by Anne Calder
In 2018, the USFS Governing Council approved a new qualifying pipeline for singles, pairs and ice dance. NQS debuted in season 2019-2020. The first Ice Dance Final was held November 2019 in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It was the first season where the Juvenile, Intermediate and Novice skaters attended the newly created National High Performance Development Camp in lieu of competing at the National Championships.
The following season due to the impact of Covid-19, a Championship Series replaced the NQS. The Series and National Championships were eventually moved to a virtual format.
In 2021-2022 the Championship Series continued, but with in-person competitions. Advancement to the 2022 US Figure Skating Championships and assignment to the National High Performance Development Team was based on each teams highest score earned in one of the two ice dance events. The byes were the same.
The NQS resumed in 2022-2023 with the Ice Dance Final hosted by the Skating Club of Boston in Norwood.
The 2024 Ice Dance Final was recently held November 14-17 in Bloomington, Minnesota. For the first time since the adoption of the NQS, in addition to the Juniors and Seniors, five Novice ice dance teams qualified to compete at the National Championships.
Bloomington Ice Garden Happenings
U.S. National Championships in Columbus, Ohio:
- Six senior ice dance teams are added to the nine who earned byes. (15 Total)
- Ten junior ice dance teams are added to the two who earned byes (12 Total)
- Five highest scoring Novice ice dance teams are invited to compete.
- The top nine teams per level in juvenile, intermediate and novice are invited to attend the National High Performance Development Camp in Columbus, Ohio.
Heard it on the Grapevine:
- The Mall of America, which was only three miles away from the Bloomington Ice Arena, was a fun experience for all who visited the attraction.
- Sixteen sibling teams and one set of cousins competed at the 2024 Ice Dance Final.
- Seniors Angela Ling & Caleb Wein choreographed most of their free dance to reflect them.
- Drake Tong will compete in Novice couples dance at U.S. Nationals after also competing at the National Solo Dance Final in September.
- Matthew Soifer won Intermediate Pairs at the Final in Tacoma, Washington. The next week he competed in Bloomington, Minnesota in Novice Dance with partner Cassandra Cowen. He withdrew from Junior men’s event.
- Sophia and Nicholas Kartashov are Intermediate ice dancers who train with Kristen Fraser and Igor Lukanin in New Jersey. The siblings are recent World Champion ballroom dancers.
- Four Rudedenman siblings competed in the Ice Dance Final: Cianin & Brysin (Novice) and Bryndolin and Ryedin (Intermediate). Ryedin qualified for the U.S. National Championships after finishing second in the Novice men’s event.
Coach Ben Agosto with
Violet Benton & Nicolas Grohne
Sophia Kartashov & Nicholas Kartashov
Natalie Leitan and Marian Carhart
Isabella & Shawn Hagan are Junior ice dancers who train with Marina Zoueva at the International Skating Academy in Estero, Florida. In addition to competing, they also create and cut their own music.
“Originally, we would hire someone to create/cut the music, but when we began training with Marina Zoueva we changed our process. We work with Marina to select the music. Bella and I think of possible themes, and we present those to Marina. She then approves the ones she thinks are appropriate.
“Being siblings, we have to avoid the “more couples related” music selections, and that is often a challenge. For this year’s themes for the Free Dance (Stranger Things), and the Rhythm Dance (Ghostbusters), we asked Marina, and she was on board with the initial ideas.
I found the music selections, Marina reviewed them and asked if I could make some changes. Bella and I worked to cut the music ourselves and got Marina’s final approval of the selections. Then Marina, Ilya Tkachenko, and Johnny Johns created the routine so everyone is happy with the mix of elements and music.”
Seniors Alexey Shchepetov & Raffaella Koncius train at the Michigan Ice Dance Academy (MIDA) with Tanith Belbin White, Charlie White and Greg Zuerlein in Canton Michigan.
A little known fact is that Alexey competes in adjusted hockey boots with ice dance blades.
“For the longest time I was having issues with lace bite (friction between the tendon and tongue of the skate) and nerve damage in my ankles. I tried every pair of boots possible – every brand. I got to the point where I couldn’t skate anymore without having like balls on my ankles, so I quit skating for a little bit until I could find a solution to it.
“On Fridays a friend and I would public skate, and I wore my old hockey boots. It finally just clicked in my head that my feet didn’t hurt with those boots. So I thought let’s put a pair of dance blades on hockey boots and give it a shot and see what happens.
“For the first pair, my dad and I took the dance blades from my old dance boots and riveted them to the bottom of a pair of hockey boots. They were super light. They weighed almost nothing. We cut out some of the back and spray painted them to be slightly aesthetically pleasing.
“The rest is history. It was a bit of a challenge to adapt to them at first, but it’s so easy for me now.
“I wear boot covers, so nobody can tell,” he laughed.
Rafaella not only skates to “Sweet Dreams” for their Rhythm Dance, but she can visibly be seen singing away to the music. “It’s very hard not to sing along because we love the music. I learned the words because they play it so many times [at practice].”
Reigning U.S. Junior silver medalists, Helena Carhart & Volodmyr Horovyi train in Estero, Florida at the International Skating Academy. This season the team competed only at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International (LPIDI) prior to withdrawing from their two ISU Junior Grand Prix assignments.
“Vova and I have been injured and haven’t been able to compete this season. It has been devastating for us, but we have become stronger as a team because of it. We are working to come back stronger than ever as soon as we can. We have had to travel for Vova’s paper work and continue to train despite it not being full force.”
Adam Esfandiari is the Juvenile silver medalist with partner Vasilisa Serova. The team trains at Montclair State University Ice Arena in Little Falls, New Jersey with Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin. After he finished competing, the eleven-year-old requested the family stay so he could watch and learn from the Junior and Senior ice dancers.
“By watching them, I’m going to learn a lot, especially lifts and spins. I have a very good relationship with Angela [Ling] and Caleb [Wein] because I used to train with them in Virginia. My inspiration is Michael Parsons because he does stuff [programs] different from everyone else. He’s also a very good skater. I used to skate with him. Now I skate with in New Jersey, but my home is in Vienna, Virginia.
“It’s been a pleasure and very special experience coming to this event. It’s been one of my dreams ever since I started skating to go to the U.S. Final. I’ve made a lot of friends from different clubs and different levels and even on my level.
“My partner is a very good skater and has the same goals as me. She’s very friendly and outgoing. She started in freestyle, then got injured before doing ice dance. Our plan is to move up to the Intermediate level next season.
“I also compete in Solo Dance, which helps my partner and me in patterns. (The team placed first in the Juvenile Patterns section) I plan to do Solo Dance again next season.
Adam and Vasilisa have qualified for the National Performance Developmental Camp, which will be held following the U.S Championships in Columbus, Ohio. This will be his first Camp, and he’s very excited.
Matthew Soifer trains at a trifecta of rinks in the Chicago suburbs because he competes in three disciplines with three different coaching teams.
“I skated in singles [at the Twin Rinks in Buffalo Grove, Illinois] for many many years. A lot of coaches at my rink said I could be good at ice dance. They encouraged me to try, so I reached out to Ksenia [Ponomarova] and took my first dance lesson last December. Then I passed 14 ice dance tests in a few months to compete at the Novice level.”
“This season when I was given an opportunity to also do ice dance and pairs in addition to singles, I just had to take it. They give me a different way of expressing myself through ice skating.
“In August, after only eight pair lessons, Matthew and partner Gabriella Kaplan earned the silver intermediate medal at the NQS Battle of the Blades. Recently the duo, who trains with Chris and Alexa Knierim at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, Illinois, stood atop the podium at the Pairs Final in Tacoma, Washington.
The following week Matthew & Cassandra Cowen, who became partners only six months after his first ice dance lesson, competed at the Ice Dance Final in Bloomington, Minnesota. They train in Geneva, Illinois at the Fox Valley Ice Arena
He currently uses the same freestyle blades for all three disciplines, which he says, while difficult is manageable.
[Dance blades have a much shorter heel to enable the skater to get in closer to a partner without fear of tripping. They are often narrower than a standard blade to enable a fast shift between edges for more complex footwork.]
“I’ve always been good with my skating skills in singles. I took lessons for them, and it helps me to do the turns better, and that’s really good for dance.”
The seventeen-year-old senior at Stevenson H.S. in Lincolnshire, Illinois has goals that may or may not include ice skating.
“I’d love to continue skating, but I also want to go to college. Since everything is in the same area, my dream school would be Northwestern – to get in there and keep on training.”
Only time will tell how many Hat Tricks are in Matthew Soifer’s future.
Juniors Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr began the season with a bronze medal at the 2023 Dallas Classic. Then injury forced withdrawal from both their ISU Junior Grand Prix assignments. At the Final they skated the Free Dance to Notre Dame de Paris and took home gold. Jenna explained her costume and the music.
“We wanted a new take on costuming and characterization. Rather than specific character roles, we took our inspiration from the cathedral itself.
“Specifically, I wanted to represent the stained glass of the cathedral. Our costume designer, Mathieu Caron was immediately full of ideas. I put together an inspiration board with pictures of cathedrals and stained glass. The stained glass window we used as a model was actually from a different cathedral, but the design fit the dress. Mathieu sent me a sketch; I asked to change the neckline from a halter.”
Jenna went to Montreal twice for fittings.
“At the first fitting, I tried on the dress. It was entirely white fabric except for the skirt fabric which had originally been white. We changed the back from a “U” shape to a lower cut ”V” shape and added a sleeve accessory.
“The dress had to fit perfectly so it could be dissembled and sent to the printers where they printed the design directly on the fabric. This took so much work because the design had to be exactly the right size and shape. Lysandre Gauthier in Mathieu’s workshop took the lead on this part of the dress construction.
“At the second fitting, additional alterations were needed as the dress was now too big after putting it back together. The alterations had to be done specifically so as not to distort the design on the fabric. The black detailing on the neckline and shoulders was all laser cut and also taken directly from a cathedral. Lysandre also finally found skin-toned mesh that matches me! Instead of tan color it’s pink! This has been an issue for me since I first started skating because everything is too dark.
Jenna also wanted to give out a shout to Hugo Chouinard and Karl Hugo for their music.
“We wanted to put a new spin on the music while still keeping it recognizable. We went through at least seven different versions of putting together different pieces from the show. Hugo also helped us not to use any questionable language (and there’s a lot). The bells that Karl added truly changed the sound and intensity of the program.”