Ling & Wein Embrace the Choreographic Process

by Anne Calder

Angela Ling & Caleb Wein began their partnership as juniors in 2019 in Rockville, Maryland. Three years later after winning silver at the 2022 U.S. National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee, they moved to seniors.

Ling, who was born in Canada, began competing in both freestyle and ice dance three years after she first enrolled in the CanSkate program at age four.  She continued in both disciplines until the season prior to moving to the U.S. when she shifted her focus to just ice dance.

Wein was four when he took his first skating class at a local parks and recreation program in Maryland. Two years later he joined the Wheaton Ice Dance Academy (WISA). After skating together for six years, his first partner retired. Since he wanted to continue competing, Wein began searching for a new teammate.

One of Wein’s coaches noticed Ling’s profile on a website and asked her to come from Canada for a tryout. While it was successful, Ling had a big decision to make about moving in the middle of a school year.  In the end it proved to be the right thing to do. The duo skated in its first competition in July 2019 at the Cannon Texas Open and placed sixth.

As the team was competing in ice dance at the National and International level, Wein was also immersed in his collegiate studies in aeronautical engineering at the University of Maryland. As a General-Elective toward his degree, he took a virtual dance class which led to active involvement in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies.

After dancing in a piece by one of the Graduate students and then performing in their Spring Dance Concert, he was invited to participate in the Fall semester. In November, one of the Department’s three M.F.A. dance candidates presented his thesis work. The piece featured eight undergraduate and graduates students including Caleb Wein.

Wein’s extra-curricular dance activities became stepping stones for inspiring new movements that the team eventually transferred to the ice.

It’s been a lot of fun and very informative in different ways.” Wein explained.  “All the choreographers there have different styles and different things they’re looking for. I can take things from there and take them on the ice. They all move in different ways, so there’s different types of movement I can bring in to our programs. There’s also different approaches while we’re skating. It’s been nice.”

“They don’t have boundaries in their heads, so they think very outside the box,” added Ling, who at the time was taking a “gap” year between high school graduation and college.

Fast forward to season 2023-2024

Ling & Wein still train with Dmytri Ilin and Greg Zuerlein in Rockville, Maryland. Charlie White and Zuerlein are their choreographers.

Ling is now a full-time student at UC Berkeley.

“During the 2023 Fall semester, I took five classes. Even though it’s online, I’m doing all the same assignments and tests as other students, but on zoom. Though I’m technically still undeclared, I’m on the path to double major in Molecular and Cell Biology and Cognitive Science. I also had a really good experience volunteering at a hospital for a year, and now I am looking forward to participating in more bio/med-related research in the near future.

Wein will complete his five-year journey toward graduation from the University of Maryland in May 2024.

This past 2023 Fall semester he had the opportunity to choreograph and perform a short dance piece of his own that featured him with two other dancers.

”I’m hoping to get the opportunity to choreograph more this coming semester. I am also working on the Maryland Youth Ballet’s Black History Month show,” Wein noted.                                

For the 2023-2024 skating season, Ling and Wein wanted to create a Free Dance program that was more true to them. The partners explained the steps taken to achieve their goal.

“It started with choosing music that we could connect and relate to; something not usually seen on the ice, but that was still relatable,” Wein said. “I have a playlist of songs I want to choreograph to at some point. At the time it was about 24 hours long (now I think the playlist is around 35 hours because I keep getting new ideas and finding more music).

“I had shared the playlist with Angela during the offseason to see if she liked anything in it. There were two of the songs we both felt we connected to and could make something on the ice with. [“Christo Redentor” by Duke Pearson / “Lilac Wine” by Nina Simone].

“The “Christo Redentor” song in particular, I had always loved. About a year or two ago, I had started up some initial plans to make a dance film to that music. It was going to be set outdoors with some parts taking pace in a meadow and others on a small bridge over a stream, but I never got around to executing it. In my head I definitely still imagine that as being the kind of backdrop for the dance and storyline we created. It’s a love story that’s a little surreal, magical, or dream-like and that to me seems like a perfect kind of setting.

“Then we began the choreographic process by doing a lot of improvisation to the music as a way of generating movement ideas and to see what kind of atmosphere could be developed. From there we worked with our coaches, Greg Zuerlein and Dmytri Ilin, to map out the piece and create transitions. Greg laid out a lot of the initial ideas and solidified a lot of the seeds of movement that we’ve been working to expand on.

“In creating and reworking this piece throughout the season, something Angela, our coaches and I discuss a lot is how to really use movement to connect with people watching. We wanted to try to tell a story in a new way without it getting too abstract or too “academic” in terms of movement because then it can get cold. We definitely fall into the philosophy that the movement should serve an emotional purpose. I think with this routine a lot of that comes through in an almost atmospheric sense. In some ways, we’ve been trying to develop a movement language for this routine the way a painter develops a color palette for a painting.

“Our coaches have given us a lot of freedom since then to rework transitions and movement on our own. We’ve used this freedom to modify and stylize things to create a world within the dance that we want the audience to be able to experience.”

Ling continued. “I totally agree with everything Caleb said and would like to add that we also spent a lot of time at the beginning of the season planning the costumes with our designer, Philippe Masse. We wanted to ensure that the costumes fit the music and theme in a way that would also highlight but not distract from our movements.

“Also, I’ve been able to attend many of Caleb’s performances including the piece he choreographed, and they are always amazing! Though we are both trained in dance/ballet, Caleb’s modern dance experience outside of skating has really helped us develop more unique movements in our programs. Meredith Jones, our ballet/modern/everything dance coach, has also really helped us develop our technique and dance vocabulary. Overall, this is definitely our favorite program so far. We’re really looking forward to performing the program at nationals!”

“We also had the privilege of performing at the opening of the outdoor rink in front of the National Gallery of Art in DC. We really enjoyed the experience as it was really nice to skate in front of a different type of crowd!”