by Anne Calder | Photos by Melanie Heaney

“Our goal for this season is to break barriers and show that it is possible to reach great heights in even a limited amount of time.

Five months ago Isabella Flores and Ivan Desyatov formed a new ice dance partnership. They train with Elena Dostatni at the World Arena in Colorado Springs. The senior team aims to compete at the 2023 US National Championships, but first must qualify at the Ice Dance Final from November 8-12 at the Skating Club of Boston in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Coach Dostatni praised her new team. “First, they have very good chemistry. There is a deep mutual respect, which is very important. They are very powerful, like storming across the ice. It is very challenging. He came with basically no English. Bella is patient with him. I’m seeing what’s going to be a phenomenal team. They just have to work hard.”

A typical work day consist of four hours of on-ice and two hours of off-ice training.

Desyatov notes that compared to Moscow, at the World Arena there is a lot more individual training. You work with a coach more one-on-one.”

In addition to numerous other challenges a new team faces, Colorado Springs has an altitude of over 6,000 ft., which influences training experiences.

“Our coaches like to call altitude training “legal doping”, Flores said. “The process of getting back into shape and running through programs after traveling is miserable. The lack of oxygen affects not only your ability to get enough into your lungs, but also how much oxygen makes it’s way into your muscles. Once we get back into competitive shape, skating a full run through at lower altitude is not difficult at all.”

“In the first two to three weeks I came here, it was very hard,” Desyatov said. “I skated one lap around the rink and “died”. When we first started running our programs, there was always a taste of blood in my mouth afterwards. Now breathing is much easier, but after every competition at lower altitude, it takes time to recover.”

Flores & Desyatov know there are also several other new U.S. senior teams, so how will they stand out in the group.

“We came together in the midst of fighting for our future,” Flores said. “That fighter’s mentality is what our partnership is founded upon. Likewise, that value is our greatest asset.”

So why did Bella and Vanya become ice dancers?

“Elena Dostatni brought me into the ice dance world in 2011,” Flores said. “She had become the new Ice Dance Director at the World Arena and gave a seminar with her husband Andrzej. My childhood best friend, Davis Ortonward went to the group classes with me and eventually became my first partner. However, I did not fully commit to ice dance until a few years later. I made the switch when I was twelve-years-old because I loved to perform.”

Desyatov disclosed his reason. “I did not originally choose to ice dance, but since my jumps were not consistent as a single skater, I switched to dance in 2012.”

Prior to teaming up, Isabella Flores & Ivan Desyatov were Junior international competitors. Coincidently, both competed with their prior partners at the 2021 Junior Grand Prixs in Courchevel, France and Gdansk, Poland where the USA team won silver at both events. Desyatov represented Russia 2016-2021 and Belarus in 2021-2022.

After the dancers parted ways with their previous partners, each moved to a new continent for a scheduled tryout.

“At the beginning of the year, I traveled abroad for a tryout,” Flores said. “I returned to Colorado two and half months later. It was time to have some serious conversations and figure out what was next. Vanya had come to WASA (World Arena Skating Academy) just after I had departed the U.S. He was trying out with several girls.”

Desyatov countered. “My decision to relocate to the U.S. was made very quickly. I did not know that Bella was a possibility. I came for another tryout that didn’t work out, but I am very grateful for their help in the transition to the U.S. When I arrived, Bella was doing a tryout in Croatia; for two months I skated alone. I had other tryouts, but they all failed.” 

“From the first day I skated with Bella, I was very comfortable with her. Even though I spoke very little English, she made it easier for me by speaking with simpler words. Sometimes when she tells me something I don’t understand, I just smile and nod my head.”

“We were both in the middle of major life transitions, so, while we did practice together, we didn’t commit to a partnership for a while,” explained Flores. 

The decision to become a new senior team has proven beneficial to them both.

“In a way, I think a new partnership was a gift in disguise because it forced us both to adapt to new things,” Flores said. “It’s a lot of change all at once, but in the shock of it all the transition from junior to senior seems arbitrary. I have to push myself out of my comfort zone with Vanya, and I hope he has to do the same to keep up with me.”

Actually this season all ice dance teams were faced with challenges due to technical element changes. The rhythm dance, for example, eliminated the pattern for seniors. Flores shared her thoughts on the move.

“As a skater, I enjoy the freedom and uniqueness that the new rules allow. That being said, I also believe that pattern dances level the playing field since everyone must skate the same dance, which is crucial in such a subjective discipline. I’m mixed!”

Coach Dostatni found the absence of the pattern as a definite challenge, so she took the challenge and converted it into something good.

“We like the new element – the Choreographic Step Sequence. I think specifically for the Latin rhythms and just for Bella and Vanya we created an interesting element based on ballroom movement. We hope it gets noticed because we worked very hard off-ice with it. We took the off-ice ballroom movement to the ice to make it very unique.

“We are skating our rhythm dance to “Tiburon” by Projecto Uno and “03 Bonnie & Clyde” by Jay-Z and Beyonce and back to “Tiburon,” Flores said. “It’s a super high energy program with lots of fast movements. It’s a difficult program and an exhausting one too, but it’s fun. I love performing it in front of an audience – it’s a crowd pleaser.”

Desyatov added his thoughts. “It’s very energetic, fast, and at the same time, very difficult. I don’t like boring music to which you need to cry and show unhappiness.”

“Bella chose the middle music. We were all into it, so I had fun choreographing the whole dance,” noted Dostatni. “Bella can move very sassy with very cool mature movements. Ivan can move, too. We worked with Hugo Chouinard to cut the music. He is a huge investment into our programs because he helps you understand what’s better to do.”

The Free Dance to “I Love You-Acoustic” by Woodkid and “Solas” by Jamie Duffy was choreographed by Massimo Scali.

“I did the skeleton,” Dostatni said. “Bella proposed the original idea of the music, and we liked it. We combined Woodkid with “Solas” a more classical music piece. It’s the story about a man who loves a woman. She’s not paying attention to him. We carry that story that he’s trying to get her attention until it comes to a breaking point. Finally, he’s so kind, so good, and so patient that she notices him and also loves him.”

“What I like best about the Free Dance is the emotion,” Flores revealed. “Vanya and I have both had a turbulent year, and that gets to come out during this program.”

“Our Free Dance is the opposite of the Rhythm Dance,” Desyatov added. “At the same time, it’s not boring music. I like that we have different styles in dancing. We embrace more opportunities to show the judges and the audience that we can not only move quickly to Latin, but we can also skate softly and make long movements.”

Flores and Desyatov had completely different responses when asked what they liked about ice dancing.

“I love dancing,” Flores exclaimed. ”I might not be the most talented dancer out there, but when I dance, I pour my heart and soul into it. When I dance, I feel free.”

“Dancing was a big part of my childhood. We would often have “dance parties” (usually my mom, sister and me). My sister and I continued this tradition through our youth. In our room, we would dance for hours on end to whatever songs were playing on the radio. I often choreographed routines for us to perform in front of our parents.

“I don’t have dance parties quite as often anymore, but movement is still my favorite outlet of expression.”

Desyatov had quite a different statement. “As strange as it may seem, I don’t like dancing on ice. (Ok, maybe a little bit…) I like the feeling of speed, freedom, and the feeling when you lay the side of your boot so that it touches the ice when you skate.”

Dostatni’s assessment of her student’s skating further explains his answer about dancing on the ice. “His greatest strengths are his quality and power. He is very strong and powerful. I would say he has the best ankle work in terms of bending that I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”

In conclusion, Bella and Vanya each shared some personal thoughts…

Vanya, what has it been like moving to a new country with a new language and lots of strangers?

“The country and language are not so important to me. You can quickly adapt to it and learn. I am lucky in that several people in our skating school speak Russian, including a few of our coaches. The most difficult thing for me was to leave all of my family and friends.” [This includes an older brother. His parents passed away when he was a young teenager.]

Bella, you have had a difficult year. How has ice dance helped you through all the emotion?

“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t know if I had a future in ice dance. My heart was broken and days were tough, but I continued to show up even when I didn’t feel like getting to the rink that day. I had to fight the growing urge to quit this sport that I love so much. I had no idea where to begin if I were to continue my career as a figure skater. Now that I am on the other side, I’m so grateful that I didn’t give into self-doubt, and beyond that, I am so grateful to all the people who treated me with kindness when I needed it most. I hope the community around me continues to follow my journey.”