Article & Photos by Anne Calder

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. Junior and Senior 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 the novice medalists at The Cooler ice rink in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Olivia Ilin and Dylan Cain are the Novice gold medalists.

  • The team trains in Rockville, Maryland with primary coach, Dmytri Ilin. 
  • This season’s Suicide Squad themed Free Dance music was mixed together by Hugo Chouinard. 
  • High-profile Canadian designer, Mathieu Caron created their Free Dance costumes.

How do you feel about winning a second qualifying gold medal? 
Olivia:
Winning the Gold at both competitions was exciting, and it made me feel that the hard work Dylan and I put into our training had paid off. We have always been stronger in the pattern dances, so earning a first place finish in the pattern and free dance events, at both competitions, was extremely rewarding. I am definitely proud of what we accomplished and grateful to everyone who supported us this season.

Dylan: After winning gold in Blaine, Minnesota, winning again at the second Championship Series in Alpharetta, Georgia felt like a complete validation. Taking first in both Pattern Dances and the Free Dance at both Championship Series events was incredibly gratifying. I was overcome with gratitude and appreciation for my partner, my coaches and my family. Everyone worked really hard to make this happen. 

Tell me about working with your new choreographer for the free dance. 
Dylan:
Joel [Dear] and Christian [Erwin] were easy and fun to work with.  They were able to do most of our FD choreo in 2 days.  Then Dima [Ilin] and Greg [Zuerlein] put on some finishing touches. 

Does your Free Dance tell a story or have a message? 
Olivia:
Our Free Dance is inspired by the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. The first half of the program is about Harley wanting to be her own person, but, ultimately, she loves the Joker, so, in the second half of the program, they end up joining forces as villains to take on the world!

What do you like best about skating the Free Dance program?
Olivia: I
love to perform, and this program had a lot of opportunities to play a character with many layers. Harley was flirtatious, confident, sometimes confused, and a bit of a trouble maker, all in three minutes!

Dylan: I definitely feel more connected to the second part of our Free Dance (The Ballroom Blitz).  It’s the part that I find more relatable. With the first part of our FD music, the Harley Quinn part, I could not really get a good feel for the storyline, I sort of just let it grow on me. I have so much respect and admiration for my coach, so I just trusted that it would all come together and work out well.  

How is your colorful costume connected to the music?
Dylan: My free dance costume is quite colorful!! To stay true to Joker character, we went with Joker’s signature – purple and green. So far it is my all time favorite costume.  

What are you looking forward to the most at the USFS High Performance Camp?
Olivia: The cool thing about the last camp was that there was more than just on-ice technique.  I loved performing in the “Dear Evan Hansen” showcase and dance class with Hugo and Madison. The Cirque du Soleil lift class with Andy and Robin was also really fun!  I definitely hope there will be similar classes this year!

Dylan: The 2020 HP Camp was such a blast! We were so lucky to be able to first watch the senior events at the Greensboro Nationals and then take part in the amazing training program and classes offered to us that year.  

There were so many highlights…. like taking a class from Madison Hubbell and Samuel Chouinard.  I would love to be able to experience that again.  Of course to attend the 2022 Nationals would be extra special since Olympic selections will take place.  And I have never been to Nashville before, so that could be a treat in itself.  I love traveling and seeing new places. 

What was your favorite thing you did while in Georgia and/or at the competition?
Olivia:
This was the first competition where I got to do something other than skate and be at our hotel! Competing and seeing my friends is always fun, but getting to visit the Georgia Aquarium and celebrate our victory at the Sugar Factory were definitely highlights!  

Dylan: My favorite thing that I enjoyed while at the competition was being able to catch up with friends who I only get to see at competitions. I also like to watch Junior and Senior events and learn as much as possible by watching the older skaters. 

Julia Epps and Blake Gilman are the Novice silver medalists.

Epps & Gilman were also the silver medalists at the Blaine, Minnesota qualifying competition

  • Slava Uchitel coaches the team at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society in Ardmore, PA.
  • The Free Dance purple costumes are a visual tribute to Prince and the music medley they chose to skate.

What was it like winning your second qualifying medal?     
Julia:
I felt accomplished because I wanted to skate for my dear friend Joshua Soto (who lost his life tragically just 10 days before our competition).  We had a very hard week, but all friends, coaches & family supported me to be strong. I am very thankful for all. 

Blake: It was great, especially because we achieved our personal best scores. 

Tell me about the free dance. Who came up with the idea? What do you like about skating to Prince?
Julia: Our free dance [idea] was brought up by our coach, Slava Uchitel,  for the 2020 season. We planned to compete in person but instead had competed in the virtual competition. We then kept the Prince free dance and made quite a few changes!  

Prince was super fun because it was like a whole different persona from the 80’s! Blake was Prince, and I was a guitar.  We loved the costume and felt so proud of ourselves for adding two difficult lifts!  

Did you watch any Prince videos to help with your program?   
Blake:
Throughout the whole process of choreographing, we watched some of Prince’s performances for inspiration with various tricks we used. 

What was your favorite thing you did at the competition?
Julia:
I loved competing the blues, I felt so confident, and I enjoy being sassy in my programs!  Meanwhile, off the ice, I enjoyed going to the city, eating delicious food and visiting the Georgia Aquarium.  The aquarium was an amazing place. 

Blake: [My favorite thing was] being able to perform clean programs.

What are you looking forward to the most at the USFS High Performance Development Camp?  
Julia:
I am looking forward to seeing my competition friends!  They never fail to make me laugh at all the lessons and truly make it even more fun!  I also love the classes because I can learn something new each day!  

It’s exciting to travel to Nashville and watch the US Nationals during the Olympic year!  I remember going in 2018 to US Nationals, and it was the best competition I can remember!  I was very honored to witness a very special moment of top athletes.

Blake: I’m looking forward to learning new things and hearing feedback from the judges so we can improve as skaters and also, I can’t wait to see all my friends. 

Sylvia Li and Row Le Coq are the Novice bronze medalists.

  • Li & LeCoq were also the bronze medalists at the Blaine, Minnesota qualifying competition.
  • The team trains with Coaches Kristen Frasier and Igor Lukanin at the Montclair State Arena in New Jersey.
  • The Free Dance music is “The Shannon Reel” from the film Ballerina [titled Leap in the U.S]

What was it like winning your medal today?
Sylvia:  Winning a medal was very special because we learned a lot of things. Winning a medal on this level because we’ve not been here for that long is a big achievement.

Rowan: We also learned that it’s important to communicate, work hard and have fun at every competition.

So what’s next for your team?
Sylvia: We’re really excited for the National Team Development Camp. In Juvenile we didn’t know how it was at first, but after, we loved it. It was so fun.

What did you do at the Camp in 2020?
Rowan: Last time they gave us music, and we had to create a dance program for the two of us. It was basically a challenge since the music they gave us we had never heard it or were used to it. We had a lot of classes to help us get stronger in our skating.

Anna Sophia O’Brien and Steven Wei are the Novice pewter medalists.

  • O’Brien & Wei were also the pewter medalists at the Blaine, Minnesota qualifying competition.
  • The team trains with Coaches Kristen Frasier and Igor Lukanin at the Montclair State Arena in New Jersey.
  • The duo chose a medley from Arabian Nights for their Free Dance music.

Tell us about earning your medal.
Steven:
It was definitely exciting. I’m proud of how we skated on the ice today, and how we got this medal.

Anna Sophia: It was a really good experience. 

You’ve also won medals in Solo Dance before.
Anna Sophia: I’ve been skating with a partner longer than Solo Dance, so it’s really special.