Close Competition in the Junior Short Dance

by Melanie Hoyt

After the junior short dance at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, the scoreboard looked more like it was showing bobsled or short track speed skating results. Technical Element placements separated by one one-hundredth of a point? Six teams within 0.8 points in Program Component Scores? Welcome to one of the closest junior dance competitions in the world.

Fifteen teams competed Wednesday evening at the Moncton Coliseum Complex. After the short dance, the field had separated itself into two groups, with almost eight and a half points between the top seven teams and the rest of the field.

Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (pictured, left) won the PCS (22.90) and placed second in TES (33.91) to stand in first place with a new season’s best total of 56.81. A level 3 midline sequence combined with level 4s on the other elements put them in a three-way tie for the highest base value, 30.5. The short dance had not been their strongest segment this season, which gave the duo motivation to attack this program.

“We wanted to risk it a little bit, and not hold back,” Edwards said. “We wanted to have a good skate for us, because the free dance was our strongest point in all of our past competitions.”

Pang is the youngest male competitor in the junior dance field. In a year with a prescribed Latin rhythm, this could have been seen as a disadvantage, but Edwards & Pang really focused on the performance aspect of the program and improved their expression throughout the season. In this event, their energy just exploded in the second half, when the music changed to “Mujer Latina,” and they rode that wave of excitement all the way to the last beat of the music.

“We really wanted to perform to the whole audience, not just the judges,” Pang said, “and to put it all out there.”

Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant also had a 30.50-point base value, but they eked out the tiniest lead in Grades of Execution to win the TES with 33.92. They placed sixth in the PCS (21.22), although teams in second through seventh place had PCS ranging from 21.97 to 21.18. They placed second overall with 55.14, a season’s best in the short dance by almost eight points.

“It’s a relief to do what we can do,” Poulin said, “and actually perform like we do in practice.”

After struggling with consistency all season, the short dance in Moncton was their second clean skate in a row, providing a huge boost of confidence.

“We’re kind of on a roll now, with finishing the free dance how we did in Regina [at Skate Canada Challenge] with that clean skate,” Servant said. “Everything’s rolling, so it’s comforting.”

Their short dance to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” and “Mas Que Nada” has evolved over the season—even the costuming needed a final change before Canadians—but the biggest change has been in Poulin & Servant’s mindset.

“We really changed our approach,” Poulin said. “I think we came in the beginning of the season thinking that we were going to finish first at pretty much every competition. But we figured that that’s not the way to approach competition.”

After their initial disappointing outing on the Junior Grand Prix and missing the chance to compete at a second international assignment, Poulin & Servant began seeing a psychologist together. They realized that their outlook was too serious and that they were putting too much pressure on themselves.

“We’ve developed these key words with our sports psychologist,” Servant said. “We say, ‘Nice and Easy,’ ‘Breathe,’ and ‘Perform.’ Our biggest thing is to commit to the performance. Just commit to the performance and the characters, and everything else will fall into place.”

Third and fourth place, Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus (pictured, right) and Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa, respectively, are nearly tied with 54.51 and 54.33. The Hasegawas are the third team to have the 30.5 base, but a net negative GOE on their twizzles put them behind Dalmer & Firus, who lost a full point of base value with their level 3 on the second sequence of the Cha Cha Congelado.

Dalmer & Firus have done well with the short dance all season long and seem particularly well-suited to their program to “”Hey Daddy” and “Chihuahua.”

“It was our new personal best in the short dance,” Dalmer said, “and because it was at Nationals, it was that much better.”
Both Dalmer and Firus admitted to feeling nervous before the program, but they depend on good training to give strong performances in competition.

“We train really hard and run the programs a bunch,” Firus said. “It helps a lot.”

The Hasegawas put together a strong short dance with good elements, but seemed to be hoping for a little more when the marks came up. Although not a traditional Latin dance, their humorous program to “Cha Cha Cha d’Amour” and “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” has been well-received this season.

Only six of the 15 teams received level 3 calls on their midline. The other nine were all level 2s. Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette were one of the level 2 teams, placing them in sixth for TES. Their PCS was second best, however, and their total of 52.72 ranked them in fifth in the short dance. With a dance set to “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” Paradis & Ouellette’s program never stopped moving and their strong rotational lift was a highlight.

Although they were fifth place in both TES and PCS, Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen wound up in sixth with 52.16 after their “Dance with Me” short dance. They only earned level 2 on their midline, but were given positive GOE across the board for the opening element, and the dance continued to feel strong after that.

“I thought that we skated really well, and there wasn’t anything that we regret,” Bent said after the event. “We did what we could.”

Bent & MacKeen scored about two points higher than they did in December at Skate Canada Challenge, when MacKeen was battling pneumonia. Getting healthy and having a better skate was their major focus heading into the Canadian Championships.

“Our performance was a lot better than at Challenge,” MacKeen said. “A lot of expression, that’s what we tried to work on.”

Bent & MacKeen are the only team on the junior roster at the Canadian Championships with an international medal, but they did not let that result go to their heads.

“Canada is such a great country and there’s so much talent within it,” Bent said. “So it is different competing against your own country than against the world. We knew we had to take a step back and focus for this event.”

Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum stand in seventh with 51.68, after placing seventh in both TES and PCS. They are definitely among the top teams in Canada, but in such a close race at this event, small mistakes have a big impact on the results. Although the rest of their short dance was nearly flawless, a stumble on their second Cha Cha Congelado pattern meant a level 2 with negative GOE, dropping them into seventh at the end of the day.

“It wasn’t the best skate,” Bruser said afterwards, “so I am kind of disappointed, but it’s okay.”

Their dance to “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” is also a non-traditional approach to the rhythm, and it really suits the duo. Lum, especially, seems to really get into the character of the James Brown piece.

“We think about the performance a lot in practice,” Bruser said. “So I think it comes really naturally when we compete.”

“I think in competition it comes a lot easier than in practice,” Lum added. “Some days in practice, you won’t feel very good.”

The remaining nine teams are out of contention for the medals, heading into the free dance, but overall, the level of performance was very high, with many more teams skating their best.

Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois (pictured, left) were eighth in the short dance with a score of 43.37. Their only level 4 element was their straightline lift, with Cyr in a layback position and Brisebois in a spread eagle to create lovely lines. Although their midline was only called a level 2, Cyr & Brisebois were solid throughout the steps and received positive GOE for the element.

Josyane Cholette & Simon Proulx-Sénécal’s maturity shone in their short dance to “Eres Todo en Mi” and “I Like It Like That.” The duo really got the Latin rhythms and earned a level 3 for their midline step sequence, although their Cha Cha patterns were only level 3 and level 2. With 42.69 points, Cholette & Proulx-Sénécal were ranked ninth.

Squeezing into the top ten with 42.48 points were Carolane Soucisse & Benjamin Smyth. Their “Cha Cha Heels” program had a ton of energy and was performed so well, but levels hurt their chances to get a higher score. With only level 1 on the second Cha Cha pattern, they ended up tenth, although their PCS were ranked eighth.

A score of 40.31 put Nicole Kuzmich & Jordan Hockley into 11th after the short, just two points away from breaking into the middle group for the free dance. Kuzmich & Hockley had one of the most delightful music selections of the event, using “Spice Up Your Life” for their cha cha rhythm. They earned level 4 on the twizzles and straightline lift, but their year-long battle with Cha Cha Congelado levels continued, earning level 1 and level 2 here.

Rachel Kirkland & Christopher Lettner, two of Kuzmich & Hockley’s Scarborough training partners, were ranked 12th in the short dance with 39.46. Kirkland & Lettner earned almost the same levels as Kuzmich & Hockley, but a level 3 and a smidge of negative GOE on the twizzle sequence kept them from breaking 40.

With one of the most heartbreaking dances of the night, Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton were ranked 13th with a score of 38.59. The team had hoped to challenge for a medal after finishing sixth last year, but Fournier-Beaudry lost her balance on the first set of twizzles. The fall meant level 1 for the element, negative GOE, and a one-point deduction.

Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner were 14th in the short dance, scoring 36.27. They received level 4 for their first Cha Cha pattern, but only level 1 for the second, and ran into a bit of trouble on their twizzles, which were only called level 2. The team gave an entertaining performance, though, and looked quite pleased with their skate.

A fall on the Cha Cha Congelado pattern really hurt Sarah Clarke & Steven Clarke’s score in their short dance, but the mistake did not affect their level of expression. The siblings sold their program all the way to the end, closing their short dance with a level 4 rotational lift. With 32.93 points, they ended the night in 15th place.

 


Poulin & Servant Victorious in Close Race for Junior Title

Written by Melanie Hoyt

No other team on the junior roster at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships has had more ups and downs than Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant (pictured, below). Their skill is undeniable, and their chemistry rivals many of the senior teams, but during the three seasons of their partnership, their biggest rival has always been their own minds. In Moncton, N.B., they had one more chance to turn things around—to prove to the judges and officials that they could skate cleanly, but perhaps more importantly, to prove to themselves that they have what it takes to succeed in this sport.

Skating in the penultimate spot, Poulin & Servant were just under two points from first place after the short dance, but they were also less than a point from fourth. The pressure to skate well was high, something that has rattled them in the past, but they were not trying not to focus on that.

“I think our goal was to come out and show everybody that there’s no consistency problem,” Poulin said.

“It was really for ourselves,” Servant said.

For themselves, Poulin & Servant sailed through their “Passion Nomad” flamenco free dance, sweeping through deep edges and staying completely connected to each other. By the time the twizzle sequence came around—usually their nemesis—they were skating so well that they had erased all trace of doubt. Their score of 76.33 put them at the top of the free dance standings by over two points on a day of impossibly close competition. With 131.47 points overall, Poulin & Servant scored the highest Canadian score recorded since the establishment of the two-dance format, eclipsing Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams’ title-winning score of 130.31 from 2011. But when Poulin & Servant left the kiss & cry, they only knew that they had finally reached their goal of standing on the national podium.

“We didn’t know how things were going to play out,” Servant said, “because ZhaoKai and Madeline—we watched them skate—were amazing. Everybody before them too, the field is just so strong this year, so we really didn’t know what would happen, but we left our performance on the ice and it just feels really good.”

“We said, ‘We’ve done our best, and whatever comes with it, it will come,'” Poulin said.

Even with such a strong performance and a great score, Poulin & Servant still left some points on the table. Only three elements earned level 4 in their free dance, with the rest receiving a level 3. The footwork sequences are fine at level 3, although Poulin & Servant revealed last year that they are capable of level 4 footwork. Their opening curve lift and their twizzle sequence, both called level 3 in Moncton, will certainly be addressed before the World Junior Championships. But their effort was enough in a tough field, and Poulin & Servant ended the day by standing on the top of the podium in their last year of junior age eligibility.

“I think that we were maybe kind of counted out because of our consistency issues, but we just proved that we believe in one another and we can do it,” Servant said. “We peaked at the right moment.”

Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang skated last, leading heading into the free dance. In another year, dropping to second after a beautiful free dance would have been a heartbreaker, but the youngsters realized that they did what they could, and that the field is exceptional this year.

Their Notre Dame de Paris free dance exhibits maturity well beyond their years—the duo is only 15 and 16 years old—and they were able to weave the familiar story into difficult elements. Edwards & Pang actually won the program components, but did not get all of the levels that they were reaching for in their program, and they also received a deduction for a long lift. Their footwork sequences were both level 2, and their twizzles were level 3, but their Grades of Execution (GOE) were off the charts—they only received one base mark of 0 among the 56 individual marks.

“We’re so happy with how we skated,” Edwards said. “We wanted to enjoy and we wanted to put on a great performance, and I think we did that.”

Edwards & Pang are known for being reliable and fierce competitors. The first three years of their partnership ended in gold. They were the Canadian champions at the juvenile level in 2009, the pre-novice level in 2010, and the novice level in 2011. Going four-for-four would have been an unprecedented accomplishment, but missing this title by less than two points might be a bit of a blessing. The duo will be able to spend next year focusing on development at the junior level, instead of having to learn two sets of dances while they switch between levels. And while Edwards & Pang are already near the top of the junior field in Canada, the way that they have pushed themselves points to their much bigger goals. In particular, their attention to detail and their level of expression have improved quite a bit this year.

“This is definitely one of our most dramatic free dances,” Pang said. “It’s kind of fun to be dramatic. It’s really big music.”

“I think at the beginning, we were almost a little intimidated by the music, because it’s such a powerful piece,” Edwards added. “We got the acting down, and our speed has improved since the beginning of the year, so I think those things helped us.”

Their 72.74-point free dance was actually ranked fourth, but the strength of their lead in the short dance helped them hang onto the silver medal with a total of 129.55 points.

After a disappointing seventh-place outing in the short dance, Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum (pictured, left) entered the free dance with nothing to lose and a plan to attack their tango program.

“My mindset was, ‘I’m going to rock this free dance,'” Lum said. “And I’m happy. Overall, I thought the performance was great.”

The free dance has been a strength for Bruser & Lum throughout the season. Many young teams would shy away from the tenacity required to pull off a tango, but it comes naturally to the competitors that have been facing close races for the whole of their partnership thus far. Earlier this season, Bruser & Lum delivered a second-place free dance after an eighth-ranked short dance at the Junior Grand Prix in Poland, so they knew that their program had the goods to pull off a come-from-behind finish.

“We skated the best we’ve ever skated for this program,” Bruser said after the event. “So I’m really happy.”

Bruser & Lum did not put a foot wrong in their program, earning solid levels en route to a second-place ranking in the free dance. They were hit with a level 2 on their diagonal step sequence, but their circular steps were level 3, and the rest of their elements were level 4. Even without skating in the final group, their attack and precision clearly impressed the judges, and they earned 74.16 points in the free dance. Their score of 125.84 ended up squeaking them into bronze medal position by just .27 points.

“Tim said he wanted us to go out with a bang and I think we did,” Bruser said.

Edwards & Pang and Bruser & Lum train together, along with seventh-placed team Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus, in Burnaby, B.C., under coaches Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe. The situation is a bit trickier on competition days than on practice days, but the six athletes generally handle the rivalry well.

“All three of them skated the best that they had all year,” Wing said. “They couldn’t have done better. We’re proud of them.”

“The levels could have been higher, but that’s beside the point,” Lowe added. “The point is that they went out there in their first year junior, in the pressure situations that most of them were in, and came out and skated fantastic. We love these kids.”

Agonizingly close to a medal were Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen. Since they entered the free dance in sixth place, they also made a big jump from the penultimate group of skaters, winning the technical element score in the free dance. Hitting all of their target levels—3 on footwork and 4 on the rest of the elements—Bent & MacKeen skated their “South Pacific” program with a ton of confidence, earning mainly positive GOE marks, with only a few base marks thrown in. The duo was more concerned with nailing the expression of their program, though, which requires a strong connection.

“We really went for it and gave it our all,” Bent said. “It turned out the way we wanted it to, and we’re really proud of it. There’s no regret; we’re pretty happy.”

“Our expression and performance was so much better than previous competitions,” MacKeen added.

The program told a great story to music not often heard in ice dance.

“It was his [MacKeen’s] mom’s idea,” Bent explained. “She emailed it to us, and we looked into it. It was a lot of fun putting the story together and giving it our own perspective.”

“At first, I was not too sure about it,” MacKeen admitted, “but I guess it kind of grew on me.”

Their score of 73.41 was ranked third, enough to move them from sixth to fourth overall, with a total of 125.57.

Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa ended the event with 125.51 points, just .06 out of fourth place and .33 from the bronze medal, the award that they won at this level in 2011. The Hasegawas entered the competition as one of the most experienced teams and were gunning for a higher step on the podium than where they stood last year. Unfortunately, their season has not had the same zing as they had in the junior début year, and they ended up just shy of their goals.

With the same levels as Bent & MacKeen, the Hasegawas lost about a point of GOE in comparison, with the biggest loss on their twizzles, which just felt a little cautious and insecure. They also lost a point for a long lift deduction, one of three passed down by the referee in the junior free dance. The mistakes would have been minor on most other days, overshadowed by the excellent skating through difficult elements in their “Black Swan” free dance. But on Thursday at the Canadian Championships, fractions of a point made big differences in rankings, and the siblings from Montréal had to settle for fifth place.

Also heading into these championships with high hopes were Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette, who train with the Hasegawas under Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Pascal Denis. Paradis & Ouellette were flying high after obliterating the same field at Skate Canada Challenge, but found themselves in fifth place and in a tight race after the short dance. Their Elvis Presley free dance suited their personalities and high-flying lifts so well, and the duo skated about as well as they could have. Their score of 71.86 in the free dance was ranked fifth, but because of the stiff competition, their total of 124.58 put them in sixth overall, one rank lower than they finished in 2011.

Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus, in third after the short dance, were a little disappointed with their drop to seventh place after the free dance, but they were satisfied with their efforts in their charming Gershwin program.

“I was surprised with the marks and the result,” Dalmer said, “but [the program] felt really good. It felt a lot better than what we got, score-wise, but I guess we had some technical errors.”

“The performance was really good,” Firus added.

With a fourth-place ranking in program components, and level 4 on all elements aside from level 2 footwork sequences, the difference between staying third and dropping to seventh seemed to come down, mainly, to GOE. Although Dalmer & Firus did not receive any negative marks, they did receive a majority of +1s, instead of the mix of +1s and +2s that many of the other teams received. A score of 69.64 put them in seventh in the free dance and their total of 124.15 was only 1.69 points from the podium.

Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois may have been 17 points back from the top group, but their eighth-place effort en route to a total score of 107.12 was still a delight. Their free dance to “Politik” featured interesting choreography and close attention to detail. Their opening “totem”-style lift was especially stunning. After missing out on qualifying for Junior Nationals last year, Cyr & Brisebois’ showing in Moncton was certainly a victory for them.

With 61.32 in the free dance and 100.78 overall, Rachel Kirkland & Christopher Lettner finished ninth in their first season together. Both partners failed to qualify for Junior Nationals last year, so just being in Moncton was already a great end to their season. They were thrilled with the showing of their “Alice in Wonderland” free dance, with Lettner pumping his fist into the air at the conclusion. Only footwork levels kept them from scoring even higher.

Nicole Kuzmich & Jordan Hockley (pictured, right), who train with Bent & MacKeen and Kirkland & Lettner under Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, met their goal of placing in the top ten in their first season together. Hockley was last year’s silver medalist on the junior level, but split from his longtime partner, Kelly Oliveira, in the spring. Kuzmich skipped the novice level completely to compete with Hockley this year, and their plan for the season was just to finish well, setting themselves up for next year. Kuzmich & Hockley earned mainly level 4s, with level 2s on both step sequences and the opening straightline lift. Their free dance to “Little Drop of Poison” and “In the Dark” highlighted the excellent rapport that they have with each other.

Josyane Cholette & Simon Proulx-Sénécal’s 52.48-point free dance was well off their season’s best and only ranked 13th on the day, but they hung on to 11th place with a total of 95.17 points. A level 1 rotational lift really hurt their score, but even among small problems on a couple of elements, Cholette & Proux-Sénécal kept their performance level high. Their free dance could win an award for the most random mash-up of music selections; they skated to “Rolling in the Deep,” “War,” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton’s tough week in Moncton, unfortunately, continued in the free dance, where they scored 53.20 after both partners went down on the diagonal step sequence. The dance started very well, with a strong straightline lift and a level 3 circular step sequence to open, but it seemed like Fournier-Beaudry & Breton were trying too hard to climb in the rankings after their disappointing short dance, and the ice got the best of them. Their “Be Italian” free dance suits them so well, and it is a shame that they did not perform at their best at the Canadian Championships this year. With 91.79 points, they ended up 12th.

With a season’s best score of 55.10 in the free dance, Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner, the fourth team on the roster from Ice Dance Elite at the Scarboro FSC, were pleased with the performance of their “Get Happy” program. The music suited the duo, who always performs with a smile, and they skated their elements cleanly. Higher footwork levels in the future will help them rise in the rankings. Their total score of 91.37 was ranked 13th.

Sarah Clarke & Steven Clarke ended the event with 75.65 points and in 14th place, matching last year’s ranking. A fall and a couple of low levels affected the score of their “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” free dance, but they have improved their performance ability this season.

Carolane Soucisse & Benjamin Smyth were in 10th place after the short dance and set to skate 1st in the second flight, but withdrew from the competition when they took the ice.