by Anne Calder | Photo by Daphne Backman

The 2019 ice dancers skated to a packed and enthusiastic audience both nights in Detroit. Many came to cheer on local favorites, but left discovering new talent to support. The award ceremony was a trip down memory lane. Past champions who had paved the way for those now headlining the sport joined the medalists for a huge round of applause.

The final podium included: Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue (gold), Madison Chock & Evan Bates (silver), Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (bronze), and Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter (pewter)

Rhythm Dance

The Friday night crowd at Little Caesars Arena was treated to an evening of tango ice dances that ranged from the sultry to romantic and everything in between. At the end of the evening, the leader board included: Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (1), Madison Chock & Evan Bates (2), Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (3) and Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko (4).

The 2018-2019 Senior Rhythm Dance includes two sections of Tango Romantica. Each pattern level is determined by the performance of its four key points. Effective 2018-19 the man and lady are awarded twizzle levels separately, and the GOE scores range from -5 to +5.

It was a homecoming for the top three teams who previously trained in the area before they all moved to Montreal. For Hubbell & Donohue, it was their second time on the Little Caesars Arena ice.

“Zach and I were here this spring for Stars on Ice, and we got a small taste of what it would be like,” Hubbell said. “It’s just great to be here in this beautiful arena.”

The defending champions skated first in the final group and took the lead with a captivating tango to “Maria de Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzola. Except for the one missed key point in the second pattern, they earned all level 4’s. The GOEs were +3, +4, +5; the component marks were 9.5 and above. The segment scored 84.56, four points higher than the Grand Prix Final.

“Today was the rhythm dance, and we’ll enjoy the fact that we came out on top,” Hubbell said. “Tomorrow it would be lovely to take another title and share it with my family that’s in the crowd. No matter what, our focus will be on giving a performance we are proud of. The rest isn’t in our control.”

Chock & Bates received a thunderous applause and 82.33 points for their “Assassin’s Tango” from the Mr. & Mrs. Smith soundtrack. The alluring rhythm dance earned all level 4’s – an amazing fete considering their season began in January due to Chock’s ankle surgery and recovery.

The team missed the Grand Prix season and only tested their programs recently at the Torun Cup in Poland. In addition to the injury, Chock & Bates moved to Montreal six months ago with new coaches, a new language, and a new schedule. In the mix, they have found a new joy in skating.

“Our goal for the US Championships and beyond is simply to show the way we are feeling about our own skating, which is a new passion – our passion never died – but it’s been reinvigorated, and we are very excited about the direction it’s going,” Bates said.

Hawayek & Baker round off the U.S. Montreal training trio. Their dance to “Vuelvo Al Sur” and “A Los Amigos” scored 76.77 points. The curve lift, twizzles and first Tango Romantica pattern earned level 4. The Midline step sequence and second pattern were level 3. In the rhythm dance, the team achieved its level goals.

“Going into Nationals we wanted to put out two really improved programs from our previous competitions,” Baker said. “ We’ve really been working on our Tango Romantica levels and want to get higher than a level 2.”

Baker received a concussion in August and was off-ice for a few months before winning gold at NHK and placing fourth at the Internationaux de France. The points qualified them for the Grand Prix Final.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko closed the rhythm dance competition with a lively tango to “Yo Soy Maria” and “Tango Jalousie”. In their Nationals’ senior debut, the team earned all level 4’s and placed fourth. The young 2018 U.S. junior champions, who train in nearby Novi, were pleased with their performance.

”We have been working on improving the entire program so we could come here and show we can complete with the older teams and be part of this competition,” Carreira said.

“Great atmosphere, great ice and everything was perfect,” Ponomarenko added. “We had a lot of friends come to watch us, so we are really happy with everything.”

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter (74.42) finished fifth; Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons (72.52) finished sixth. Both hold the title of World Junior Ice Dance Champions.

Free Dance

The audience must have loved what they saw on Friday because a packed house braved cold, snowy conditions Saturday evening to again cheer on the ice dancers.

Hubbell & Donohue and Chock & Bates began the free dance in first and second place, 2.23 points apart. The two teams share a lot of skating history. Both trained in the Detroit suburbs; both won U.S. Nationals medals every year since 2012, and now both train together in Montreal, Canada.

So how do they balance the fine line between competitiveness, being friends and training mates?

Hubbell attributes it to the coaches and atmosphere at the Gadbois Centre where the focus is to become the best version of yourself.

“So today we went out focused on being our best. I’m sure they did the same exact thing, so that allows us to support each other while still wanting to be the winner at the end of the day,” Hubbell said.

Hubbell & Donohue debuted their free dance in September at the Salt Lake City Classic. In four months the program underwent several changes, including the addition of the powerful “O Verona” as the opening music.

“We keep trying to perform the same exact thing every time,” Hubbell said.  “It feels like we’re unable to give a fully genuine performance, and that’s why we change parts of our programs and little things.  I’m not sure if one version is better than the other, but Zach and I have figured out, along with our team in Montreal, that we thrive on change, and we thrive on continuing to push ourselves.”

The dance by the reigning Ice Dance Champions to the 1996 Romeo +Juliet film soundtrack earned 131.32 points. The elements received all but one level 4; the GOEs were mostly +4 and +5. The program components included ten perfect 10.00 scores. Their high-flying Midline step sequence scored 11.68, the highest of the evening. The program total was 215.88.

“I think in this performance more than ever before, Zachary and I were really connected,” Hubbell said. “We kept looking into each other’s eyes, so we created a bubble, and there wasn’t a realization until the end. We were in a bubble time, but to find a way to open up our bubble and see everyone standing, it was really special.”

For their free dance, Chock & Bates chose a medley from the “If I Can Dream” album of Elvis Presley hits re-recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The program opens with “Fever” by Michael Bublé and Elvis Presley followed by a Presley’s solo to “Burning Love”.

The skater’s smoldering interpretation and great chemistry in the up-beat program created a vehicle to share their love of dance with the audience.

“Up-tempo free dances are rare,” Bates said. “In the last minute of our program, we did something fun and really geared for entertaining the audience. We are happy we created a dance that will stand out a bit and also reflect our personalities really well.”

The 2015 National Champions earned level 4 for all the elements except a level 3 for the diagonal footwork. Their spectacular curve lift/curve lift, that demonstrated flexibility and strength received a 13.98, the top combination lift score of the night. The judging panel rewarded them with mostly +4, +5 marks and six 10.00 program component scores. The total was 211.52.

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker skated last and scored 120.18 for their performance to “Trampoline Theme” and “In This Shirt” by the Irrespressibles. They earned all level 4’s except for his twizzle that was level 3. The total was 196.95.

The 2018 Four Continents gold medalists shared their thoughts on two new elements added for this season – the new choreographic elements (GOE scored only – no level) and the one-foot step sequences, for which Hawayek & Baker earned level 4.

“I love the choreographic steps,” said Baker. “There’s so much freedom to it. With it being just a GOE based step you can really allow yourself to let go and feel and dance as opposed to structuring your turns properly and making sure everything is squeaky clean on top of dancing.”

“It’s not that we’re not fans of one-step sequences, but on the aspect of creativity and the range of what you’re able to do, it’s limited,” Hawayek said. “There are only so many one-footed sequences you can do. It’s hard to be creative while on one foot. I think it’s dull in relation to some of the other elements in the FD, but I’m sure they’ll find ways to develop it as the seasons go on.”

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter moved up to fourth place to win the pewter medal with their lyrical and seamless free dance to “Porz Goret” and” Penn Ar Roc’h” by Yann Tiersen and “Modern Piano” by Piano.

“We really, really love this program,” McNamara said. “It felt so good of all places at Nationals to really just leave it all out there and have a blast doing it.”

“Our programs in the past have either been characters like Carmen, from Phantom of the Opera, or something a little more traditional like last year’s tango,” Carpenter added. “We wanted to take this opportunity, with this music, this program, to really branch out from that and do something our own.”

The 2016 World Junior Champions earned level 3 for the one-foot step sequence; all the rest were level 4. The segment scored 116.68. The total was 191.10.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko performed their free dance to a Tokio Myer’s medley including “Clair de Lune”, “Bloodstream”, and “Angel” and finished fifth.

In their senior Nationals debut, the 2018 World silver medalists earned level 4’s for their spin, lifts, her twizzle and his one-foot step sequence; the remaining elements were level 3. The segment scored 114.78; the total was 190.01. They felt they held back a little bit.

“We could have given more energy, and we had a few mistakes, but we’re pretty happy for our first senior Nationals,” Carriera said.

“Going out internationally was a great experience [this season]. We wanted to show we could compete with the seniors. It was a great learning experience,” Ponomarenko added.

Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons were seventh in the free dance with a brand new program to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, but finished sixth overall. The segment scored 97.74; the total was 170.26.

For many, Karina Manta & Joe Johnson stole the show with their animated “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, performed by Emily Browning and choreographed by Christopher Dean. The free dance was sixth technically, but the audience didn’t care about the score. They jumped to their feet before the final beat was heard. The well-deserved standing ovation brought tears to Manta’s eyes. The Colorado Springs-based team finished seventh with a 159.97 score.

Ice Chips

  • Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) was founded in 2003 by the Russian husband and wife team of Alexei Kiliakov and Elena Novak. They wanted to create a world-class training program. Over the years, they have introduced many successful techniques to the Academy from around the world, while also developing their own unique training system.  Multiple teams have won U.S. National Championship medals on the juvenile, intermediate, novice and junior levels.  In 2019, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter became the first team from WISA to medal at the senior level.
  • The gold, silver, and bronze medalists all train together at Gadbois Centre, Montreal, Canada with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.  This is the first time in eight years that the top three teams are training mates.  In 2011, the top three teams (Charlie White & Meryl Davis, Maia & Alex Shibutani, and Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein) trained at the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton, MI with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.