Layla Karnes & Kenan Slevira tried out on August 29th and by September 1st were forging ahead in a new skating partnership. Learn more about this new team in the following expanded edition of our New Team Series.
How did you start skating and what drew you to ice dance?
LK: When I was two, my dad took me skiing in Tahoe. It was such an amazing experience. For the next year, I relentlessly begged my parents to take me skiing again which was not possible due to geography and money. After a year of my constant pleading, my mum suggested that I join a learn-to-skate program at a local ice rink. I was not thrilled at the idea but she convinced me that figure skating was like skiing. I still remember stepping on the ice for the first time – I just went! It was amazing. I felt beautiful and free – unlike my clumsy movements on land. I was home and I was in love!!!!
Growing up, I was “that” skater practicing loops and twizzles instead of the usual jumps and spirals. I would spend hours in Lake Arrowhead going around in circles. Did you know I passed my pre-preliminary moves at 3.5 years?! I had always loved watching artistic skating –John Curry, [Marina] Klimova and [Sergei] Ponomarenko and [Jayne] Torvill and [Christopher] Dean, [Tessa] Virtue and [Scott] Moir, so when I was six, one of my coaches suggested that I start learning pattern dances. I was hooked. There is something so magical skating to a beat without the disruption of jumps!
KS: I started skating because my best friend and her mom were hockey skaters. I did not like being through into the boards but I love dancing and skating on the ice, so my parents put me into figure skating classes. A few years later I told my parents that I was lonely on the ice. A few weeks later a girl and her family came up to my family and I and asked if I wanted to try ice dancing with her and so I did.
What are your earliest skating memories?
LK: I have so many! Skating in the Christmas shows at Oxnard with the spotlights at 4 years old, my moves lessons with Mr. Steve in Oxnard, holding my dad’s hand at an outdoor rink in Thousand Oaks before watching “The Nutcracker,” and skating with Misha (Ge), Denis (Ten) and Janusz (Karweta) in Lake Arrowhead. Janusz was my first partner at 5 years old! We skated a pairs program at the local Christmas show on the mountain with throws, lifts, and spins. It was so much fun.
KS: One of my earliest skating memories was when I was 9. It was my second year skating and my coach let me pick out my own music. I skated to a flamenco song that a Disney artist sang. My coach let me help with the choreography and I loved it so much. After that, I knew I wanted to be a choreographer.
Tell us about how your partnership started.
LK: I remember first meeting Kenan at Pacific Coast Sectionals in 2015 and then crossing paths at Nationals. Thanks to proactive parents, supportive coaches, and the universe, a tryout was organized August 29th.
KS: Layla and I knew each other when we competed in juvenile. When we heard that we both were looking for partners we got in contact with each other and scheduled a tryout.
LK: The tryout was just perfect – we just clicked. Two days later, Kenan partnered me through my junior free dance test and we decided to form a partnership.
Who are your coaches? Tell us about your training location.
Our coaches are Oleg Epstein and Collin Brubaker. We train out of Center Ice of Dupage and Fox Valley Ice Arena. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part the Chicago Ice Dance Center to laugh, dance, and train here.
How did they help you prepare in such a short time for the Sectional Challenge?
KS: Our Coaches helped us so much by getting everything done so quickly. Oleg gave us so much confidence I let us know that we could do this even with the time crunch.
LK: Yes!!! And you too. Without Kenan and our undying love for dance and the process of skating, we wouldn’t have survived the run-throughs and then more run-throughs!
Tell us about winning your first competition, the Midwestern Sectional Challenge?
LK: It was amazing, and crazy, and overwhelming!!! But, yes! It validated what we felt – we were a team.
KS: When we won the Sectional Challenge I felt so excited. Winning that competition just gave us the confidence that we needed. It let us know that we were heading in the right direction and to keep growing and improving.
What are your thoughts after reaching the qualifying score for the ISP in your first competition?
LK: Reaching the qualifying score for the ISP was a dream-come-true. I am just excited to see where Kenan and I go from here. Seeing our names on the ISP list alongside some of the greatest ice dance teams in the USA was overwhelming and amazing.
KS: When I heard that we reached the qualifying score for ISP I was so excited because I thought, wow we were able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. I thought that if we were able to make the ISP score in 4 weeks, what could we do with more time.
If you could have a lesson from any ice dancer past/present, who would it be?
LK: [Gabriella] Papadakis and [Guillaume] Cizeron are simply artists on ice – to experience time with these skaters would be beyond heart and soul-filling. In addition, I would love Tessa Virtue – she has been a childhood role model for partnering – projecting so much emotion out to the audience.
KS: It would be Cizeron and Papadakis hands down because they have changed ice dance in such a beautiful way. They have truly created art on ice. I would love to take a lesson with them so that I can touch people the same way as they touch me when they skate.
Can you give us some background on your programs this season? Who chose the music? Who choreographed the program? What story are you telling?
Our programs have been a journey – our music was originally selected by our coaching team including Matteo Zanni. Over time, the programs have evolved with music and choreographic changes. We have really enjoyed being a part of these later changes and even have own choreography included in each program. We are really lucky to work with many people including Alex Benoit and instructors from the ballet and ballroom world.
For our RD, we are capturing the essence of the musical, A Chorus Line, the process of a dance performance – practice, sweat, energy, and showtime! Our FD is deeply personal to both of us – a struggle for acceptance and fear, love and loneliness. We hope that we are able to share these stories with our audiences.
What do you like most about skating with your partner?
KS: I love skating with my partner because she just gets me! She makes me so excited to go skating everyday because I always have the best time with her (even when we do a gazillion run-throughs)!
LK: LOL! Ditto! Kenan makes every day crazily perfect with a work ethic that challenges and synergizes with my passion and dreams.
Is there anything you would like our readers to know about you as a team?
We are new team, connected by fate, eat poke bowls for lunch, must hit a piece of string with our guards when we enter and leave the rink, and just laugh so much together.