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Aldridge, Eaton happy to dance the blues

Detroit team takes first step to second U.S. junior title

Another U.S. junior dance title appears to be in the offing for Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton.
Another U.S. junior dance title appears to be in the offing for Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2013) - Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton may have skated to "Down Home Blues" on Tuesday evening at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but they were all smiles after their smooth and energetic performance, which vaulted them to a 2.44-point lead.

"That was probably our best performance ever of this dance," Eaton, 20, said.

"For us to be so happy after a short dance is huge," Aldridge, 18, said.

Skating to blues and swing rhythms, the defending U.S. junior champions nailed both of their blues patterns, earning Level 4s for smooth, well-matched steps. Their twizzles and rotational lift also rated Level 4, while their midline steps gained Level 3.

All told, they notched 66.11 points.

"The blues patterns have been particularly difficult for us; we haven't gotten the levels we've wanted, so that was a big goal for us coming here," Aldridge said. "We've been working those blues Choctaws all day, every day. It was definitely one of the goals, and I think we achieved that."

Aldridge and Eaton, the reigning world junior bronze medalists, won both of their Junior Grand Prix (JGP) events this fall and placed third at the Junior Grand Prix Final. While their free dance to Fiddler of the Roof has scored well, they have been challenged by some of their short dance results.

"The short dances this season, both junior and senior, are really hard," said Massimo Scali, one of the team's coaches at Detroit Skating Club. "They worked to get the key points with the Choctaw and edges, to get the levels [on the blues patterns], and worked on the floor a lot with ballroom teachers on swing and blues dances."

Aldridge and Eaton, who train under a team of coaches including Scali; Pasquale Camerlengo and his wife, Anjelika Krylova; Natalia Annenko-Deller; and Liz Punsalan-Swallow are in the unusual position of trying to earn a second consecutive U.S. junior title. Staying in the junior ranks was a decision the skaters and their coaching team made together, with input from U.S. Figure Skating.

"Their first thought was to move to senior, but we said, this is the time for you to raise [ISU ranking] points, which you need to get Grand Prix assignments when you move up to senior," Camerlengo said. "After the Olympic season, a lot of teams will retire, and it will be a great start for your career. We always think about the long term."

While Aldridge and Eaton went the traditional route, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter went out on a limb, and maybe gnawed off an arm or leg or two in the process.

The 2012 junior bronze medalists staggered and lurched out their parts as hip-hop zombies in their creative short dance, set to "Zombie Blues" and "Ramalama."

The unconventional approach worked: Not only did McNamara and Carpenter gain four Level 4 elements, including the two blues patterns, but they infused the routine with humor and energy, earning 63.67 points.

"We really wanted to do something different, kind of out there," Carpenter, 16, said. "We like to be diverse, and it was perfect for that."

"We never really thought about [hip hop] before, but once we discovered it, it was a lot of fun," McNamara, 13, said. "A professional hip-hop dancer gave our coaches a couple of moves, and then they put the program together."

The team's coaches, Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov, came up with the idea to help their skaters stand out in the crowded ice dance ranks.

"We wanted something different from the others," Kiliakov said. "We've worked hard to create a very nice image for them, to be recognizable. People remember their dance, and it stays with them."

"I found hip hop is a little hard to choreograph; there is a demanding beat, and you can't follow it," Novak said. "To have them work on floor with the hip-hop teacher was very good, and we tried to incorporate what they did on the floor, on to the ice."

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who train alongside Aldridge and Eaton at the Detroit Skating Club, sit third after a blues and swing routine that made full use of their deep edges and neat, snappy feet. Like the top couples, they earned Level 4s for their two blues sequences and lift, but their midline step sequence gained just Level 2.

Still, they earned 60.72 points.

"We came into this competition with no expectations, especially being new, and we just left it all out on the ice," Baker, 19, said.

"We're just thrilled with how everything is going," Hawayek, 16, said. "Every competition we've had, we've seen loads of progress. We have such a great friendship and connection. I hope everybody saw that today."

The team, together just seven months, has gelled quickly, winning a silver medal at JGP Germany and placing fifth at JGP Turkey. Baker, son of four-time British ice dance champion Sharon Jones and Steve Baker, a former British singles skater, moved to Detroit full time in June to team with Hawayek.

He won the 2010 novice bronze medal with former partner Joylyn Yang, who is now retired.

"If you had asked me this time last year, are you moving to Detroit, I would have said no," Baker said. "But I had a partner after Joylyn, and it didn't work out too well, so in April I connected with Anjelika and Pasquale. I knew that to be the best, I had to be around the best.

"I'm so fortunate to have such a great partner. I have dinner with the Hawayeks once or twice a week, and I had Thanksgiving with them. I feel like I am part of the family."

"He is a part of our family," Hawayek said.

Yet another team from DSC, 2012 novice champions Holly Moore and Daniel Klaber performed an entertaining short dance to music from Grease and stand fourth with 58.39 points.

Reporter's notebook: Camerlengo is in close touch with Kaitlyn Weaver, who suffered a training injury to her ankle in mid-December and underwent surgery in Toronto on Dec. 18. Weaver and partner Andrew Poje were forced to withdraw from the 2013 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, but could still be named to the Canadian world team for the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, in March.

"I just saw her two days ago," he said. "She is in rehab right now; the doctor is quite surprised about her progress, and her mental [outlook] is very strong. She is really working hard to be in London for worlds.

"She is already starting some sporting activities, like swimming, and her flexibility is coming back. At the end of this month, we're going to have more [of a frame of] reference to know the complete time for recovery and when she can go back on skates."

While Camerlengo still has hopes Weaver and Poje can compete, he will not risk the skater's health.

"I don't want to rush, because next season is very important, and I don't want to jeopardize her safety," he said. "We need to think about next season (the Olympics) and if there is any risk to compromise it, I would be the first person to say no."