By Lynn Rutherford
Note: In Lake Placid, original dance and free dance competitions are held independent of one another. Marks do not carry over.
When the ISU announced the tango as the OD rhythm for 2006-2007, the coaching community must have heaved a collective sigh. Not only are tango steps notoriously difficult to transfer to the ice, but the essence of the dance Ė which has its roots in South American bordellos Ė is adult, to say the least.
"How do I get the tango across to a 14 year-old girl, without getting myself arrested?" was how one (male) coach put it.
To help, the Professional Skaterís Association (PSA) sponsored a demonstration and lecture from premier ballroom dance coach John Dryden, a former competitor who also taught ice dancers, including 1988 U.S. Olympians Suzanne Semanick & Scott Gregory.
"Thereís no doubt itís difficult to do a tango with immature skaters or a brother-sister team. You have to put it over that this is an act. Paint a picture of what your routine is supposed to say; have a little story," advised Dryden.
"In a tango, the man is a megalomaniac; he thinks heís the best thing since sliced bread. The problem is, so does the lady! The man should never take his eyes off his partner, except when he is changing direction and looking forward to where he is going. He directs her just by the feel of his hands.
"The eyes are very important. Youíre trying to get the lady to look at you, and she doesnít want to give in. To me, thatís the tango. The two are upset with each other, if you like."
Most couples in Lake Placid used variations of the slinky, highly charged Argentine-style tango, rather than the more staccato, closely held International tango.
"I think the Argentine has more character and soul and passion than the ballroom (International) tango. There are more open positions. You can be original, and not mimic (ballroom) movements," said Igor Shpilband.
The Junior OD competition saw the continued emergence of Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Iaroslava Netchaeva, former Russian competitors who coach at the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club in Michigan. The personable coaches are impressing judges with their sophisticated choreography and intelligent handling of the judgesí critiques. Their two top junior teams won Groups A and B, and another of their teams took third place in Group B.
Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell, the reigning U.S. novice silver medalists who won the Group A free dance, continued their winning ways, taking the Group A OD with 45.49 points (24.10 TES + 21.39 PCS). The tall blonde siblings performed a polished and intricate Argentine-style tango, carrying good speed and unison throughout, although Keiffer executed an extra twizzle in their mid-line (non-touching) step sequence.
"We studied tango by watching some DVDís our coaches have. When weíre on the ice, weíre connecting as a man and woman, not as brother and sister," said the 17 year-old Keiffer. Like Tchesnitchenko and Netchaevaís other teams, the Hubbells take ballroom lessons twice a week with Steve McFarren.
"Being (siblings) is actually an advantage for us, because weíre such good friends. We have a loving relationship rather than an intimate relationship," added his 15 year-old sister.
"The kids learn what tango style is all about (through DVDs and lessons). For sure, they study the body positions, hand holds and stature. We donít have many live tango performances in Ann Arbor. Itís difficult to bring tango to the ice, especially the Argentine tango. Thereís a lot of footwork thatís hard to do with blades. And then thereís the tango lifestyle; when dancers are competing, they might be 14 or 15 years old, playing characters who are ten or 20 years older," said Tchesnitchenko.
"(Tango) is not the easiest style for us. Itís not lyrical and flowing, like our free dance. But weíre enjoying the challenge," added Madison.
Shannon Wingle & Ryan Devereaux placed second with 42.32 points (24.44 TES + 17.88 PCS). The two, who are in their second season together, train in Shpilbandís group in Canton, MI.
The duo chose a slow Argentine-style tango, highlighted by a fine straight-line lift with Wingle in an impressive position, with one leg resting on her partner and the other extended upward. Their mid-line sequence was (purposely) slow, clearly showing counters and rockers as well as good unison on their front and back twizzles. Wingle hit lovely stretched positions throughout, and Devereauxís performance level has grown mightily since last summer.
Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan of Colorado Springs continued their surprising success, taking third place with 40.91 points (22.85 TES + 18.06 PCS). Their mid-line steps were interesting, although they faltered a bit on the closing twizzles. They showed three changes of position in a fast rotational lift and a nice quick entry into the spin.
Unlike their free dance, which was created by Tom Dickson, their tango was choreographed by Christopher Dean.
"It felt pretty strong. We had a little trouble on the twizzles, but that happens to everyone sometimes. We put our arms down too early so we got lower levels. But we got a plus GOE (grade of execution) on our spin," said Gilles, who has been skating with her partner for four years.
Brianne Oswald & Buck Withrow, a new team coached by Shpilband, had some problems with their mid-line step sequence but showed good lifts. They placed fourth with 36.51 points (20.65 TES + 15.86 PCS).
Pilar Bosley & John Corona, who train under Robbie Kaine and Christine Fowler-Binder in Ardsmore, PA, showed a tango with sharper movements, choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo. The couple had good unison on their midline, although Bosley put a foot down on their final twizzle. A few more stumbles -- in a change of position in the spin, and at the end of their diagonal step sequence Ė cost them points, but they had a good one-arm rotational lift with Bosley in a crossed leg position.
"It was a little shaky, not as smooth as our free dance. Itís hard to make it look tango-y and do all of the hard elements at the same time. Everyone is out there doing the same thing and you want to stand out," said the 17 year-old Bosley.
"That was the base. We will build on it and improve before Courcheval JGP (on Aug. 24-28). We have two weeks," said Camerlengo.
The talented Blake Rosenthal & Calvin Taylor, who stumbled a bit in their free dance, also had a few problems in the OD, placing sixth with 34.97 points (19.72 TES + 15.25 PCS). Their mid-line step sequence was a bit weak, although they showed good tango character with their leg movements.
"They had a small collision at the very beginning, when she elbowed him coming out of their start position. That threw them off a bit but it was good for the first time out," said the coupleís coach, Andrew Newberry, who trains them in Wilmington, DE.
"Their timing is just a bit off. They did three-and-a-half, instead of four-and-a-half, twizzles in both the OD and the free. We will work this out before with go to the Hungary JGP (on Aug. 31- Sept. 3)."
Rosenthal, who also competes in singles, said "doing ice dance helps my free style a lot, especially with my edges and knee bend. I think itís almost a benefit that Iím doing both. I like them both the same. It keeps things interesting; Iím never bored, for sure."
She hopes to compete in both the junior ladies and junior dance divisions at the 2007 U.S. Nationals in Spokane next January.
New Canadian couple Anna Stanislavska & Michael Whitehead showed strong lifts, but stumbled three times on their step sequences. They placed seventh with 32.32 points.
Emily Samuelson & Evan Christian Bates of Ann Arbor easily won Group B with 48.26 points (27.06 TES + 21.20 PCS), some 5.8 points than their nearest rivals. Showing effective staccato movements, the two 14 year-olds took a sophisticated approach. Their mid-line step sequence, done partly on one foot, featured a good 4/5 twizzle sequence, and an especially effective highlight had Samuelson in a low spread eagle-type position leaning atop Bates. The difficult rotational lift had Bates in an elegant posture with his free hand over his head.
There were no wasted steps in this OD; each move was in character, leading to the next.
"That was a good performance for us. It feels good to get it under our belts before the Junior Grand Prix starts," said Bates, who added that his mother, Nancy, designs all of their costumes.
"Sheís an artist and comes up with the ideas. Then all of our parents are up past midnight sewing on all of the sequins and beads!" he laughed.
"We wanted to skate strong and full out. Our goal was to show the tango character. I hope the audience enjoyed it," added Samuelson.
Samuelson & Bates are scheduled to compete at the Mexico City JGP (DATE) and are hoping to gain a second assignment from U.S. Skating.
Canadians Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier were second with 42.46 points (24.15 TES + 18.31 PCS). Taking an intense approach to the tango, the talented duo had a strong rotational lift, with Poirier placing his free hand over his head and Crone hitting two unusual positions. They also had effective changes of direction in their footwork, and fine unison on their mid-line step sequence.
"It feels great to go out and do all of our stuff so early in the season," said the 14 year-old Crone.
"The program was a minefield, with a lot of technical difficulty. For the first time out, it was strong and the emotional connection was good," said their coach, Carol Long Lane, who also handles their choreography. With husband Jon and Juris Razgulajeus, Lane coaches 14 couples at the Scarboro rink in Ontario.
Crone & Poirier have been assigned to JGPís in Norway and Taipei, the first-ever ISU figure skating competition in that country.
The third Tchesnitchenko-coached junior team, Brooke Huber & Karl Edelmann, took third place with 42.40 points (24.25 TES + 18.15 PCS). They had the most stunning lift of the event, with Huber in a "pretzel"-type position wrapped around an upright Edelmann.
"Brooke is unbelievably flexible. We worked first on the floor and then tried to bring original positions to the ice," said Tschesnitchenko.
"We just started skating together last season. Brooke is new to dance, and when my (previous) partnership ended, I spent time looking for another partner while all the time she was skating at my home rink," said the 18 year-old Edelmann.
"I was a free style skater, then did a dance in a show and met Iouri (Tschesnitchenko). He teamed me and Karl," added the 20 year-old Huber.
The couple will next compete at NACs in Vancouver.
Lindsey Cohen & Evan Roberts, who train under 1980 Olympic champs Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov at the University of Delaware, had good mid-line step sequence and nice one-arm rotational lift, but need to work on smoother transitions in and out of their lifts. They were fourth with 37.76 points. Canadians Lisa Johnson & Joseph Scott placed fifth with 34.16 points.
Reigning U.S. junior champs and World junior bronze medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White won the senior OD (28.56 TES + 24.62 PCS = 53.18). (Although they withdrew from the free dance, organizers permitted the Shpilband-coached couple to use their pre-paid free dance practice time to work on their tango, raising a few eyebrows of other coaches.)
White, who has lightened his hair to a sandy blonde, sported a stylish ponytail. The duo opened with a fine spin, first in a low sit position (White) and Biellmann (Davis), then side catch-foot position (Davis). Their weaving mid-line was interesting, although Davis came out too soon from the first set of twizzles.
The coupleís diagonal steps were an absolute delight, flowing well with a good tango feel.
"I wasnít really sure about doing (the tango) at first, but we really got into it pretty quickly," said White.
The young couple (he is 19, she is 20) is scheduled to compete at both Skate Canada and NHK, a huge step forward in their careers.
"I wasnít sure we would get one senior GP event, and here we are with two. Itís a big step and weíre looking forward to it. It feels like a long time coming," remarked White.
Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles placed second with a highly stylized program choreographed, like their stunning free program, by Christopher Dean. They earned 46.60 points (24.96 TES + 22.64 PCS) including a one-point deduction, likely for an over-long lift.
Pratt is such a compelling performer that it is truly difficult to take your eyes off her, and Gilles matches her in technical ability. They had a catchy staccato opening and close European-style hold in the diagonal step sequence, which showed good unison and flow. Midway through, the music switched to a more contemporary tango, to the strains of "Whatever Lola Wants."
"The program could have had more spark, but Iím very pleased. They need to accentuate the musicís highs and lows more, but that is a nuance that will come in time," said their coach, Patti Gottwein.
"They had a hard time last night; the judges gave them a tough critique (on their free dance) which isnít surprising, because they were the only ones with two Grand Prix assignments to show up here and actually do their free. Iím pleased they stayed composed."
Kate Slattery & CG Lee, who moved to University of Delaware on June 1st to work with Linichuk and Karponosov, continued their successful week by taking third place with 44.65 points (23.80 TES + 20.85 PCS).
Performing to "Tango de Roxane" from the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack, the couple skated with good energy, although their arm positions were a bit stiff. Lee stumbled out of the twizzles toward the end of the mid-line step sequence, but they had a dramatic, fast rotational lift transitioning directly into their spin to close the program with flair.
"Itís a street tango. He puts me under a spell; thatís why Iím (swooning) a bit in the dance. Our coaches were a little concerned about the concept, but the judges said they liked it," said Slattery.
"We just have to work on the twizzles, and also my edges, which made the difference on some of the levels," she added with refreshing honesty.
The couple has been practicing six hours a day with their new coaches.
"Natalia and Gennadi are training us to be more of a classical team with drama, to use our edges more than our toe picks," explained Slattery.
Two couples coached by Elena Garanina and Val Spiridonov in Ashburn, VA -- Elizabeth Miosi & Dimitry Ponomarev and Katherine Copely & Deividas Stagniunas, who compete for Lithuania Ė placed fourth and fifth respectively.
Miosi & Ponomarev opened with an excellent spin, showing good speed and tango character throughout the program. They had a few minor bobbles on the mid-line and diagonal step sequences.
"We took some tango lessons and I tried to capture the male attitude and character. It was not easy at first because (the character) is like a lifestyle. At the judgesí critique, they told us that we were getting better (as a couple) and that they like the OD a lot," said the Russian-born Ponomarov, who moved to the U.S. from Moscow several years ago.
"The judges said they liked the way we captured the character of the dance, but that we needed more counters and rockers in our footwork and fewer twizzles," added the 17 year-old Miosi.
Copely and Stagniunas had good unison on the mid-line, including their twizzles, and closed their program with a fast, well-centered spin. The couple next competes at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany on Sept. 29 - Oct. 1.
After winning the free dance earlier this week, Caitlin Mallory & Brent Holdberg placed sixth in the OD (23.02 TES + 20.39 PCS = 42.41), including a one-point deduction for an over-long lift.
The couple performed their tango in the International style, with the elegant Mallory Ė clad in a flowing black costume with a red rose in her hair Ė showing lovely arm movements and hitting dramatic "draped" positions in their lifts. They wove in and out on their languid mid-line step sequence, creating a good effect, but lost unison on the twizzles at the end.
"We had good feedback on the program on the whole, but we made some minor mistakes that caused low levels on the elements. For example, Brent (removed) his hand too early on one of the lifts, and my twizzles came to a stop too quickly. But they said we interacted better with each other than in our (winning) free dance," said Mallory.
"There were just little technical problems everywhere. Thatís the thing with the new system, you have to hit your elements solidly; thereís no room for the smallest error."
Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler (or "Max Trax," as is emblazoned on their jackets) skated an International-style tango and finished seventh with 41.23 points (23.48 TES + 17.75 PCS).
Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky, who train in Shpilbandís group, placed eighth with 41.22 points (22.65 TES + 18.57 PCS). The couple showed a weaving mid-line sequence with good unison, as well as a strong spin with Whetstone in an attractive layback position.
"Weíve only be skating together since May 1st, so we did well to stay on our feet. There are some great teams here. Itís nice to get some feedback, go home and make some changes," said Obzansky.
"The judges said we looked a little unsure out there, but with some additional practice time that will get better," added Whetstone.
The couple is still undecided on whether to compete in the Midwest or Pacific Coast sectionals.
Canadians Andrea Chong & Spencer Barnes, who placed third in the junior free dance, stepped up to senior in the OD and placed ninth with 38.07 points (20.93 TES + 17.14 PCS). They had a disappointing performance of their contemporary-style tango, with rough spots in both the mid-line and diagonal step sequences.
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