At the beginning of the summer, the future of North American ice dancing appeared bleak. The U.S. and Canada swept the podium at the 2011 World Championships in late April, but just a few weeks later, several of their best up-and-coming teams ended their partnerships. The top teams had remained intact, but the splits seemed destined to take a toll on the development and depth of senior-level ice dance.

The partnerless were left searching for not just any partner, but for the right on-ice match. Slowly, new team announcements emerged, affirming that any talk of North American ice dancing’s demise was greatly premature.


In May, Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell announced the end of their partnership. In the same press release, Madison announced her new on-ice partnership with Zachary Donohue, the first of several new team announcements that would come during the summer months. Madison, who had skated with her brother for the past decade, wanted to continue skating, but she wasn’t sure where the next phase of her career would take her. Enter Zachary Donohue. Donohue had recently ended his partnership with Alissandra Aronow, and Hubbell’s coaches encouraged a try-out between the two. The rest is still being written.

“It is crazy to think that only eight months ago I was skating Nationals with my brother, and that 6 months ago, I was devastated to think that my career might be over,” Hubbell said.

“Madison and I are thankful to have found each other as partners,” Donohue said. “Our personalities and skating styles have begun to mesh together very well, and we bring out each other’s strengths.”

hubbell-donohueAfter just over two months together, the team debuted at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, winning the short dance and placing a very close second (by .01!) in the free dance. Officials and monitors from U.S. Figure Skating (USFS) watched them closely, and the splash that they made was one of the highlights of the competition.

“Lake Placid was a very important competition for Zachary and I, since we were trying to show the USFS that we were ready to be sent internationally,” Hubbell said. “We were very honored to be selected to skate at both the Nebelhorn Trophy in Obertsdorf, Germany, as well as Skate America in Ontario, California.”

Prior to competing at Nebelhorn Trophy, the team attended Champs Camp, a USFS seminar where Grand Prix-assigned teams are invited to showcase their programs and participate in team-building exercises.

“At Champs Camp in Colorado Springs, we received feedback from many of the top U.S. judges on exactly what our next steps need to be in order to go to Obertsdorf prepared,” Donohue said. “We felt that it is important to put out strong programs at Nebelhorn because this would serve as our first [international] impression.”

The team headed to Obertsdorf in late September for Nebelhorn Trophy and came away with more than just the valuable experience—they won the gold medal, setting themselves up for an even better performance at Skate America next week.

“I feel that Zach and I are beginning to establish ourselves as a strong team, and the possibilities for our future are very exciting,” Hubbell said.

Madison will not be the only Hubbell gracing the competitive ice.

“I am very happy that Keiffer has decided to pursue a skating career,” Madison said. “He is a very talented skater, and with the right partner, he can have a very successful career. We both miss each other, but we are still best friends, and will always support each other in whatever we chose to do.”


Canada’s Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier announced on June 2 that they were calling it quits after a ten-year partnership that included a trip to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It was initially reported that Crone wanted to retire from competitive skating, but this was not the case and once the facts were cleared up, she began the process of finding a new partner.

Poirier immediately began searching for a partner beyond the Canadian border and conducted tryouts with several potential candidates, including Emily Samuelson and Piper Gilles of the United States. Samuelson had recently split from Evan Bates, while Gilles had taken a year off from competitive skating to pursue other interests. It was Gilles who clicked with Poirier immediately.

“At our tryout, it only took about five minutes to figure out that we wanted to skate together,” Gilles said. “Our power and speed together was the first thing we noticed. Everything we did just seemed very natural.”

After the second day of the tryout, the two met at a coffee shop to discuss how the partnership could work, ultimately deciding that Gilles would move to Canada to train and compete. Two weeks later, the team was training at full strength with Poirier’s longtime coaches, Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, in Scarborough, Ontario.

“Training [in Toronto] so far has been great,” Gilles said.  

Last month, Gilles & Poirier travelled to Gilles’ hometown of Colorado Springs to work with 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean, who choreographed their free dance to “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics. Dean choreographed for Gilles and her previous partners, and he also crafted the “Eleanor Rigby” free dance for Crone & Poirier last season.  Gilles & Poirier’s short dance was created by their coaches.

The duo will debut their free dance this weekend at Octoberfest in Barrie, Ontario.


Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates had been pegged as “the next ones” in United States ice dance. A bronze medal at the national level in 2010 sent them to the Olympics, where they turned in solid performances, resulting in a respectable 11th-place finish. A coaching change following the Olympic season sent them to Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in Canton, Michigan. About a year ago, the skating world was anxiously waiting to see their American in Paris free dance when disaster struck. A freak accident on a lift in training sent Samuelson’s blade slicing through Bates’ Achilles tendon, and in an instant, their season was lost.

Once Bates got back on the ice this spring, though, their partnership had been impacted by the time apart. They began training for the new season, but Bates eventually decided to end the partnership.

After a breakthrough senior season that included two Grand Prix medals and a ninth-place finish at the World Championships, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein ended their partnership. Having reached his goals, Zuerlein decided to retire from the sport to pursue other interests.

The days following this announcement must have been quite busy at the rink in Canton. With the U.S. bronze medalists from 2010 and 2011 both partnerless on the same practice ice, it was only natural for Chock and Bates to try out. The team seemed to work, and with no time to spare, a decision was made quickly. Just a few days after Zuerlein announced his retirement, Chock already had a new partner in Bates.

Chock & Bates had to hit the ground running if they wanted to be considered for an international assignment this fall. They debuted their short and free dances in an exhibition at the Onyx Challenge at the end of August, just seven weeks after beginning their on-ice partnership.  The team credits their coaches with their helping prepare them in such a short period of time.

“Onyx was a great start for us,” Bates said. “Marina and Igor have been a tremendous help to us both in creating our programs and in preparing us so quickly.”

Due to the new ISU rule that gives former top athletes a chance to skate in the Grand Prix Series with a new partner, Chock & Bates were placed at the top of the substitute list and were awarded Skate Canada. Since Chock reached the Grand Prix minimum score with Zuerlein last season, Chock & Bates were not required to participate in any competitions before Skate Canada, although USFS decided to send them to Finlandia Trophy.

“We were surprised, but very happy to hear the news about Skate Canada,” Bates said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us and we are very thankful for it.”

At Finlandia Trophy last week, Chock & Bates made a promising international debut. Their score of 136.88 ranked them third, and their bronze medal rounded out a Canton sweep of the podium behind Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Maia & Alex Shibutani. Their program components scores in the free dance were exceptional, especially for the new team—they earned over 7.45 on each mark.

“It feels like we are growing more comfortable with each other and our skating together has improved a lot over the last few months,” Bates said.  “Still, we have room to grow and lots of things to work on.”


While things came together very quickly for her former partner, Samuelson’s off-season route took a few twists before she found a new match. The Olympian did not have too much difficulty scheduling tryouts, but it was not until she skated with Todd Gilles that something clicked. Gilles, the 2005 U.S. junior champion with Trina Pratt, sat out of competition last season after his three-year partnership with Jane Summersett ended. He had been thinking about returning to competition, though, and in Samuelson, he found the right incentive to continue.

Gilles had been coaching in Lake Placid, NY, this summer, so the first few weeks the new Samuelson-Gilles partnership involved a lot of road tripping. Since Lake Placid does not have a year-round elite level dance coach, the duo knew that a move would be required. After considering all of the factors, they decided to return to the coaches that had guided Samuelson’s career until 2010, Yasa Netchaeva & Yuri Tchesnitchenko.

The duo decided to turn to Christopher Dean for choreography—Dean was a longtime choreographer for Gilles—so another road trip was in order. They went to Colorado Springs in mid-September, so they will have to prepare their programs for competition very quickly.

Right now, Samuelson & Gilles plan to make their competitive debut at the Pacific Sectional Championships in mid-November. However, since Samuelson would have qualified for this season’s Grand Prix Series based on her 2010 results with Bates, she and Gilles are at the top of the substitute list and could receive a Grand Prix assignment.


nartrax11After a two-year absence, Nick Traxler will return to competitive ice at U.S. Sectionals with a new partner—Kristen Nardozzi.  Though Nardozzi competed at Lake Placid in late July with Robert Cuthbertson, the team broke up shortly after returning to Texas.

“For the past two years, Nick had been wanting to compete, but was looking for the right situation,” Nardozzi said. “After Lake Placid, my partner and I decided to go in different directions. At that point, Nick suggested a tryout.”

Traxler has been coaching at the rink where Nardozzi & Cuthbertson trained, so the logistics of the tryout were simple. After skating together for one day, both went on vacation, separately.

“When we got back, we skated a couple more times and realized we could form a strong partnership,” Nardozzi said. “We are both really excited to find a partner that shares the same passion for skating.”

“Training has been going really well,” Traxler said. “We are working on elements and getting programs together. It’s been really nice that we are both experienced, so things are coming together quite easily.”

Nardozzi & Traxler will be playing catch up after teaming up so late in the pre-season. They debuted their short dance at the Pikes Peak Classic in September and finished third, scoring 32.60. They look at this as a starting point from which they can build, and they are not afraid of the challenge.

With so many new teams, this season could bring major surprises in both the United States and Canada. If these teams stick together and continue developing, the depth in North American ice dance may not just rebound—it will expand.