Novice Free Dance Report
Although quite a few of the teams hit some bumps along the way, the novice dance competition at the 2011 Skate Canada Junior Nationals in Victoria, B.C., ended up just about as expected. The top four teams all placed just as they did in December at the 2011 BMO Skate Canada Challenges, the qualifying event for Junior Nationals.
Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang (pictured, right), who have been undefeated since August, took the Challenge title over training mates Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum (pictured, right) by just a quarter of a point. This time around, though, their victory came a little more easily. At Junior Nationals, they won all three dances en route to a total of 96.75 points, a new Canadian record for novice dance.
“I think we’ve improved from competition to competition,” Edwards said, “and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Earning level 2, instead of 3, on both footwork sequences nearly cost them the title at Challenge, so the team and coaches Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe paid close attention to the feedback that they had received and made some major changes. Between Challenge and Junior Nationals, they revamped the entire middle section of their program, set to music from “The Muppets” and “Happy Feet.” Their circular step sequence switched directions and they changed quite a bit of the choreography between elements. The young team only had about three weeks to train the new version of the program, but they skated like they had been performing it all season.
The hard work paid off—with even crisper, more accurate skating than they exhibited at Challenge, they hit level 3 on both step sequences. Their spin and twizzles did both drop levels, from 4 to 3, but they made up for the technical points in GOE, where they earned 25 +2s, 22 +1s, and a lone zero. With confidence and pizzazz, Edwards & Pang won both the TES and PCS and eclipsed the Khong siblings’ 13-month-old Canadian record by .25.
The two were all smiles after their skate and thrilled with their victory, but did not seem to grasp what they had accomplished. Perhaps, with so much success in their careers together, the now-three-time consecutive Canadian champions just see the title as business as usual.
“We’re having a good time,” Pang said.
“We’re enjoying skating together,” his partner added.
So often runners up to their friends and training partners, Bruser & Lum (pictured, left) never show any signs of bitterness of disappointment, but they never quit fighting, either. Fourth after the pattern dances, the duo skated their free dance to The Wiz with speed and attack. With a total of 90.13, they took home the silver medal, matching their rank from last year at the pre-novice level. Their effort in Victoria was the first time that they broke 90 points.
With level 4 on their lifts and spin, level 2 on the circular steps and the twizzles, and level 2 on the midline steps, Bruser & Lum’s base value was half a point behind Edwards & Pang’s. Bruser & Lum also received excellent GOE for a well-skated program, including 14 +2s. Their lifts were among the highlights, especially their super-fast rotational lift with Bruser in a split position.
Bruser did have a couple of moments where it looked like her feet were not quite under her, but not during the required elements.
“I wasn’t into the ice enough,” Bruser explained, although both skaters were happy with their overall performance.
Lum didn’t feel too much pressure when he stepped onto the ice. “Our goal was to throw it all out there,” he said.
Bruser & Lum have one more chance to challenge their friends this season. Both teams were named to British Columbia’s Canada Winter Games team at the conclusion of Junior Nationals. There, they will both face off once again against Ontario’s novice dance entry, Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen (pictured, below), who secured the Canadian bronze medal at Junior Nationals.
Bent & MacKeen’s performance wasn’t perfect—the duo had a bobble in the midline step sequence when Bent stumbled and put her hands down, but she avoided a fall and the team had no trouble staying on the podium with 87.93 points. The mistake did drop their steps to a level 2, though, and they incurred -1 net GOE on the element.
Bent stayed positive, though, and chalked up the mistake to part of the experience. “We know what we have to do,” she said. “We just have to remember to be on our toes at all times.”
MacKeen said that during the program, they “always think positive, no matter what happens.”
Their calmness was one of their strengths in their charming “Rag Time Ripple” free dance. With level 4 on all elements besides the step sequences (level 2 for both), Bent & MacKeen’s solid skating was rewarded with mostly +1 GOEs, aside from the midline, and 10 +2 marks. The program suits their skating quite well and has helped them far exceed their season’s goal. Last year, they just barely missed a trip to Junior Nationals. This year, qualifying was a piece of cake and they even got to leave with a medal.
After a close fourth-place finish at Challenge (including a third-place ranking the free dance), Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus, training partners of Edwards & Pang and Bruser & Lum, had high hopes of stepping onto the podium at Junior Nationals. Indeed, a first-ever BC dance sweep of the Canadian medals would have been a great story, especially as the host province for the event, but it was not to be. Although they were ranked third after the pattern dances, Dalmer & Firus repeated their fourth-place ranking from Challenge, earning 81.26 points.
They picked up a level that they had lost at Challenge, earning a level 4 on their rotational lift, but lost levels on their twizzles, only garnering a level 2 this time, and their circular step sequence. Their circular steps were hit hard when Dalmer lost her balance and fell on one of the turns. Although she popped right back up and kept smiling, the missed steps meant the element received a level 1, down two levels from their target, and -1 net GOE.
Even with high hopes of hanging onto a medal, the young team said it was not extra pressure that caused the mistake. They didn’t feel any different from their other competitions and Dalmer, in particular, loved the feeling of skating in the big arena.
Afterwards, Dalmer said that she was most proud of “getting up after the fall and still doing our best.”
“We kept performing,” Firus added.
The team handled the disappointment with perspective and maturity. Later that night, they were standing excitedly at the boards, cameras in hand, to cheer on their friends at the medal ceremony. All four of the top teams have pushed each other to excel all season and plan to do the same next year in the junior ranks.
With one of the most exciting performances of the day, Pilar Maekawa & Leonardo Maekawa (pictured, left ) jumped from eighth to fifth with their fourth-place free dance. What made their excellent skate even more wonderful was the fact that they were the only hometown competitors that qualified for Junior Nationals or the Canadian Championships, at any level. With the crowd behind them, they made their program look easy and confident, earning level 2 on both step sequences and level 4 on the rest of the elements. The Maekawa siblings, who did not earn any negative net GOE, had great lifts and a ton of energy.
Their program included music from a Charlie Chaplin movie, but did not take on the traditional character of a Chaplin program. Instead, it was edgier and grittier, with a gangster vibe. Interesting choreography highlights their strong performance capabilities and delighted the hometown crowd. With 77.67 points, the Maekawas deservedly hit a new season’s best in Victoria.
Another set of siblings, Sara Yacobi-Harris & Raphael Yacobi-Harris, were just behind the Maekawas in sixth place. At 17 and 19, the Yacobi-Harrises are among the oldest competitors at the novice level, but they have only been ice dancing for two years. In the 2009-2010 season, they did not advance past Sectionals, so they were thrilled to make it to Junior Nationals this year, much less to be skating in the final flight of the free dance.
Although they did have a mistake on the twizzles when Sara fell at the end of the first set, they managed to do enough of the element to earn level 2. Their step sequences were both rated level 1, but their lifts and spin were level 4. Aside from the mistake, the team skated well and their music, “Adiemus” by Karl Jenkins, highlighted their smooth style.
The team chose the music with their coach and choreographer, Andrew Hallam, because they recognized it from their dance studio. Their familiarity with it helped them create a program that they love to perform.
“We’re really happy with how far we’ve come and how well we’ve done in a short period of time,” Raphael said.
They will face a big step next year—because of Raphael’s age, they will not be eligible for the junior level and will have to go straight to the senior ranks. Fortunately, they already know what it takes to make big strides in a short amount of time.
At 5’0″ and 5’3″, Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs are one of the smallest teams in the field, but their performance ability reaches to the rafters. Their West Side Story program has been a treat to watch all season. Unfortunately, a fall on the first element cost them points and perhaps a couple of placements. Razgulajevs stayed vertical until the end of the second set of twizzles, though, which was probably the least costly way to make a mistake on an element—they still earned level 3, although they received -1.17 net GOE. They fought back, though, and although their spin was a little sticky and only earned a level 2, their level 4 lifts were especially strong for a team without much of a height difference.
Razgulajevs hurt himself on the fall, but right away, he said that he thought, “Gotta get back up, keep going.”
The young athletes are each just 14 years old, but their mature response helped them get right back into their program and continue skating with a lot of spark. With 75.68 points, they finished in seventh place.
Close behind in eighth were Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour (pictured, right) with 75.10 points. Their confident and polished Russian folk free dance was ranked sixth and moved them up five spots from 13th after the pattern dances. On a day when many of the top teams had shaky moments in their programs, Collins & Seymour were composed and accurate. Their lifts were level 4, the spin and twizzles were level 3, and their step sequences were level 2. All elements received positive GOE, and they broke their season’s best score by just over 8 points. Fifteenth on the pre-novice level last year, their eighth-place finish on the novice level this year is a big leap for the young team out of Barrie, Ont.
Tenth after the pattern dances, Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner moved up a spot to ninth after their fun Chicago free dance. They looked like they were having a lot of fun during their skate, but a couple of low levels hurt their score. Their twizzles only earned a level 2 after Lettner dropped his foot early in the second set, and their midline steps only earned a level 1. Their lifts and spin were level 4, though, and their difficult reverse rotational lift was done quite well, especially for a new team. Only together since August, Nelles & Lettner have come a long way quickly, but should do even better next year, after they have had some time to gel together.
Courtney Baay & Drew Wolfe just squeaked into qualifying for Junior Nationals by a tenth of a point but had a great skate in Victoria, finishing 10th. Their score of 70.78 was 10 points higher than what they earned at Challenge. With a fun Latin program that highlighted their expression, Baay & Wolfe did not make any major mistakes, although their step sequences were both just level 1. Their lifts and spin were level 4, though, and they kept their energy up through the whole dance. Since Baay was listed on IcePartnerSearch even before Junior Nationals began, it appears that this was their last competition together, so it was nice that they went out with a great effort.
Seventh after the pattern dances and hoping to move up with their feisty tango free dance, Judith Jean-Lachapelle & Alexandre Laliberté may have given their program a little too much attack. Heading into the twizzles, their second element, Laliberté’s skate clipped his partner, sending Jean-Lachapelle tumbling to the ice. She got up quickly and they did the twizzles together, but they were messy and it seems like the judges were not sure what to do with it. The caller deemed them a level 3, and GOE ranged from -1 to -3, resulting in -.75 net GOE. Beyond the twizzles, the team also lost some points when both of their step sequences only earned level 1, and they also incurred a point costume deduction, rumored to be for the excessive length of Jean-Lachapelle’s skirt. Overall, the duo stayed in character and stayed true to their detailed choreography, despite the mistake. With 68.16 points, Jean-Lachapelle & Laliberté finished 11th.
Jayden Rau & Alexander Green were close behind with a total score of 68.00. Their free dance to Cape Breton folk music from the Rankin Family started smooth and then they kicked the energy up a notch with a faster music cut halfway through. Rau & Green earned level 4 for their lifts and spin, level 3 for their twizzles, and a level 2 and a level 1 for their step sequences. With a nice look on the ice and solid skating through the elements, the next step for Rau & Green is to push and use their edges to gain speed throughout the program.
After missing a trip to last year’s Junior Nationals, Elise von Holwede & Rhys Jones were happy to have such a great experience in Victoria, skating three solid dances. Their total of 67.67 points put them in 13th place. Although they only earned a level 1 for both of their step sequences and the first half of their combination lift got a level 2, the rest of their elements were level 4. Skating with a lot of confidence, their jazzy program had a lot of personality.
Chelsea Robinson & Nicholas Toth encountered some problems in their Mask of Zorro free dance. Messy twizzles were hit with level 2 and negative GOE, and they also stumbled at the start of their level 1 circular step sequence. They stayed committed to the program, though, and fought until the end. With 59.91 points, they finished 14th.
Jenna Zaleski & Andrew Deweyert, Robinson & Toth’s training mates, finished 15th with 57.47 points. Low levels impacted their score, as well as a lack of speed through the elements, but they skated their Les Misérables program smoothly and without big mistakes.