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There's no time to waste in Canton

World's top three ice dance teams hard at work

In non-ice dance news from Canton: U.S. pair champion Caitlin Yankowskas is in Michigan trying out with Italian skater Matteo Guarise, a former world roller skating champion, but no decision has been made on whether the two will team up this season.
In non-ice dance news from Canton: U.S. pair champion Caitlin Yankowskas is in Michigan trying out with Italian skater Matteo Guarise, a former world roller skating champion, but no decision has been made on whether the two will team up this season. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/08/2011) - Things are humming at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich., with skaters and coaches working out the details of new programs from dawn till dusk.

Some of their students took much-needed short breaks, but after winning all three ice dance medals at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow in late May, coaches Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband have hardly had a day off. The month's delay holding worlds simply didn't allow it.

"Igor and Marina started to get some ideas for the new season before worlds and we had already chosen the music," Charlie White, who won a first-ever U.S. world ice dance gold with Meryl Davis, said.

"I've always liked the film La Strada (The Road) and its soundtrack by Nino Rota. Not many dance teams have skated to this music the last few years. We decided to use it because we want to portray characters in our program, in addition to showing all of the elements. We want to be actors on the ice."

Federico Fellini's 1954 film, which tells the sad story of an impoverished young woman sold by her mother to an itinerant performing strongman, certainly opens up new avenues for expression. The music was most famously used by Finnish skaters Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko during the 1993/1994 season.

Davis and White chose three Latin pieces for the short dance: "Batucadas" by Mitoka Samba, "Life is a Carnival" (the required rumba) by various artists and "On the Floor" by Jennifer Lopez.

"Not everything is ready yet, because we were in Japan for the "The Ice" tour in July, doing eight shows, which was great," White said.

"We're not rushing into the season. We will start [competing] with Skate America in October, plus Cup of Russia a month later. We decided to do only two Grand Prix, plus hopefully the Final, and not three. We were satisfied with the amount of competitions we did last season and don't want to get too stressed."

The U.S. champions' biggest rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who placed second in Moscow, are also hard at work.

Virtue underwent a second surgery last fall to relieve pain in her shins and calves caused by Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome. The surgery led to their withdrawal from the Grand Prix Series and the 2011 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. (Later, they withdrew from the 2011 ISU Four Continents Championships during their free dance, due to Virtue's unrelated thigh injury).

"We are on track and I do not feel any pain, so we're training normally," Virtue said. "And we've started to play golf, just for fun and to relax."

In June, the skaters had a brush with British royalty, meeting Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, during the couple's official visit to Canada.

"I have never met more charming people," Virtue said. "They are so natural. They are really interested in figure skating and know a lot about it."

The Canadians also decided to do two Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard.

"We did not want to sign up for three, and then pull out of the third one because of exhaustion, and then lose money which we would have to pay in that case according to the new rules," Moir said.

The team is using sections of last season's free skate music in their short dance to Rumba and Samba rhythms, including "HipHip ChinChin" by Club des Belugas; "Temptation" (Rumba) by Diana Krall; and "Mujer Latina" by Thalia.

"The Rumba [the required pattern dance in the short dance] is tougher than you might expect because [the rules] specify a difficult leg position," Moir said. "And we have to learn mostly new lifts, so we have to work. Our main goal for the season is certainly to reclaim the world title."

The Canadians' new free dance is set to music from the 1957 musical Funny Face, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. That light-hearted story -- a tale of an intellectual book store clerk coaxed by a photographer into a modeling career -- should offer plenty of contrast to the pathos of La Strada.

After their morning practice on Aug. 5, the Canadians headed to Detroit's airport to fly first to Japan and then to South Korea to participate in three of Yu Na Kim's "All that Skate" shows.

Like Virtue and Moir, world bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are taking a lighter approach. Their new free dance is choreographed to the Glenn Miller music of the 1941 Sonja Henie film Sun Valley Serenade. Selections include "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and the siblings perform a tap dance section in the program.

The new team of Madison Chock and Evan Bates will debut their free dance, set to a jazzy version of "Chopin's Prelude in e minor," soon.

"We are a bit behind schedule, but we will show our programs at the Onyx Figure Skating Challenge [in Rochester, Minn.] in a few weeks," Bates said.

"This [competition] is more than 35 days before Germany's Nebelhorn Trophy, which we hope to take part in. [U.S. Figure Skating requires many skaters to compete their programs 35 days in advance of their first international assignment.] There, we have to earn at least 111.15 points in order to be allowed to skate at any Grand Prix, which is another new rule. We hope for the open [TBA] spot at Skate America."

U.S. junior champions Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely, who won the bronze medal at the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, returned from the Lake Placid Ice Dance Competition determined to make some changes.

"We did not feel very comfortable with our free dance (to "Dark Eyes") right from the beginning of the season and in Lake Placid, so we are looking for new music now," Copely said. "We will keep the short dance to "Mambo Number 5" and the Rumba "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps."

Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, who compete for Lithuania, are also training for September's Nebelhorn Trophy. Their short dance is set to a Shakira medley; their free dance, to a medley of jitter bug, twist and 50's rock n' roll tunes.

Russians Jana Khokhlova and Fedor Andreev suffered a setback when Andreev took a bad fall in June and injured his knee. In a few weeks, his doctor will determine whether surgery is necessary. Zoueva, Andreev's mother and the team's coach, says the team plans to continue and certainly hopes to compete at a senior "B" international this fall as well as Russian nationals.

Joining the ice dancers in Canton, Caitlin Yankowskas, the U.S. pair champion [with John Coughlin] who placed sixth in Moscow, had a week-long tryout with Italian skater Matteo Guarise, a former world roller skating pair champion who trained under Oleg Vasiliev last season. Pair coach Adrienne Lenda confirmed that no decision has been made on the partnership as yet.