by Anne Calder | Photo by Melanie Heaney
IDC interviewed only a few of the many coaches involved in the development of Solo Dance programs, but we do salute and thank all those mentors dedicated to training and guiding the athletes.
THE COACHES / PROGRAMS
Logan Giulietti-Schmitt competed in U.S. ice dance 2006-2014. He coaches in Dallas, Texas. When Giulietti-Schmitt moved to the Lone Star State in 2017, there wasn’t much dance in the area. Slowly he’s been developing a program that is now up to six skaters ranging from juvenile through senior level. More come from out of town periodically to work on elements, pattern dance and choreography.
Kristen Frazier-Lukanin & Igor Lukanin competed for Azerbaijan in ice dance 2000-2010. They coach at the Montclair State Arena in Little Falls, NJ. They currently have five Solo Dance competitors. Two compete in the combined events, one in the pattern dance event and four in shadow dance. They span from Preliminary to Senior.
Chris Obzansky competed in US ice dance 1999-2010. He coaches in Park City, Utah. The solo dance program was started three years ago with two skaters and has now grown to ten at various levels. They also have a few solo dancers in Provo and Salt Lake City. Last year, Park City sent five athletes to the Final; one took second in the Senior Combined event and Gold Pattern Dances.
Alina Ponomarova is a US and International ice dance coach and choreographer at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois. Ponomarova’s focus is to create dance teams, but she supports Solo Dance as a great alternative for skaters who don’t have a partner. Her rink has great opportunities to develop the program. Actually some skaters at FVIR have competed at the Series Final and are national champions.
Naomi Lang Strong is a five time US National Champion with Peter Tchernyshev 1999-2003. She is a coach and Ice Dance Manager at the Chandler, Arizona Ice Den. Four years ago Lang Strong moved to the Ice Den and was given an ice dance class to start. She did “learn to skate” with little previews of ice dancing. Slowly after a year it started to catch on. She kept selling the Solo Dance Series, and last year she already had twelve dancers registered in the program.
John Millier is the USFS Solo Dance Chairman. He is a former ice dancer and current national and international ice dance official. Millier has written all the rules for the National Solo Dance Series since its beginning in January 2011.
SHOW AND TELL
The coaches shared their thoughts on various aspects of the Solo Dance Series.
As a competitor, you trained in couple dance. What drew you to the world of solo dance?
Logan Giulietti-Schmitt: I’m naturally drawn to anything that involves dance fundamentals, footwork, artistry, patterns and elements. Anyone who wants to be a strong partner first has to learn to be a good skater; this stems from techniques and training taught to the individual. I’ve coached many skaters who have been interested in dance to some varying degree. Whether they’ve been actively looking for partners or just wanting to test dances, often time I’m working on solo technique and exercises anyway, so it was a pretty natural transition from the partnered world of dance.
Chris Obzansky: When I retired from my competitive career, I went the very traditional career route. I graduated with a Masters Degree in Accounting from Gonzaga University and worked a corporate job in Seattle. Despite having a good job, benefits, and 401(k), I wasn’t happy and missed skating. After reading Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk, I realized that life is too short to spend time doing things you hate. I decided to start coaching a few mornings a week before work to add some joy to my life. One of the skaters was a Juvenile combined solo dancer. My job was to clean up her free dance. I loved every moment of those lessons and decided that I wanted to make a career in coaching.
Is Solo Dance developing into a unique dance category of its own?
Logan Giulietti-Schmitt: I definitely think solo dance has become its own category. It provides a wonderful alternative to many skaters who love the artistry and performance side of ice dance, but aren’t interested in skating with a partner. Also, many freestylers are finding a challenge and enjoyment through solo dance. The discipline has grown tremendously in the last few years with the introduction of IJS, more challenging rules and increased opportunities for skaters.
Chris Obzansky: I do think solo dance is developing into a unique dance category. At the National Solo Dance Final last year [2019) I was so impressed with the creativity and power of the skaters. Many of the solo dancers skated to original music and performed very interesting choreography. They were also pushing solo dance to new levels. It was fun to watch!
John Millier: Actually, I think the series itself and the fact that there is a national final provides just that incentive. The majority of the participants are not necessarily looking for partners and are looking for ways to compete in an aspect of figure skating that they enjoy. It is one of the reasons we have two distinct tracks to the series. The pattern dance only suits those who are not looking for activity outside of the traditional pattern dances, while the combined offers not only something new for solo skaters but a path to learn skills needed if they do wish to try to find a partner.
What positives do you use to recruit skaters into your Solo Dance program?
Kristin Frazier-Lukanin: Most of our skaters who compete in solo dance compete in other disciplines as well. They see the value of the skill of ice dance and see it as a way to improve their overall skating skills. Those who compete in couples dance see it as a way to strengthen their solo skills for the standard testing track.
Logan Giulietti-Schmitt: To be a strong competitor in any discipline, you have to first be a good skater and understand edges, turns, body movement, music interpretation, power and artistry. This is the foundation of ice dance whether it’s partnered or solo. IJS is continuously pushing skaters to not just be able to do the elements, but to have the whole package. That’s what sets great skaters apart from good skaters. Solo ice dance can help you understand all of these things even if it’s not one’s main focus.
Chris Obzansky: Our Figure Skating Club supports skaters in all types of skating. I work with a team of coaches who will encourage certain skaters to try solo dance. In return, I’ve tried to include the skater’s freestyle coaches in the process of developing my solo dancers. They help me with spins, choreography, music ideas, and costumes etc. The freestyle coaches have really helped me develop my solo dancers.
Alina Ponomarova: You can see skaters who are shining when the music plays and just have a natural feel for movement. Even when skaters are inexperienced you can see their potential performance skills and edge work. I always let these skaters and their parents know that they have a natural talent for ice dance and tell them about the Solo Dance Series as something they could explore.
Naomi Lang Strong: If they don’t like to jump, I sell the Solo Dance Series as a good way to be able to skate and do elements – all without the pressure of jumping. Many of the girls have dreams of having a partner, but there are so few boys out there to choose from, so I keep them focused on what they are doing to develop their skills so if that chance happens, they will already know what they are doing. I just try to make them as strong as possible on their own.
The entire 2020 Solo Dance Series and Final were canceled on May 19 due to the Covid-19 virus. What affect will this have on the Series and training?
Logan Giulietti-Schmitt: My training will be a lot different because normally we’d be drilling patterns and programs during this time trying to improve featured steps, elements and choreography. However, now we have lots of extra time to work on skating skills, develop elements and potentially learn and test new dances for some.
I have already gone back to basics with my skaters and incorporated fresh exercises into their daily routine. I’ve asked everyone to push their comfort levels of edge quality, power and body movement. This is the time to try new and creative things while working on weaknesses. Some skaters enjoy this process more than others, but all know it’s valuable in their progress as a competitive skater.
Kristin Frazier-Lukanin: Apart from the first 10-15 minutes all of our skaters popped right back into shape, hopefully due to the thorough off-ice program we were able to create for our athletes during quarantine called Krigor Studio. Most of our skaters did zoom privates as well focusing on pattern dances and free dances off of the ice.
We held and still hold daily conditioning classes; dance classes including hip hop with Serge Onik, ballroom, ballet, and AfroBeats; stretching and Pilates.
Chris Obzansky: We are still trying to find some kind of routine with the kids. Many of my dancers are preparing for dance tests and solo free dance tests. Some are looking for partners with hopes of potentially competing partnered dance this year.
One of my solo dancers and I choreographed a Senior Solo Free dance via Zoom! That was an interesting experience! The screen froze every 30 seconds, but somehow, we created a free dance.
Naomi Lang Strong (via Facebook): After a couple of hours of pondering and being sad, I realized I’m now excited to not dwell on what we did, but dwell on what we will do next! It’s going to be ok. Time for new programs, new ideas, be creative, we all have to keep on keeping on!
John Millier: I don’t foresee big changes in the way one will train. Some skaters will have had their programs already done from this year but others were not that far along before the rinks were closed. I expect for the most part skaters will be well prepared for the upcoming season, and we may see more skaters participating in the earlier events as a result.
USFS Solo Dance Series: We will retain the same requirements for 2021 as we had set for 2020. This is similar to what the ISU has done, and we feel it’s the fairest thing for skaters and coaches. Unfortunately, we expect to lose some skaters due to the pandemic for a number of reasons, but we are working hard to find ways to keep skaters engaged so our numbers are healthy for next year.
The third article in our series will introduce some of the Solo Dance Series athletes, past and current, and explores their thoughts on the influence the program had in their ice dancing careers.