by Anne Calder | Photos from Naomi Lang and Raffaella Koncius
Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev are five-time US National Ice Dance Champions (1999-2003), two time Four Continents gold medalists (2000, 2002) and World/Olympic competitors. The couple retired in 2004, but continued to skate together in ice shows across North America, Europe and Russia.
In addition to performing, both Lang and Tchernyshev work with younger skaters and share the skills learned from previous coaches like Natalia Dubova, Igor Shpilband, Alexander Zhulin, and Nikolai Morozov.
Tchernyshev is a successful choreographer for international skaters and ice shows in Moscow. Lang coaches in Scottsdale, AZ, where she resides with her husband and four children.
When Lang moved to Gilbert, AZ in 2008, the area had no ice dance coaches or students. She was shocked.
“I came from the East Coast where you had so many amazing teams,” Lang explained. “I was working with Evgeny Platov and all his teams that were going to the Olympics. I had to start from the beginning.”
She began by holding small intro-to-ice dancing classes on Saturdays. One of her first students was Karina Manta, who Lang coached to the 2012 Novice Solo Ice Dance gold medal. Manta now trains in Colorado Springs with her dance partner, Joe Johnson. They were eighth at the 2017 U.S. Nationals in the senior division and will compete again at the 2018 Championships in San Jose.
When Lang changed her coaching location to the Scottsdale Ice Den four years ago, she found young Dane Ayers who had actually just started skating.
“He was the only boy in the area, so I snatched him up,” Lang said with a laugh. “Two years later he had passed an amazing amount of tests, and I had just found him a partner when disaster struck.”
In January 2016, Ayers was riding his bike and a car hit him. He broke his femur completely in half and had other injuries including a broken hand. He was in the hospital for four weeks followed by a long rehab. They weren’t even sure if he would ever skate again.
“The kid is incredible,” Lang said. “He healed very quickly and was back on the ice doing basic stroking in six months. He’s not a natural skater because he started so late in life, but he works so hard, he makes things happen. He is self motivated. We got his skills back, and then searched for a partner.”
Lang had seen a video of Californian, Raffaella Koncius, and loved her skating. She contacted the girl’s family and invited them for a tryout.
“Once I saw them skate together, I knew right away the twosome was meant to be,” Lang noted. “Koncius and her mother relocated to Scottsdale in the spring of 2017.”
In November, Koncius & Ayers were third in the Intermediate division at the Pacific Coast Sectionals and qualified for their first US National Championships in San Jose, CA – just seven months after beginning the partnership.
Both are 17 years old. Koncius is home schooled and has been accepted at Arizona State University. Ayers attends Gilbert Christian High School and is thinking about studying business, first at a Community College.
Rafaella Koncius & Dane Ayers
Koncius and Ayers were both single skaters prior to their ice dance partnership seven months ago.
“It’s more difficult than singles for edges, but it’s nice not falling a lot – we still fall, but not as much,” Ayers confessed.
“I did singles skating for 13 years and just recently switched to ice dance,” said Koncius. “I also did a little bit of solo dance here and there. This is my first year with a partner.”
While both love their new discipline, it comes with challenges.
“For me it’s being on the correct edges to get key points,” Ayers admitted. If you’re slightly wobbly, then they don’t count – that’s one of the hardest things for me.”
Koncius added, “For me it’s the same plus spinning in the other direction can be difficult sometimes.”
The duo had mixed emotions after their first trip to Sectionals. There was disappointment with some of their mistakes, but comfort at finishing in the third spot.
“It was like a relief because we didn’t do so well in the Tango and Fourteenstep patterns – we didn’t get our key points,” Ayers said.
“I was really happy we pulled up to third because if you’re fourth it’s like you almost didn’t make it, but you did,” Koncius said. “Even though we had minor mistakes in the FD, we pulled up our score.”
In Arizona, they have been working on those key points a lot, and think they are getting better.
“We’ve been focusing more on the patterns than the FD since Sectionals so we can get those key points and get our scores up,” said Ayers.
Neither Koncius nor Ayers has been to a US Nationals. However, both agree that there will be a lot of nerves prior to their January 1 pattern debut at the Solar4America Ice.
“The scariest part will be the first pattern dance, but once that’s done, it will be good,” nodded Ayers.
The team will skate their free dance to “I Put a Spell on You” the next day at the same venue.
While the young team is looking forward to making their Nationals’ debut, they are also excited about watching the higher level teams. Ayers likes the way the Shibutani’s elements always happen on the crescendo of the music. Koncius loves to watch Canadians’ Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir skate together, but she’s also looking forward to cheering for all the Americans.
Next year, Raffaella Koncius & Dane Ayers will compete on the Novice level.
Lang Returns to Russia for Swan Lake
After the US Nationals, Lang will travel 6,000 miles with her husband to perform in Swan Lake at an outdoor Moscow Square. Tchernyshev, who choreographed the ballet, plays the prince to Lang’s white and black swan. Lang has done the show previously, but did not travel to Russia last year. Instead she skated in a Disson production, Shall We Dance on Ice with her coaching partner, Todd Gilles.