misnomer. As a foxtrot, the program works fairly well.


While the majority of their elements (save for their level 4 lift) were considered level 3, they received a majority of +1s and +2s for what they did. Though not at all tappy, the midline step sequence demonstrated deep looping curves, mirror steps, and an ease of movement and flow.


“We wanted to show what we’ve been doing, the direction that we’re going in. We wanted to put as much as we could into what we had,” Agosto said. “We felt good about how we skated. Obviously we have a lot of things to work on. But it’s a long season, so this is the first step, and we’re very happy with it.”


All three of the top ODs were scored within .80 of each other — a very close result. Last season, the top teams were receiving level 4s across the board on every element; this year, the levels are somewhat lower. Sinead Kerr attributes this to the technical specialists being more conservative and the teams wishing to present programs that are entertaining and artistic, first; and technical second.


“This season the technical specialist is coming down pretty hard in the step sequences. I think they’re looking for more,” Sinead explained. “I think that’s a good thing, because maybe last year it was becoming too easy to get the levels. I think … everyone is trying to make the lifts a lot more interesting — rather than just boring positions to have to get the levels. So I think this routine — especially some of the lifts these guys did — were fantastic. We’re concentrating on that rather than [solely on] the technical levels.”


Moving into fourth place overall after their fourth place OD that had them second in the TES, current World Junior champions Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates got the audience on their feet with a swing program to “Let Yourself Go.” The young American team got into character even before taking their starting pose and presented a fun and flirty number.


“The genre that was chosen for the OD I think really enables all the athletes to really just go for it and give a crowd pleasing performance,” Bates said.”


Their programs always seem to be perfectly choreographed to nuances in the music, with kicks and gestures accenting the melodic and rhythmic flourishes. The technical highlight of this program was the midline step sequence, performed in perfect synchronization at high speed and skated quite close to each other. Samuelson & Bates’ skating style features neat and precise movements with beautiful extension. Always having a strong awareness of where their partner is on the ice, their body positions create interesting pictures in the performance space. They had the audience with them from the start, and their energy built on that goodwill throughout the program.


“It gets the audience involved and gets their hearts pumping,” Samuelson said. “Gets them wanting to dance.”


French team Pernelle Carron & Mathieu Jost slipped back a place into fifth, with an earthy program skated to the “Basin Street Blues.” Where Samuelson & Bates looked fun and flirty, the French presented a more aggressive and raunchy take on the genre. With sensual body movements, the team created a sexy picture at a late night speakeasy. This interpretation works for them just as well as the lighter side works for the Americans. In fact, Carron & Jost’s performance scores and interpretation marks were slightly higher. Their technical levels were a bit lower, however, with their diagonal steps and their spin counting as level 2 and their twizzles and midline steps marked at level 3.


Though their overall placement remained the same (eighth), Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles “won” the first flight with their sixth place foxtrot/Charleston to “I’d Rather Be Blue.” One of the highlights of their dance was a level 3 twizzle sequence that was fast and precise. The judges rewarded them with seven +1s and a +2 along with their single base GOE.


“We did twizzles better than we normally do them,” Gilles said.


Both skaters seem to really enjoy performing this program (one judge even gave them a program component mark of 7 for Interpretation), and the playful choreography was continuously interesting. Not a moment of music is wasted; the team is in constant, seamless motion. Summersett is fearless in the lifts, and Gilles is able to effortlessly flip her around. Something interesting is always occurring in this program, and the audience rewarded their efforts with sustained applause.


“I love being flipped in the lifts,” Summersett said. “It’s really fun!”


“Jane’s kind of a daredevil,” Gilles confirmed.


Seventh in the OD, and sixth overall, Ekaterina Rubleva & Ivan Shefer of Russia were the only team in the field to achieve level four on any footwork passage. This step sequence, an edgy circular pattern with deep grooved turns, went well with Louis Prima’s rendition of the “St. Louis Blues.” They attack their programs with power and aggression, and always seem to enjoy their time to perform.


Lithuanians Katherine Copely & Deividas Stagniunas had a rough time with their program to music from the film Swing Kids. They have some stunning-looking lifts, including a final lift with lots of changes of position. Problems with the twizzles in the beginning of the program seemed to sap their energy. The OD still had some nice moments, and with more mileage should be highly entertaining.


The Canadian team of Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno didn’t have the speed or program complexity of the teams who placed ahead of them, but they are enjoyable to watch. Except for some problems with the twizzles, their program to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was neatly performed and they seemed to be having a lot of fun with it.


“We really attacked it,” Hann-McCurdy said. “We didn’t hold anything back.”


“For Skate America, we really pulled it together,” Coreno added. “Brought out the smiles and the presentation part of this program.”


The competition concludes Sunday with the free dance.