by Liz Leamy
(20 January 2019) This year’s group of top America dance teams features Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the 2018 World silver medalists and 2018 U.S. Champions, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the two-time World medalists (silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016) and 2015 U.S. Champions, and Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, the 2018 International Skating Union NHK Championship Grand Prix gold medalists and 2018 Grand Prix finalists, among other accomplished couples, all of who are expected to stage a terrific competition at the Little Caesars Arena at the U.S. Championships in Detroit.
Each of these teams, who are helming the next generation of U.S. ice dancers, have a distinct style and technique and collectively, show why the U.S. has come to be regarded as one of the most dominant forces in the sport at a global level over the past several decades.
Meanwhile, all of these three teams train in Montreal with the Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon and at some point, had spent a significant amount of time training and living in the Detroit area, where they are once again returning to in hopes of finishing at the top of the U.S. leaderboard.
Spearheading this exciting brigade are Hubbell & Donohue, the 2018 Grand Prix Final champions who experienced one of their most successful seasons of their career to date so far, clinching silver at the 2018 World Championships and also scoring their first U.S. title.
Hubbell & Donohue are known for having ‘the whole package,’ including exceptional technique, artistry and charisma and ought to deliver exciting and compelling programs, which ought to make this event both memorable and mandatory to watch.
This season, Hubbell & Donohue have been skating to ‘Alevare’ and ‘Tangata del Alba’ for the Tango and to selections from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for their free dance, both of which have gone over well with both audiences and officials thus far.
“It’s been a great season for us [so far] and a whirlwind of a year,” said Hubbell. “We’ve been very busy.”
Going into Nationals the two said they feel both prepared and ready.
“We’re really looking forward to Nationals,” said Donohue. “There’s no one to be counted out and we’ve got to do the work and do the hustle to hopefully win ourselves the National title.”
“We take it competition by competition,” said Hubbell. “At the end of the day it’s a different competition with a different panel and different competitors.”
According to Hubbell and Donohue, they have been gaining strength from their performances and results from the season so far.
“There’s a momentum in knowing our equation is working,” said Hubbell, a Michigan native (just like Bates and Hawayek). “I think we’ve been able to come out even stronger through this season.”
Chock & Bates, who are two-time Olympians, will be making their competitive foray following a busy year.
Last April, Chock had undergone surgery to remove bone fragments from her right ankle, which she seems to have fully recovered from.
Then, this past May, Chock & Bates announce they were going to move their training base from the Detroit area (where they worked with Igor Shpilband) to Montreal, in order to be coached full time by Dubreuil and Lauzon.
Known for their wonderful energy and technique, Chock & Bates ought to be a big crowd pleaser in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, who formerly trained with Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan prior to moving to Montreal to work with Dubrueil & Lauzon this past April, have made some major forays in their competitive career this past season, claiming gold at the 2018 Four Continents Championships and then duplicating that same feat at the NHK Trophy in the fall.
Their impressive finishes at these main International Skating Union events, coupled with the fact that they were one of the top-six qualifying world dance teams to skate in the Grand Prix finals this past December, definitely make them a team to watch in Detroit.
Hawayek & Baker will be skating to ‘Vuelo al Sur’ and ‘A los Amigos’ for the Tango and the ‘Trampoline Theme’ and ‘In This Shirt’ for the free dance.
“We’re quite excited to go back to Detroit,” said Baker. “It was home for us for six years.”
Baker said since he and Hawayek have been in Montreal, they have continued to grow in terms of who they both are as individuals and as a team out on the ice.
“We’re learning so many things about ourselves and how we approach our training,” said Baker. “I think we’ve [reached] a deeper level of who we are as a team and why we skate.”
Hawayek agreed and added that in recent months, they’ve been focusing on strengthening all aspects of their programs based upon what they’ve learned so far this season.
“Our biggest takeaway from the Grand Prix Final [was] to focuse on the importance of the quality of levels we do,” said Hawayek. “[We’ve been] working on the quality of elements we do.”
Asked how they feel about training in Montreal, the two both said they enjoy the liveliness and energy of the rink environment, especially with so many World championship-level teams being based there.
“Having the other teams there is motivating,” said Hawayek. “There are so many top athletes there.”
Baker added that this helps to push them to set their sights on achieving the goal of being the best they can be, as well as the best.
“It’s a motivating environment to be in,” said Baker. “We go into training everyday to win.”
On a social side note, Hubbell said a bunch of members from her family are big sports fans and are so excited to see her skate at the new state-of-the-art Little Caesars venue that they have planned to have a tailgate picnic before the dance events.
The Hubbell family, according to Hubbell, is also hoping to join along in these tailgate festivities with members of Evan Bates’ and Kaitlin Hawayek’s families, who are also based in and around the Detroit area.
No doubt, this tailgate party ought to fun in every way, and might even rival the energy and excitement of what will be taking place in the venue itself.
“We’ll have a lot of family in the arena,” said Hubbell. “It’s going to feel wonderful to have so much support in the crowd.”