by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman & Robin Ritoss
Eighteen months have passed since the 2020 U.S. Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina – the last time I was inside an ice arena. On the flight home to Arizona after the event, I was already mentally preparing for my trip to Canada for the World Championships in Montreal. Unfortunately, Covid-19 had a mind of its own and stole the headlines as the skating world came to a virtual standstill. We learned to social distance, wear masks and even watched Skate America and the 2021 Nationals from home while cardboard cutouts replaced the arena audience. As rinks closed, the athletes and coaches adjusted and created new training methods.
In March 2020, Daphne, Mel, Gina, Robin, and I began weekly zoom get-togethers to brainstorm our frustrations. Occasionally Jordan Cowan would pop in – usually from some far off destination to give us up-to-date reports on the world of videography. Danielle Earl kept us posted on the Canadian news. The “therapeutic” sessions are still on our Monday agendas.
When it was announced that all media would be allowed to attend the Dallas Cannon Classic, Daphne, Robin and I immediately made flight and hotel arrangements and the countdown began. The solo and partnered ice dance event was scheduled for July 9-11 in Allen, Texas.
It seemed forever for departure day to arrive. Time seemed to stand still. However, finally on Thursday, July 8, I flew to Dallas Love Field, took an airport shuttle to a nearby station and boarded a train to DFW Airport to wait for Daphne and Robin to arrive. Summer storms in New York caused a delay, but eventually we all came together, grabbed our rental car and headed north.
The much-anticipated event began on Friday. While official ice dance practice wasn’t scheduled until 8:15 pm, we were so anxious to see everyone that we headed over to the Allen Event Center in the early afternoon. After receiving our credentials, we were taken to an assigned area inside the main rink. It was a bit emotional for Daphne and me. Robin had already been to 2021 U.S. Nationals and Worlds in Sweden. At the boards, I paused for a special moment to absorb the ambiance and hear the familiar swoosh sound of blades gliding across the ice. After 528 days, I was back where I belonged. Soon coaches, skaters and parents noticed that IDC was in the rink…and so began a steady stream of old familiar faces with lots of hugs for everyone. The official entrant’s list showed that all five levels were represented, and they were coming from training centers in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
Saturday morning at the official practice for the junior and senior free dance, Ethan Peal skated his program solo. His sibling partner Elliana was having travel problems getting to Texas from Orlando, Florida where she had just competed at a dance final. Her plane landed at noon, and Coach Rob was there to chauffeur her back to the Allen Center. Meanwhile, Evan the third Peal child was scheduled to compete in the Hickory Hoedown solo pattern dance. It was Ethan’s job to put his younger brother on the ice if their dad hadn’t returned. All turned out well in the end. Evan danced and that night the older siblings skated in the junior rhythm dance.
The evening competition began with the novice, juvenile and intermediate pattern dances. The junior and senior rhythm dances followed. This season the junior pattern is Blues and the senior pattern is Midnight Blues. Both levels must have at least two different Street Dance Rhythms from hip hop, disco, swing, krump, popping, funk, etc., jazz, reggae, and blues.
The teams finished in the following order dancing to their noted musical selections.
- Katarina Wolfkostin and Jeffrey Chen: Michael Jackson Medley: “Diamonds Are Invincible”, “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough” and “Smooth Criminal” (Immortal Version)
- Oona Brown and Gage Brown: “How Ya Like Me Now” (Extended Mix) (Kool Moe Dee)
- Isabella Flores and Dimitry Tsarevski: “Perm” (Bruno Mars), “Oh What a Night for Dancing” (Barry White)
- Elliana Peal and Ethan Peal: “Still” (Swing Hoppers), “Just Jammin’ (Gramitik), “Swing Set” (Jurassic 5)
- Vanessa Pham and Jonathan Rogers: “It’s a New Dawn”, “How I Feel” (Flo Rida)
- Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr: “I’ll Survive” (B.B. King),“That Man” (Caro Emerald);
- Emma L’Esperance and Mika Amdour: “The Boy is Mine” (Brandy & Monica), “1, 2 Step” (Don Candiani Reggaeton Mix) (Clara Feat, Missy Elliott)
- Shira Ichilov and Laurent Abecassis: “Get Lucky” and “Bigger, Faster, Better, Stronger” (Daft Punk)
- Mariia Nosovitskaya and Mikhail Nosovitskiy: “Greased Lightening”, “We Go Together”
- Hillary Asher and Dmitriy Bogomoi: “Versace on the Floor” and “Uptown Funk” (Bruno Mars)
- Sophia Domonoske and Thomas Schwappach: “Stay With Me” (Sam Smith), “Swing With” (J. Simpson)
- Cara Murphy and Joshua Levitt: “Bad to the Bone” (George Thorogood + the Destroyers) and “Hot Stuff “(Donna Summer)
Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel, packed the car and drove over to the Allen Event Center for the final day of competition. All the skaters performed their free dances. The juveniles began the event. Rylen Lukanin and Patrick O’Brien skated first. I had seen them compete two years ago in Lake Placid as pre-juveniles. Rylen’s parents, Kristen Frasier and Igor Lukanin, who skated for Azerbaijan, coach the team. Anna Waugh and Aaron Gutman, who train in Charlotte, North Carolina with Alexandra [Sasha] Zaretsky-Osborne were next. Waugh told me they were both nervous, but she tried to act like she was in her own rink and skate calmly. Gutman added that he was comforted by the fact that he used to skate at the Allen Event Center. Hana Maria Aboian and Steven Moore were the last in the juvenile group. They train in Connecticut where Moore’s mother, Svetlana Kulikova coaches the team. The lone intermediate entry, Paisley Tang & Charles Jacobs, work with Roman Zaretsky in Houston, Texas. The brother and sister team of Sasha & Roman Zaretsky represented Israel for 10 years on the international level, including the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, where they placed tenth.
I had watched three of the four novice teams compete at the 2019 Ice Dance Final in Hyannis at lower levels. It was fun to see their development. Sylvia Li and Rowan Le Coq plus Anna Sophia O’Brien and Steven Wei train together in New Jersey. Li and Le Coq’s choreography showed off authentic jig-like dance steps to the Celtic sounds of “Shannon Reel” from the movie, Leap. The youngsters were very nervous, but buried it behind smiling faces. It was the first time competing the program, which Li called a hard one that became more fun after the twizzles. Coach Kristen Frazier added that it had been two years since they had competed live. It was also a big step up to novice from juvenile. O’Brien and Wei chose an Arabian Nights medley. Steven thought it was definitely more stressful than any other program they’ve done before because of the year and a half without competitions. He also reminded me that the team had moved up a level.
Tatiana Gladkova coaches her daughter Michelle Deych and Wiles Middlekauff at the Detroit Skating Club. The team chose selections from the movie, La, La, Land, which included “Another Day of Sun” and “City of Stars”. The team has been together since 2019. Former freestyle skaters Michela Melillo & Sam Chen made up the final novice team. Melillo said she had switched to ice dance because her training mates, Jenna Hauer and Ben Starr had made it look like so much fun; they had inspired her. The team made their competitive debut with a performance to “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You” the theme song from The Mask of Zorro.
I used the 15-minute Zamboni break for a quick sprint outside to warm up. It was a mixed bag. The arena was very cold, but outside the hot humid Texas temperatures were overwhelming. I also made one last pit stop at the food court hosted by the volunteers. Every day they treated us to an assortment of tasty goodies. It was just wonderful.
Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr were the first junior team to skate. The team last competed on the intermediate level at the 2019 U.S. Nationals before ending their partnership. Last year they decided to give it another try and currently train with Svetlana Kulikova in northern Connecticut. The team was pleased with their dance selections from Crimson Peak, including “Allerton Hall”, “Edith’s Theme” and the Finale. Later in the day, they would meet with the judges for a personal evaluation on what and how to improve their programs for the next competition.
Emma L’Esperance and Mika Amdour performed to “Chiar Daca Sau De Necaz” (Djelem) and “Gipsey” (Fedor Gafner). It was their first competition since they skated as novice at the Ice Dance Final a year and eight months ago. They thought they could have done better – more like they do in practice. Their very reassuring coach added that they’re developing and need to find the confidence and strength to move forward.
Angela Ling and Caleb Wein had skipped the earlier Rhythm Dance competition because their program wasn’t ready. Sunday they performed to “April” by The Lumineers and “Can’t Pretend” by Tom Odell. Charlie White had choreographed the free dance just a month ago in Michigan. The duo had high accolades for their experience working with the 2014 Olympic gold medalist. Wein noted White’s insight and how in just one week he had given them all the life lessons he had learned. Ling was impressed with his attention to the detail of every movement. In addition to being a University of Maryland engineering student and competitive ice dancer, a few years ago Wein added dance classes to his busy schedule. He studies modern dance with classical techniques, which he finds beautiful and different and wants to incorporate more as they move on in skating.
The Houston, Texas based team of Vanessa Pham and Jonathan Rogers performed next to Beethoven’s piano masterpiece, Moonlight Sonata. In their first competition of the season at the recent Broadmoor Open, they had difficulty with the final spin and earned no base value and GOE points for the element, but not this time. The Free Dance total score was six points higher than the Colorado Springs event. Pham and Rogers, who have been partners for four years, won the juvenile bronze medal in 2019 at their U.S. National Championships debut in Detroit, Michigan.
Elliana Peal and Ethan Peal were the fifth team to skate. The siblings chose “Rise Up” by Andra Day and “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors for their free dance music. At the Broadmoor Open, their first element was planned as a curve lift, but was called as straight-line. When the final planned straight-line lift was also called as straight-lined, it was invalidated. The same lift can’t be duplicated, so they earned no points for the second lift. Ethan explained that the close proximity for the two events didn’t leave much time to train and change some things. Fortunately at this event the two lifts were called as different. Elliana, who competed at a national dance competition earlier in the week thinks performing on a stage with costumes and makeup in front of hundreds of people is really helping with their on-ice dance. Ethan pointed out that she’s only 14, so the stage dance helps her bring out a more mature side.
The rhythm dance leaders, Katarina Wolfkostin and Jeffrey Chen, skated to “Rain in Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso. Chen described the piano piece as mature, and something they could use to build off to take them to another level. Wolfkostin noted that stamina wise it went pretty well for the first event. They both enjoyed performing for a live audience again. We talked about their feelings after winning the 2021 U.S Junior title and then having their World Championships canceled. Initially they were a bit frustrated, but made the most out of what they had and kept practicing. They worked on their basic skills and partnering to better blend their skating styles together. ISU recently announced the team has been assigned to the first Junior Grand Prix in Courchevel, France August 18-21.
The Broadmoor Open gold medalists, Isabella Flores and Dimitry Tsarevski, performed a Joel Dear choreographed program to “Nuvole Bianche” by Ludovico Einaudi and “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson. They were disappointed with their skating that Tsarevski described as having a little bit of shakiness. He thought maybe they weren’t mentally prepared, but Flores felt they just weren’t into it. She said it’s weird, but her body feels different at a competition. The general consensus was that even though it wasn’t their best skate, it was great to be out there and learning what they have to work on.
The top two teams’ scores were very close after the rhythm dance, but Wolfkostin’s twizzle error proved too costly for their team. Oona Brown and Gage Brown slipped past them into first place with their performance to “Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1” (Overture) and “I Belong to You”, both by Muse. Gage felt they had put out two solid programs but certainly had things they needed to work on. Oona thought their footwork needed to be stronger on the edges. Actually, now that they’re moving up in the rankings, they both definitely want to achieve level 4 footwork scores. The team was so happy to have a live audience. Gage never thought he’d appreciate hearing the clapping as much as he did, especially after a whole season without it.
The final group included four senior teams. Two are from the U.S., and two represent Israel, but train in the U.S. Cara Murphy and Joshua Levitt were without their coach, Andrejs Sitiks, who was out of the country during the event. Logan Giulietti-Schmitt and Greg Zuerlein shared the coaching duties and put them on the ice. Actually, the team goes to Canton, Michigan monthly to train with Zuerlein. The Pittsburg, Pennsylvania based team chose a “Ghost” medley from Ghost, the Musical soundtrack for their Free Dance. The team next heads August 4-8 to the Chesapeake Open in Laurel, Maryland. In the meantime, Murphy and Levitt will be adding a few new connecting steps to their choreography and also working to make the very new rhythm dance a little more consistent.
Sofia Domonoske and Thomas Schwappach partnered up only two months ago. Sophia is right handed and Thomas is left-handed which initially presented a spinning challenge. The solution was a spin that utilizes both of their strengths. The Allen event was their first time competing against another team. They were the sole senior entrants at the Broadmoor Open. Schwappach helped found the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Collegiate Team and competed in singles. He claims his knees got tired of skating, but he wasn’t ready to stop, so he decided to give ice dance a shot. He loves the artistry and skills aspect of the sport, so he has transitioned into it. They performed to “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap covered by Amber Run and “Natural” by Imagine Dragons, which was choreographed by Joel Dear. According to the skaters, this gives them a nice emotional Blues with a fun Swing at the end.
Mariia Nosovitskaya and Mikhail Nosovitskiy performed to a Charlie Chaplin medley. It was their first competition of the season. The twins were born in Kiev, Ukraine, skate for Israel and train with Galit Chait in New Jersey. They thought it was good for the first try, but will work to make it even better for the whole season so they can compete for medals. Shira Ichilov and Laurent Abecassis, representing Israel danced to “Sos D’un Terrien En Detress”, a very popular French song. Both Israeli teams will compete next at the LPIDI, which will be held at the Skating Club of Boston, due to the renovation at the Lake Placid facilities. In September, all four will travel to Eilet, Israel for the Open Ice Mall Cup.
The Dallas Cannon Classic ended with the awards ceremony for the Junior and Senior medalists.
The eighteen months gap between Greensboro and Allen was quickly erased by the four days I spent at the Dallas Cannon Classic catching up with skaters, coaches and parents. It was awesome!
Finally, I would like to give a big shout out to all the Dallas Figure Skating Club volunteers who so graciously supported IDC at the event and made it such a memorable experience.