Dancers Make Sports History for Thailand

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Alisa Allapach and Peter Kongkasem

Alisa Allapach, 22, and Peter Kongkasem, 29, are the first ice dancers to compete for Thailand. Both skaters were born in Los Angeles, California to Thai parents and both competed in the United States before skating for Thailand. The couple finished 13th at their first major ISU event, the 2006 Four Continents Championship. Earlier in the season, they competed at the Asian Figure Skating Championships in Taipei, Taiwan. Their silver medal at the event was the first for Thailand in winter sports.

Allapach began skating when she was seven. “I did everything when I was a kid,” she said. “I was in tap, jazz, ballet, and hip hop competitions. My school offered classes in all kinds of dance from when I was four or five so I could move up in dance through school. I did a lot of recitals. Jazz was my favorite.”

“My mom tells me I saw skating on television and wanted to go to the rink,” she continued. “My mom’s boss’ daughter was a skating coach and she said she would give me lessons. I did singles until I was 16, then I started dance because I thought it would improve my singles skating. People had been asking me to do dance since I was 13, but I was in my own little world. Then I just wanted to quit skating all together because I wanted to just be a regular high school student. But my mom said I should try dance.”

“I started dance with Jim York as my coach and Devon Matthews as my partner for tests,” she added. “My first official partner was Ben Westenberger. We were 11th in juniors in 2003, tenth in 2004 and tenth in seniors in 2005.”

Kongkasem didn’t start skating until he was eleven. “My next door neighbor’s daughter skated recreationally,” he recalled. “I saw her skates hanging up and though it was something I could do so I went with my cousin. I enjoyed it from the first day and on the second day, I was approached by a coach and it went from there.”

He competed in singles until 1995, finishing third in novice men at U. S. Nationals in 1994 and fifth at the 1995 Olympic Festival. Then he switched to dance, competing with Kristen Fraser for four years. “We both had the same singles coach, Jenny Walsh,” he recalled. “We tried dance just for the experience, then we both fell in love with it. The couple placed second in intermediate dance in 1994 and 13th in junior dance in 1996, their last year together.

“I was 19 and had developed psoriasis,” Kongkasem remembered. “I wanted a change in my life, to be kind of normal, so I quit skating and went to work in retail. After a year, I missed it and went on tour with the Ice Capades. We worked all over the world – Canada, Mexico, Asia. After a year, I took another break and went back to retail. Then I got trapped in the working world. I got promoted to store manager and then to retail director for a chain of stores.”

“But I wanted to get back into skating,” he continued. “I knew I had a chance of developing psoriatic arthritis and wanted to do all I could before that. So I saved up for a couple of years so I could finish all my tests. I wanted to do something with my skating because I loved it so much. I had ended my career too abruptly. So a year and a half ago, I went back to the rink and started jumping again. I felt really comfortable and was able to get back up to a triple lutz.”

“Then I had the opportunity to go to Thailand to meet with their skating federation to see if I could help them do clinics and get their program started. As I got older, I wanted to understand the Thai culture and help get skating started there. I was actually on track to do Four Continents in 2005 in singles, but after U. S. Nationals in 2005, Alisa wanted to move on and try something new. We both practiced at the same rink with the same coach and we were both ice dancers with Thai citizenship so it was natural to get together.”

“I wanted to be different,” Allapach said. “When Peter came back, I thought the opportunity to compete internationally for Thailand would be the best thing for me. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. A lot of people will never get this kind of experience. We have a mutual understanding of what we want and we have fun every day.” “We both have a strong work ethic,” Kongkasem said. “Alisa’s really devoted and ready to work. We have a great chemistry together. We both really want to make our country proud.”

“We started in March 2005 after I came back from Thailand,” Kongkasem said. “Later we spent eight weeks performing in Thailand. They were very excited to have us there.” Darlene Gilbert and Suzanne Semanick-Schuman coach the dancers, who train four hours a day, six days a week. Off ice, they have individual schedules, which include yoga, ballet, weight work, and Pilates for about five hours a week. “I do a lot of yoga,” Kongkasem said. “It’s part of my personal journey.”

Semanick-Schuman choreographed both of their programs. For their original dance, the couple used a samba to “Techno Cumbia” by Selena, a rhumba to “Whatever Happens” by Michael Jackson”, and a cha cha to “Let’s Get Loud” by Jennifer Lopez. “I found most of the music,” Allapach stated. “I’ve always loved the Michael Jackson piece we used for the rhumba.”

Their free dance music was to two versions of “Caravan” by Duke Ellington and Rachel Portman and “Arabian Nights.” “Susie suggested Caravan and I always wanted to skate to it,” Kongkasem said. “It’s from the soundtrack of Chocolat.” “I like bluesy music,” Allapach said. “It’s not our personality to be bubbly.”

Off ice, Allapach listens to pop and alternative music, while Kongkasem enjoys contemporary pop. Kongkasem played the saxophone when he was younger, while Allapach played the piano. To relax, Allapach said she likes “hanging out with my friends and enjoying quiet nights at home.” “I’m just trying to enjoy life with my friends and family,” Kongkasem said.

Allapach is a junior at a fashion institute, studying product development. “My goal is to be a buyer for a big company,” she explained. “I’d like to travel around to trade shows. Kongkasem will probably return to the retail trade once he finishes competing, but said, “I want to continue as long as I find enjoyment in skating. Skating’s a huge portion of my life. I’ll always want to be a part of the sport and I’d love to coach and pass along what I’ve learned. I want to be a role model and get people to pick up the passion I have for skating.”

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