Arizona skaters learn from a champion

by Anne Calder

Lucas Appel is the 2023 (gold) and 2024 (silver) Solo Dance U.S. National Champion. He attends Florida Gulf University as a full-time student majoring in psychology and in October 2023 was hired as a private coach at the Hertz Arena in Estero, Florida where he trains with Marina Zueva and the International Skating Academy.

Appel recently shared his expertise with skaters in Chandler, Arizona at a four-day program that included private dance lessons and group exercises for solo and synchro skaters. Naomi Lang Strong, Chandler Ice Den Director of Solo Dance, organized the event. Lang and partner Peter Tchernyshev were five-time U.S. Ice Dance Champions (1999-2003).

Genesis of a Coaching Series
“I saw Naomi [Lang] in February, at the Solo Dance Camp and told her about doing private coaching,” Appel explained. “She said that she’d love to arrange to have me come to Chandler and talk to her skaters. I gave her my competition schedule for the season and thought May might be a good time for me.”

“We saw each other again at the Picken International Competition in Reston, VA, the end of April and began making final details for me to fly to Arizona to coach this past week (May 20-23).”

This is the first time Lucas Appel has taken his coaching skills on the road. However, he definitely would like to do it again.

“Currently, it’s a lot to balance being a full time student, training for Solo Dance and also now coaching,” he said. “If I am able to get into the coaching field and make a good living, I would like to do it full time or even part time. It’s such a fun outlet for me. I’d like to give back to Solo Dance. It has given me so much. If I didn’t have Solo, I would have quit skating a long time ago.”

Private Lessons
Since Appel has been coaching privately now for several months, he has already established a lesson plan for his students. He usually begins with 15-20 minutes of basic skating just to see their level. Then, if the student has a Rhythm or Free Dance, he observes parts of that. If they’re working on patterns, he checks out one or two to gauge their spins, one-foot moves, etc.

At the Ice Den, Naomi gave him tidbits on each of the skaters for the individual lessons. She guided him with information about the skater’s goals and the Pattern, Rhythm and Free Dances they’re currently working on. He then noted where they needed the most work plus what Naomi specifically wanted to see him do.

Group Lessons
The first group class was with the Synchro skaters.

I never coached Synchro. I don’t know too much about it,” Appel confessed. “One of the rinks in Florida where I sometimes train has a small Synchro program, so I asked some of the coaches involved as to what to expect.”

“After seeing them skate the first day, I knew I totally needed to change because at first, I was going to do all these turns and things with them, but then I said, you know what, we really need to go back to the basic lessons of skating. Let’s really work on that.”

“Naomi said to do something that’s a lot of music oriented – for them to work on timing. I created a faster kind of music play list for them to keep time. So all the exercises I built for the classes were oriented on the skaters bending their knees and ankles, pushing, getting power, but also keeping time and working eventually on the quickness of things.” 

The second day, the group class was with the Solo dancers.

“It’s probably going to be different with Solo,” Appel previewed after the Synchro class. “I’m still going to work on a lot of pushing, but there will probably be a lot more edge work and definitely work on turns – all the different types. I kind of did that a bit in Synchro with the Choctaw exercise I put in there.”

“With Solo it will be a little more turn oriented. I can see the potential with these dancers that they have Level 2 and Level 3 Step Sequences and potentially Level 4. I want to start with getting that in their heads. This will be built for that.”

Many of the athletes in both groups skate Solo and Synchro. The Solo competitive season began March 8-10 at the Magnolia Open in Alpharetta, GA and will end with the U.S. National Solo Final September 12-15 in Wesley Chapel, FL. There are 24 Solo Dance competitions in between.

The ISU recently announced the 2024/2025 International Solo Dance competitive schedule:

October 2-4, 2024 (Blackburn Trophy, GBR),
March 7-9, 2025 (U.S. Solo Dance International, Atlanta, GA USA)
April 12-13, 2025 (Helsinki Solo Ice Dance International, Helsinki, FIN)


After the Solo Dance group lessons, IDC spoke with Director Naomi Lang about the accomplishments of the first four-day program and how the skaters responded.

“These past three days have been really awesome! Having skaters on all levels and to see everybody’s perspective on speed and power and turning abilities and to just see Lucas demonstrate those things for the dancers and not just say what they should do was an awesome opportunity for us. Most coaches can’t go out and say “do this Level 4 twizzle” and also show it. It’s been nice for him to show the dancers these things.”

“I think they all look up to him a lot. They watch him compete. We’ve followed his skating career since he won Nationals two years ago. We’ve become very fond of him because he’s so personable, very approachable and kind to all of my skaters at every competition. That’s pretty much why he’s here because he is so approachable and kind and wants everyone to have a good time skating.”

Two of the skaters who participated in both groups shared their thoughts after the Solo Dance class. 

Katherine: A lot of what he did in the Solo class was also power, which can help with synchro as well as the  edges that we also need to work on. Dancing and synchro go hand in hand a lot of the time, so whatever he taught for dance can also help with synchro and visa versa.

Abby P: I thought the exercises were really good for getting into our edges. I feel we covered a lot of different things that we can continue to practice in the future. The classes were a really good tool to help improve our skating. I found it really helpful that he was able to do the exercises throughout so we could really see what we needed to be targeting when we’re doing the edges that we really need to emphasize.

Lucas Appel, International Competitor
Appel participates in the Solo Dance competitive circuit from March to September, so he began each Arizona day at 5:30 a.m. practicing his own routines. Several skaters training on the ice at the time were caught off guard by his speeding body moving across the ice in the early morning hours.

Solo Dance officially became an International program in December 2023. Three months later Appel won gold at the Maria Olszewska Memorial 2024 Solo Dance in Lodz, Poland – his first competition outside the U.S. In April, he again placed first at the inaugural U.S. Washington Picken International in Reston, Virginia.

Closing Thoughts
Lucas Appel: Solo is what got me into ice dance. Not to say I wouldn’t do a team again – the right person and the right circumstances, I’d obviously consider doing one. However, if I was still with my partner, I don’t think I’d have had the same opportunities afforded to me that I have with Solo.

I believe things happen for a reason, so I’m very grateful for having been able to pursue Solo Dance the season after I broke up with my partner. I really pushed myself back into the circuit, went on to win Senior Nationals and now get the opportunities to compete Internationally.

I’m just super happy with how everything is going – like Naomi and her team letting me do this.