by Anne Calder 

“In the summer of 2017, [USFSA] President Sam Auxier established a Competitions Task Force with the goal of addressing a number of issues facing the current qualifying pipeline for singles, pairs and ice dance athletes.” (from the U.S. Figure Skating Competitions Task Force Proposal).

In May 2018, the Governing Council approved a Request for Action, and the new competitive pipeline was implemented for the 2019-2020 season.

In lieu of the U.S. National Championships, the top 9 juveniles, intermediates, novices (JINs) would now be attending a National High-Performance Development Team Camp in January. Qualifying juniors and seniors who have met the minimum technical score would compete at Nationals.

All eligible JINs competing for the 9 invitations to the Camp from each level and the juniors and seniors not given byes to US Nationals participated in the Ice Dance Final held in conjunction with Eastern Sectionals in Hyannis, Massachusetts, on November 13, 14, and 15.

ICE DANCE FINAL

An Arctic air mass of below-freezing temperatures blasted across the eastern half of the US breaking sub-zero temperature records just as everyone arrived in Hyannis for the first-ever Ice Dance Final.

Parents, coaches, judges, technical panelists and, above all, 67 ice dance teams trekked from far and wide to the Hyannis Youth and Community Center for three days of intense competition.

First on the IDC agenda was picking up media credentials, followed by staking out positions for six sets of pattern dances by the JINs. Since ice dance and the Eastern Sectional shared the facility, both groups alternated competing in the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Skating Rink. The other ice sheet was used solely for practice. Both were extremely cold.

Daphne and her camera headed to the ice level and the one Plexiglas panel on the audience side that was open. When the single skaters were performing, IDC used a small corner of the coaches’ lounge as a workspace and warm-up station. It was also a great place to chat with former skaters turned coaches, who now stood on the other side of the boards instructing their students.

That’s where IDC found Kim Navarro and her napping 5-month old daughter, Maija, after her debut behind the boards in her mother’s arms. Navarro and skating partner, Brent Bommentre came from California and Sun Valley, Idaho to support the juvenile team of Reece Hamilton and Ethan Darnell, who they have been mentoring.

Penny Coomes with intermediate ice dancer Julia Epps.

Between the rounds of pattern dances, skaters, coaches and parents milled around the foyer outside the rink trying to get warm. Amidst the crowd, IDC caught up with Penny Coomes, who coaches with partner Nick Buckland and Slava Uchitel at the Ardmore, PA Ice Works. Coomes & Buckland are three-time Olympians, 2014 European bronze medalists and five-time British Champions.

Coomes spoke about her adjustment from competitor to coach. “When you skate yourself, you have control, whereas, with your students, you don’t have the power anymore. Also with the results when my scores didn’t match how I felt I skated, it was okay. When it’s your students, I’m like a Momma Bear, and I’m protective. I’m like no they’re amazing – give them a better score.”

Coach Greg Zuerlein, who returned to his Michigan roots in June after spending last year at WISA in Maryland, joined our conversation. He & Madison Chock were the gold medalists at the 2008-2009 Junior Grand Prix Final, US Nationals and World Junior Championships.

IDC asked the duo about sharing expertise amongst coaches. “A lot of the top coaching groups in the world do that. It’s not just one person, but also a team of people,” explained Coomes. “We bring in ballet people, acrobats, an expression coach, and tech specialists to help.”

Zuerlein added, “Just hearing it from someone else, it might just click.” Coomes laughed, and then shared what one kid actually told her, “If you all say the same thing, I just put you in my spam mail.”

At the senior awards ceremony, IDC overheard Tim McKernan talking about coaching in Dubai, UAE. “I’m heading out immediately after the Final for three weeks,” explained the coach. ”We have a great facility in the world’s largest mall in the world’s largest building with 160 floors.”

“The kids range from 7 to mid 20’s. They get lots of videos of our exercises and are highly motivated when I’m not there. A former Ukrainian Olympic pair skater has coached them for over 20 years. Dubai is starting to get more interested in Olympic sports.”

McKernan coaches at the Arctic Edge in Canton, MI alongside Japanese Olympian, Chris Reed and recent addition, Greg Zuerlein. McKernan said, “I’m just trying to develop ice dance here and around the world!”

Colin McManus & Anastasia Cannuscio were skating partners for eight years, but when it came to a life partner, McManus married her sister, Isabella, also an ice dancer. Colin and Anastasia coach the Intermediate team of Charley Steen & Reese Moore at the University of Delaware FSC in Newark. McManus is also a technical specialist; Cannuscio is working on her credential.

Reese Moore’s costumes have a narrative of their own. In the American Waltz pattern dance, Moore wore McManus’s costume from his 2015-16 Short Dance to Cinderella. In the free dance, he had his grandfather’s military bars and nametag pinned on his “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” army shirt.

Ilia Tkachenko is a former ice dancer, who represented his native Russia and later Israel. He coaches with Marina Zoueva at the International Skating Academy in Estero, FL. Tkachenko and first partner, Anastasia Gorshkova won the 2005 World Junior bronze medal.

Bailey Melton & Ryan O’Donnell with Livvy Shilling & Alexander Petrov

The Kitchener, Ontario Canada event was where Daphne Backman received her first international credential as a journalist. There she met and photographed Tkachenko. In Hyannis, they met again; he reminded her of that meeting almost 15 years prior. Smiles and laughter exploded all around.

On a much lighter note, it was also the event where Anne and Daphne met for the first time.

Three senior teams did not have byes to Nationals, so they competed in events together this season, including the Ice Dance Final in Hyannis.

IDC found two of those teams in the crowd after their rhythm dance. Livvy Shilling, who previously skated senior singles & Alexander Petrov, who skated juniors last season, are a new partnership this season. Bailey Melton & Ryan O’Donnell competed together at the 2019 US Nationals. The foursome shared their thoughts on the new Ice Dance Final.

Alexander Petrov: The competition between Sectionals and Nationals gives us another time to come out on the ice and perform, which is nice.

Livvy Shilling: This is my first year in ice dance in general, so everything is kind of new.

Bailey Melton: I had a lot of fun. I love the teams we get to compete against. There clearly aren’t a lot of us so we get to know each other very well.

Ryan O’Donnell: I love the cold, so Cape Cod in the winter is my cup of tea. It also gives us a chance to get out and compete.

Eva Pate & Logan Bye formed a new partnership this season and competed as the third senior team. Pate is a former solo dancer. Bye, the 2016 Youth Olympic silver medalist with Chloe Lewis is back on the ice after a year’s sabbatical. After receiving their gold medal at the awards ceremony, Bye spoke about his absence and return to skating.

“The time I took off was needed to really understand what skating was in my life – where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I was taking classes at the University of Michigan. Life went on, but I still felt like something was missing. I hadn’t been done with skating. I didn’t feel finished with it yet, and here I am now, and I’m having the time of my life.”

“There was kind of an adjustment period, but at the same time when I went back to Novi and training with Igor [Shpilband], it was like I was back home. They welcomed me – it felt normal. It was really strange, but familiar at the same time.”

Katrina Shalin with novice ice dancers, Anna Lewis & Seiji Urano.

Katrina (Reyes) Shalin & Jon Wright competed as a junior team at the 2005 and 2006 U.S. Nationals. Katrina is a coach and choreographer at The Dance Edge. She and her husband Vitaliy also coach at the Auburn (VA) Ice House. She took her novice team to the U.S. Final where they finished ninth and qualified for the Camp. The Shalins have three children, Alina (1), Caden (4) and Niklas (10), who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, a soft-tissue cancer.  The skating community has rallied to support the Shalin family with a GoFundMe campaign and using the hashtag #shalinstrong.  

ICE CHIPS

  • Douglas Webster is the Executive Director of Ice Dance International. He came from southern New Hampshire to support junior dancer Kenan Slevira, who he has mentored for many years. Slevira and partner Layla Karnes were fifth after only two months of partnership.
  • Andrejs Sitiks previously coached at the University of Delaware but is now at the Pittsburgh FSC. He and his partner Michelle Daichman won the 2019 Adult Dance Championships after placing second the two previous years. Their emotional winning free dance was to “Fix You” by Coldplay.
  • Rob Peal is a 15-year veteran of U.S. national and international ice dance competition and now coaches his three kids at the Skokie Valley Skating Club. Elliana & Ethan won novice gold in Hyannis. Ten-year-old Evan and his partner Eva Wang made their juvenile level debut here.
  • Gage Brown (junior pewter medalist) required four stitches in his hand after cutting it with his skate blade during the RD twizzles. His comment, “It was worth it because we got a level 4.”
  • Olivia Ilin and Julia Epps were great assistants to the USFS after winning intermediate silver and bronze medals respectively with their partners. Their jobs included organizing papers, assisting at the boards, and even meeting President Anne Cammett.
  • Other former competitors who were observed coaching in Hyannis include: Peter Biver, Michael Bramante, Joel Dear, Leif Gislason, Logan Giuletti-Schmitt, Vladimir Fedorov, Ruslan Goncharov, Ron Kravette, Igor Lukanin, Michelle Marvin, Bryna Oi, Denis Petukhov, Kseniya Ponomaryova, Tina Pratt, Nick Traxler, Nathan Truesdell, Roman Zaretsky and more!

Many thanks from IDC to all the Ice Dance Final/Eastern Sectional volunteers who went above and beyond to assist us in our three days at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.