Surprise Gold in Novice Dance

by Melanie Hoyt

When Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour’s scores were announced during the novice free dance at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, a roar went up from the Mariposa cheering section. Seymour, his mouth wide open in surprise, embraced his partner. Against even their own predictions, they went into first, with two skaters left to go, and were assured a medal. Less than 15 minutes later, their names were still at the top of the standings. They were Canadian champions.

“I literally can’t describe it [how I’m feeling],” Seymour said after the competition. “It’s just fantastic.”

The teenagers out of the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont., far exceeded their own expectations.

“We hoped for top five, but top three would have been really good,” Collins said.

Their free dance, set to music from Cirque du Soleil and “Make ‘Em Laugh,” certainly entertained the audience. The judges loved it, too, giving Collins & Seymour (pictured, right) all positive or base GOE marks and components scores between 4.00 and 5.00. With excellent levels—level 2 and level 3 on the step sequences and level 4 on the rest of the elements—it was the technical mark that put Collins & Seymour at the top of the pack, although their circus-themed program certainly left a positive artistic impression, too.

Choreographer Kelly Johnson selected the music and idea initially, but the whole team had input in all of the decisions about their program and was happy to try such an entertaining free dance. Collins & Seymour credit their coaching team at Mariposa for their most successful season yet, even despite injuries. Seymour had shin splints during the summer, and Collins battled tendinitis in her leg that was irritated by her skate.

Perseverance through the difficulties paid off, though, and Collins & Seymour ended their second year at the novice level with their first Canadian medal, jumping up from eighth last year. Their score of 87.55 was their season’s best by about seven points.

Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng led after the pattern dances, but did not seem quite as secure as Collins & Seymour in the free dance and slipped to second with a score of 87.34, only .21 from the gold medal. The Mengs only had one level lower than the leaders, a level 2 for their circular step sequence, but their GOE was just a bit lower. With excellent performance ability, their tango was well-received, and they won the program components.

After initially looking confused by the scores, the Mengs regrouped quickly and focused on the positive aspects of their competition, instead of the disappointment of coming so close to the gold medal.

“Second at our first Nationals is pretty exciting,” Melinda said. “It was a really nice experience.”

The siblings have made huge improvements since moving to Montréal to train with Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon. In particular, their expression is coming along nicely.

“It’s been a work in progress,” Andrew said. “On the ice, we’re trying to be more actors and dancers than necessarily skaters, and just working more on expressing. I think our higher marks come from our artistic side. I think the technical elements are something we still have to develop a bit, and we’re still pretty young, so we still have time to do that.”

The Mengs were fifth on the pre-novice level last year and are just 12 and 15 years old. Winning the silver medal here means that they do have the option to remain at the novice level next year, although they would probably fit into the junior level just fine.

With 84.82 points, the Minto Skating Club’s Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough were happy to win the bronze medal. Although the Canadian Championships were not as successful of an event for them as Challenge, the prestige of medaling at Nationals outweighs any point difference.

Glavine & Hough were the only team besides Collins & Seymour to earn level 3 on their circular step sequence, but they lost levels on their twizzles and rotational lift—both were rated a 3 instead of the intended 4. Solid GOE kept their free dance to “I’d Rather Be Blue” and “Le Jazz Hot” high in the standings, though.

“I feel good,” Glavine said. “I had a little bit of a rough warm-up, but once we got out there, we put that behind us, did what we had to do, and it was pretty good.”

Glavine collided with the Mengs in the five-minute warm-up and suffered cuts on her leg and hand. She was clearly shaken, and only had a cushion of one team to regroup before she and Hough took the ice.

“My coach talked to me and said, ‘Since your mind’s not in the picture very much right now, that this is when your training takes over. This is why we did all the hours,'” Glavine said.

She seemed a little cautious in the first half of their free dance, but completed the elements cleanly and they both loosened up and really performed when the music changed to “Le Jazz Hot.” Interestingly, “Le Jazz Hot” was also the music selection for the top novice team in United States, Holly Moore & Daniel Klaber.

The fourth-place result was a heartbreaker. After a one-point long lift deduction in the free dance, Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs dropped from second to fourth with 84.09 points. The deduction made the difference between the bronze medal and finishing just off the podium.

A fall in the free dance at last year’s Junior Nationals left them in seventh place, and they came to Moncton with high hopes of a podium finish. After winning the Argentine Tango, the duo appeared to be on track, but the deduction and a couple of sticky moments in their clown-themed free dance left them just shy of their goal.

Aside from the technical issues, the young team skated a truly creative program, with moments of original choreography, showing off a fun-loving and quirky side to their skating.

With one of the biggest improvement curves this season, Haili Moyer & Aaron Chapplain (pictured, left), the 20th-place finishers in pre-novice last year, ended up finishing the 2011-2012 season in fifth place. Their score of 78.20 crushed their previous best score by eight points, and the duo performed extremely well in their free dance to tango selections including “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

“This was definitely our best competition skate of the season,” Chapplain said. “We just felt in the moment and connected together, so we’re very happy with how we skated today.”

Moyer & Chapplain recorded the only level three midline step sequence of the event, and although their GOE was not quite as high as the teams above them, they skated with a great deal of precision. Their commitment to the tango character helped to sell the program and move up a spot after the pattern dances.

“Fifth was definitely my goal,” Moyer said. “I wanted fifth.”

Moyer & Chapplain train at the Mariposa School of Skating, and their success was a bit sweeter, sharing in fantastic results with their training partners, Collins & Seymour.

“That was huge, because I’ve actually lived with Danny [Seymour],” Chapplain said. “I was the one to go into the change room and tell him that he won, and he was just so shocked. It was a very unexpected experience for both us and them going into this year.”

“No one expected us to do well,” Moyer said.

“No one,” Chapplain agreed. “None of our competitors, and to get that [result], it builds confidence. And to see our teammates do what they did, it’s unbelievable.”

Jade Robitaille & Dominic Barthe did not have a perfect free dance, but their score of 74.91 was enough to hang on to sixth place, which left the Québecois team breathing a sigh of relief.

“The goal was to get five, but I fell,” Robitaille said. “But that’s okay. It was a good competition.”

“It was a great performance,” Barthe said. “I’m really happy with what we did today.”

A fall from Robitaille on the midline steps knocked them down to a level 1 on that element, but the rest of their tango program was quite strong. Their level 4 combination straightline and rotational lift earned +1.17 in GOE and they captured the feel of their tango quite well, especially for a novice-level team.

“We wanted her to be really classy,” Barthe said. “To really be a woman, not a little girl on the ice. I think we got it right.”

After a 10th-place ranking in the pattern dances, Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Simon Longtin-Martel climbed to seventh place, earning 73.58 points to finish just behind their training mates. Their Nutcracker free dance was especially lovely, with 14-year-old Croteau-Villeneuve wearing a tutu and playing the part of the ballerina rather well. They earned level 4 on all of their elements besides the step sequences, which were level 2. Croteau-Villeneuve & Longtin-Martel won the silver medal last year at the pre-novice level.

With a feisty flamenco free dance, Nevada Smith & Addison Voldeng did Saskatchewan proud and finished eighth with 71.56 points. Their lifts, twizzles, and spin were all rated level 4, but their footwork sequences earned only level 1 and level 2. Coming from a section not known for having a strong dance base, Smith & Voldeng have done very well. They were also eighth on the pre-novice level last year.

Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert were in a disappointing 13th place after the pattern dances, but delivered an energetic free dance to Russian folk music and moved into ninth place. Their score of 69.86 was well off the mark that they set at Challenge, but the team seemed pleased with their effort, and their program components were likely affected by their early position in the skate order. Level 1 and level 2 step sequences also did not bolster their score, which is an opportunity for improvement next season. However, Penkov & Mostert presented an enjoyable dance and relate quite well to each other, which was evident through all three phases of the competition.

Bianka Gadosy & Simon Dazé were only the second alternates to this event after technical problems at Challenge. The team has had inconsistency weaknesses in the past, but they were quite strong at these championships. In their free dance to “Feelin’ Good,” Gadosy & Dazé had a couple of shaky moments, but showed fighting spirit and pushed all the way through the program. Their levels could have been a bit higher, but their score of 69.17 ranked them 10th, quite an accomplishment for the second alternates.

With 68.54 points, Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Jean-Luc Jackson almost cracked the top ten in their first season together. Moments of innovative and striking choreography characterized their “Beethoven’s Last Night” free dance, and while the two have a height difference of over a foot, they were able to use Jackson’s long lines to their advantage. The lifts were their strength, and both the straightline and the serpentine lift were called level 4.

Abby Savoie & Dennis Romanenko (pictured, right) finished 12th with 65.91 points. The costumes for their “Kalinka” program conjured up memories of Meryl Davis & Charlie White’s 2007-2008 original dance. Savoie & Romanenko did not maximize their levels, earning only level 1 on their step sequences, and level 3 on their lifts and twizzles, but they brought plenty of personality to their upbeat free dance.

First alternates Jaimie Clarke & Matthew Webb scored 65.77 to finish 13th. Choosing a lyrical and inspirational free dance, “I Believe in You” by Céline Dion and Il Divo, they also earned only level 1 on their footwork, but received level 4 for their lifts and spin. Clarke & Webb can focus on gaining speed more easily in the future, but their connection this season was lovely and the joy in their skating was evident.

Catherine Daigle-Roy & Alexis St-Louis skated incredibly well at Challenge in December, finishing ninth there to easily qualify for the Canadian Championships, but they did not have quite the same magic in Moncton, where they were 14th. They lost points on levels and had a couple of close calls in their program to “Jump, Jive, & Wail,” “5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days,” and “Night Train.” Daigle-Roy & St-Louis have only been skating together since July and have made wonderful progress since then, especially in their comfort in performing for an audience.

Elise von Holwede & Eric Streichsbier, another duo who teamed up only in July, finished 15th. Their free dance to “Fever” and “Heatwave” had nice expression, but errors on a few elements cost them points. Still, qualifying for Canadians and performing their best was a good achievement for the new partnership.