by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

Juvenile, intermediate and novice teams competed this season in the USFS Championship Series in order to earn a spot on the National High Performance Development Team. The athletes will also have the opportunity to attend the January 2022 camp in Nashville, Tennessee after the U.S. National Championships. Nine teams with the highest scores from the two ice dance competitions in Blaine, Minnesota and Alpharetta, Georgia will be invited.

IDC spoke with several of the medalists at The Cooler ice rink in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Liliana Vartughian and Nicholas Brooks are the Juvenile gold medalists. 

Vartughian & Brooks train in Arizona at the Scottsdale Ice Den and are coached by Todd Gilles, former US domestic and international ice dance competitor and medalist and Denae Raught.

The team chose “Cielito Lindo” and “La Paloma” played by the Roland Shaw Orchestra for their Free Dance.

Vartughian is in seventh grade at an in-person school; Brooks does his eighth grade classes on-line.

How did the partnership come to be?
Nicholas:
We had a Christmas show at the Princess Hotel in Scottsdale. It just lined up after that.

Liliana: We’ve known each other since we were real young.

What do you like best about ice dancing? What is the most difficult part?Liliana: It’s fun doing footwork and twizzles.

Nicholas: Probably matching with the other person is the most difficult. You have to know what they’re doing.

Liliana: Staying in sync and following each other.

If you could have any ice dance team give you a private lesson, who would it be?
Nicholas:
Charlie White

Liliana: and Meryl Davis

Nicholas: I’ve actually worked with medalists Ben [Agosto] and Naomi [Lang Strong].

Have you seen any of Coach Gilles’s skating videos?
Liliana and Nicholas:
“Yes, Yes!” He shows us some every day!

Now’s your chance to critique his performances, so what do you think?
Nicholas:
Over Covid, we watched a lot of different people including Todd.

Liliana: I think Todd was a great skater.

Nicholas: He was a good skater, but he was over-judged a little bit.

So did you watch his sister, Piper Gilles and her partner, Paul Poirier? [Canadian National Champions and World bronze medalists]
Todd Gilles:
Piper actually gave them a shout out yesterday after the Pattern Dances. I know she was going to try to watch it today, but she was on her way over to France for the Grand Prix event.

Todd and Danae, what’s it like coaching this team?
Todd:
It’s really fun. It has its ups and downs. Just getting everyone in sync every day is always a challenge especially when they’re a bit young and on different school schedules. Nicholas is a little more free because he has on-line school, so just juggling that and schedules. Probably the hardest thing is keeping everyone on track.

Danae: I’ve been Liliana’s primary coach since the day she first started skating. I’ve known Nicholas forever, too. Seeing them come together is great.

Nicholas Brooks, winner of the Intermediate Men’s gold medal, was in the Kiss and Cry with Steven Cousins, eight-time British National Champion and current Scottsdale Ice Den coach.

If Nicholas Brooks were not ice dancing, he would be doing “high jump” in track.

Jasmine Robertson and Hayden Woods are the Intermediate gold medalists.

The team also won gold at the earlier ice dance qualifying competition in Blaine, Minnesota.

Rob Peal, former domestic and international US competitor, coaches them at the Ford Ice Center, Bellevue, TN.

Robertson & Woods skated to instrumental selections from the Zorro soundtrack: “The Plaza Execution” “Zorro’s Theme” and “My Family is my Life” – all performed by the James Horner orchestra. 

The National Championships will be held in your hometown. What does that mean to you?
Jasmine: I’m real excited. It will really be fun. All these nice skaters will be there. I’m looking forward to going and watching all of them.

Hayden: It will be great for the city. I think that the High Development Camp will also be held there, so it will be  fun to go and have that experience. I’m looking forward to it.

How did this partnership come together?
Hayden:
I did pairs for several years and had little success. I decided to transfer over to dance. I met Rob Peal, and he introduced me to Jasmine. We had a tryout and hit it off well. We did last season as a test. We saw that we had some success. This has been our legitimate season. I think we’re going to keep it going since it seems to be doing quite well.