Action photos by Tony Melillo
Michela Melillo (18) and Simon Mintz (15) are a new U.S. junior ice dance team who formed their partnership in April 2023.
Tell us about your individual skating journeys, including any early special memories.
Michela (MM): I started to skate when I was seven and I fell in love with the ice skating in my very first lesson. I tried freestyle, synchro, theater even pair skating but my favorite was always ice dancing. I was maybe eight years old when I had a partner and I greatly enjoyed all of our lessons and performances.
Simon (SM): I first tried skating a few weeks before my fourth birthday at a public skate and pushed a crate around. Then shortly afterward, I started group lessons at the Hayden rink (in Lexington, Mass.). I moved through the early levels pretty quickly. Then around Basic 5, I decided I really liked it and started taking private lessons. There was a friend of mine who performed in an ice show, and I wanted to do it too. I remember my first solo in a shiny costume, to Sir Duke. I remember I enjoyed being in costume. I kept waving my hands, and I had no idea what I was doing, and I kept spinning and spinning and spinning.
One of my more significant memories was performing this Captain Hook program in the Hayden holiday show. That’s my earliest really fun performance memory.
What drew you to ice dance?
MM: As I mentioned I had a chance to do ice dancing at an early age and while I tried all other disciplines, ice dancing was always the one closest to my heart.
SM: I had started out with Coach Tina (Noyes) and was working on my moves and freestyle tests, then I made the beginning Hayden synchronized skating team, the Mini Shooting Stars. Coach Tina suggested I take ice dance so I improve my chances of making a higher-level synchro team. I started taking ice dance with Coach Dawn (Jarvis) and I really liked it. Then Dawn asked, “Would you like to try it with a partner?” I said, “Sure.” Eventually, I quit synchro to focus primarily on ice dance.
I really like how ice dance isn’t like you throw yourself into a jump and hope you land it. I felt the perfectionist mindset of an ice dancer really worked well for me, and ice dance also had a lot more interaction with music. I play the saxophone. I’m in a band. I’m really into music and was from an early young age. I used to do acting. I like the combination of acting and music in ice dance.
Tell us how your partnership started (Partner Search, training mate, etc.) Describe the tryout.
MM: It happened so quickly, one Saturday in April, our coach asked us to have a tryout with Simon and just a week later we decided that we are a good match, and we have very similar goals and work ethics to make our team successful in competitive ice dancing.
SM: Svetlana Kulikova, Michela’s coach, proposed the match to my main ice dance coach, Dmitri Boundoukin. Our coaches already knew each other well because they sent their teams to each other. Svet does choreography for Dima’s teams, and he works on technique and skating skills with some of her teams.
At that first session, it was a little intimidating that I was trying out with a junior-level ice dancer. My first impression was Michela was someone I felt I could work with, and Michela herself, I really liked her personality. Not everyone works well together personality-wise, but I felt we clicked.
What is it that you already like most about dancing with your new partner?
MM: I love that we communicate so well on ice and off ice. We both work very hard but at the same time we joke around a lot and that makes our practice so special.
SM: In general, both of our families are very committed to ice dance, and it feels like we’re able to get a lot done. I really enjoy the progress we’re making. We work well together.
What experiences do each of you bring to the partnership?
MM: I had a chance to compete as a junior ice dancer last year and I even went to the Nationals, so I can share what I have learned from those experiences.
SM: I trained and competed with my previous partner for four seasons, including the virtual season in 2020-21. We made it to two High Performance National Development Camps and won the NQS Eastern section pewter medal in intermediate. I also work out regularly with a personal trainer and have trained privately in ballet.
What has been the biggest adjustment for each of you so far in the partnership?
MM: We live in different states, so we have to travel a lot for practices and of course, as a new team we still need to work on our partnering skills and just overall get to know each other better.
SM: I agree with what Michela said. The biggest adjustment for me has been the traveling and also just the fact that I’m jumping from intermediate to junior. There’s a whole different set of requirements for lifting and spinning, but I’m enjoying it.
Tell us about your training site. (Location, facilities, dance mates, classes, etc.)
Both: We train in two different rinks in Connecticut, the Newington Arena in Newington and Champions Rink in Cromwell, and our instruction includes ballet on ice. Coach Svetlana also works with several other ice dance teams in Connecticut of varying levels, including the junior team of Benjamin Starr and Jenna Hauer. In Massachusetts, we’ve been training at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro and Canton Ice House. In Marlboro, Coach Dmitri leads us in off-ice workouts with fellow ice dancers, Gabe Winawer and Annie Huang.
Who are your coaches? Did either or both have to relocate? If so, tell us about the move(s).
Svetlana Kulikova and Dmitri Boundoukin are co-coaching the team. The team splits its practices between the Boston area, where Dmitri and Dawn coach them, and the Hartford/New Haven area, where Svetlana works with them. Neither of us had to relocate.
Who is choreographing your programs? Is someone else arranging your music? If so, please share those experiences.
Both: Coach Svetlana choreographs all competition programs. Molly McMahon arranged our music for this season.
If you could have a lesson with any ice dancer past/present, who would it be? Why?
MM: I am the biggest fan of Madison Chock and Evan Bates. I like everything they do from their amazing and unique programs and their outstanding technical skills.
SM: I went to a camp and I worked with Charlie White. Charlie White was just a blast and he taught us a lot. But also I would agree with Michela that Madison Chock and Evan Bates are absolutely astounding. Also, Zachary Donahue and Madison Hubbell just have amazing technical skills and I’d love to learn from them. And, Jean Luc Baker, too… He’s one of my favorite ice dancers in the performance category. He and Kaitlin are amazing.
What is each of you looking forward to most this skating season? What will be your biggest challenge(s)?
MM: I am looking forward to competing at the junior level with Simon; he is a such a supportive partner. Challenges? Just the fact we just started our partnership a few weeks ago so we have very limited time to get ready for our first NQ competition.
SM: I’m just really looking forward to skating at this new level and being challenged. I’m really excited to compete at this level and this difficulty. The biggest challenge will be that we got together late in the season. As I mentioned earlier, I was in intermediate last year. I have a lot to catch up on. We have about two months before our first competition in Dallas, Texas, and that’s going to be a challenge.
What is your debut competition this season?
It will be the Dallas Classic NQ competition in Plano StarCenter, Plano TX in July 2023.
Please share anything you would like our readers to know about you as a team?
MM: Simon, for his bar mitzvah project, raised funds for the Diversify Ice Foundation and worked to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in figure skating. I have a Mayan heritage, and I am very proud of my partner who wants to promote diversity in our sport. I really enjoy that I can express myself during my performances, the way perhaps Mayans did in the past during their famous dance rituals.
SM: As a team, we’re very social. We both really like performing and bring a lot of energy onto the ice.