The following article is a special feature by Huriye Ömer. All photos were submitted by Ashlie Slatter & Atl Ongay-Perez and their families.
Background & Impressions
If I asked ice dance fans to name which British couple won the most international medals during the 2019-20 season, they probably would reply Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson (three senior medals), or Sasha Fear & George Waddell (three junior medals). Actually, the answer is Ashlie Slatter & Atl Ongay-Perez, who competed at intermediate novice level and won a total of five medals, landing on the podium at every international event they entered across Europe.
The young Londoners began skating together when they were ages seven and nine. They were put together at Streatham Ice Rink in South-West London (one of the capital’s few Olympic-sized rinks) by an illustrious team of coaches lead by Diane Towler-Green, four-time World Champion and gold medallist at Grenoble in 1968 when Ice Dance was an Olympic Demonstration event and her twin daughters Pippa (British medallist and world competitor) and Candice (British junior champion, ISU Technical Specialist and British team leader). The team also has weekly lessons with Streatham coach Roland Hailston working on spins and lifts.
Throughout Ashlie & Atl’s competitive career they have always been the youngest and smallest couple in their category, but they haven’t let it hold them back. This season, they became one of the top intermediate novice teams in Europe and competed against other top teams from Europe and Western Europe.
I first saw little Ashlie & Atl skate at the Copenhagen Dance Cup in 2017, competing both in solo dance and couples, and their maturity and abilities impressed me. They made their debut at the British Championships in 2017 in basic novice (the UK Association follows the ISU Skating categories, receiving special dispensation as Ashlie was still only eight years old, Atl was 10). They won, beating five other couples who were older and more experienced and followed their now-familiar formula of being just behind in the pattern dances before placing first in the free dance. They stayed in basic novice for one season before moving up to the newly introduced ISU category of intermediate novice, as the ISU Ice Dance Committee also brought in the new and exciting choreographic elements to the free dance which suit Ashlie & Atl. One of the joys of watching the novice competitions is they still skate two pattern dances (with key points) and a free dance. As as an older ice dance fan who loved watching the compulsory dances, this gladdens my heart!
So far, the young British couple has competed three different free dances, starting with selections by Shakira for 2017-18, followed by a wonderful interpretation of “Bugsy Malone” for 2018-19, and last season an upbeat, rhythmical, exciting Aretha Franklin Medley, skated with flair, great timing and charisma. We may be hearing a musical icon who originates from their part of the world for next season’s Free Dance, and I know they will do it justice.
At the 2018 British Championships, they were third in the two pattern dances and first in the free dance, winning the silver medal overall. That was their last performance at nationals because although they qualified for 2019, the British Association decided not to hold categories below the advanced novice level at the main British Championships. Instead, they planned to host a separate novice championship in the Spring of 2020, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. Though “the kids”, as they’re affectionately known, were disappointed about not being able to compete nationally, they took the international route. At ages 10 and 12, they showed great stamina to travel across Europe from Autumn 2019 to Spring 2020 and compete against the top ice dancers in intermediate novice, including couples from Russia and Ukraine.
Ashlie & Atl’s 2019-20 journey began at the Halloween Cup in Budapest, Hungary winning the bronze medal followed by another bronze at the Volvo Open Cup in Riga, Latvia. They captured silver at the Open d’Andorra in Canillo, Andorra, a third bronze at the Mentor Cup in Torun, Poland, and silver at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf, Germany. This final International competition took a different path as they skated personal bests in the pattern dances, but they were fifth in the free dance after their choreographic/character step sequence was invalidated by the Technical Specialist. However, it was an important learning experience for ‘the kids’, who, with their continued hard work and dedication.
Ashlie will be turning 11 in May and Atl just celebrated his 13th birthday in March. They are both lively characters, always smiling and joking, yet mature and thoughtful young people, with wonderful support from their families. They have already attended two international seminars during the offseason in 2019, firstly the annual ISU Seminar at Oberstdorf and in July, they travelled to Minsk for a Seminar with Alexander Zhulin.
The team’s coaches at Streatham had just begun preparations for them to move up to advanced novice next season when the rinks closed due to the pandemic. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview the dynamic duo and their coach Phillipa Towler-Green via email from home.
Interview with Pippa Towler-Green
Whose idea was it to put Ashlie & Atl together?
Yes, they were and it was actually my Mum’s idea. She just said one day, “let’s let them have a little skate together”. They did and that was it! They still carried on with their solo dance, but they loved skating together and it all took over.
How would you describe their special qualities as an ice dance couple and individually?
The main thing is their work ethic and enthusiasm. It is unbelievable and they are very easy to work with on the ice. They have something together that you just can’t put there. Ashlie’s special quality is her strength. She is so strong for such a little girl. With Atl, it’s his personality, he feels the music right into his bones.
What areas are you planning on working on when the rinks re-open, now they’re moving up to advanced novice?
Definitely basics and strength. We had already started working very hard on those and teaching them some more pattern dances, so they will know more than just the ones they work on for the season. They are still young and will definitely be small when they enter advanced novice, but we feel they are more than capable of competing in that category.
You and Mathieu Geffré-Gardiner (a French Dancer/Choreographer based in London) have created some fabulous choreography for the couple, both competitively and for their disco Christmas Show exhibition, involving props! How did you come to create that complicated routine?
Thank you. I must say it is a real team effort. Candi will place out where she thinks all her recommended elements should go musically in the routine. I make the skeleton/steps of the routine and Mathieu will add all the arms/movements and sometimes steps too, the Je ne sais quoi! Diane (The Boss!) will point out everything that needs working on and cleans the routines. The kids also have their input the whole time. The Christmas show was actually mostly Atl and Ashlie’s work. Candi gave them the ideas and we let them experiment with us overseeing. It is good for them.
Have you been inspired by the new choreographic elements in the free dance for the past two seasons, and do you wish they were around when you competed?
Candi and I often have this conversation. Mum too! We all love them! It has brought the dance/creative side back that was missing for so long when we first went into the new judging system. We all wished it was around when we competed.
What are your ambitions for Ash & Atl going forward?
Obviously moving up to advanced novice and keeping on gaining experience, but the Junior Grand Prix circuit will be our next big ambition. They are still a few years off because of their ages, but for now and always, we just want them to keep working as hard as they can. Keep learning, pushing themselves, enjoying what they are doing. We feel they can have a very bright, successful future ahead of them.
Q&A with Ashlie Slatter
How old you were when you started skating, and why do you love it?
I was 2 1/2 when I first put on a pair of ice skates. I love being on the ice, it’s fun but hard work at the same time. I also love the travelling and meeting new people and making new friends.
What are your other hobbies outside of skating?
Outside of skating, I like photography and dance and reading.
What is your favourite subject at school? Do you enjoy school?
I am homeschooled, so we can skate for longer, but my favourite subject is Science and PE. I like school, I wouldn’t say I love it.
What are Atl’s good qualities as an ice dance partner?
Atl is funny, kind and very energetic.
Do you enjoy pattern dances? Which is your favourite one you have learned so far?
I do like Pattern Dances, my favourite one so far is the Westminster Waltz.
What are your ambitions in your skating career?
My ambitions in my skating career are first to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix, then hopefully one day we will get to qualify and compete at the Olympics.
What’s your favourite country you’ve travelled to competing?
I have loved every country we have competed in, one of my favourite places is Budapest, Andorra and Oberstdorf. Sorry, I couldn’t just choose one!
As you enjoy reading, I wondered if there was a book you could recommend to other children, who cannot skate at the moment as the rinks are closed, that they could enjoy?
Here is a collection that I have just started reading (Percy Jackson series of books by Rick Riordan). It’s looking good so far and after watching the films I’m excited to see how it is portrayed in the book.
I also like the Harry Potter books and my favourite one out of the collection is the “Chamber of Secrets”.
Thank you so much for asking me, can’t wait to get back on the ice!
Q&A with Atl Ongay-Perez
How did you begin skating and how old were you?
My first trip to Streatham ice rink was in Spring of 2014 when I was 7. The new ice rink had recently opened and Roland’s partner, Becky, took me by the hand and taught me the penguin steps. At first, I was not sure, but I saw what some of the older children were doing and thought I would like to do the same. I saw the Christmas Show that December and decided that one day I would also be there.
Did you enjoy Solo Dance?
Yes, I did a lot! It introduced me to twizzles, step sequences and all the things that make me love the sport today. I had a lot of fun with the Michael Jackson program, I especially loved the choreography and the costume.
What are the qualities Ashlie has that make her a good ice dance partner?
I am very lucky to have Ashlie as a dance partner as she is dedicated, motivated, always ready to try something new, and she makes me laugh.
Do you enjoy skating the pattern dances, and which is your favourite one you’ve learned?
I am not as keen on the Pattern Dances as I am on the Free Dance, but we still practise them as much as we can. I like the new dance we’ve just learned, Westminster Waltz, as hard as it is, I like it’s soft knee bends, beautiful edges and its lilting texture.
What is your favourite element in the free dance to perform?
My favourite element has got to be twizzles. There are just endless choreographic possibilities. There are arm and leg positions, steps in between, as well as directions.
What do you love most about ice dancing?
I love how it’s an almost ideal balance of technically challenging and illustrious artistry, and how two people dance in synchronicity as if they were one person.
What was your favourite country that you’ve competed in?
Probably Hungary, I will never tire of Budapest. The city is breathtakingly beautiful, it is full of history. The people I met were very nice and welcoming and I have made so many friends there. I love the language and the food is amazing.
You’re also a musician and play both jazz and classical styles. Which of the 3 instruments you play is your favourite?
I couldn’t make a choice – it would be like picking a favourite child. I like to think that every instrument exposes a different side of me: Trumpet is my loud energetic self, Cello my humble shy self, and Piano, my relaxed calm self.
You are homeschooled, which subject do you find most interesting to learn about or do?
I have recently taken a big interest in Anatomy. I also have always been interested in learning languages, Russian and German, so I can have a basic conversational dialogue with my German and Russian peers.
What are your ambitions in Skating and outside of skating?
One day, I will win the World Championships and Olympics, and on the journey medal at junior events too.
Outside of Skating, I would like to be a musician, so I can earn a living to help support my skating. I haven’t decided if I want to go to University yet, but if I do I would like to study Neurosciences and CRISPR [a family of DNA sequences found in Genomes] Genetics or Biochemistry like my Grandfather.
Which book would you recommend to others to enjoy whilst all the rinks are closed?
The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer (the translation by Robert Fagles.)