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The Inside Edge: Sarah, Drew (try to) go hip-hop

Agosto loving life in the Pacific Northwest

Cam Meekins thinks skaters could pull off using music of hip-hop artists like Drake.
Cam Meekins thinks skaters could pull off using music of hip-hop artists like Drake. (courtesy of Cam Meekins)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(05/23/2012) - Some of you may already know that Drew's younger brother, Cam, is a rising hip-hop star. His new album, unpronounceably titled :) :\ :( , "dropped" on Monday.

"This is the first major national release I've done," he said. "Before this, I was just working out of my house!"

Cam, 19, grew up around figure skating. He was the quintessential "rink rat," spending a lot of time at rinks while Drew trained.

"From a young age, I knew a lot of figure skaters; a lot of my friends were figure skaters," he said. "As I found my own identity, it was something I had ties to. If I meet a new friend who's a figure skater, it's something we could talk about. I've met a few girls who were skaters, and they knew who Drew was. It's a great way to pick up girls!"

Cam graduated from high school last year. Since then, his fan base has been growing impressively, mostly through his Internet presence and social media. He also performs regularly at venues in New England and New York as well as across the country.

The skating community has been buzzing about hip-hop's introduction into our sport next season. We will admit that since neither one of us is an ice dancer nor a rap superstar, we are a bit perplexed with how this merger is going to go down. We enlisted Cam for some help and guidance.

We told him that hip-hop is one of the short dance rhythms which junior ice dancers can pair with blues next season (the other is swing), and asked him to give a hip-hop artist's perspective on how his kind of music might translate to the ice.

"When you told me that I was shocked!" he said. "I'm not a skater, but I think some of my songs are rhythmic enough that you could do something cool to them. I have a song named 'Just To Be Wrong' and it goes back and forth between guitar and drums. I could see someone doing some crazy jumps and things during the drums, and when it calms down, it could be a cool contrast."

We asked Cam if he could suggest some other hip-hop artists skaters might want to listen to.

"I think someone like Drake would be good to skate to -- he takes a lot of influences from different genres," he said. "The thing about hip-hop is the whole genre is about getting inspiration from other kinds of music. A lot of the new stuff is way more musical; you could do a lot of things with that. A lot of these guys are incorporating singing into their stuff now, choruses, and keeping it radio-friendly but still hip-hop."

Being who we are, it didn't take long before our minds wandered to costumes. We all tried to imagine what kinds of costumes ice dancers might come up with to compete to hip-hop.

"I think you'd have to have some jumpsuits, maybe one red and one purple ... yeah, that'd be sick!" Cam said. "Look back at any older videos, Run DMC or the Beastie Boys. Chains would be funny, but I don't know if you'd be whacking people in the face during spins. In the '80s or '90s, people had such style, really flashy. MC Hammer pants would be perfect. And take some Nike Air Force Ones and pull them over the boots."

We followed up with one more tough question: If Cam were to try ice dance, who would he want for a partner?

"I'd go to New York City and hang outside one of those ill ballet studios, and find a really tall, flexible girl and ask her to do it," he said, laughing. "And we'd wear MC Hammer."

Northwest

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto announced their retirement from competition a few months after the Vancouver Olympics. The team skated professionally for a short time, but divergent life plans have pulled them in different directions for now. Belbin has been attending college in Michigan and also is doing a lot of choreography work. Agosto, who turned 30 in January, moved to Lacey, Wash., in September 2010. His long-time girlfriend, Merrie Schultz, is originally from the state.

"She always missed the Northwest," Agosto told us by phone, "And I came and visited and fell in love with it, too. So when I was done competing, it was the perfect time [to move]. I love it here. I love the pace of life on the West Coast, especially being surrounded by mountains and having the ocean here. For someone who grew up on the plains, it's really amazing."

Agosto told us he loves the views of majestic Mount Rainier, which towers above the Olympia area. He has always enjoyed outdoor sports and said he's heavily into mountain biking, a popular sport in the area.

"My girlfriend and I have started doing some races this year. Getting some competitive juice and getting nervous again is pretty exciting."

Last summer, Agosto choreographed for Disney on Ice's "Dare to Dream" show.

"It was an unbelievable experience," he said with enthusiasm. "It's such a huge production, and they asked me to come back this summer and work on their new show, which will be starting up in September. It's a huge undertaking and completely different from what I'm used to -- you have to be so creative, and you have to think outside the box when you add 30 skaters with costumes and props and lighting. I'm really looking forward to it."

Agosto is coaching as well as choreographing. His adult team, Anna Li and William Eastler, won the championship dance title last month at the 2012 U.S. Adult Championships.

"I've started coaching a lot," said Agosto, who works out of the Sprinker Recreation Center and in the Olympicview Arena in Seattle. "I have a novice dance team, and I work with a lot of singles skaters, working on their programs, trying to get them to skate better and emote more and put more energy into what they're doing. It's nice to put my knowledge to use. I used to say I never wanted to coach, but I watched people and thought, 'I know what they need to do!' It's kind of like a puzzle, putting it together."

He told us that Schultz graduated a year ago with a degree in natural resource management and wildlife ecology.

"She's also pursuing becoming a game warden," he said. "She's very passionate about science and the environment, and doing as much conservation as she can."

Agosto is still considering going back to school, possibly to pursue a degree in sports medicine or biomechanics.

"I've always been interested in sports medicine, so when I think about school, I'm thinking about medical school, which is so overwhelming," he said. "The closer I get, the more it seems far-fetched. As much as I can learn about biomechanics, and sports medicine, it will make me a better coach, give me a better understanding of how the body works, to optimize what we do on the ice, prevent injuries and help skaters have more longevity. I feel like I have learned a lot about my own biomechanics because of all the injuries I've had."

In his spare moments on the ice, Agosto likes to try new things. He said he put some freestyle blades on his skates a couple weeks ago and did some jumps.

"It's fun to experiment with some things I didn't have time to do!" he said. "My Axel is consistent, and my double sal is huge; I've got to learn to pull in. My goal is double Axel.

"On the [Stars on Ice] tour, if Evan [Lysacek] was having a down day, he'd ask me to jump, and that would cheer him right up."

We asked Agosto if he misses skating with Belbin.

"I absolutely miss it," he said. "I miss performing. I love performing. I feel like coaching is performing a bit, because I'm trying to inspire my students, so I have to perform a little over the top. I hope my performing days are not over."

Agosto says that although he has been a little out of touch with the world of competitive ice dance, he keeps track of his old friends and training mates from the Detroit area. He is thrilled by the continuing success of North American ice dancers.

"It's amazing," he said. "It's fantastic. I'm so happy when I see all these great skaters, my friends and training mates and competitors, having all this success and rewards for all the hard work they're putting out there. Every time those guys get on the ice, they're pushing the limits of what's humanly possible. It's nice to see the rest of the world trying to keep up with us -- finally!"

Agosto will be at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash., for Skate America in the fall; he is the honorary chairman of the event.

"I'm really excited about Skate America," he said. "I'll be trying to make sure all the skaters have what they need, to make it run smoothly. I want to be as involved as I can -- we're trying to figure out how to include the local clubs -- I'm answering questions about what I've liked in the past. Once the event is underway, I might be able to host some things, be a part of the event on the ground."

Agosto enjoyed taking part in the press conference announcing the site selection for the event.

"I felt a little out of place," he said. "I was up there with all these elected officials, wearing my suit."

Good cause

The annual Skate for Hope benefit is shaping up to be a great event. The cast includes Ashley Wagner, Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon, Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, Caitlin Yankowskas and Joshua Reagan and many others (watch the promo here). The show, which benefits breast cancer research and awareness, is at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, June 16 at 5:00 p.m. For more information, visit skateforhope.org.

Word up, peace out! (still working on our hip-hop lingo)

Sarah to the Drew

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