by Anne Calder | Photo by Daphne Backman

Nine senior ice dance teams, the lowest number since seven competed in 2001, will face off at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships next week in Greensboro, NC. The roster includes the 2019 podium medalists plus two returning teams and three new partnerships.

Leading up to the event, all the couples shared their thoughts with IDC.

Two-time champions, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue have their eyes on a third straight title, but know it won’t be easy.

“Our biggest goal for Nationals is defending our title,” Hubbell said.  “Three times as national champion would be such an accomplishment, and we know the competition is tough this year”

The team won gold and silver at the first two Grand Prix competitions and had no Challenger events scheduled. They had five weeks to evaluate their programs and note feedback before the GP Final.

“Every competition is a learning experience,” Hubbell said. “We learned about the pace of our program, how the crowd reacted, and also what the judges were responsive to in our program,”

Coach Marie-France Dubreuil, felt their speed and power was missing in the free dance, especially in the opening “rock and roll” music section. The order of the elements and the musicality was changed.

In addition, the rhythm dance was repackaged and new costumes were added.

“The original design was beautiful. The decision to change the dress came from wanting to put Zach in the Yankees uniform and to really share with the audience the love we have for Joe and Marilyn’s love story. Since his uniform was going to be Navy and White, we wanted to pair it with a red dress for a Broadway, All American look.” 

Hubbell & Donohue won the Grand Prix Final bronze medal.

“We were proud of the performance we gave and took the lessons home to apply for Nationals. We have been working a lot on the details of both programs and improving the quality of all the elements.”

Their Montreal training mates, Madison Chock & Evan Bates have their own script for the US Championship Ice Dance title.

Their official statement from the IDC Q&A: “Goal for Nationals is to win with two great performances.”

Chock & Bates opened the season with gold medals at two Challenger events – US International Classic and Finlandia. They added silver at Internationaux de France, Cup of China and the Final.

Their two Grand Prix events were miles apart and back-to-back, which created a tough jet lag and poor sleep patterns. Fortunately, their bodies readjusted before traveling to Italy for the GP Final.

The 2019 Four Continents gold medalists are very happy with the response to their Egyptian Snake Dance. The duo wanted to do something totally different than last year’s Elvis free program. Also being injury-free allowed them to take on something new and challenging.

“When we heard the music, which we found while on vacation after Worlds, we were inspired because it was powerful but mysterious and just different than anything we had done before.”

“Marie France had the idea to create a story where we play a snake and a traveler who finds it. That’s the jumping-off point for our dance. Once we started choreographing with Sam Chouinard, we were immediately excited by what he was able to create with us.”

“We didn’t make any changes to either program since the Final. We’ve been focusing on improving our skating generally,” Bates added. “We took a break over Christmas and flew back to Michigan to see our families. Now we’re back to full training for Nationals.”

After finishing second at the Nebelhorn Trophy, Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker competed at Skate Canada, their first 2019 Grand Prix event. The duo placed fourth, barely missing the podium by .58 points. Two weeks later they were fifth at Cup of China.

“We have done a lot of work since China! As soon as we got home, we re-worked a lot of elements from both programs to maximize level and GOE potential. We have worked a lot on the quality and cleanliness of our Finnstep.”

“We have [also] worked a lot with our acting coach to deepen the level of our storytelling abilities for both programs, especially [the] Free Dance! It has been a very productive period of time!”

“The goals we set for Nationals this year are to compete with the intention of winning and to perform our programs for the people. We want to get the crowd involved and feel like a part of our performances and not just like spectators.”

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter won bronze at both the Lake Placid IDI and the Nepela Memorial. Then they were off-ice and unable to compete for two months.

“After Nepela Memorial, Quinn had to receive surgery to repair two tendons and a nerve that were injured in his wrist after a slight mishap during training,” explained McNamara. “Through physical therapy and lots of perseverance, he has made a full recovery and is once again able to train and perform at full capacity.”

In addition to working on the overall skating of both programs, the team has made several improvements since Golden Spin.

“We have refined our technical approach to every element. By securing technical consistency, we are able to fine-tune our execution of every element to ensure high GOEs. By showing our comfort and passion for our music and programs, we are confident we will earn high component scores.”

“We have made some major changes to our free dance that we are very, very excited about showing off. Our largest goal is to come out with flying colors and surprise everyone with those changes.

Readers of the USFS Fan Zone bio section may have already discovered part of the secret with the posting of the team’s 2018-19 free dance music instead of the current season’s program.

“Ice dance in the US is fiercely competitive, and we aim to prove that we belong at the top of the game amongst the best of the best,” McNamara concluded.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko competed at the Lake Placid IDI in July plus three Challenger and two Grand Prix events. Feedback from judges enabled them to change and improve their programs. They also gained valuable needed experience to be fully prepared for U.S. Nationals.

“Our coaching team has told us that every chance to show the programs is mileage and experience we need to perform the best at Nationals. Also, competing at Skate America was a good opportunity to skate in a high-ranked competition in front of a home crowd before January.”

“Since NHK we’ve been working a lot on our synchronicity, our partnering, and skating skills to improve our component score,” Carreira noted. “We’ve also been working on the levels and GOEs of all our elements to make sure they are consistent so that we can get our best scores at Nationals.”

“At the beginning of the season, we set an ambitious goal of placing top 3 at the US Championships and making the World Team. This is a big goal for us that starts with putting out clean and high-energy programs”.   

“One of the biggest challenges to achieve our goal is the level and experience of US ice dancers. We are coming in as the youngest team in our second season as seniors. Our competitors are very high ranked and have a great amount of competitive experience.”

In just their first season together, Caroline Green & Michael Parsons have competed six times, including two Grand Prixs and three Challenger Series events.  Since debuting at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in July, the team has valued the feedback they have received.

“Any and all feedback is good feedback, and we’ve been lucky enough to have received tons of it so far this season. The more time we spend training, the more we realize how much is possible for us in the future.”

Having already exceeded their own expectations, they head to Greensboro with an open mind.  

“We’re very comfortable with what we’re putting on the ice. We’ve built up some good momentum from our past few competitions and are aiming to deliver our best performances yet for the judges and fans in Greensboro.”

Five months after teaming up, Eva Pate & Logan Bye won gold at the Ice Dance Final. Prior to the partnership, Pate was a solo dancer. The couple trains with Igor Shpilband in Novi, MI

Since the Ice Dance Final, Pate & Bye have made improvements to both their rhythm and free dance.

“We’ve worked on our pattern dance (Finnstep) to embellish the accents in the music and with our choreography in the partial step sequence. Additionally, we’ve done a few touch-ups to the choreography for the free dance to hit specific musical cues and notes that will ideally improve component and GOE scores.”

“Our goal for Nationals would be to have a clean skate and put out what we’ve been training. We think the biggest challenge will be presenting these programs in such a grand stadium alongside the greatest dancers in the country.”

Another new partnership on the roster is Livvy Shilling & Alexander Petrov. They joined their Novi, MI training mates on the Ice Dance Final podium after winning the silver medal in Hyannis.

As a former singles skater, Shilling had some adjustments to make for the ice dance discipline.

“I was a “lefty” in singles, but Sasha is a “righty.” This difference has proved to be one of my greatest learning curves. On the upside, I love that I get to train footwork every day and discover all the different things I can create with my blade. I never had enough time for that in singles.” 

Petrov added, “In the first couple of weeks I had to do more of my role with leading the positions and making sure to hold the frame correctly, but I was pleasantly surprised when all of the other things went smoothly. I do think that the biggest adjustment must have been for Livvy, to not only change disciplines but also to have to change her spinning direction for spins and twizzles.

The duo has been working on improvements to better prepare themselves for the Championships.

“We have made some pattern and lift adjustments to better our levels and GOEs. For components, we have emphasized elevating our transitions, the connection between us, and improving our basic skating skills.” 

Once in Greensboro, the new team wants to create memories and achieve goals.

“We both love to compete and perform, so we are looking forward to sharing the moment at center ice as our names are announced and also showcasing the programs we’ve built together since May.” 

“Then our goal, as cliché as it may be, is to skate our best yet and to soak in every moment – so many firsts! Results-wise, we are looking to achieve a PB and increase our footwork and twizzle levels from what we received at the Dance Final.”

Bailey Melton & Ryan O’Donnell train in Colorado Springs, CO with coaches Ben Agosto and Patti Gottwein. They qualified for U.S. Nationals with a bronze medal finish at the Ice Dance Final and the technical scores set by USFS.

The team has been preparing for the U.S. Championships and setting personal goals.

“We’ve worked a lot on performance for both programs. We really want to get our component scores up. Also, we were just cleaning up our elements and trying to get them as consistent as possible. Our goal for the Championships is to do the best job we can and skate two clean programs.”