Article by Melanie Hoyt
Photo by Katie Weigel
If an elite ice dancer, newly retired from competitive skating, is going to feel a slight twinge of regret, it’s probably going to be in March. This is especially likely if it’s March in a post-Olympic year, World Championships looming on the horizon, when the world of competitive dance is brimming with opportunity and excitement. But Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto do not have regrets. They have new projects and exciting plans on their own horizon, and instead of spending long days at the rink, polishing programs for Worlds, they’re jetting all over the country as cast members in the Smucker’s Stars on Ice 25th Anniversary Tour.
And how does it feel to be on tour while longtime friends and rivals are preparing to face off in Tokyo?
“It feels right,” Belbin said, without a hint of hesitation. “I’ve never felt, since we retired, that tug to return to competition.”
“No regrets,” she added.
After a few guest spots while they were still competing, Belbin & Agosto are in their second year as full cast members with Smucker’s Stars on Ice, and they are loving it.
“My favorite thing about touring with the show is the camaraderie that you build over the course of the tour with the cast,” Agosto said. “Everyone is so talented and has so much to offer, but everyone gets along so well.
This year’s landmark tour is headlined by 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen and includes longtime cast members Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss and new U.S. cast member, 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette. Canadians Jamie Salé & David Pelletier are skating in most of the shows, but in 6 shows, they’re replaced by Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman, making their first appearances on the ice together since 2008. Perhaps the biggest treat of this silver anniversary is a return to the full U.S. tour for fan favorites Kurt Browning and Ekaterina Gordeeva. Browning’s last full tour in the U.S. was 2003 and Gordeeva has not been on the full tour since 2000. Both have done partial tours, but this is a unique opportunity for fans across the country to see two of the classic cast members at every show.
Both Belbin and Agosto have fond memories of seeing Browning and Gordeeva in Smucker’s Stars on Ice when they were young, so touring with them makes this year extra special.
“We’re so excited to watch and be inspired by the skaters [on tour],” Agosto said.
“As part of such a storied company, we still kind of feel like newbies,” Belbin added. “We feel like we’re becoming a part of something. It’s pretty surreal.”
The only dance team on the tour, Belbin & Agosto are trying to offer two very different solo programs. In their first number, set to the popular song “Use Somebody,” they use a scarf as a prop and try to set a romantic mood.
Their second program takes a dramatic turn.
“It’s a flamenco piece, a little more of a classical sound,” Agosto explained, “but with a vampire twist. That one’s a lot of fun to perform.”
The tour continues through April 9, and after that, Belbin & Agosto are hoping for plenty of opportunities to continue skating this year, possibly in Asian markets.
Although the team no longer lives in the same state—Belbin is based in the Detroit area, while Agosto moved to Washington state last year—it wasn’t too difficult to get their programs ready for the tour. They skated together when they were scheduled for shows in the fall, and since Agosto’s parents are still in the Detroit area, it was easy for him to come “home” and work with Belbin at the Detroit Skating Club, where their partnership began.
And though a part of them remains in sync as partners on the ice, they are excited about a new chapter in their lives that is allowing the m to pursue separate interests. Both finally have the time to focus on college courses, and both are setting new goals. Agosto is interested in pursuing voiceover work and has a long-term goal of a career in sports medicine. Meanwhile, Belbin has fit really well as a commentator with Universal Sports and would love to continue being a voice of skating in the future.
“It’s not a full-time commitment,” Belbin said, “so it’s a great way for me to stay involved with the sport…as long as I can keep up with the rule changes!”
A hope that we all share, Tanith.
Check out starsonice.com for tour dates, ticket info, cast information, and much more!