No kilts for Kerrs on road to Vancouver

Scottish siblings tap Cash, Linkin Park for Olympic season

John Kerr and Sinead Kerr have ditched their Scottish kilts for a more "country" original dance in the upcoming Olympic season.
John Kerr and Sinead Kerr have ditched their Scottish kilts for a more "country" original dance in the upcoming Olympic season. (Jay Colton -- courtesy World Ice Arena)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/17/2009) - Fans hoping for another eyeful of John Kerr in a kilt are in for a disappointment.

He and sister Sinead Kerr, the prides of Scotland, wowed crowds with their home country dance two seasons ago when the ISU last prescribed the folk genre. This time around, they're turning to the two-step and Johnny Cash's version of "I've Been Everywhere." And while John is sticking to jeans, Sinead struts her stuff in a pair of Daisy Mae shorts.

"I love 'em. It's my turn to show off," she said.

The six-time British ice dance champions took the ice at Flushing Meadows' World Ice Arena as part of Ice Theatre of New York's popular Summer Youth Concert Series, which continues Aug. 22 with another performance from Sinead and John and other special guests.

"We wanted to make this original dance a laugh, almost like something you could do in an exhibition, so we were glad to come here and show it to people," Sinead said.

Although the ISU selected folk/country dance rhythms in part to help skaters honor their home country traditions at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Kerrs resolved not to draw water from the Scottish well again.

"It's like the expression 'You cannot win twice,'" their coach, Evgeni Platov, said. "[The Scottish dance] has been done in kilts, and it's been done well, so I don't know how they could do it better.

"The Olympics are in Canada, so we thought cowboys. And then I was going through my iPod and heard this Johnny Cash song. I really loved it, so I played it for them, and they really liked it. And this idea was born to do something not exactly Canadian, but country. We tried it here for the first time, and the audience picked it up immediately so it's going to be a bull's eye, I think."

The skaters are again working with Robert Royston, who perfected their swing OD last season. The four-time U.S. Open swing dance champion is also a four-time world country dance champion (1995-1998) and is helping the siblings polish their turns, loops and duck outs.

"Robert said this song is about a truck driver picking up a hitchhiker. Why doesn't Sinead be the truck driver and John be the hitchhiker? And we kind of ran with that story," Sinead explained.

The siblings, who began skating together in 2000, are coming off their most successful season, including their first-ever Grand Prix medals (bronzes at Skate America and Trophée Eric Bompard), a bronze at the 2009 European Championships and a career-high seventh place finish at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. Their free dance to Muse's "Ruled by Secrecy" was hailed as one of their best, so they are sticking to what works -- contemporary music and a strong storyline, in this case Linkin Park's "Krwlng."

"The idea behind this dance is I'm [portraying] someone who's kind of in turmoil," John said. "'Krwlng' is sometimes a symptom of a crystal meth addict, having a feeling of insects crawling inside your skin. That's not necessarily what it's about for us; during the Olympics, talking about being a drug addict probably isn't the best idea."

"John is having a lot of strife, a lot of trouble in his life and I'm either his conscience or something else that's trying to help him through," Sinead added.

Platov isn't neglecting the compulsory dances, which still count for approximately one-sixth of the total score. The ISU has designated the two most difficult for the 2009-10 season: the dramatic Tango Romantica and intricate Golden Waltz.

"Those are our two favorite CDs and the ones we've done the best with," Sinead said. "It's fantastic that those two have come out of the bag this year.

"Evgeni has been pushing us really hard; he's been driving us to do one sequence extra with both dances. Doing three-and-a-half sequences of Golden Waltz, that's almost as hard as a free dance. We've been training really hard, so hopefully the judges see an improvement in our compulsory dances."

Since moving to the U.S. to train under Platov in 2006, Kerr and Kerr have trained in rinks throughout New Jersey. Recently, they moved from the Princeton Sports Center to The Igloo in Mt. Laurel, where two-time U.S. pair champion Rocky Marvel is the skating director.

"Rocky and his wife Isabelle [Brasseur] have made us really welcome there," John said. "It's a much better environment for us."

Platov has added several other dance couples to his camp, including Allison Reed and Otar Japaridze of Georgia, Russian junior couple Angelina Kabysheva and Sergey Komolov, Danielle Gamelin and Alexander Gamelin, the U.S. intermediate champions who skate in Mt. Laurel several days a week, and other young couples.

"Last year, we were just off on our own in Princeton, and that can be demotivating," Sinead said. "This year, there are a lot of other teams about us and a really vibrant atmosphere."

The siblings travel home to Scotland in two weeks, and then it's off to show British judges and officials their programs at a small event in Sheffield.

"I don't think Linkin Park would necessarily be [the officials'] first choice, so we're trying to get it together as much as possible," Sinead said. "People will always like something if its good. If they just hear the music, they base the opinion just on taste."

"Depending on how we're training, we might do [the free skate] in parts in Sheffield," John added. "They let us do it that way last season."

The popular team is also scheduled for the Michael Weiss Foundation show on Sept. 26, as well as Disson Skating's "Kristi Yamaguchi and Friends," on Oct. 23 (airing Nov. 1). Their competitive season begins in earnest at the Finlandia Cup in Finland on October 8-11, where they are defending champions. Their fall Grand Prix events are Trophée Eric Bompard and NHK Trophy.