by Anne Calder

Emily Bratti, 19 and Ian Somerville, 21 are long-time friends and former training mates in Rockville, Maryland. Last summer they became partners and moved to Canton, Michigan to train with Greg Zuerlein and Charlie White. The team won their first competition at the USFS Championship Series in Blaine, Minnesota. They placed 8th at the Cup of Austria and will compete December 8-11 at the Golden Spin of Zagreb (Croatia).   

Recently, Tanith White, Charlie White and Greg Zuerlein announced the opening of the Michigan Ice Dance Academy (MIDA) at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Michigan. The Academy will open March 1, 2022.

Since IDC was already prepared to post a series of Q&As from Bratti and Somerville, we reached out for their thoughts on being on board MIDA from its beginning.

Emily and Ian shared their excitement about the opening of MIDA.

Training with Greg and Charlie this season has been such an amazing experience. Greg has been our main coach and has spent so much time working with us on our programs while also improving our skating skills and ability to embody the characters of our programs. We’re so lucky to have a coach as dedicated as Greg who clearly wants us to succeed in all ways just as much as we do. Greg and Charlie have both worked on our choreography this season, and the two of them work together very well. They’re able to put their ideas together and find the best versions of each of their visions. Charlie has been taking us for lessons throughout the season and Tanith has been coming in to help us as well. We always look forward to our lessons with Charlie, Tanith, and Greg because their passion for skating matches ours so well. Even more than that, we feel safe and supported as people just as much as we do as skaters while we’re with them. We’re so thankful for how much they have believed in us and devoted themselves to us this season.

We anticipate our training to look the same in some ways when MIDA begins, but we are looking forward to the addition of other dance teams and resources that will be included, for example the partnership with the University of Michigan Dance school. While we feel like training alone during our first season together has given us a unique opportunity to focus on ourselves and figure out who we are, we are excited to take the next step forward and enter a training environment where we will be surrounded by other teams. We’re proud of how we’ve motivated ourselves to work hard thus far, but the competitive and uplifting atmosphere we’re expecting MIDA to have will be even more inspiring. Charlie has always emphasized how beneficial it is to train alongside your competitors so that you can push each other to be better, and we are excited for this to help us improve once the school is formed. We’re mostly looking forward to continuing to spend our lives with such positive people who have already helped us grow so much. We’re so happy that we will get to be a part of welcoming new skaters to the school once it opens up!

What are your earliest skating memories? Did you try other disciplines?

Emily: My first time on the ice was when I was five at one of my friends’ birthday parties. I loved it immediately and made my parents sign me up for lessons. I have competed in freestyle, synchro, and solo dance. Solo dance was definitely my favorite. I competed in it for five years. I found that when I was competing in freestyle I spent more time focusing on things like footwork, twizzles, and musicality than the actual jumps. It was more fun. 

Ian: My earliest skating memory is the first time I ever stepped on a sheet of ice. It wasn’t a rink but rather a frozen puddle in my backyard. I remember wearing my sister’s white skates and being bundled up in a puffy winter coat, mittens, and a hat. When I started skating at the Chevy Chase Club, I was always messing around and getting into trouble for being reckless. I tried wearing hockey skates when I was younger, but it was miserable not being able to do any of the cool and awesome moves I could do in figure skates. 

What led you to ice dancing? What do you like best about it?

Emily: I decided to try ice dance because of how much I liked solo ice dance. I originally never thought I would want to skate with a partner, but it ended up being what I liked most. My first ice dance coaches, Katrina Shalin, Vitaliy Shalin, and Max Katchinov helped me find my first partner. Katrina inspired me to try competing in dance; she believed in me so much that I started to really see myself going somewhere with it. 

Ice dance makes it possible to turn a feeling into something visible that other people can appreciate. I also love how it gives you the opportunity to go through everything with another person who understands your emotions. 

Ian: Ice dancing happened by accident. After competing at the Chevy Chase Clubs annual winter freestyle competition, a judge recommended trying out the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy. She thought it would help advance my skating and knew that there were other male skaters I could be friends with. I didn’t know what ice dance was until one day my coaches paired us all up with partners. I remember watching the older group of skaters in the academy practicing as “duos”, but being the clueless 8 year old I was, I didn’t register why.  

How did your partnership come about?                                                                                                              

Emily: Ian and I trained together at Rockville, Maryland for three seasons before we became partners. This summer, I was at a point in my career that I felt like I was in need of a change that would bring back my love for skating and enjoying my life in general. I had recently split up with my former partner. One day Ian texted me asking if I wanted to practice with him. We had practiced together a few times over the past few years, and it was always really fun. It felt so easy and natural due to how well we got along, and how similarly we skated. To then become partners with Ian felt like the right thing to do.

When you first teamed up, what did you see in each other that made you think you had the potential to become a good partnership?

Emily: Ian and I have the same ideas of what we want to accomplish with our skating. We both genuinely like working hard at practice. We also spend a lot of time thinking about, talking about, and watching skating together. 

I’ve always struggled with having confidence in my skating. Before we were partners Ian helped me believe in myself and my skating abilities. That’s continued into our partnership, and I’m thankful for that. The fact that we already knew each other so well made forming the partnership feel as seamless as it did. Even moving to Michigan together didn’t feel overwhelming.

In terms of actual skating, we have pretty much identical styles and knee bend. I never need to change what feels natural in order to match him, which is something I haven’t ever experienced before skating with anyone else. 

Ian: I knew that Emily was an extremely elegant and graceful skater with impeccable technique. She was always the best at twizzles, which is probably the most impressive thing to master in ice dance. I knew we would make a great team because of our matching personalities and identical passion for skating. She was a hard worker and always wanted to be on the ice. Emily was always easy to get along with and never judged me for being weird.

Were there any specific challenges you faced as a new team? 

Ian: It wasn’t really that challenging for us to adapt to each others skating because we have very similar styles. The hardest elements for us to learn were spins and lifts because we both had to adjust to a new leverage. We experimented with so many variations and ended up choosing the ones that worked best for our bodies.

You made a 500 mile move this fall from Rockville to Canton. How have you adjusted to this change?

Emily: The hardest thing for me has probably been living away from home and having to try to figure out how to be an adult. For a month or two, we were living a little over an hour away from the rink, so we would take turns making the long drive. 

Ian: Moving away from home was probably the best and most important thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s so rewarding to be self sufficient; It’s helped me grow so much as a person.  A new environment with an awesome partner, supportive coaches, friendly staff, and the best off-ice trainer has been refreshing for me. Being independent and spending so much time with Emily has helped me stay focused and motivated. Greg gave us such a structured schedule it made all the adjustments feel so seamless, which made it easy to work hard.

Tell me about working with your choreographers. 

Emily: Working with Greg and Charlie has been incredible. Greg was one of our coaches back in Maryland a few years ago, so we already knew him really well. He amazed me with his ability to make his visions for our rhythm dance come to reality through his choreography. He’s really logical in terms of the pattern of our programs. He created the right movements on the music that highlight accents and take advantage of our strengths. Greg is so much fun to work with. He really helped me gain more confidence in my skating, and that I belong where I am.

Ian:  Greg is a [choreographic] mastermind and a musical genius. 

Emily: Charlie is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. For some reason when I first met Charlie, I wasn’t expecting him to act like such an approachable person. Meryl and Charlie have been my idols my whole life, and I guess I didn’t consider them as real people too. I was surprised how fast we felt like we were pretty much friends. 

I laughed more the first three weeks doing free dance choreography with Ian and Charlie than I had in the past two years. While creating a program that we love, Charlie was also able to give me a new understanding and respect for the sport of ice dance. He took breaks and spent hours talking to us about various philosophical topics, like how important it is to put what we are doing on the ice into perspective while recognizing how special skating is. I’ve never felt so connected to skating before; it’s awesome. 

How did you choose this season’s music?  

RD: “Genius” by Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo, and “Sax” by Fleur East

FD: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Your Song”, and “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John and Taron Egerton

Ian: Emily and I have similar tastes in music. We were on the same page from the get-go. The very first free dance idea on our long list was Elton John. We both love his songs. We were also really inspired by Nathan Chen’s free skate to the “Rocket Man” soundtrack. We knew it could be even cooler as an ice dance routine.

Emily: We had already talked about a lot of songs we thought would be really good for skating programs. We both love Elton John, and we wrote down our top songs from him. Then we figured out the best options to use and the right order to put them in. It’s so cool to be able to skate to something I listen to for fun. Additionally, the story we were able to create with our free dance is very relatable and makes it easy to connect with the music. 

Ian: This years Rhythm Dance theme was very difficult to figure out especially being a new team. The choreography for our street dance “funk” section took a lot of trial and error. The disco program I skated to last year helped me get used to a fast paced and energetic type of program.

Emily: The Rhythm dance took longer to choose. Dmytri Ilin’s wife Jennifer Lagomarsino, was the one who found our blues part, “Genius.” For the faster part, Charlie played “Sax” for us on the ice one day. It was a song he had used for a show program. The pop style of the first part is completely different from anything I’ve ever skated to before. Also, I feel like ending our program with such upbeat music is contagious.  It was so fun to see the crowd really get into it during our first competition. 

What is the best thing about skating each of your dances?

Emily: The thing I like most about our rhythm dance is that we are skating to more of a pop song for blues, which continues into our partial step sequence. This allows us to be sharper and faster than normal blues music would call for. It’s a different direction than a lot of rhythm dances are taking this season, but I think it’s the best thing we could have chosen. 

Ian: We had a lot of ideas, but ultimately our coaches wanted to put together a piece that would be the most strategically effective. We trusted their decision. The best part about skating to this music is that you can just act cool while skating to it. 

Emily: The thing I like most about our free dance is everyone worked together so well to create it. Ian and I spent a lot of time thinking about how we wanted to arrange our free dance and came up with different options for elements before we started choreography. Charlie and Greg ended up incorporating a lot of our ideas into the program. That makes it feel like it’s really ours rather than something foreign we were given. 

Ian: The best part about skating to the Elton John program is that it begins with a lot of suspense and unexpected sharp beats that draw you in. 

If you could choose any ice dance team to give you a solo lesson, who would that be? Why?

Emily: I would love to have a solo lesson from Gabi and Guillaume because I think the way they’re able to gain so much speed across the ice without looking like they’re even trying at all is so amazing. They just flow, and I never notice them push. 

I would also say Tessa & Scott because they are such strong technical skaters, and they have the ability to keep their same skating skills while fully connecting with each other and fully committing to their programs. They can skate to any genre of music and make it look amazing. Something I want to be able to improve upon with my own skating is feeling like I can stay controlled on my feet while presenting to my full capacity. Tessa and Scott mastered that skill.

Ian: I would have to say Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. I’ve always looked up to him and strived to skate like him because he is the best skater that has ever existed. They have also gone through a lot of ups and downs in their career. I believe it has given them a lot of wisdom and expertise when it comes to rebounding. They also have an amazing sense of humor and appear to be excellent communicators, which is why I think they could have so much influence.

What are some of the short and long term goals you have set for your partnership?

Some of the short term goals we have set for ourselves includes pushing our boundaries in terms of performing throughout our whole programs. We want to get to a point where every moment in our run throughs is captivating and has the same attention to detail as it would if we just skated that small part.

We have really big long term goals, and we are dedicated to putting everything into achieving them. Ian and I both love skating so much, and we are going to spend the next phase of our lives working toward becoming as good as we can. We want to be a team who makes people excited to watch. 

Additionally, something that Charlie has spent a long time talking about with us is making sure that what we do in order to get where we want to be is sustainable. That we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the end will justify the means. We want to enjoy the process of training, traveling and competing, and be there for each other while we experience ups and downs.