by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The US International Figure Skating Classic is one of the ten USU Challenger Series events. Two competitions are in North America and the remaining eight in Europe. The 2016 Classic was held September 15-18 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 12 senior ice dance teams from nine countries competed.

The 2016 Short Dance Senior pattern requirement includes one segment of midnight blues followed by one partial step sequence in hold – both skated to the same tune and tempo. The not touching midline step sequence must be swing or hip-hop.

Reigning Classic champions Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue struggled with how to mix a very traditional blues, a dance style they loved, with something modern. That’s when their coach Marie-France Dubreuil created a hip-hop Evolution program. Each genre has a common genesis – both emerged as emotional outlets for African-Americans. Even Hubbell’s costume captured the mood and cemented the fusion with an overlay of midnight blue softly draped over a black garment.

“We definitely wanted to take a risk doing something very hip-hop,” Hubbell explained.

“It’s challenging and took us out of our comfort zone,” Donohue added.

The team called on contemporary artist, Sam Choiunard to meld the breaking street dance movements with the gliding factor of ice dance that usually deters skaters from doing real hip-hop. Choiunard learned to skate, so his body could actually feel the gliding on ice.

The music choice blended, “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone and a medley of hip-hop hits. It scored 64.82 points in its SLC 2016 international debut. They were one of two teams to earn a level 4 by hitting all the pattern key points. Unfortunately, their partial step sequence was level 1.

The program is a work in progress, and the team plans to incorporate any new pop culture that emerges this year. They want to bring a new generation to appreciate skating.

“The program should evolve through the Grand Prix season all the way to Nationals. We hope our Evolution program does exactly that – it evolves,” Donohue pointed out.

The Japanese team of Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed was second with a personal best 61.10 Ray Charles medley program to midnight blues and swing. The required pattern and level 3 partial step sequence earned 12.40 points, the highest in the event for the combination. However, Reed struggled with the twizzles.

“We feel great, but I know I can do twizzles better than this performance,” Reed commented.  “I felt for a start this is where we wanted to be. (60 points) I think we delivered well, and now we need to focus for tomorrow.”

Olivia Smart & Adria Diaz (ESP) brought the audience to its feet with Tina Turner’s signature song, “Proud Mary”. The Montreal based team scored a personal best 57.12 with level 4 twizzles and curve lift. The GOE marks totaled 9.70 for the pattern and partial step sequence.

“Technically we could have been better, but that’s why we are here to find our mistakes and to make it better,” Smart said.

The team and coaching staff had already chosen a piece of music when Marie-France Dubreuil played “Proud Mary” at the rink.

“That night I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Smart said. “We were both singing it, but we didn’t even know the words.” 

“When you hear a song, and you feel it inside, you say that you just want to skate to that one,” Diaz added.

Smart confessed she now sings during the program.

“It’s like karaoke for me. As I skate, I sing the words.  I really enjoy skating to it, and I know he (Diaz) does too.  The program has so much energy with a really sexy beginning. It’s very fun to perform. It’s a good way to bring people and judges to our side.”

Yura Min & Alexander Gamlin (KOR) skated blues to “Your Heart is as Black as Night” by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa and hip-hop to Big Bang’s “Bang Bang Bang”. The team struggled with the pattern and missed all the key points.

“The score was about the same as last year,” Gamelin said.  “We didn’t go down, which usually happens. We’re putting an emphasis on performance. With the SD, it’s especially the second half with the high-energy hip-hop.”

The level 2 not-touching midline step sequence done to the hip-hop music earned a GEO 1.54 judges score.

Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam (CAN) skated blues and swing to “Big Spender” and “Sing Sing Sing!” Unfortunately, they missed their pattern key points and struggled with the twizzles.

“We got hit pretty hard technically,” Islam commented.  “My obvious mistake on the twizzle cost us a lot of points, but we came here to perform. It’s our first competition of the year. So with that, I think we are happy.”

When asked how one bounces back from something like that, he responded, “It’s not the end of the world. It’s a Senior B, so we are still in it. We’re really confident in our free dance, so we are going to come out and do everything we can.”

Karina Manta & Joe Johnson (USA) skated blues and swing to “Dream a Little Dream” and “I Wanna be Like You” by Robbie Williams, choreographed by Christopher Dean. Unfortunately, the Colorado Springs based team had an opening pose “grip issue”.

“I just didn’t gauge quite where she was, and so I started up before I had her hand,” Johnson explained.  “I missed her fingers by just a bit, and that was enough.

“We recovered,” added Manta. “Now we know how to get back if something like that happens again.”

The program scored a personal best 53.60 and had them in sixth place.