by Anne Calder

IDC continues Part II of the this series with additional 2022 Skate America interviews with the ice dance community about the changes in the Rhythm Dance.

Carol Lane coaches with Jon Lane (husband) and Juris Razgulajevs at the Scarboro FSC, Ontario Canada. Lane has also been a television figure skating analyst for over 25 years. She was born in Great Britain.

Coach Lane added her perspective to the changes.

“I love Pattern Dances. I come from the old school,” Lane shared. ”Pattern Dances are a wonderful way of showing good skating and also training, positions and holds. 

“When you go back in history with the Torvall & Dean OSP era, what was interesting was when it was a sequence, with their Paso, you not only got to see it once, but you got to see it three times and every time they did it you got more and more excited. It was nothing. It was a drag, walking in a straight line, but everybody knew it. You’d be very lucky to find a Short Dance these days that would have that impact or effect.

Coach Rostislav Sinicyn brought his students, Jennifer Janse van Rensburg and Benjamin Steffan to Skate America from their training site in Oberstdorf, Germany. Sinicyn and partner (wife), Natalia Karamysheva were the 1978 and 1980 Soviet Union ice dance champions.

“The Rhythm Dance is now weakened because for me without the Compulsory (Pattern), the Rhythm Dance is like a second Free Dance,” commented the German team’s Coach. “Pattern Dance is more understandable for the youngest skaters to learn position, feelings and attention to each other and relationships. Perhaps in the future we could have two competitions with two separate medals.”

Steffan added, “We were a little bit curious without the Pattern Dance. We really like it. It’s fair enough to say we miss it in a way. It’s still not a bad thing because we have to try new things to develop the sport. It’s not a bad decision to try it.”

Journalist Liz Leamy is a former figure skating competitor.  The current New Canaan, Connecticut Winter Club coach spoke passionately about the Pattern Dance.

I believe the Pattern Dance is very important because it builds a foundation for the Rhythm and Free Dances.  It gives skaters repetition and puts the ideas of turns and steps into their muscle memory. It’s very important because it’s the base for everything.”

Simon Shnapir is a 2014 Olympic Team Event bronze medalist with pairs partner Marissa Castelli. Shnapir coaches at the Skating Club of Boston and also serves as an Ice Dance consultant.

“We’d like to see at least a portion of the Patterns or Compulsories back in a dance like the Short Dance used to be – maybe not full blown compulsories, but definitely bits of it. That’s the best way to separate skaters, couples based on their skating ability, skating skills. It really shows how those qualities best.

Danielle Earl is a photographer, who began shooting images of athletes in 2008. Four years later she owned her own photography company. Earl was born and grew up in Nova Scotia, but currently resides in Waterloo, Ontario Canada.

In Norwood, she chatted with IDC about doing her job without a Pattern Dance. 

“It feels a little bit empty. It feels like something is missing.  As a photographer it’s super easy to know when the highlight points are because everyone is doing the same thing. It’s a great way to compare and contrast each team.  

“We’re so used to having the rhythm change, then the pattern section to look forward to for every single team, which really helps us compare, like a judge, but for us. It’s something consistent that we know is always coming. It really makes our Job a little bit easier in the Rhythm Dance because we always know there will be certain shots we can get of each team.”

Earl also spoke to IDC from the prospective of a former skater.

I love the consistency of the pattern dance. It also helps you build up your skating skills. It’s really a foundation for the future. That basis of steps and ability to count to music really helps to build a skater from the ground up. I’ve been missing the Compulsories since they were removed. This season, It doesn’t feel like what we’re used to feeling in ice dance.”

Jordan Cowan is a former competitive ice dancer who has transitioned into a videographer par excellence. At Skate America, he left his video equipment at home in New York City and came with just a camera.

Cowan spoke about the Pattern Dance changes. “I miss having the same recognizable pattern in every teams’ Rhythm Dance. I miss having that nostalgic feeling. Personally as a videographer I miss finding creative ways to shoot the same thing in different ways. I’m sure most photographers feel the same. It feels emptier.

“The big difference between the Rhythm Dance and Free Dance is everybody has to follow this unified beat and if everyone is just doing variations on the same theme, and that’s the only restriction you’re giving them, then they are kind of fooling around in an empty space.”

IDC also spoke with the other USA teams who competed at Skate America.

Lorraine McNamara and Anton Spiridonov train in Leesburg, Virginia. They are the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance International gold medalists. McNamara is the 2015-2016 Junior GPF and Junior World Champion with her previous partner, Quinn Carpenter. 

McNamara assessed the changes. “The Pattern Dance was an opportunity for technical skaters to show off their capabilities. it’s still a sport. You want to build skill. With the compulsory dances, it does so many things at once. It also trains the skater from a lot of different angles as a team. However, taking it away also opens up a more creative opportunity. Replacing it with the Choreo Rhythm Step is a lot of fun.”

“I had the experience of growing up with compulsory dance,” Spiridonov explained. “It’s not just skating. It’s partnering, it’s tracking so it’s removing one of the core components of ice dance. I think what they did last season where we had more options in terms of holds, that was amazing. Keeping the compulsory dance and having more freedom in position and holds is the way to go. Lorraine and I disagree with a change that would completely remove a compulsory dance.”

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker are the 2022 Skate America silver medalists. They represent the USA and train in Canada at the I.AM. The team has had several months to compete the new Rhythm since their original interview.

Hawayek noted their Rhythm Dance is smoother without the pattern. “I definitely feel the flow of our program has been significantly, not necessarily easier, but more organic. I found the hardest challenge before was sticking a pattern into a choreographed program and finding a way to effortlessly weave into and out of it.”

“We’re already losing so much dance frame and dance structure with what we’re doing because the focus is on how clean can my turn be and not how nice is the carriage. That’s a GOE concept, but you can see top level teams that may not have nice level carriage, but they’re going to be doing beautiful turns. They’re putting their energy into that because that’s what is going to get the points. 

Baker was asked about the affect the changes had on their “Cuban Pete” Rhythm Dance. “The changes do help free us up. It’s fun for us. It allows us to dive even deeper into our story and incorporate some lightness and humor used in our exhibition programs.

Ice Dancers who competed at other Grand Prix events also shared their thoughts on the Rhythm Dance changes.

Mixed Zone quotes from the Grand Prix Espoo Finland

U.S. ice dancer and reigning World Junior World gold medalist with his sister/partner, Oona, Gage Brown noted,I kind of miss patterns in a way, but at the same time, I kind of like to do my own thing. I like the change that they are giving us.”

Julia Turkkila and Mattias Versluis are the recently crowned three-time Finnish National Champions.

“It’s nice that they gave a chance for us to dance more and not focus that much on the technical points. There is still technical things in the program, but it’s a moment now to really enjoy and try to get the audience excited,” Versluis said.

Turkkila added, I think it’s good choice for the Latin dance, because it’s hard to do the Latin moves when the skate is gliding and everything, so maybe in the Latin rhythms it’s good option to have the choreo.”

Representing the USA at Skate Canada International, Molly Cesanek and Yehor Yehorov spoke virtually to IDC. 

“We don’t have the pattern dance, which we loved, but we have so much more time to improve transitions, footwork, choreography and different special moments,” Yehorov said. “We are excited just to do it and experiment with it.”

“It’s a new concept and new idea. Trying new things is always fun,” Cesanek added enthusiastically. “I think the addition of the Choreo Step Sequence was phenomenal and extremely brilliant, especially for Latin. It’s just a party on the ice and really embodies dance, and what ice dance is all about.”

Watch for Part III with lots more interviews coming on Friday!