by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman
Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr began their life journeys 13 months and almost 400 miles apart. Hauer was born in Leesburg, Virginia, December 1, 2005; Starr was born in Hartford, Connecticut, November 10, 2004.
Hauer first skated at the Ashburn Ice House in Virginia when she was four and a half.
“I did singles, some synchro, solo and basic skating skills,” Hauer explained.
Some of her coaches included Daphne Frysiek, Ruslan Goncharov, Greg Maddalone, Kitty Kelly McGorry and Tina Buckingham.
Starr made a very special discovery in his home that eventually led to his first skating experience.
“One day I went to my parents’ basement and found some VCR tapes. There was one of Nutcracker on Ice. I watched it on my own and fell in love with it. My favorite character was the Nutcracker, who was played by Vladimir Petrenko. I told my mom that I wanted to glide and fly on the ice. She took me to the nearest ice rink in Simsbury, Connecticut.”
“The first person we saw and met when we walked into the rink was Vladimir Petrenko. I just pointed at him and screamed, “Nutcracker!” He walked over, got me a pair of skates, tied them up and told me, “If you go through Basic Learn to Skate, come to me, and I’ll train you.”
“I went through Basic,” Starr added. “I was the kid who was falling all the time, but I stuck to it, and here I am 14 years later.
The duo had a tryout in April 2017 in Connecticut.
“It was almost decided in the first ten minutes,” Hauer said.
“They didn’t even have to see us on the ice,” Starr added. “They just saw us standing next to each other, then watched our knee bends. We were pretty much in sync.”
Hauer finished the school year in Virginia before she and her mother moved to Connecticut in June to train. A month later, the duo won gold in the juvenile division at Lake Placid and again at the 2018 U.S. Nationals in San Jose, California. They moved up to intermediate and finished fourth at the 2019 U.S. Championships in Detroit before ending the partnership.
During the separation, Hauer & Starr skated with different partners. He did some novice, while she vaulted up to the junior level.
In January 2020, the partnership resumed. It was decided that the team would benefit from developing its novice skills together before moving up to the junior level. The team also had novice eligibility, since Hauer hadn’t danced at a qualifying junior competition.
Both reflected on the partnership separation, and how it affected the reunion.
“We grew as people during the time,” Starr said. “When we did take the break it was a developmental year, so when we came back, it was like the old days, but much better.”
“It felt natural,” Hauer added. “It was different, but it felt like nothing had changed. It was just right, and it needed to happen again.”
“We both had to go through another partner to appreciate what we had,” Starr concluded.
Everything was beginning to look on track. Hauer commuted between Virginia and Connecticut for long three to five day weekends. The free program for the upcoming season was choreographed.
Unfortunately, the invasion of Covid-19 destroyed all the best laid plans. Competitions were canceled and strict rink rules tried to avoid the spread of the virus. Connecticut immediately mandated only four skaters plus one coach on the ice at a time. Hauer & Starr struggled to get five hours of ice a week, split between four rinks. It was January 2021 before it was lifted.
The 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championship Series offered a format for Juvenile, Intermediate and Novice athletes to compete virtually during the pandemic.
Hauer & Starr submitted a Free Dance video to the panel of judges for review in February in Colorado Springs. The program was sixth and qualified them for the 2021 National Development Team.
For season 2021-2022, the team kept their novice program, while reworking some elements and adding the time increase required for the new junior level. The Choreo Step Sequence was kept exactly as it was originally laid out back in February 2020.
Hauer & Starr made its Junior debut in June 2021 at Chesapeake finishing eighth, followed by sixth place at the Dallas Cannon Open. In October, they qualified for the 2022 U.S. Nationals with a fourth place score in Blaine, Minnesota. The team finished sixth at the U.S. Championships in Nashville, Tennessee.
The North-Central Connecticut team trains primarily at the Champions Skating Center in Cromwell, CT. However, depending on ice availability, the duo often travels to Newington. They also both teach Learn to Skate classes at Starr’s Charter Oak Figure Skating Club at the International Skating Club of Connecticut in Simsbury.
The duo began the 2022-2023 season with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Their first challenge was learning the rhythm dance pattern for juniors (Argentine Tango) since the team had never skated Latin together.
Hauer & Starr discussed the music selections.
“Our first Tango part is a mixture of pieces,“Adios Noninos” and “Felicia” from Forever Tango,” Hauer said. “The final song is “Malaguena Salerosa” from Kill Bill.”
“There’s limited selections for Tango, especially Tango with the right timing,” Hauer added. “Obviously you’ll hear everything at least twice, so we really tried to do something different. We had our music professionally done by Hugo Chouinard in Montreal.”
The Free Dance music includes “My One and Only Love” and “Tied Down” from the Pina soundtrack, a 2011 German 3D documentary film about the contemporary dance choreographer, Pina Bausch.
“It’s very modern dance, very contemporary, which is very interesting because the documentary itself is very impressionable,” Starr explained. “The music is elegant and very nice to skate to. I like skating to that style.”
Mathieu Caron designed the costumes.
Hauer & Starr debuted their programs at Chesapeake in June followed by a second competition at the Dallas (Texas) Open in early July. The team finished third at both events.
They continued to evaluate some of the Free Dance elements and explored different Choreographic Movements at each of the first two events.
“At Chesapeake, we did the Choreo Spinning Movement, then for Dallas, it was suggested that we try the Choreo Twizzle,” Starr said.
Hauer & Starr have also been working diligently toward improving several areas of their over all performance.
“I feel like sometimes I’ve been lacking expression, but I’m putting a lot of effort into trying to perform,” Hauer said. “We have our programs down. We know we can skate them, but the important part is showing them off and making it more of an experience.”
“Of course there are also the basics,” Starr added. “You want more speed, more power, longer extensions.”
The duo faces a big challenge when Starr begins classes on August 25 at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The team will continue to train with Svetlana Kulikova who is very supportive and will give them what they need to work on when they practice remotely.
“I’ve been skating with Svetlana probably my entire ice dance career,” Starr said. “There were times when I switched coaches because I had a different partner.“
IDC caught up with Coach Kulikova in Lake Placid. She spoke about the progress her team has made.
“They’re wonderful kids. They’ve skated since they were Juvenile – five or 6 years now. I think they have grown this year and matured a lot. They’re working better together. They definitely see the taste of the results.”
“They skated with different partners. Sometimes you realize what you lost, and it makes you appreciate it even more. They were with different partners, but I put them back together because it was a perfect match. They bend their knees together; they just look right together.”
“When they were little, I was making for them fun kids programs. This year the music is a bit more mature. I’m very happy with the music choices. I feel the whole package is working for them this year.”
“They went to Dallas without me, but I was constantly on the phone with them even at the critiquing.”
Coach Kulikova missed the Dallas Open because she was being sworn in as a U.S. Citizen. Congratulations!
While sitting on the tarmac on their way home from the Dallas Open, Hauer and Starr got the news that U.S. Figure Skating had awarded them a Junior Grand Prix event. They’ve since learned it will be Ostrava CZE, August 31 – September 3. All Junior Grand Prix events are streamed on the ISU Youtube Channel.