by Gina Capellazzi | Photos by Robin Ritoss
At the age of 12, Simon Shnapir competed in the pre-juvenile dance event at the 2000 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships with partner, Emma Cyders. They skated patterns such as the Dutch Waltz and the Cha-Cha.
Twenty-two years later, the two-time U.S. pairs champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist found himself back in Lake Placid — this time, as a coach for ice dance teams, who competed at the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.
So how did the 34-year-old with more than 15 years of pairs’ experience find himself back into the ice dance world as a coach? Shnapir, who is the on-ice director at the Skating Club of Boston, credits his return to ice dance and joy for the discipline to his student, Caroline DePetri, who trained with Shnapir in Boston during her singles career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shnapir said, DePetri, who had tested out of freestyle, started to learn ice dance.
“She really fell in love with it and decided she wanted to compete again and compete in ice dance,” he explained.
However, because she couldn’t test her dance patterns in Boston during COVID because of health concerns with people partnering, DePetri went to Florida to test her patterns. She worked with Marina Zoueva and Ilia Tkachenko, who suggested that she consider doing some partnering. DePetri felt she was finished with her skating career, but decided to give it a shot. Because she never skated with a partner before, she called up her coach in Boston to ask if they could skate together a bit and do some spins and some intro lifts. She told Shnapir she would only come home if he agreed to work with her.
“I never skated with anyone (before), so I didn’t know how to do any lifts, any spins, any partnering and it was very limited on what I could train while I was in Florida,” DePetri explained. “So I knew if I wanted to be prepared for any tryout that he (Simon) was going to be the one to get me where I needed to be and get me prepared.”
“Dance lifts – they were completely foreign to me. They are like an alien language to me. I had no idea about any of it,” Shnapir shared.
Despite this unfamiliarity with certain dance elements, Shnapir agreed to help DePietri. The two watched tons of videos and just started training and learning.
“It was a lot of fun and we made a lot of great progress,” Shnapir exclaimed.
“She (Caroline) is an incredible athlete, insanely hard working and driven, focused and very coachable and an all around great person,” he added. “It’s easy to work with someone who takes every bit of coaching and direction and gives it 110% to be better.”
After a year working with Shnapir, DePietri teamed up in April with TJ Carey, who last season competed with Klara Kowar. DePietri and Carey competed in the senior domestic event at the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.
Shnapir’s work with DePietri led to more teams calling and asking for his help.
“I was getting texts and phone calls – ‘Hey, can you work with us to do lifts and work with spins.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, sure.’” Shnapir recalled. “I didn’t expect that at all and so that one little coaching year turned into four other teams calling and asking (for my help).’
With more teams seeking his help both on a full-time and part-time basis, Shnapir said he took it upon himself to learn the rules of dance. Shnapir also sought the help of his fellow coaches, Michael Bramante, who competed in ice dance for France and the U.S., and currently runs the Boston Ice Dance Academy at The Skating Club of Boston, and Bryna Oi, who competed in ice dance for the U.S. and Japan. Though he pursued pair skating, Shnapir said he grew up learning from ice dancers, whether it be ice dance coaches who taught stroking or working with choreographers, who were ice dancers.
“I had a lot of exposure to dance and dance coaching and concepts, so that’s kind of helped shape where I am today,” he commented.
Shnapir works with three teams on a consistent basis. In addition to DiPietri and Carey, he assists with the intermediate team, Sarah Yoo and Nicholas Ying, who won the gold medal in Lake Placid. His novice team, Ja Yi Kirwan and Luke Witkowski, finished in fifth place.
DiPietri and Carey said they have enjoyed having Shnapir as part of their coaching team.
“Simon has been really helpful with the technical aspects of lifting, like the features of a lift,” Carey said. “(He’s also been helpful) with the timings of the spins. I think that what he’s learned throughout his career translates really, really well (to dance).”
It isn’t just the technical aspects. DiPietri and Carey said they found Simon’s wisdom and experience as a pair skater helpful, especially as a new team.
“I really struggled just coming as a solo freestyle skater. I never had to be working with someone else. Even in my lessons with Simon, when we were preparing for tryouts, he’s my coach, it’s not the same as having a real partner,” she explained. “He (Simon) really helped guide me through entering the partnership and working through things and realizing that it’s not me alone, it’s me and TJ as a team.”
“Learning how to skate with another person and also working with another person is a skill that takes a lot of time, no matter if you are just getting into it or you’ve been in it for years. It’s something you always need to work at, ” Carey added. “Simon has always been really encouraging communication, not just between the two of us as partners, but also the coaches.”
Shnapir said half the battle isn’t the technical stuff that you see, but working through the relationships, noting his own partnership with Marissa Castelli. Despite their success on the ice, the two were known to not get along as a team.
“I can speak to my experience, to younger couples and the younger teams and try to guide them and help them understand how to successfully navigate these types of working relationships, which are not easy,” he said. “In a perfect world, everyone gets along, everyone’s right. That’s just not the reality. So you just have to figure out the best way to make it work.”
In addition to his work with the dance teams, Shnapir is still coaching pairs and working with the single skaters at the Skating Club of Boston. His singles skater, Hazel Collier, who competed at the junior level at the 2020 and 2022 U.S. Championships, is now pursuing pairs with Misha Mitrofanov. Mitrofanov was the 2022 Four Continents Champion with his former partner, Audrey Lu.
“They (Hazel and Misha) are working through a couple little injuries right now, but they’ve made a lot of enormous progress in a short amount of time,” Shnapir described of the new partnership. “Credit to Misha for his experience, but a lot of credit goes to Hazel for her fierceness and just her willingness to learn and want to be thrown and want to be lifted, and want to compete and be successful in this discipline.”
Following the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, Shnapir isn’t sure the next competition he will be attending – whether it will be with the dance teams at the Onyx Challenge in Rochester Hills, Michigan, or Challenge Cup in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, both qualifying series events for dance, or with his single skaters at Cranberry Open at the Skating Club of Boston and Mid-Atlantic in New York City.
“I’m doubling up the workload, which I’m okay with. I like it,” he said with a smile.
“Being at my first dance competition is really fun because I’m just here to absorb the experience and not be too hands on because I want to observe how dance coaches go about their competition coaching,” Shnapir added. “I will definitely say it (ice dance) is a little different, but it’s good. It’s been eye opening and entertaining.”