by Karen Frank
(27 January 2016) The Novice Dancers are all dressed up with no place to go. U.S. Ice Dance is so deep, that there’s a bit of a bottleneck at the Junior Level. Last Fall, the United States sent nine different teams on the Junior Grand Prix Circuit. Eight of those teams finished in the top half of the standings (even though two of those teams only competed at one event) – and seven of those teams will be still be age-eligible next season. While success is a good problem to have, it creates some problems for the Novice level dancers, who, if they move up, face tough competition for Junior Grand Prix assignments, or if they stay Novice, have few opportunities for International Competition experience.
Of course, in some cases, these Novice teams aren’t old enough for the Junior Grand Prix anyway, as is the case with the winners, Caroline Green & Gordon Green. In winning their second Novice Championship, the Greens finished over 22 points ahead of their closest competition. During the pattern dances, they skated with big extensions, deep body lean and swift flow over the ice. In the Free Dance, to Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture, the twelve and fourteen year old siblings’ skate older than their years. Their required elements were effectively choreographed to the speed of the music, and as the tempo of the program increased, the Greens were able to keep up, building to an ending that received a partial standing ovation.
Training mates of the Greens at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (“WISA”), Emma Gunter & Caleb Wein finished in second place in all phases of the competition. They too, scored over 22 points higher than the team closest behind them. While their pattern dances were not skated with as much power as the Greens’, they had good flow and unison across the ice. Their free dance was a Flamenco to a medley of guitar music (Gülümcan by Mehmet Cemal Yesilcay, Andalucia by Ricky King, and Guitarra Festera by Grupo Alhambra). The program highlights their quickness, and one of the best moments was their midline step sequence, performed right to the beat of the handclaps in the music.
The bronze and pewter medals were won by two teams from another rising developmental center, The Louisville Ice Academy. Last year’s intermediate champions Sophia Elder & Christopher Elder competed strong pattern dances with steady speed, and good knee bend. They ran into a few problems in their Free Dance, a quickstep to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Mr. Pinstripe Suit and Save My Soul – he lost hold of his blade in the twizzle and there were some rough spots in a lift. Their strong pattern dance scores kept them in third overall, for a solid debut at the novice level.
A new team, Gianna Buckley & JT Michel, made a strong first impression. Their pattern dances were very steady, with a good sense of rhythm. They came into the free dance in fourth place, and kept that placement with a classic ballroom program to It Had To Be You by Harry Connick Jr. Though they weren’t as fast or as powerful as the top couples, they are expressive and have good flow across the ice.
In terms of next season, Gunter & Wein, and Buckley & Michel are both age eligible for the Junior Grand Prix, should they decide to move up to Junior. But with such a packed field in at that level, it would be understandable if all of these teams stayed novice another season.
It would be ideal if there were more opportunities for younger Juniors and Novice Ice Dancers to compete, as there are not as many summer competitions that can attract a large ice dance field. Between 1996 and 2006 the United States and Canada sponsored a series of competitions designed to give Novice and younger Junior level skaters an opportunity to gain international competition experience. Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Evan Bates, Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje, Madison Hubbell, Mitchell Islam, Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier, and Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani all competed at the North American Challenge Series (NACS) before it was abandoned in 2006 due to lack of funding.
Considering that the last two Olympic Gold Medalists in Ice Dance, and the majority of the current American and Canadian Ice Dance Podiums all began their International competitive careers on the NACS, it might be a good idea if U.S. Skating and Skate Canada could once again find a way to fund this series.