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2013 U.S. National Championships

The Beckers Win the 2014 US Nationals Novice Dance Title, but Feng & Ponomarenko Win the Free Dance Race

by Doris Spicer Pulaski

(7 January 2014)  There was a time when change of placements in different segments in an ice dance competition just did not happen. Those days are gone, since the introduction of the Code of Points judging system. At the 2014 US Nationals Novice Dance competition, the team that entered the last phase of competition in fourth place, Sarah Feng & Anthony Ponomarenko, won the Novice Free Dance with a score of 71.46, improving their season’s best score by almost eight points. The California-based teenagers moved up to earn third place and the bronze medal with a total score of 117.14. The students of Marina Klimova & Igor Shpilband skated to a medley of songs by Yello, including “The Race”. Their program, choreographed by Igor by Shpilband, is very reminiscent of a free dance skated by Elizabeth Punsalan & Jerrod Swallow during the 1990-1991 season. In both programs, the dancers represented two cars in a race, and skated to Yello. Wearing sporty outfits highlighted by checkered flag racing stripes on black pants and leggings, with a red top for Ponomarenko, and a yellow top for Feng, the team executed a level 3 midline not-touching step sequence that included deliberately hair-raising close shaves as the dancers appeared to jockey for position in a race. The judges particularly appreciated their level 4 curve lift, where Feng, standing on Ponomarenko’s foot, executed a full split. The dancers earned level four for their curve and rotational lifts and their spin, level 3 for their twizzles and their straight line lift, and level 2 for their circular step sequence.

"Although, Feng & Ponomarenko won “The Race,” the brother and sister team of Gigi Becker & Luca Becker, who led the competition after the Pattern Dances, finished second in the Novice Free Dance with a score of 71.14 to earn the gold medal and first place overall with a score of 128.45. The Wheaton Academy students danced energetically to the disco sounds of the Bee Gees, including the songs, “How Deep Is Your Love?” and “You Should Be Dancing,” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Appropriately clad in 1970’s polyester, the Bethesda, MD, team improved their season’s best score by earning level 2 on both their step sequences, level 4 on their twizzles, and level 4 on all three lifts and their dance spin.

The Beckers training mates, Eliana Gropman & Ian Somerville, finished third in the Novice Free Dance with a score of 64.97, and earned the silver medal with a total score of 120.28 in their first US Nationals Novice competition. Gropman & Somerville, who defeated the Beckers at the 2014 Eastern Sectional competition, were unable to repeat that performance, even though they, too, posted a season’s best free dance score. The team started their routine, choreographed by Ramil Sarkulov to Come Along” by Titiyo and Peter Svensson, “Fake ID” by Big and Rich, with their circular step, skating a bit tentatively, and did not show their customarily deep edges, only earning level 1 for the element. Gropman spun in place during one of the twizzles, causing the team to lose a level to level 3. The judges appreciated their combination spin, which was particularly fast, well centered, and featured well-defined positions.

Fourth place and the pewter medal went to the new team of Danielle Thomas & Alexander Martin, both of the Detroit SC, who finished sixth in the Free Dance with a score of 60.21, for a total score of 110.12.   Martin suffered a heavy belly flop of a fall during the warm-up that may have affected their Free Dance performance, which included several mistakes. Their program to music from the My Fair Lady soundtrack, by Frederic Loewe, was choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo to be a light-hearted, bubbly routine, but it didn’t work out that way. Thomas stepped out early in the second set of twizzles, and then fell in the midline step, terminating that step sequence early. Both elements were punished with negative Grades of Execution and were assigned only level 1, in addition to the -1.0 point penalty for a fall. The final rotational lift also received negative Grades of Execution, due to visible trouble with the exit.

Fourth place in the Free Dance and the fifth place overall went to Maeve Pascoe & Micah Jaffe, students of Yuri Chesnichenko and Yasa Netcheva. Pasco & Jaffe scored 62.06 in the Free Dance, for a total score of 103.60 points, dancing to music from The Man in the Iron Mask soundtrack by Nick Glennie-Smith. The Detroit teens’ program featured high drama and a good feel for the historical period. Pascoe performed in a pink dress with white lace ruffles at the elbows and a white lace insert in the bodice, Jaffe with wore a white, ruffled shirt, a vest, and a jabot. Although all lifts and the dance spin were level 4, the team’s midline step sequence only earned level 1, and their level 3 twizzles were given negative Grades of Execution because both dancers spun in place during the second set of three twizzles and lost synchronization as well.

Fifth place in the Free Dance and sixth place overall went to Payten Howland & Jason Cohn with a score of 61.97 points and 103.54 points overall for their program, choreographed by Anjelika Krylova to the soundtrack of An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Howland & Cohn also had problems with their twizzles.

Gwen Sletten & Elliot Verburg, of Wheaton Academy, finished seventh overall with a total score of 99.28. The young team showed lots of personality and promise for the future.

Madison Fox & Val Katsman finished tenth in the FD with a score of 53.03, and earned 89.28 total points for eighth place overall. Katsman fell during the twizzles.