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2016 Skate America Dance

by Klaus Reinhold Kany

Dance Champions Maia and Alex Shibutani



(23 October 2016) The ice dance competition at Skate America was not very well attended, although ice dance has been the most successful category in U.S. figure skating for years. Especially in the free dance, many teams try to imitate the trend setters and two time world champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France. Perhaps the programs are too similar to fascinate a big crowd. The level of the competition was nevertheless high, no weak team skated at Skate America and nobody made any serious mistakes or even fell.

Maia & Alex Shibutani won the competition without big problems with 185.75 points. They had opted not to do any senior B before this season. In the short dance to the Blues "That’s Life“ by Frank Sinatra and a Hip Hop by Jay-Z all five elements were excellent and had many GOEs of +3. The Midnight Blues sequence and the outstanding twizzles (eight times GOEs of +3) had a level 4, but the two step sequences only a level 2 and the lift a level 3. But neither the skaters nor coach Marina Zoueva was much concerned. Their components had an average level of 9.2, with some 9.5 as highest ones.

Maia Shubutani commented: “We were really happy how we debuted our short dance. We’ve been working hard this whole off-season to really come up with a concept we believe in. It’s a really exciting program for us and were looking forward to see how it will grow. We saw the protocol and we got a level 4 on the blues, which we were happy about. The rest I think we’ll just have to wait and get some feedback because we’re focused on tomorrow. But as far as the skate, we are really happy with how we skated today.”

Alex Shibutani added: “It varies with the performance. Sometimes there’s a visible error -- obvious knock on wood -- you hope that never happens. So you know where the loss of base value might come from, but with us tonight we were very pleased with our performance. We’re always receptive to feedback and that’s why we have so many competitions throughout the season. Obviously, we didn’t do the senior Bs, but we’re looking to grow and we’ll take the feedback that we get. We knew with the concept that we were approaching for the season’s short dance, we wanted to give it the time to make sure we were really happy with our debut. Whether we did a competition earlier in the season or not, we are excited about where we are at this point in the year. It was just a decision we made with our coaches, really not a big deal.”

Officially they call they call their free dance just "Evolution“ without giving any detailed music pieces. But their music pieces in fact are "Mirror in Mirror“ by Anne Akiko Meyers and Akira Eguchiy as well as "Anyone you like“ by a Clubmix Digitize, both modern pieces with piano. Like in the short dance, each element was excellent and rewarded only with GOEs of +2 or +3. Five of the seven level elements had a Level 4, and here the step sequences a Level 3. The components were around 9.3 and they had even some 9.75.

Maia Shibutani said: “As it was brought up yesterday, this is our first competition of the season so Alex and I are thrilled with how it went. Both of our programs are so different but the performance today felt really strong and we’re looking forward to building for Cup of China.”

Alex Shibutani added: “I think it’s safe to say that everyone at this press conference sitting with us, the Olympics are always on our mind. It’s the pinnacle of our sport. It’s the competition that we all grow up dreaming about so within this four year cycle we’re a little bit past halfway through so definitely all of our eyes squarely set on the Olympics. It’s a season away, but we’re really excited about how we started this season off.”

The second U.S. team of Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue won the silver medal with 175.77 points after being third in the short dance. Here they interpreted the Blues “Feeling Good” in a version of Nina Simone and a Hip Hop Medley. Three elements had a level 4, the partial step sequence a level 2 and the non-touch midline step sequence a level 3. The components were around 8.3.

“This is already our third competition of the season and we’re happy to be here on American soil”, Hubbell commented. “It’s a really fun program for us to skate and we were looking for a crowd response and we feel like we got that. Every competition has gone a little better and so we just keep hoping to grow throughout the season. When we’re at home, we’ve really been trying to work on the technical side and sometimes when you’re doing a performance and you’re really trying to give it your everything, you don’t always feel exactly what it is, you see it on the protocol and you look back and you usually agree with the calls we were given. Today I thought it was fair, I felt a little bit shaky in the midline, but otherwise, everything improved.”

“I’m someone that loves hip hop and so does Zach. We love watching it, but it’s not a dance style that we’re doing all the time. It definitely takes a lot of facial expression, a lot of attitude, it’s very in your face. It’s difficult to train on a daily basis given both the technical side and the performance side but we are enjoying the process. We wanted to give it a really hip hop competition feel with all the music cuts, the crazy mix, bringing in all the genres and all the decades. It’s growing well and by the end of the season it’s going to be a huge hit.”

Their free dance is a romantic dance with three modern music pieces: "I Wanna Dance with Somebody“ by Bootstrap, "Can’t Help Falling in Love“ performed by Ingrid Michaelson and "Earned it“ again by Bootstrap. They had the same levels as the Shibutanis, but their grades of execution was mainly +2. Their components had an average of 8.7.

Their technical score in the free dance was 1.48 points higher than those of the bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (174.77 points). The Russian couple interpreted the Blues "Mercy on me“ by Christina Aguilera and the too often heard Swing "Sing, sing, sing“ by Louis Prima. Here they were 0.14 points ahead of Hubbell/Donohue because their components were higher and had an average level of 8.9 because of their more sovereign style. But three elements had only a level 2.

Soloviev said: "We’re also very happy with our first Grand Prix here in the United States. Not everything went the way we wanted it to but now this gives us time to improve and to correct. Next time we will do much better. This is not our first performance in this season. We will have to investigate why the levels are so low. In some places we do agree and in some places we are surprised. We will need to figure out what’s going on. All in all we’re extremely happy to be here in the United States in the first stages of Grand Prix Series. The support is excellent.”

In their free dance they interpreted the Prelude Number 20 by Frédéric Chopin in a modern version and "The Four Seasons“ performed by Nigel Kennedy. Five elements had a level 4, but the two step sequences a level 3 and a level 2 (which cost them the silver medal). And one lift was too long. Soloviev said: “Sometimes during the competition you don’t really know what got you. Was it an error or was it snow or some other circumstance? When we get to Moscow, we’ll analyze it in detail.”

Charlène Guignard & Marco Fabbri from Italy finished on fourth position, earning 165.44 points. The students of Barbara Fusar Poli started their short with an excellent twizzle sequence, but in the partial step sequence they only had a level 1. In the free dance to two pieces from Nutcracker by Peter Tchaikovsky everything went well. But it is a question if a ballet music is the right choice of music for them.

Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin from Russia are fifth with 165.16 points. They had been training with Igor Shpilband in the USA from March to August and he made their programs. But then they went back to Russia and did not want to say why. Maybe one of them was homesick. But it is obvious that the Russian federation has less money than years ago because of the decline of the Rubel and cannot pay any more so many of its athletes abroad. Marina Zueva’s couple Sinitsina & Katsalapov also returned to Russia at the end of the summer. Lately Ilinykh lost some weight and Shiganshin can lift her better than in the summer. In the short dance, three elements had a level 4, and two a level 2. Their Bollywood free program was refreshing and faultless.

Isabella Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko, who compete for Israel and train with Igor Shpilband, ended up sixth with 161.99 points. Like the Italians they interpreted the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky in the free dance, with good lines and excellent levels, but a bit slower than the Italians. The third U.S. team of Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit finished seventh at their Grand Prix debut, winning 151.76 points. In the short dance, Benoit plays Elvis Presley in his song “Trouble”. Four elements were good, but in the twizzle sequence they were a bit out of sync. Their free dance is orientally styled and they interpreted “Sadko” by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov and “The Feeling Begins” by Peter Gabriel. They excelled with long lines and good posture and all elements were clean. Their curve lift was outstanding and very risky.