By Lynn Rutherford
For this season’s Latin American Original Dance, junior and senior couples can choose a total of two or three different rhythms from the following two groups: the Cha Cha, Rumba or Samba; plus, if desired, only one of either the Mambo, Meringue or Salsa.
Group A Junior Original Dance
Meryl Davis & Charlie White, who won the Junior Group A free dance earlier in the week, were victors with 44.48 points. Their edges and footwork were clearly superior to that of the other teams; they had good unison on their mid-line footwork sequence (which opened with steps on one foot and closed with a series of twizzles); and they showed good speed through their routine. They showed a mambo, rumba and (second) mambo, with their first mambo section standing out as the strongest.
"The program is still new and parts of it were a bit shaky, but overall it felt good. There are a few pattern changes we could consider, to take into consideration all of our edges," said White.
The couple’s coach, Igor Shpilband, said it is difficult for skaters to express the character of the dances given the time constraints of the OD.
"The last time we had a Latin OD, the timing (of the OD) was longer (three minutes) and there were fewer (required) elements. So there is not much time to express yourself," he said.
Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates, the 2005 U.S. Novice champions, were second with 40.05 points. Skating a cha-cha, rumba and cha-cha, the couple did a fine, very fast rotational lift, with Samuelson in an interesting position – a split, of course. They lost energy at the end of the program but overall made a good impression.
"Coming up from novice, it’s such a big jump to juniors. We had no expectations for our placement here; we just want to skate our program and get some feedback (from the callers and judges)," said Samuelson.
"We did a Latin free dance last season, and we’ve been working with a ballroom instructor, who has taught us a lot," added Bates.
The young Canadians Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier (aged 14 and 13, respectively) were third with 39.13 points. The appealing duo showed creative choreography to cha-cha and samba rhythms, with an especially nice spin. All the couple lacks is speed and power, which should come with added maturity.
Kaitlyn Weaver & Charles Clavey placed fourth with 36.22 points. The couple showed good unison in their midline step sequence, but overall, their program felt like it was all done on one level, with no changes of speed and rhythm. Skating to samba and rumba rhythms, Canadians Mylene Lamoureaux & Michael Mee were fifth with 34.86. The couple had a good one-foot section in their mid-line step sequence but fell out of unison a bit at the end of their program.
Group B Junior Original Dance
Reigning Canadian junior bronze medallists Alice Graham & Andrew Poje finished atop Group B with 37.91 points. They skated to rumba and meringue rhythms, and had the best-looking lifts of the group, including a straight-line lift with Poje on one foot and Graham in a modified Biellmann "catch-foot" position. They had good flow over the ice, although their footwork sequences still need a bit of work, as they fell out of unison in the twizzles in their mid-line.
"We made a few mistakes but the elements are all out there, and now we’re going to get some feedback," said Graham, who has been skating with Poje for a year-and-a-half. The couple train in coached by Paul McIntosh in Kitchener.
"Skate Canada hasn’t finished assigning the Junior Grand Prix events yet. We’re going to send in some videos of our performances, and they will monitor us and we’ll go from there," added Poje. Last season, the couple competed at the JGP Courcheval, finishing fifth.
Second place went to Kimmerly Lauten & Augie Hill with 37.02 points. Performing to mambo, rumba, and samba rhythms, the couple had good expression and fine lifts, but Hill stumbled on twizzles in the second half of their mid-line step sequence.
"It’s very difficult in the OD to express the character of the Latin dances, because there are so many compulsory elements; they play such a large part of the program," said the couple’s coach, former World ice dance silver medallist Warren Maxwell.
"You have to do two lifts, and two step sequences, with twizzles. In the step sequences, everybody does rockers, counters and brackets, and you can’t move super-fast, so that takes more time. You see less turning and more edging, and you have to hold the edges to make sure the caller catches them. The spins, too, take more time, because there must be three rotations for each position."
Elizabeth Miosi & Dimitry Ponomarev were third with 36.02 points. Wearing lovely black beaded costumes designed by Tania Bass, the couple captured the spirit of the rhythms – in their case, the samba and mambo – better than any other team.
"We go to a Russian ballroom dance instructor and have a lesson for an hour a day, a few times a week," said Ponomarov, who added, "I have a great partner; everything is 50-50 with us. We never fight."
"It took a while for us to be comfortable and play off of each other (in the OD), but now it’s working great," said Miosi.
The Russian-born Ponomarov arrived in the U.S. from Moscow one year ago, and he and Miosi made their competitive debut in Lake Placid last summer, taking part in several compulsory dance events.
"I could not have competed for the U.S. (internationally) last season, but if we get a JGP this year, there is no trouble (with me going)," he said.
Miosi & Ponomarev train at the Ashburn rink near Reston, Virginia, under former Russian ice dance competitor Elena Garomina, the coach of World junior ice dance champions Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin. (Garomina is also Zavozin’s mother. Matthews & Zavozin are currently training in Moscow with Igor Zavozin, Garomina’s former husband and partner.)
Skating the samba, cha-cha, and samba, Mauri Gustafson & Logan Guilette-Schmidt were fourth with 35.20 points. The appealing couple opened with a well-done spin and good rotational lift; their mid-line step sequence had a slight stumble in the middle, but they recovered well. They included a "Bourne & Kraatz"-type hydro-blading movement as an "extra element."
"It felt really good. This year we have been working with (1992 Olympic pair champion) Natalia Mishkutienok on our spins; they were our weakest elements. In the OD, we’re doing a modified sit spin facing each other, in kind of a "crocodile" position. I think almost everybody is doing sit spins, because that’s what is considered difficult under NJS," said Guilette-Schmidt.
Katherine Copley & Patrick Connelly were fifth with 34.29 points. Skating to cha cha, rumba and samba rhythms, they showed good lifts and spins, but they skated far apart in their step sequences and had trouble on the final third of their mid-line step sequence.
Note: The 23 junior couples (there were five withdrawals) were split into two groups. In Lake Placid, compulsory, original dance and free dance competitions are held independent of one another; marks do not carry over.
As expected, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, who train at The Arctic Edge in Canton, MI under Igor Shpilband, handily won Group A with 66.93 points. Skating to music from the Italian opera group Amici, their free dance featured a lovely serpentine step sequence and well-synchronized twizzles. They showed good speed and ice coverage; both skaters have grown since last season and appear more mature on the ice.
White – who also competes in freestyle and recently won the junior men’s event at Skate Detroit – discussed the difficult footwork needed to succeed under the new judging system ("NJS").
"The trick under NJS is you have to do rockers, choctaws, counters and brackets for 75% of your footwork sequences, and each partner has to do them equally. So, you have to hold your edges for that much longer to prove to the technical caller that you really did do everything," he said.
"Our goal is to do all the things we had to do to get (our elements) to a Level 4, then see what the judges give us and go from there," added Davis.
Until this spring, the couple trained at the Skating Club of Detroit with Seth Chafetz, who teamed them in 1997.
"Seth got us where we are today, but we felt it was necessary to make a change. We were in the same place for a long time and needed to boost our motivation," said White, who is still coached by Chafetz in his singles’ career.
Last season was a disappointment. The talented duo, who won two bronze medals on the Junior Grand Prix circuit last fall, were forced to withdraw from the 2005 U.S. Nationals when White broke his ankle at a hockey tournament two weeks before the qualifying sectional competition.
"That (injury) really took us out of things. Our goal was to do well at Junior Worlds, but we couldn’t go to Nationals because we didn’t qualify. My cast came off in mid-December and I recovered quickly, but with U.S. Skating’s "no injury bye" rules, we weren’t named to the World (junior) team," said White, who added that he has no plans to give up his singles’ career.
"It keeps me in shape. I’m not quitting freestyle, but I’m not going to play any more hockey."
His dance coach concurred.
"I don’t see any need for him to give up singles. He’s working all the hours I ask of him," said Shpilband.
Both Davis and White have been accepted by the University of Michigan, but are deferring college for at least a year to focus on their skating. The couple is scheduled to compete at JGP Andorra this fall.
In a surprise, Mauri Gustafson & Logan Guilette-Schmidt were second with 52.83 points. The couple, who placed tenth at the 2005 U.S. juniors, performed a sprightly free dance to a Big Band medley including "Bei Mir Bist Du Schein." They skated with great expression, showed good speed and had quick entries and exits to their lifts, although their energy level dropped in the final 20 seconds and they were unable to complete their final step sequence.
"We’re pretty happy; we’ve been training this program throughout the summer and knew we could skate it well. We want to get a JGP assignment, and we were aiming for a top-four finish, so second place is amazing," said the bubbly blonde Gustafson, who met Guilette-Schmidt at a 2003 U.S. Skating partner tryout.
"He’s from Chicago; she’s from St. Louis. Believe it or not, both of their mothers are skating instructors," said their coach, former British ice dance competitor Pierre Pani, who trains the couple in Dallas, TX.
Skating to music from "Kill Bill," 2005 U.S. Novice Champs Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates took third place with 51.19 points. The couple had good unison on their twizzles and good speed on their spin, but awkwardly aborted one of their lifts.
"We fell; what can you do? We’ll get the program done by (2006) Nationals," said Samuelson.
The duo trains in Ann Arbor, Michigan under Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Iaroslava Netchaeva. They are scheduled to compete at JGP Bratislava this fall.
Fourth place went to Canadians Andrea Chong & Spencer Barnes with 50.56 points. The dark, attractive duo performed a Tango, and while their footwork sequences were weak in parts, they moved with a light touch and showed several attractive lifts.
Skating to Elton John’s "Funeral for a Friend" whilst appropriately clad in black, Katherine Copely & Patrick Connelly placed fifth with 50.03 points. Their well-paced program featured a good rotational lift, nice transitions and well-matched twizzles, but they lost speed at the end of their routine and wobbled on their closing spin.
"It was good overall, but they were a little slow with the entry into the spin," said their coach, Robbie Kaine, who paired them up in the summer of 2004. The couple trains at the Philadelphia Figure Skating Club and Humane Society in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, as well as the University of Delaware.
Junior Free Dance, Group B
Skating to "Phantom of the Opera," reigning U.S. junior bronze medallists Kimmerly Lauten & Augie Hill won the Group B free dance with 59.03 points. The couple, who made their debut at this competition last year, opened their program with an impressive sequence of four, then four-and-a half twizzles that drew applause from the crowd. They had good speed on their rotational lift and a fine spin in matching low sit spin positions.
"It felt good; we were a little shaky on the diagonal (step sequence), but we were a lot better than we were here our first time," said Hill, who skates with exceptional posture and carriage.
"Last summer, this competition was our debut. We had only been together for three months, and I had a hernia, but we had to skate in order to get our international (JGP) assignment."
The couple spent four days in Newington, CT this spring choreographing their program with current World bronze medallists Ruslan Goncharov & Elena Grushina of Ukraine.
"We’re going to go back to Connecticut right after this competition to work with Ruslan and Elena some more. We’re going to take the judges’ input and brush up on our elements," said Hill.
Asked what they think they can improve, Hill replied, "In our footwork, we want to make sure we do what the callers are looking for; we need to hold our counters, rockers and brackets longer."
"The performance quality of the program is still in the developmental stage. Nothing is ever perfect in the beginning of the season and I’m sure it will grow over time," added Lauten.
This couple train under Warren Maxwell, Olivia Maxwell, and Katy Hill in Plano, Texas. They are assigned to this fall’s JGP Canada.
Reigning Canadian junior bronze medallists Alice Graham & Andrew Poje took second place with 58.26 points. Skating a dramatic program to "Danse Macabre," the powerful skaters showed good speed and a fine, one-arm rotational lift, but fell out of unison on their twizzles.
"We’ve improved a lot, but we still have to clean up our basic edges and improve our basic skating skills. Our goal here was to skate the elements; the judges’ critiques will help a lot," said the 6’4" Poje, who feels his unusual height is both a challenge and an advantage.
"The advantage is you can have longer lines (Graham is 5’6"). The challenge is you have more to work with and control; all of your mistakes are exaggerated."
The couple is coached by Paul McIntosh in Kitchener. Skate Canada has not yet distributed its JGP assignments.
Another Canadian couple, Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, were third with 55.27 points. The youngsters – she is 14, and he is 13 – performed the Beatles’ "Yesterday" to creative choreography by their coach, former British ice dance silver medallist Carol Long-Lane. Their series of running three turns, perfectly timed to the music, was especially effective, and they had unique positions on their lifts and a fast rotational spin.
Reigning U.S. novice silver medallists Kaitlyn Weaver & Charles Clavey were fourth with 53.31 points. The tall couple, clad in blue chiffon, skated to soft instrumental music, and she showed lovely flexibility, especially in their lifts. They train in Newington under Mathew Gates, Eve Chalom and Elena Grushina, and are scheduled for the JGP Andorra this fall.
Elizabeth Miosi & Dmitry Ponomarev placed fifth with 52.39 points. Their footwork sequences featured nice brackets and a good rotational lift with Miosi in the ubiquitous "upside-down split" position.
Trained by Elena Garomina, the coach of World junior ice dance champions Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin (and also Zavozin’s mother), the couple debuted at this competition last year, after they had been together for just two weeks.
"Last summer, they did only a few compulsory dances," said Garomina. "He came over here about a year ago from Russia; before, he had skated in some junior grand prix events with his past partner."
Garomina is not an advocate of NJS.
"I don’t think it is better (than 6.0). There are too many required elements; everybody is doing the same lifts and spins. They have (defined) a few hard positions, like the split position and the sit spin, and everybody is hitting those same positions."
Sixth place (with 51.68 points) was a victory of sorts for Blake Rosenthal & Calvin Taylor: The 2005 U.S. novice bronze medallists, who train in Wilmington under former British ice dance competitor Andrew Newbury, have had more than their share of injuries – all to Taylor.
"He had his face smashed in a collision during a public session at our rink, and he now has a titanium plate," said Newbury. "We missed two-and-a-half months of training, then went to the novice competition in Estonia this winter. After that, we found out he had mononucleosis, and he was out for another eight weeks. So I don’t care if they do Level 1 elements, as long as they’re out there skating."
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