Ice Dancing in Lake Placid

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Dancing has again become popular with such American television shows as “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Australia and Great Britain already have TV shows where celebrities learn how to ice dance. But to see the real ice dancers, the best place to come is the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, the world’s largest ice dancing event. Held in the historic arenas that hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games, the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships offer events for every level of skaters, from pre-juveniles to adults. Almost 400 dancers came from all over the world to compete this August, including dancers from Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

Skaters can compete by themselves in solo dance, with another same sex partner in shadow dance, or in the traditional manner. They can even take their dance tests as part of the competition, dancing with their coaches if necessary. There are competitions for every compulsory dance as well as the season’s original dance and free dances. Each skater receives a detailed critique from the judges in addition to their normal marks. This provides an opportunity for skaters to learn from their mistakes or misinterpretations of new ISU rules before the main season begins.

This season, even the judges were tested as scores of ex-dancers such as Amy Webster and Ron Kravette and other potential judges studied to become technical specialists and judges under the Code of Points (CoP), which has never before been used in the United States. Senior and junior level competitions will be judged this season under CoP. Novices and lower level competitions will be phased in as the supply of judges increases.

But Lake Placid is more than a competition. It’s a reunion of ice dancers from throughout the United States. Tom Lescinski, long-time coach at the Skating Club of Boston, hasn’t missed the event since first coming as a young competitor 27 years ago. And he’s not alone. Among this year’s visitors coming to encourage the next generation of American ice dancers were Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov, the 1964 and 1968 Olympic pairs champions. It’s not unusual to see dancers introduced by their coach to a visitor as “the coach who taught me when I was a skater.”

Family news is always an important part of the celebration in Lake Placid. Hot topics this year were Angelika Krylova’s new baby, a girl; the August 12 wedding of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Nikolai Morozov; and the engagement of Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev (wedding next May). Toddling around the arena were some potential ice dancers such as Liz Punsalan and Jerod Swallow’s son, Morozov’s daughter, and Irina Romanova and Igor Yaroshenko’s son, Nikita, who already has a potential partner.

But in this Olympic season, the competitions themselves are more important than usual and a little more intense. After Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto achieved the USA’s highest finish at the World Championships in dance in 2005, suddenly dance is ‘in’ again. With three spots at the 2006 Olympic Games up for grabs and Belbin and Agosto ineligible, the entries for senior dance exploded. Almost four times as many couples were entered for the competition as in 2004. The skating was highly competitive and even the back-stories were enough for a soap opera.

The event featured the return of many high-level skaters who had been on the podium at Nationals in years past. The biggest surprise was the reappearance in skating of Jamie Silverstein, who last competed at Worlds in 2000, then dropped out of skating completely for five years. The talented Silverstein won the 1999 World Junior dance championship and 2000 U.S. silver medal with Justin Pekarek, now a coach at the Skating Club of Boston with a passel of his own teams in competition.

Other skaters back in the hunt were 2001 U. S. bronze medallist and 2000 Junior Worlds silver medallist Brandon Forsyth, who last competed at Nationals in 2002; Chris Obzansky, who has been on a Mormon mission and last competed at Nationals in 2003; and Kim Navarro, who has been working with the Ice Theatre of New York after last competing in Nationals in 2003. Two teams competed that missed last year’s Nationals because of shoulder injuries: 2003 bronze medallists Loren Galler-Rabinowitz and David Mitchell and Wester and Barantsev.

Then there were the breakups and recombinations. Obzansky was skating with Kendra Goodwin who skated the last two seasons with Brent Bommentre, finishing fourth in 2004. He now skates with Navarro. Silverstein is partnered by Ryan O’Meara, who won the bronze with Lydia Manon in 2005, before she decided to skate with her boyfriend, Forsyth. To complete the partner triangle, Manon once skated with Obzansky. And to make things more interesting, Forsyth and Manon were coaching dance teams competing at lower levels. Even Pekarek popped out of the coaching box to skate an open division dance with one of his students, Laura Tashjian.

Then there was the eligibility question, probably the hottest topic of the week. At the 2005 U. S. Nationals, five of the first seven teams included one partner who was born in another country. Only silver medallists Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov are currently eligible as he is now a U. S. citizen, but the U. S. champions, Belbin and Agosto, can’t go because she’s still legally a Canadian. Wester and Barantsev (Russia) and last year’s seventh-place finishers Kate Slattery and Chung-Gun Lee (Korea) are also ineligible, as the men haven’t become U.S. citizens yet.

Fourth-place U. S. Nationals finishers Tiffany Stiegler and Sergei Magerovskiy (Russia) and World junior champions Morgan Matthews and Maxwell Zavozin (Russia), who finished fifth in seniors, are questionable as neither has U.S. citizenship at this point. With so many potential medallists possibly ineligible, U. S. dance teams finishing as low as eighth could go to the Olympics and every team figures they could at least be eighth. Every dancer on the top eleven teams has finished higher than that in a prior year with the exception of Wester and Barantsev. And he’s only a two-time World junior dance champion!

So Lake Placid was key to establishing a frontrunner for all the new and returning teams. There was no clear winner, but there were some obvious favorites. Wester and Barantsev took the compulsory dance final, strangely enough the Yankee Polka, a dance with which one would expect the Russian Barantzev to be least familiar. But Silverstein and O’Meara won the first two compulsory dances, the Tango Romantica and the Ravensburger Waltz to finish first overall. Galler-Rabinowitz and Mitchell were second in all three compulsories.

Wester and Barantsev took the original dance, followed by Silverstein and O’Meara and Galler-Rabinowitz and Mitchell. Galler and Mitchell clearly had the most authentic Latin combination, a fact underlined by the fact that many ice dance coaches avidly watched the videos of their dance time and time again. Galler was hobbling during reduced practices early in the week due to a skate cut on her leg just above the boot. That may have been the difference between winning an event and simply making the podium.

Silverstein and O’Meara’s “Nu Tango” won the free dance over Galler and Mitchell’s expressive Astor Piazzola tango and Wester and Barantsev’s upbeat Russian folk dance. A telling point was made by one knowledgeable Canadian fan, who said of Wester, “She’s the first American girl I’ve ever seen who could keep up with a Russian boy. That includes (Naomi) Lang and (Peter) Tchernyshev and Gregory and Petukhov.” A big surprise was the performance of Trina Pratt and Todd Gilles, the unheralded 2005 U. S. junior champions, who finished fourth in the original dance and seventh in the free dance. Since they’re competing as juniors internationally, the couple elected to skate the junior compulsory dances, which they won easily.

In juniors, the prize wasn’t an Olympic berth. It was Junior Grand Prix assignments. Although Pratt and Gilles didn’t compete in the junior original and free dances, they won the compulsories, taking gold in the Westminster Waltz and Paso Doble and bronze in the Austrian Waltz to finish first in their group. Among the U. S. junior dance teams, Meryl Davis and Charles White were the clear winners in their group with placements identical to Pratt and Gilles in the same dances. Davis and White edged Pratt and Gilles for the overall championship.

In the original dance, Davis and White took the gold, followed by Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates and Canada’s Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier in the first group. Canadians Alice Graham and Andrew Poje won the second group, followed by Kimmerly Lauten and Augie Hill in second and Elizabeth Miosi and Dmitry Ponomarev in third. Davis and White won the free dance in their group by a large margin over Mauri Gustafson and Logan Guilette-Schmidt, with Samuelson and Bates in third. Lauten and Hill won the second group over Graham and Poje, with Crone and Poirier third but Davis and White scored by far the highest in either group under CoP.

Madison and Kieffer Hubbell continued to impress in their division, this time at the novice level. The 2003 U. S. juvenile and 2004 intermediate dance champions won the free dance in their group over Todd Gilles’ younger sister, Piper, and her partner, Tim McKernan. Michelle Pennington and Brad Coulter finished third. Cathy and Chris Reed won the other group, followed by Isabella Cannuscio and Zachary Varraux and Chloe Wolf and Rhys Ainsworth. The Reeds won the compulsory dances in their group over the Hubbells with Katie Wyble and Chad Reinhold taking the bronze. Pennington and Coulter bested Gilles and McKernan in the second group with Cannuscio and Varraux third. In the compulsory dance final, the Reeds won out with Pennington and Coulter second and the Hubbells in third.

In the intermediate dance category, Maia and Alex Shibutani won the free dance, followed by Ilana Morse and Jackson Raney. Both teams demonstrated fast-paced programs with a variety of difficult moves. Angela VanWiemeersch and Patrick Mays took third. The Shibutanis also won their compulsory dance group, followed by Morse and Raney and Sara Bailey and Zachary Donohue. In the second group, Stephanie Klimczak and Cooper Johnson won out over Lili LaMar and Chase Brogan, Bailey’s former partner. VanWiemeersch and Mays were third, although each couple won one of the three dances.

The juvenile free dance was won by Kate McDermott and Colin McManus, followed by Kirsten Seagers and Nicholas Taylor and Lauren Donnelly and Matthew McAvoy. Seagers and Taylor won the compulsories, followed by Jordan Sisson and Erik Kaiser with Lauren Ely and Travis Mager in third. Crystal Rose Parisek and Michael Bramante won the second group of compulsories with Donnelly and McAvoy in second and Lauri Bonacorsi and Jonathan Cohn third.

Jessica DeMaria and Dean Miller won the pre-juvenile compulsory dances (no free dance in this group), with Kristina Rexford and Michael Parsons second and Meara and Grant Lorello third. A large number of adult, solo, shadow and open dance events were also competed with full results available at http://www.lakeplacidskating.com/ice_dance_championships/resultsmain.htm. Among the better known skaters competing in solo dance, Amber Czisny, twin sister of free skater Alissa Czisny, who finished seventh at the 2005 U. S. Nationals, finished second in her senior solo dance group.

Note: Profile stories on many of the top U. S. dance teams competing for an Olympic spot will be featured on SkateToday over the next two months.

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