by Anne Calder | Photo by Daphne Backman
Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge recently shared their skating journey with ice-dance.com.
Pennsylvania is home to both skaters. Biechler hails from Hershey, where street lamps are shaped like chocolate kisses, and Dodge is from historic Bucks County. The team trains at the Aston Ice Works with Coach Yovanny Durango.
Julia Biechler & Alexander Petrov were the 2011 Juvenile gold and the 2012 Intermediate silver medalists at the US Junior Championships prior to ending their partnership.
“Julia had seen me at a 2012 competition before my other partner (Cassandra Jeandell) retired,” Dodge noted. “A few hours after going on Ice Partner Search I got a call – we had a tryout – it was quick. It was six years ago.”
In 2013, the junior team was ninth at their first US Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska. The following year marked their international debut at the Junior Grand Prix. In 2015, they won bronze at the Cup of Austria, in only their second year on the circuit.
In 2016, the team moved up to the senior division where they faced challenges and adjustments.
“The partial (pattern) step sequence was probably our biggest struggle because it was a new element that we’d never done before in the (junior) short dance,” Biechler explained. “Figuring out how that works and how to fit in five turns in a very small confined area was difficult for us.”
Another major adjustment for them was changing their attitude and approach to skating.
“A lot of the feedback we received was that we were too aggressive,” Dodge said. “As juniors, we had been taught to go, go, go, where in seniors, it was slow down – make it look seamless – show your confidence and maturity.”
The team was fifth at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International and fourth at the Lombardia Trophy before finishing the season in seventh place in their U.S Nationals senior debut.
The team visited the Detroit Skating Club where Pasquale Camerlengo choreographed their 2017-18 programs. The short dance used “I’m so Into You” by Ariana Grande and “I Know You Want Me” by Pitbull for their rhumba pattern and Latin American musical requirements.
Biechler & Dodge originally planned to skate to a Sam Smith song for their free dance – a very comfortable and familiar style for them. However, after sending it to a few judges for review, they were told to break out of their comfort zone and do something they had never done before.
“So we took their advice and ran with it,” Biechler said. “Our new free dance is to “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz, “I Put a Spell on You” by Joe Cocker, and “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.”
“It was a new challenge, but we definitely enjoyed it a lot,” Biechler said.
“We were not used to a lot of the things – even down to the fine details of the arms and the head movements, but it’s hard to grow if you stay in one track,” Dodge added.
The team opened their competitive season in July at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International. That was followed by two Challenger B assignments – the US International Classic in Salt Lake City and The Finlandia Trophy.
“Finland was beautiful! We had so much fun. We wish that we could have performed better but the fans, the venue, and the experience were incredible,” Biechler noted enthusiastically.
In November, Biechler & Dodge won the Eastern Senior Sectionals and qualified for the 2018 U.S. National Championships in San Jose. Since then, they have been extremely busy tweaking both their short and free dances before heading to California. The team explained their changes.
“We have altered a good bit of both programs in preparation for Nationals to help improve our levels. We added a third piece of music to our short dance to make it more dynamic. We’ve worked a lot with dance instructor Randi Strong and brought judges in to look at the programs.”
Biechler explained how changing their style of music actually had challenged them to become better dancers.
“We are feeling stronger and more confident about our programs now more than we have this whole season. Doing something outside of our comfort zones has not been easy, but these programs are doing exactly what we wanted them to do, which is to push us to grow as skaters.”
Skating and Studying
In addition to training for national and international competitions, Biechler & Dodge have continued to pursue their educations.
In 2017, Dodge earned his degree from Drexel University in Health Services Administration and Biechler graduated from high school. Both have taken the year off to concentrate on their skating. Dodge plans to attend graduate school to work on an MBA with an emphasis in Health Administration and Risk Management. Biechler wants to begin college after the current season.
In addition, Dodge volunteers as a crisis counselor and will be returning to help with the Special Olympics now that he is not attending classes full time. Both are also coaches. Biechler also competes in junior singles ladies, most recently finishing fifth at the 2018 Eastern Sectional Championship. She also skated at the Salt Lake City Challenge Skate in October.
“Some people think you can have one or the other (skating or school), but we are better when we have something else in our lives,” Dodge explained. “When you skate all the time – you go to the rink and then go home – you get in a funk.”
The team plans to continue to compete in the next Olympic Quad. In the meantime, Biechler & Dodge are looking forward to competing at Nationals and showing their growth as a team.