by Daphne Backman
When the final group of five teams took the ice at the 2015 U.S. National Championships, coaches Karen Ludington and Christie Moxley-Hutson looked on as their team, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, warmed up as part of that flight.
“It was pretty surreal, but it was exactly where we had envisioned ourselves being,” Cannuscio said. “For years, we always sat back and watched that final group go out, so it was such a rush to finally be a part of it.”
“Being among the top five dance teams in the U.S. is remarkable, and we could not imagine a better group of people to share that experience with,” McManus added.
Of the teams in the final group, Cannuscio & McManus were the only team whose training base is not in Michigan. Cannuscio & McManus have trained at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., under coaches Ludington and Moxley-Hutson since their partnership began eight years ago. Despite the national trend to relocate to the Detroit area, they have remained in Newark, pursuing a unique look.
Their journey to a top-five finish started last Spring when the team was preparing for the 2014-15 season.
“We meet at the end of every season to discuss what worked and what didn’t,” McManus said. “With it being the beginning of the next Olympic cycle, our goals for the meeting were to see how we could make major improvements in every aspect of our skating and training, so that we could take full advantage of the opportunities in the coming season.”
“As a team, we kept focus on what would move Anastasia and Colin toward their ultimate goal,” Moxley-Hutson said. “It was clear to all of us that we wanted to shake things up.”
One of the major issues facing the team was that they were the only dance team at their rink. Training alone, with no other team to push them, would make day-to-day motivation a little more difficult. Ludington and Moxley-Hutson suggested that they spend some time training in another training group.
“Collectively, we felt having them train with other top teams from around the world would help them grow as skaters and give them a fresh new spark to jump-start ‘the quad’ and ignite a new fire under them,” Moxley-Hutson said.
“I definitely stand by the saying, ‘If you think you have all the answers, you aren’t asking the right questions,’” Ludington added. “Having Stasia and Colin go train somewhere else for a month was just what was needed to come back home super-charged for a full season of intense training.”
While singles and pair skaters often receive their choreography or additional element training from outside experts, it is not common in ice dance for coaches to send their students to another training center. Ludington and Moxley-Hutson suggested several different training centers to the team.
“Out of all the options, Montreal was the best fit for us,” McManus said. “We have always been big fans of Marie-France [Dubreuil] and Patrice [Lauzon]’s skating and coaching. For us, the choice was easy.” “I contacted Patrice and asked him if Stasia and Colin could come up and train for the month, and he was very welcoming,” Ludington said. “We made sure both programs were complete and all elements [were] in place before they left. This allowed them to start training the programs when they arrived and take full advantage of Patrice and Marie-France’s training center while staying on schedule for the summer competitions and Champs Camp.”
And with that, the team headed to Montreal to work with the two-time world silver medalists. They trained alongside their group of international skaters, which included Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen, who represent Denmark, and Olympians Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz of Spain. When they returned to Delaware, the change was apparent.
“Both Anastasia and Colin returned with a new confidence in themselves and their skating,” Moxley-Hutson said. “They came to the rink every day more determined and focused than the day before. A fire had been lit and their passion for skating was reignited. They were clearly on a mission to prove that they [could] compete with the best teams in the world.”
Last seaon, they also added Stephanie Burdette, an off-ice trainer, to their team. Burdette conducted a fitness assessment and designed a progressive program specific to their needs, which kept them focused in their training throughout the year.
“Stephanie’s passion, determination, and positive energy have been such an asset to our program,” Moxley said. “She knows how to motivate the skaters and her positive attitude is contagious.”
“Stasia, Colin, Christie, Stephanie, and I were all 100% focused on the day’s goals, the week’s goals, the month’s goals, and the season’s goals,” Ludington said. “Ultimately, their focus and consistent training prepared them to break in to the top five at Nationals.”
For the coaches, the end result proved their plan was successful.
“We look at last season as a tremendous success,” Ludington said. “We will use this to springboard us into a new season, new goals, and greater expectations.”
Though last season, Cannuscio & McManus were the only ice dance team training at the University of Delaware, this wasn’t always the case. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, “UD” was a mecca of ice dance and the training base of many international teams. From 1994 to 2007, Natalia Linichuk and Gennady Karponosov, the 1980 Olympic champions, had set up their training base at the facility. Their students included 1998 Olympic silver medalists and two-time world champions Anjelika Krylova & Oleg Ovsyannikov, 2002 Olympic silver medalists Irina Lobacheva & Ilia Averbukh, and two-time world champions Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviyski. Linichuk moved her group to Aston, Penn., in 2007.
With the success of Cannuscio & McManus, their coaches continue to focus on growing their dance program. The team is also invested in the success of skating at UD.
“I do believe UD is on the rise,” Moxley-Hutson said. “There have been improvements to the rink, making it feel welcoming and like a place where champions train! The rink has also added scholarship opportunities to help reduce ice time fees and new unlimited ice packages that are extremely reasonable.”
“UD is great in the sense that we have a lot of things available to us that not many other training centers have,” Cannuscio said. “We have two ice rinks; one Olympic size, one NHL. We have a gym, a ballet room, and an athletic trainer who can help us prevent and treat injuries all in the same building.”
As coaches, Ludington and Moxley-Hutson are accustomed to supporting their skaters, but Cannuscio & McManus, are quick to reciprocate as their coaching team’s biggest cheerleaders.
“They are such an amazing team, and they are incredibly complimentary of each other,” Cannuscio said. “Christie is a caller, so she has such a vast knowledge of the technical aspect of ice dance. She never lets us leave any points on the table. Karen is our artistry and choreography expert. She always finds new ways for us to interpret music through our movement.”
“Karen and Christie help us to be a well-rounded team, and we feel that is something that really helps us stick out,” McManus said. “They never leave their coaching at the door. They are so invested in every aspect of our skating, they put so much of themselves into their work, and they will always go above and beyond to see their students succeed.”
For the 2015-16 season, several ice dance couples will be joining Team UDel.
“In addition to Anastasia and Colin, we are excited to be working with senior team Gabriela Morrell-Zucker & Andrejs Sitiks, as well as a new junior team, Rebecca Lucas and Jacob Schedl,” Moxley-Hutson said. “We also have several solo dancers who will take part in the Solo dance series this season while continuing their partner search. We are lucky to have great students who make our job fun every day. We are incredibly grateful for the dynamic that has been created over the past season and look forward to the season ahead.”
Cannuscio & McManus will continue to headline the dance program at UD, looking forward to more opportunities to rise in the international ranks. Ludington has already choreographed next season’s programs. The duo will skate to Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” in the Ravensburger Waltz short dance, and they will use selections by Beethoven (his “Ninth Symphony,” “Moonlight Sonata,” and “Fifth Symphony”) in the free dance.
“Over the past season the skating program at UD has grown, and hopefully it continues to do so,” McManus said. “Our coaches, and the University of Delaware as a whole, have a lot to offer, and hopefully more people start to recognize that.”