Solo Dancing in the Desert (Part II)

by Anne Calder

In our final installment of the Dancing in the Desert series, we meet Abigail Dalsin, Shakshi Wagh and Maria Gonzales. 

Abigail Dalsin is seventeen and will be a senior next semester at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

IDC: Tell me how you became involved with skating.
Abby: My family is from Minnesota, and they’re all into hockey. I was three when I first skated. It was on an outdoor rink. After that I tried hockey, but I didn’t like the stick, so I ended up just skating. I took Learn to Skate lessons. I worked with two coaches, and then I added on ice dance. I became involved with it just before Covid happened. We were kind of getting into it when we had a break. I started competing the first year after that.

IDC: What do you like best about Solo Dance?
Abby: I like ice dance because it’s more about the choreography and not just the skills. Of course, there’s like twizzles and levels and points, but I like how its more about style, and it’s fun. It’s less stressful. It’s more about feeling the music.

IDC: Do you also do Synchro?
Abby: I did when it first was starting here, but It was too much of a time commitment with dance and free skating. It was fun. I like the team aspect of it.

IDC: What other hobbies do you have besides skating?
Abby: Skating does take up most of my time, but I like baking. I stress-bake before competitions. This morning I brought home baked muffins.

IDC: What is your favorite skating memory?
Abby: We do Christmas programs every year. My best friend used to skate here before she moved to Korea. We did a duet. It was when she was just learning her axel, so we put one in the program. She couldn’t do it all week, but in the program, we both landed it. It was like we were perfectly in sync. It was just like a boost of energy. The aspect of doing it with your best friend was such a good feeling altogether.

IDC: What is your skating goal for this season?
Abby: I want to go to Nationals this year for Combined and for Patterns. I want to get personal bests and do perfect programs with no deductions. I want to do better than last year.

IDC: You also do Shadow Dance with Maria Gonzales. Tell me about that.
Abby: It’s a great community sport. That’s what I like about ice dance also. Marie and I are friends, so It’s natural we skate together. We skate similarly. It’s just lots of fun.

IDC: There always seems to be so much camaraderie amongst the Solo Dancers.
Abby: That’s true. When we go to competitions there’s always a cheer group on the sidelines. Compared to freestyle skating it’s more of a supportive type of feeling with your teammates rather than stress. Maria and I compete against each other in combined, but I never felt it was toxic in any way.

Shakshi Wagh is an 18 year old recent Paradise Valley High School graduate who will be attending college in Florida this fall. In 2019 she added coaching at the Ice Den in Scottsdale to her skating resume. Her 13 year-old brother also took the Learn to Skate lessons, but now plays basketball.

IDC: How did you become involved with figure skating?
Shakshi: My parents were born and raised in India and didn’t grow up with any winter sports or snow around them. One day after having lunch at a restaurant near the Scottsdale Ice Den, we were just walking around and saw the rink. It was a new concept for my mother.  She had never seen anything like it or knew people worked out on the ice. I was six years old when she signed me up for “Learn to Skate” classes.

IDC: What led you to Solo Dance?
Shakshi: I originally was taking classes to round out all my basic skills. Then I went into private lessons with Veronica Wargo, a coach at the Scottsdale Ice Den, [which is closer to my home in Paradise Valley than the rink in Chandler.] She grew up as a show performer and ice dancer. She brought me into pattern dances originally. I remember walking out my canasta tango with her in off-ice classes. After working out my preliminary pattern dances with her I started doing Free Dance and competing in Solo Dance.

IDC: What is your favorite part of Solo Dance?
Shakshi: Besides just the actual dancing part, I love Solo Dance because of the team and community. When I grew up with Solo Dance, I was one of the few at my rink in Scottsdale. A lot of the skaters were Freestyle skaters. It was hard not having a lot of dancers to talk to. Then I began dancing with Naomi in Chandler. She introduced me to the Solo Dance Team. Being able to compete and travel with these girls has enveloped me into the dancing community. I love how it’s grown.

IDC: Tell me about your college choice.
Shakshi: I made the decision to attend the New College of South Florida mainly on what was best for my personal goals – both academic and skating. Because of skating, I was always drawn into service-oriented passions and jobs. I have a love for science and want to become a physician. During my college search, I looked where I could continue to skate plus have a good health program. I’ll be studying bio-medical sciences.

IDC: Will you continue to skate?
Shakshi: My goal now is to get involved in the Collegiate Team they offer. I know I won’t be able to train as much as I do here at the Ice Den, but I do want to continue my involvement in skating.

IDC: Share your thoughts on making the cross-country move.
Shakshi: My family is here; my coaches are here. It will be a big change. I think it’s exciting to take a step into a place unknown and see where it ultimately takes me.

IDC: It sounds very exciting, and it certainly will be challenging.
Shakshi: I’m definitely excited. I’m glad I made the decision, so ultimately I can continue to skate. That was a huge part of why I made that college decision.

IDC: What’s your favorite kind of music for your programs?
Shakshi: My body is more prone to the lyrical instrumental music, but I’ve recently gotten into the more modern contemporary style. Last season my Rhythm Dance was an Egyptian piece. In addition to working with Naomi, Jacqueline Benson here at the Ice Den helped me to move my body in a more abstract way than I normally do – to break myself out of my shell. I’m doing a similar piece this season for my Free Dance.

IDC: What is your favorite skating memory?
Shakshi: I wasn’t always the best competitive skater. I’m always my own biggest critic. Mentally, competitions were very challenging, but I do love to compete. When I step off the ice, I always want to do it again.

I was more of a performer and show skater. I loved doing all the Christmas and Annual Shows, so those stand out the most throughout my career. The part that was really special was just being backstage with all the girls getting ready for the performances, even if we weren’t out there under the spotlight. The rehearsals were definitely my biggest and best memory.

Maria Gonzales is 17 and recently completed her junior year at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona.

IDC: What made you choose ice skating as a sport?
Maria: When I was six, I went to Las Vegas on a family vacation. We went to an outdoor rink to try ice skating. After that I knew figure skating was the sport for me. I came back here and took Learn to Skate lessons. I also didn’t really like outdoor sports, so I thought ice skating would be a perfect opportunity after a long hot day outside in the hot [Arizona] sun.

IDC: Describe your eleven years of skating.
Maria: I started off on the Freestyle track. I like jumping and did it for ten years. Five years ago I thought Naomi’s ice dance team would be a great way to start something new that wasn’t as stressful as jumping. After I passed my Senior Freestyle test last year, I decided to just focus on ice dance. Freestyle was a great journey!

IDC: What do you like best about Solo Dance?
Maria: It’s more of an expressive aspect of figure skating than Freestyle, which focuses more on jump, jump, jump and getting all the elements in. With Solo Dance, you can really draw your lines and focus on connecting to the music which I really appreciate. Naomi does a great job choreographing all my programs. She pays attention to every single detail, every line, every arm, every step. It’s really great!

IDC: What is your favorite kind of music for ice dancing?
Maria: I like to skate to lyrical music more. I like drawing out my lines. I also like up-beat music, but I think lyrical music is what suits me best. It’s been my Free Dance ever since I started.

IDC: Tell me about the changes in the elements this year.
Maria: In seniors, they took away the Pattern and added a couple of new elements like the Character Steps in the Rhythm Dance. It’s one of my favorite elements. It’s a great way to express and connect to the music.

IDC What is your favorite pattern?
Maria: My favorite pattern is the Viennese Waltz. I love waltzes. I also like the Quick Step, which is my other pattern I’m competing this season.

IDC: Tell me about balancing school and skating.
Maria: I’m taking a very rigorous course load. This past year I had all AP classes. It’s difficult getting to the rink, back to school, plus homework and everything else, but I always try to make time for skating because it’s my favorite extra curricular activity. I love hanging out with my friends and having a stress relief from school.

IDC: What is your skating goal for this season?
Maria: I’d like to make it to the Solo Dance Nationals in all three events: Senior Combined, Gold Patterns and Shadow Dance. I also do Gold International.

IDC: Tell me about skating Shadow Dance.
Maria: Abby Dalsin has been my best friend since I started skating. We’ve been partners for four years and love doing the patterns. This year it’s the Midnight Blues. We’re a great team together, and it’s lots of fun.

IDC: What is your favorite skating memory?
Maria: I actually have two. First was passing my Senior Free Skate lat year. It was a great culmination of all my skating and was one of my goals.  Second was making Nationals last year in ice dance. It was my first Senior Combined, and I was able to make it in my Senior debut. I also competed in Pre-Gold Patterns. Abby and I were second in Pre-gold Shadow Dance.

IDC: Tell me about the great camaraderie in your Dance group at the Chandler Ice Den.
Maria: Naomi has a team of 15/16 skaters. We’re all really close. We try to foster team work and support each other at every competition. It’s a really great environment. Naomi is definitely a key factor in that. Solo Dance is still a small community, so everyone really knows everyone else. We all try to support each other.