by Anne Calder | Photos by Sarah Arnold (U.S. Figure Skating)

Another U.S. Championship week has come to a close. Greensboro played host for the third time, champions were crowned, and new and old friendships were made or renewed. However, one thing was different in 2020 – the juvenile, intermediate, and novice teams did not compete at Nationals.

Instead, those who qualified at the Singles Sectionals and the Pairs and Dance Finals were invited to attend the inaugural U.S. Figure Skating High-Performance Development Camp for two days in Charlotte, NC following the Championships.

Actually, the skaters’ camp experience began the final weekend of Nationals when the group, all decked out in their new jackets, assembled in Section 101 behind the Kiss and Cry at the Greensboro Coliseum to cheer on the senior competitors.

After the men’s award ceremony, skaters, coaches, and parents assembled in the Terrace Room for the Athletes’ Welcome speech by USFS President Anne Cammett. Keynote speaker, Adam Rippon, shared his skating memories and what motivated him to want to be the best he could be in the sport he loved.

Afterwards, the 180 athletes, 75 coaches, officials, faculty, and parents moved their base of operation 100 miles down I-85 to the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail just south of Charlotte.

The activities for the athletes on both days went from 6:30 am – 9:10 pm with lunch, dinner and rest breaks in between, during which time the athletes had access to an on-site recovery area. There were PT people available to answer questions and a hydration machine. Basically it was a place for them to understand all the ways to refuel their bodies.

Each of the disciplines followed a separate trail during the day.

“After the athletes were welcomed on Sunday evening, there was not any scheduled interaction with the other disciplines because they should all be treated separately,” Justin Dillon said.  Dillon is the Director of High-Performance Development.

Some of the coaches and officials who were doing the sessions for Ice Dance included: Serge Onik (DWTS), Randi Strong (SYTYCD), Sinead Kerr, Olympic and World ice dance competitor, Doug Webster, Ice Dance International, Ben Agosto U.S., World, and Olympic medalist, Tatiana Druchinina, World Rhythmic Gymnastic Champion and ballet dancer and Sam Chouinard, choreographer.

They also scheduled a couple of sessions with Officials Julia Rey, Jenny Mast and Sharon Rodgers who worked on some technical pieces as well.

“We actually had a dance meeting last October in Chicago, and at this level, they really want the focus to be on pushing out Performance, Performance, Performance,” Dillon emphasized.

“At the Camp there will be technique involved, but especially with the dance programs, all of the coaches have such a handle on those qualities. We wanted to bring out the other qualities that they can take home to really enhance their programs.”

The ice dancers were required to bring to the camp a one minute/ thirty-second to two-minute choreographed piece with three specific elements per level. The Dance members of the International Committee, who were in Charlotte, then watched and provided feedback at a one-on-one meeting.

The officials also helped identify athletes for the ISU dance seminars this spring plus attendees to the Challenge Skate, and the Chesapeake Dance Camp scholarship recipients for next season.

Two different activities were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday evenings – one for the ice dancers and one for the singles and pair teams.

Each of the ice dance couples participated in one of the two live shows created by Doug Webster (IDI) and assisted by Sinead Kerr, with Paul Wylie hosting both productions.

“We edited the pieces of music for the individual routines in November, and the kids received the edits in early December,” said Webster. “Then, I created the choreography for the opening and finale segments with Sinead in [later] December. The skaters got the video links and patterns in early January to learn the pieces.

The athletes all arrived prepared and everything came together even though Webster and Kerr had only 80 minutes on the ice with each group to put the whole show together. The 27 teams were split in half by order of the woman’s age. The first night had a mix of juvenile and intermediate dancers; the second night had the intermediate and novice.

“Both nights were wonderful but different, “ Webster said. “We edited 14 pieces of music. Each piece was done by one team on Monday and the same music by another team on Tuesday. It was fun to see the different choreographies and interpretations.”

The performance was called You Will Be Found: A Broadway Evening of Dance on Ice.  

The opening number was the “Overture/Audition” from 42nd Street. The finale was “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. The individual pieces were selections from Broadway shows from the 40s to present day, which also was the junior and senior rhythm dance theme.

“I created the pieces to build community and share a joyful common experience, but also to provide the kids a platform to feel hopeful on their path to become a world-class ice dancer,” Webster noted. “Thus, You Will Be Found was a very appropriate and emotional song. I think the kids were really inspired.”

Pro skaters Sinead Kerr and Elena Leonova & Andrei Khvalko, Robin Johnstone & Andy Buchanan and former national and international competitors and current coaches Anastasia Canuscio & Colin McManus joined the athletes in the finale where they had a moment to symbolically pass the torch off to them.

“It was a joyful moment in a joyful evening,” Webster said. “People were incredibly enthusiastic. Several, including officials and host Paul Wylie, were happily teary watching the final piece.”

Intermediate dancer, Charley Steen and partner Reese Moore train in Newark, DE with Canuscio & McManus. Steen said that she loved being in an environment with friends she has made throughout the competition season, but she was most excited to perform in the IDI ice show with her coaches.

“The goal in having them do the dance was to build community and also to build skills of expression, performance and interpretation,” explained Webster. “I think they blew it out of the park!”

While the dancers were performing, the single skaters and pair teams were at the other ice surface observing the 12 single athletes who had been identified as either participants or alternates for the World Junior Team. The skaters competed their short program on Monday and their free skate on Tuesday.

Sometime in the next two weeks, there will be a follow-up with the athletes. Some will receive assignments to events where the USFS does some kind of programing like Dance Camp or Chesapeake or Challenge Skate or Mid-Atlantics for pairs or ones for the singles.

“We make it clear not everybody is going to get an assignment from our Department and/or the International Committee, but everyone will have a follow up that these are some programs we want them to attend this year,“ said Dillon.

“All the participants at the Camp have become part of the 2020/2021 National Development Team for the entire season. They received something similar to the USA Team jacket, which is a badge of honor that they can wear with pride throughout the year,” concluded Director Justin Dillon.

While the athletes were involved with their activities, the parents and coaches were given separate tracks to follow.

After the Camp, IDC reached out for their thoughts about the Greensboro / Indian Trail event.

  • “From a parent’s perspective, I thought our track was phenomenal.”
  • “It was equally satisfying and educational.”
  • “I think our key takeaway is acknowledging that we can be highly successful and still lead a balanced life.
  • “Awesome! A bonding experience for all.”
  • “Overall, I thought the camp was well organized.  The classes were diverse, with a focus on both on-ice and off-ice technique.”
  • “Rachael Flatt gave a great talk on how to grow a well-rounded skater.”
  • “The most beneficial sessions were discussions about the Athlete-Coach-Parent Triad and how to work together for the success of the athlete.”
  • “Camp was wonderful with the exception of having to relocate to Charlotte.”
  • “I’m excited to see how the camp will evolve over the next few years!”

Special thanks to Justin Dillon, Doug Webster and all of the parents and skaters who shared their feedback on the Camp.