by Anne Calder | Photo by Melanie Heaney
Isabella Flores and Dimitry Tsarevski were six and five when they began their skating journeys in different Colorado cities. As 14 year-old training mates, they skated together to help build each other’s partnering skills while also searching for different partners. In May 2020, they teamed up in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight months later the duo was fourth (pewter) at the 2021 U.S. Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Flores was born in Wiesbaden, Germany to military parents, who were later assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. Although she had been on the ice once in Virginia, her skating career began at the World Arena.
“I began as a single skater, but eventually transitioned to ice dance after meeting my current coach Elena Dostatni,” Flores explained. “She had become Director of Ice Dancing and held a seminar at the rink.”
Flores competed in juvenile dance for one season before the family moved to Alaska for her father’s work. After two years in Anchorage, she returned to Colorado and prepared for the Solo Dance season. She also teamed up with new ice dancer, Mikhail Gumba. In October, she won novice silver at the 2016 National Solo Dance Final. The following January, Flores & Gumba were 12th at the 2017 U.S. Championships.
“We broke up after Nationals, and I was back on the market for one year before I found Adam Bouaziz on Ice Partner Search,” Flores said. “We made it to the 2020 Nationals in January, but in March just as the pandemic struck, he went back home to the UK.”
Dimitry Tsarevski was born in Denver, Colorado. His father, a former Soviet Union cross country skiing coach, took him to many public skating sessions and taught him how to skate fast like a hockey player.
“My skating started with hockey,” Tsarevski said. “At age seven I began figure skating to improve my hockey skills. Two years later I had landed my axel and was competing. By the time I was twelve, I had most of my doubles.”
He then decided to concentrate on hockey until a week after his thirteenth birthday, when he got a call from an ice dancer’s mom for a tryout. He fell in love with ice dance and began training with Elena Dostatni’s team.
He never competed with his first partner. However, at one point when Flores and Tsarevski were training together they had a faux tryout that lasted a month. However, nothing ever came out of the situation.
“It took me almost two years before I found a partner,” Tsarevski said. “Leah Neset and I competed intermediate and surprised ourselves by winning Midwest Sectionals and taking second place at the 2019 US Nationals in Detroit, Michigan. In May, we decided to part ways and search for new partners.”
At the same time, Tsarevski left Coaches Elena Dostatni and Christopher Dean. He worked with his father, who though not a figure skating coach, has a degree in Sports. By October, he began looking for a partner, but had several unsuccessful tryouts.
Since Adam Bouaziz had returned home at the onset of the pandemic, Flores was also without a partner.
“I reached out to Dima and our second “tryout” period was less of a tryout and more figuring out the logistics of the partnership,” Flores said. “We both already knew how the other skated, and that we complemented each other well. Since we were both ‘raised’ by the same coach (Elena Dostatni) we have the same technique, which reduced the ‘getting comfortable with one another’ period. He’s more technical; I’m more artistic. It just clicked.”
In addition to the adjustment new teams face, Flores & Tsarevski began their partnership during a pandemic. The rinks were closed, although they were fortunate to be one of the earliest ones to reopen. Their off-ice ballet classes and workouts were done over zoom rather than in person.
“At first there was no ice sessions,” Tsarevski explained. “Then it was very difficult to skate with a mask at over 6,000 feet above sea level. Also our gyms were not open, which limited weight training.”
In spite of the uncertainties of a competitive 2020-2021 season, Flores & Tsarevski began creating a rhythm and free dance. Christopher Dean helped choose one of the pieces for their tango free dance.
“He had the idea of what he wanted for the program in his head,” Tsarevski explained. “He took us every day for a few weeks until it was finished, and then we worked out the details. Maybe one of the original moves would not work at first, and we would work it through. Other times we would change the moves.”
Flores added, “During the initial choreography, we created the backbone of the program. As the season progressed we began to imbue meaning into our movements to give the program a little more flavor.”
“Chris is both our choreographer and coach, so it was a continual process throughout the year. He and Ilona Melnichenko worked with us to clean up our skating to create the finished product at the end of the season.”
It was that finished product coupled with their Funny Girl rhythm dance that earned them a total score that was just .90 out of third place at their first US Championships.
The experience of winning the pewter medal has helped Flores & Tsarevski build confidence as a team.
“This medal has given me a certain amount of security as a team and individual,” Tsarevski said. “I have only competed at four ice dance competitions before, and this was the biggest so far. Naturally I was very nervous. We were a first year team with little experience at competitions. Now I feel as if a stairway has popped up in front of me, and I am finally on step number two.”
“Dima and I are ecstatic that we were able to make the breakthrough,” Flores said. “Stepping out on the ice at Nationals with very little idea of where we would wind up was a bit nerve wracking. When we sat in the kiss and cry after our rhythm dance, we had no idea what to expect.”
“As we begin this next season, I think we both feel a lot more confident and reassured in our capabilities as a team. Ultimately this allows us to set loftier goals for this season such as qualifying for Junior Worlds.”
‘My [personal] goal for next season is working on choreography and expression while on the ice and as a team to create more fluidity while skating together,” Tsarevski added.
The duo trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center – the Broadmoor World Arena. Both athletes begin their days around 6:30 am with workouts or running exercises, followed by schoolwork before heading to the rink. Their skating sessions begin at 11:30 am.
“We’re on the ice for the next four hours,” Flores said. “We fill that time working on our programs, refining our technique during Elena’s group skating skills class (we dedicate a session every day going over the basics), and coaching some of the younger kids to offset our training costs.”
“We also have an off-ice class everyday, whether it be at the gym and working with our lifts coach, working out with our trainer, hip hop, modern [dance] or ballet with our dance instructor, or stretching and working out with Elena.”
Junior ice dance competitors, Leah Neset & Artem Markelov also train at the World Arena with the same team of coaches led by Elena Dostatni. The new team finished sixth at their 2021 U.S. Championships debut.
“I am very grateful to be able to have training mates that are also our competitors because it pushes us to come to practice everyday at our best,” Flores said. “Leah and Artem are great skaters, and I often find myself drawing inspiration from their skating; they’re beautiful to watch. Elena has several younger teams and they keep us on our toes. We want to be good role models for them. As a result, it helps us be the best we can be.”
Tsarevski added, “We are in the same level and it makes us want to be better than each other. “Sometimes Artem may do something that I am not as good at or can’t do, and I will work as hard as possible to get to his level. I think it is the same way for them. We are pretty friendly with each other and get along well.”
Blues is this season’s Pattern Dance Element along with two different “Street Dance” rhythms.
“I’ve never competed to a street dance rhythm, or the blues pattern,” explained Flores. “I have tested the blues, and I actually loved the pattern– it’s a pleasant dance once you get into it, but it’s really hard to execute properly. With our height difference, it is not the most comfortable dance.”
Tsarevski continued, “I’ve not had to skate the Blues before other than for testing. I think the biggest challenge will be ice coverage during the pattern. There are not a lot of pushes, and we need to cover a large amount of ice.”
Christopher Dean did not choreograph their programs this year; he’s in the UK until June working on the Dancing on Ice show and tour.
“Joel Dear came out to Colorado [from New York] and worked with us for a week,” Flores said. “We finished both programs not too long ago. He’s amazing– he choreographed both in a week! We love our programs.”
“We are skating to a blues and hip hop rhythm, so it’s a super “dancey” program. It will be fun when it’s clean, but in the meantime, it’s exhausting because every second of this program requires a lot of energy.”
“It’s super fast and requires a lot of body control — it’s a little scary to do at the moment. Once we work it through, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
“Chris will definitely be a fundamental part in refining both the RD and FD when he comes back.”
HOPES AND DREAMS
Covid-19 has greatly affected the skating community. Closed rinks, off-ice training, canceled and virtual events became the norm for athletes, coaches, parents and all others involved with the sport.
Isabella Flores and Dimity Tsarevski want to put the past year behind them and prepare to face the up-coming season with renewed enthusiasm and positive goals. They shared some of their hopes and dreams.
Flores hopes there will be a somewhat normal season with international competition * they remain healthy and are able to compete throughout the year * their school in Colorado Springs can continue to evolve and be a positive environment so athletes can thrive.
Tsarevski hopes the Junior Grand Prix will be held * they qualify for Junior Worlds * that Covid-19 goes away forever.
The 2021 pewter medalists completed the following statements about their first US Championships as a team.
- At the US Championships, I was most surprised by how well planned out and executed the event was. It wasn’t that much different than Nationals any other year, save we had to wear masks and socially distance.
- At the US Championships, I wish I had a chance to watch more events!
- At the US Championships, my favorite thing was competing. It wasn’t the same without a live audience, but I was so grateful to compete in-person again.
- I’m so glad I got to go to the US Championships because in-person events are such a different experience than virtual competitions. I’m glad I had the chance to interact a bit with my competitors.
- I want to go to the 2022 Championships so I can have the chance to showcase our evolving style and skills.
- At the US Championships, I was most surprised by the organization of the event.
- At the US Championships, I wish I had a chance to watch more of the events.
- At the US Championships, my favorite thing was competing.
- I’m so glad I got to go to the US Championships because it provided an opportunity for our entire team to experience the US Championships.
- I want to go to the 2022 Championships so I can hopefully qualify for Junior Worlds.