Focus on Solo Dance: Coaches’ Perspectives (Part II)

by Anne Calder

The second article in the Coaches’ Perspectives section of the IDC Solo Dance Series continues to highlight coaches, who have developed programs that promote the discipline.

Katrina (Reyes) Shalin has been involved in figure skating since 1998. She competed with Jonathan Wright at the 2005 and 2006 U.S. Championships as a junior, briefly with Jamie Whyte on the senior level and at the 2007 Australian nationals with Spencer Barns. Shalin works at the Auburn Ice House in northern Virginia where she is also a member of The Dance Edge team of skating coaches and choreographers that includes Vitaliy Shalin and Max Katchanov.

Tell us about your solo dance program.
There are four dance coaches who work together, and we have a couple of specialty coaches for spins. We also use two ballroom coaches and will occasionally bring in a modern dance coach. We each have our own focus point when we work with the kids, and we definitely feel like each person has their own unique strengths to bring to each skater.

This season, we have over 15 dancers between the four coaches that work together. When the solo dance series first started back in 2011/2012, we had one skater the first season, then three the following season and it has just grown since then. The number of dancers fluctuates each season, but we love having new skaters join our solo dance circle!

This season we would have had two of our partner dancers compete in the Solo Dance series. In the past, we have had a handful of dancers do both partner dance and solo dance, but we encouraged them to eventually choose partner dance if they had the option to pursue that.  

Why are most of your solo dancers involved in the discipline?
Most of our solo dancers were always involved in other disciplines, especially synchro and some freestyle. They did solo dance to help with their skating skills, musicality, carriage, timing, artistry, etc. We only had a handful of skaters who were just dancers and a lot of those skaters eventually found partners.

We also had some who just loved ice dance, did not want a partner, loved to compete and loved to express themselves on the ice. Solo dance gave them such a great outlet to still be able to compete and work on skills that help them become a well-rounded skater. Right now we have mostly dancers who love solo dance and in the future, if the right situation presents itself, they would want to be partner dancers.   

How do you promote Solo Dance to get more students involved?
Aside from social media posts, I don’t really think we really “promoted” solo dance to get more students involved. I feel like our dancers do a lot of the promoting for us.

Other skaters see them at the rink working on their free dances, focusing on the skating skills and the presentation/dancing aspect of skating, working on a lot of other types of skating drills and pattern dances, and so they start to ask their coaches about it. It looks like a lot of fun from the outside, especially when our skaters really get into the programs. I feel like that is the best way to really promote solo dance and get other skaters involved.

We have a really good team of coaches (outside of the four of us) at the rinks we coach at, so a lot of the time the other coaches will send their skaters our way to help improve on the ice-dance aspects of their skating. We start working on specific skill sets, and then eventually it evolves into the skaters wanting to compete in solo dance.

I really think a lot of the promoting happens through what the skaters see from our solo dancers, past and present. We definitely appreciate all their hard work they put into solo dancing.

With the Solo Dance Series canceled, what is your training like with no competitions until 2021? 
We had been running a lot of zoom classes and zoom private lessons to keep our dancers motivated and moving.

Now being back on the ice, and with all this time before competitions start up for next season, we are back to working on basics – stroking, twizzles, edge elements, pattern dances and doing some re-choreography for their programs.

We are encouraging everyone to keep up with off-ice training that they dove into during quarantine because it really does help them become well-rounded skaters and performers.

We have a handful of dancers competing at Wilmington in September, if it does not get canceled, just to get a chance to do their routine in front of the judges. 

Do you have any additional thoughts about Solo Dance you would like to share?
I am all about solo dance, and all the benefits that come along with training as a solo dancer. It has helped mold a lot of skaters to continue their skating journey as partnered dancers, freestylers and synchro skaters. It gives skaters another path to get that competitive experience and exposure. It develops other aspects of their skating that they may or may not already be focusing on in other disciplines, it gives them confidence in what they can do.

It is fun, and you get to meet a lot of great skaters and coaches along the way. Solo dance has certainly evolved over the years and has definitely become quite competitive, and I think that is great!  We are very thankful that the solo dance series was created. I know for us it has been a positive experience from the very beginning. 

Katrina Shalin recently reflected on solo dance in a Facebook post after three of her students were highlighted in a dancers’ perspectives article earlier in the series.  In her own words…

Solo dance has been amazing for The Dance Edge skaters and coaches. For me, as a coach, the best part of the Solo Dance Series is the confidence I have been able to instill in every single skater that has come our way. If there was one thing I could give to the skaters, I wanted to make them as confident as they could be about their skating, who they are and what they had to offer. Whether it’s in skating or in life, we need that confidence in ourselves. We need that positive reinforcement; we need to know it’s OK to make mistakes; we need to learn how to get up and keep going. We need to know there are people always rooting us on…forever cheerleaders.

We have been able to nurture and develop their love of skating, and I feel like that is a big reason why a lot of kids were successful. They loved what they did; they loved working hard because it was a positive atmosphere, and they knew we had their backs. I’m proud to say we have had a handful of many talented young skaters since the solo dance series started that we have been able to develop into confident and strong skaters.

After flying out of the comfort of our nest to continue to follow their dreams, we have kept in touch with most of them and are always their cheerleaders. A lot of them are up and coming skaters in the competitive world of skating – Team USA synchro skaters and team dancers, a Team France team dancer, a Team Hungary team dancer and many others. We have had freestylers competing both in solo dance and freestyle to improve their components score – it’s been amazing! Other skaters who have quit skating, we are still connected with and cheer them on in their life endeavors.

This has been more than just a job, more than just skating – we have developed amazing connections with skaters and parents through solo dance. Solo dance has helped me as a coach as well! I have also had an opportunity come up like co-coaching dance teams with so many other coaches across the east coast because of solo dance – thanks to my amazing group of skaters! If you’re a skater, who does not want to compete in freestyle, but you want to compete or you’re a dancer who doesn’t have a partner yet, or if you want to improve on a specific set of skills that will help your skating…try solo ice dance. It works on your confidence, musicality, artistry, technique and SO much more.

Max, Vitaliy and I are forever grateful for all the trust you all have put into our coaching team. We love you all!

After the first Coaches’ Perspectives article was posted, Livvy Shilling a US senior ice dancer with partner Alexander Petrov contacted IDC and suggested her former instructor, Annette Schaefer as a fantastic resource and coaching voice for a future article.

“She was my footwork and skating skills coach growing up, and now she spearheads the Solo Dance program at my old rink. I never did Solo Dance, but I would tout Annette as the reason I loved to perfect edges and grew up interested in dance even while competing in freestyle.”

Annette Schaefer works in both Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. She has coached synchronized skating teams as well as singles, free skate, solo dance and dance pairs at the National and Junior Olympic level. Her competitors have earned the highest footwork scores in their events at the Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior and Senior levels. Schaefer has had skaters competing in the Solo Dance Series since 2012, one year after it was adopted.

Tell us about your Solo Dance program.
I am based in Columbus, but I also coach with Jackie MiIes in Cleveland. Jackie works with some of my dancers, and I choreograph for some of her students. For the 2020 season, I had six dancers in Columbus and three skaters in Cleveland who were going to compete.

Do you also do specialty coaching in addition to solo dance?
In addition to dance, much of my time is spent choreographing free skaters step sequences, as well as working on choreography and artistry in their programs.  I also teach skating skills, edgework, power, and MITF [Moves in the Field].  A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to help one of our coaches with her 8th Figure test-which she passed! 

Do your students enjoy competing in the Solo Dance Series as a unique category or are most aiming to do partner ice dance?
I have only had one solo dancer up to this point that actively looked for a partner. Everyone else that has participated in the SDS has done it for the love of ice dancing and the desire to improve their quality of skating, overall performance and artistry.

What enticement do you use to encourage skaters to try the Solo Dance Series?
I believe that the SDS sells itself, but my past and current dancers can also be credited with attracting new interest in solo dance. Other skaters at the rink see them practicing and have said that they want to try it because it looks like a lot of fun!  The endless options for music are motivation too.  Luckily, I have a supportive team of freestyle coaches that I work within Columbus, Mary Anne Williamson and Valerie Marcoux-Plas who will encourage some of their free skaters to dance and compete in the Solo Dance Series. 

The SDS and Final were canceled on May 19. What is your training like to maintain a competitive edge until 2021?
During the quarantine, the dancers spent more time than usual working off-ice on strength & conditioning. They also spent time “skating” their Patterned Dances and Combined Events at their homes. Even though we are back on the ice, I have encouraged my students to continue their off-ice work.

Since we have more time to train on ice before next season officially starts, we have been able to go back to the basics and start to work on more challenging elements for their rhythm and free dances.

What can be done to better promote solo dance and the Solo Dance Series?
Our past and current SDS competitors need to continue to be positive role models in the figure skating community. The local clubs should give their dancers support and publicity through their websites and social media.  Our rink throws a send-off party when my dancers qualify for the National Solo Dance Final, which is very special and gives the Columbus skating community exposure to the success of the solo dancers.

In addition, our past dancers and their coaches need to spread awareness about the opportunities that can stem from a solo dance career. Some of my solo dancers have gone on to coach, compete collegiately in Solo Dance and Synchronized skating, and perform all over the world with Disney on Ice.

The final article in the IDC Focus on Solo Dance series will include a discussion of the 2019 and 2020 Camps, the upcoming virtual Kick-Off experience and a look into the future of the discipline.