by Anne Calder | Skating Photos by Daphne Backman
Elizabeth Tkachenko & Alexei Kiliakov began skating as partners for the USA in 2011 at WISA (Wheaton Ice Skating Academy) in Rockville, Maryland. The team now represents Israel internationally. They are competing this week (September 2-3) at the Junior Grand Prix Czech Skate in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
When and why did you begin ice skating? Did you try other disciples besides ice dance?
Elizabeth: I began skating at 3 years old, beginning by going to various public sessions. I met Alexei on the playground when I was one year old and Alexei was two. Our moms became good friends, and we went to various activities, such as music classes, together. My older brother was invited to join the skating academy [WISA] that Alexei’s parents run, and I was invited as well.
Alexei: I started skating when I was almost four. I got into it because both of my parents are figure skating coaches, and it was only natural for me to get into skating as well. I never tried other disciplines because I was surrounded by great ice dance coaches and was able to find a partner (Elizabeth) early on.
What is so special about ice dancing?
Elizabeth: It’s a unique sport that combines athleticism with dance. Finding a balance and creating interesting choreography is both a challenge and a reward.
Alexei: It’s a discipline of skating that is uniquely artistic while at the same time being physically demanding.
Many of the WISA skaters remain with the program throughout the senior level. How does the structure of the program help your development as an athlete?
WISA has coaches that come from a background that is not only figure skating. They help bring new ideas to the table to help us both grow as athletes and try to develop new and unique programs. For example, we focus on different styles of dance on and off the ice. Off the ice we focus on ballet, modern dance, ballroom dance, and hip hop. On the ice, we try to work these different styles of dance into our programs.
What have been your biggest challenges as dancing partners?
Elizabeth: In ice dance, the relationship you have with your partner is the most important thing. You are with your partner all the time, and it’s impossible to be successful if you are constantly arguing or are not on good terms.
When we were younger, we used to have trouble getting along and got frustrated very easily. Throughout the years, we have gotten so used to each other and now rarely fight because we know how to handle each other and respect each other’s differences.
Alexei: One of the biggest challenges, like I’m sure many teams deal with, is figuring out how to work together best. I feel grateful that Elizabeth and I have had such a long partnership because it’s given us plenty of time to figure each other out.
Alexei, you had a huge growth spurt during the pandemic. What adjustments did you need to make for that in your partnering?
It was hard at first because my stamina took a hit. I had to learn how to utilize my full amplitude after the growth spurt.
You competed for Israel in the 2022 Junior World Championships. Share your thoughts on that.
Elizabeth: We felt very honored to represent Israel at such a big event on the Junior level. It makes me excited for future competitions and opportunities. I enjoyed it very much.
Alexei: It was a very exciting opportunity, and we were really happy to be able to go to Worlds. Worlds provided us with experience and knowledge for future competitions. It was our biggest and most important competition yet.
The Argentine Tango was one of your novice pattern dances. Does this help you this season?
Elizabeth: It definitely helped because we already knew what to expect since we know the dance very well. I felt way less stressed because we spent a lot of time working on the technical details back when we worked on it in the novice level. A lot of it was just like a refresh and muscle memory.
Alexei: It was very helpful because it meant that we could shift our focus from simply learning the dance to making it more unique and original. We focused on creative aspects such as position changes and connecting between the two of us. We hoped the audience could enjoy and notice that the Argentine Tango could be performed on the ice in a different way than before.
If you could have a lesson from any ice dance team who would it be?
We would want a lesson with Oxana Grishuk and Evgeniy Platov. We look up to the way that they carried themselves on the ice. They had a presence that made them respectable and different from other teams.
Tell me about your program music and choreographers for this season.
For our rhythm dance, we are skating to “Ausencia” and “Presidente” both composed by Goran Bregovic. For our choreography, we worked with a ballroom dancer, Natalia Skorikova, who has been with our Academy for many years, to help us with the aspect of Spanish dancing.
In order to add more unique and modern elements to our program, we worked with one of our other choreographers, Jimmie Manners, while the rest of the program was choreographed by our main coaches Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov.
For our free dance, we skate to “Run Boy Run” and “Guns for Hire” both composed by an artist named Woodkid. The latter being from an animated series called Arcane. The majority of our program was choreographed by our main coaches, Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov.
Jimmie Manners added choreography into our program that was new to the skating world. He put the final touches and gave the program its own charm.
What are your short and long term goals as a team?
Some short term goals are definitely going to the 2023 [Junior] World Championships. We want to medal and earn a season’s best. The last two years, participating in Junior Worlds in 2022, our motivation and our passion for our sport are allowing us to fight for the podium in the 2023 Junior World Championships.
Long-term, we are striving to participate in the 2026 Olympics. If not at these Olympics, we want to medal at the 2030 Olympics.
What is your 2022 JGP status?
We are very excited to represent Israeli Figure Skating Federation in the Junior Grand Prix 2022-2023.
Elizabeth Tkachenko (b. February 21, 2006) / Alexei Kiliakov (b. April 11, 2005)
2015 U.S. National Juvenile Champions
2016 U.S. National Intermediate Champions
2019 U.S. National Novice Champions
2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance International (Junior) gold medalists (ISR)