In the third article of our New Team Series, we meet Raffaella Koncius & Alexey Shchepetov, who are in the second year of their partnership. They recently competed at the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships where they finished third.

Tell us about your individual skating journeys.
Raffaella: I started skating when I was 4 years old thanks to a skating-themed birthday party. I was a singles skater for 16 years. I had my first dance partner at 17 years old, while I was also still doing singles. It was very hard for me to train in both disciplines, so I made the switch to ice dance fully when I was 18. I competed internationally for Denmark for the 2019-2020 season in senior, and moved back to the US after that season ended. Alexey: My family immigrated to the US from Russia just a few years before I was born. They signed me up for skating lessons as soon as I could walk because it was what they knew from back home (and because there was an ice rink a block from our house). 

Alexey: I switched from singles to ice dance when I was 10 years old and competed internationally in ice dance at the junior level. In my transition from junior to senior, I started to experience severe lace bite in my ankles that just wouldn’t go away. It got to the point where I would be in pain just standing on the ice–nothing seemed to help. After years of dealing with it and taking months off at a time just to let my ankles rest, I discovered that hockey boots were the answer.

Now I compete in custom hockey boots that my dad sanded down, spray painted, and attached a figure skating heel and blades to.

What drew you to ice dance?
Raffaella: When I did singles, I loved everything except the jumps–the footwork, spins, the edges. I loved how in ice dance I could focus on all of these things, and how it allowed me to express and emote so many different stories, characters, and feelings. The thought of being able to do lifts really drew me in also, it was a bit of an adjustment at first trying to do lifts since I had never done anything like it before, but now I absolutely love learning challenging lifts!

Alexey: I love all the variety within ice dance. As long as you take part in the sport, you’re learning new styles of movement. I also really enjoy the partnering aspect. 

What are your earliest skating memories?
Raffaella: I remember that I would absolutely refuse to get off the ice as a child. It didn’t matter whether it was public skate or freestyle training–I loved skating. I would be on the ice for 4-5 hours non stop, I just loved the feeling of flying around the ice. There must have been a hundred times where my mom would have to come down from the stands and get one of the coaches to drag me off the ice, I never wanted to leave. 

Alexey: My grandmother would walk me to the rink dragging along her oxygen tank with one hand and holding my hand with the other. I remember wobbling around on skates wearing a giant helmet while she watched from the bleachers every week. 

Tell us about how your partnership started (tryout, etc.)?
Raffaella: I competed internationally for Denmark in the 2019-2020 season, then sat out for a year due to the pandemic. I wasn’t sure of the future of my skating, I had a lot of problems trying to find a partner with all the pandemic restrictions, and I had to switch federations. I contacted Marina Zoueva in early 2021 asking if she knew of anyone I could possibly skate with, and in April of 2021, she told me she had a tryout for me. It was funny, I didn’t get a name or anything, I was just told to come down to Florida. Like Alexey said above, when Marina calls you answer and you go.

From the moment Alexey and I took our first few laps together, it felt so right. Skating with him felt natural and easy right from the start, which was something I had never experienced before. Our personalities meshed together really well, I knew I wanted him as my partner right away! A couple months later we moved from opposite ends of the country to train together under Marina and her team. 

Alexey: After knee surgery leading into the pandemic, I honestly wasn’t sure if my competitive skating career was going to continue. Then out of the blue I got a call from Marina Zoueva asking if I could come down to Florida to try out with a few potential partners. I didn’t even know exactly who I would be trying out with–but when Marina calls for you, you go. 

I flew down from Philly as soon as I could and Raffaella came from California. The first time we skated around together it just clicked. I was like, this feels good, it feels right. A few months later, we both made the decision to move our lives to Estero and train together under Marina’s guidance. 

Who are your coaches?  Tell us about your training location.
Raffaella: We have an amazing team of coaches and skaters here in Estero, Florida! We’re coached by Marina Zoueva, Johnny Johns, Ilya Tkachenko, and Yelena Sokolova at the Hertz Arena. We currently have around 10 teams training with us, being surrounded by so many teams constantly pushes us to work hard and be the best we can be. It feels like a family here. It’s nice walking into the rink every day and feeling a sense of positivity and being surrounded by an amazing support team. 

Alexey: We’re coached by Marina Zoueva, Johnny Johns, Ilya Tkachenko, and Yelena Sokolova at the Hertz Arena. Part of what makes training there so special is the kindness and comradery among the skaters and coaches, it’s such a genuinely supportive environment. 

Can you give us some background on your programs this season?
Raffaella: For this season, Alexey found the free dance music, and I found the rhythm. It took a while to find the three pieces that make up our rhythm dance, we wanted music that allowed us to show different emotions and moods. For the choreography, a lot of inspiration was taken from ballroom dance, and we want each movement we do to have a purpose. Having a strong storyline for our free dance adds a level of intricacy and emotion that we enjoy portraying through our choreography and elements. 

Alexey: We really wanted to create a piece that tells a story with our free dance. Having a storyline and characters helps inform our elements and choreography in a meaningful way, beyond just what looks good with the music.

If you could have a lesson from any ice dancer past/present, who would it be? 
Raffaella: I would absolutely love to have a lesson with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, they are my idols! 

Alexey: Not technically an ice dancer, but Elladj Baldé.

Tell us about your training challenges during the pandemic.
Raffaella: It was very hard to skate and stay in shape during the pandemic, since everything was closed and because of all the COVID restrictions in place. However, time away from the ice caused me to want to get back to the ice and work harder than I ever have before.

Alexey: Raffaella and I started training together in July of 2021 so things were opening up around that time. If anything, I think the pandemic may have ultimately brought us together. It gave us time to reflect on our individual careers.

What is it that you already like about your new partner?
Raffaella: I absolutely love how gentle, kind, and supportive Alexey is, along with being such a hard worker. We get along so incredibly well! Being on the ice with him every day is nothing but enjoyable and fun, it is so easy to work hard together.

Alexey: She has an incredible work ethic. She always pushes through any pain or exhaustion. I sometimes have to be the one to be like, “I can see you’re hurting, let’s take a breather.”

What do you like most about skating with your partner?
Raffaella: I love how I’m excited every single day to come into the rink and skate with Alexey. We always work hard on the ice, it is easy when you have such a strong relationship with your partner. I agree, I can’t believe we’ve only been skating together a year!

Alexey: It’s genuinely fun. We work hard but we have a good time on the ice which is part of what keeps your heart in the sport and what makes us stronger overall. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been barely a year!

What are you looking most forward to this season?
Raffaella: I am looking forward to every competition this season, I absolutely love competing! I love showcasing all the hard work we are putting into our programs, and constantly finding room for improvement.

Alexey: I’m looking forward to getting feedback from judges and the skating community in general–adjusting, adapting, and getting stronger as the season progresses. Our first competition this season was the Sunshine State Games in Orlando. For now, we’re thinking of every competition as a debut because–as a new team–you never know when someone is going to see you or really notice you for the first time.

Raffaella: I completely agree with Alexey, every competition is a debut for us and an opportunity to go out there and do the best we can do.