Monday, January 30, 2012

US Nats: Championship Dance

The competition is over and not only do we know the winners, but we even know the World Team and even who is 3rd Alternate for 4CC (pronounced Four Continents). So I hope this isn’t too anti-climactic.

The big story in Dance was “who will come in third?” Unlike with Ladies, Men and Pairs, we actually have three slots on the World team and the reigning Gold and Bronze world medalists skate for the US. So clearly they are going to end up in 1st and 2nd respectively leaving only one slot for Worlds undecided. And, with several new teams in the mix, it really is undecided.

I now need to make an aside to state: who reading this ever thought that the day would come when the US had only two slots for Mens, Ladies and Pairs but three for Dance? As much as I love dance, and as much as I predicted great things for David &White and the Shibutanis back when I first saw them skate, I am raising my hand right along with you.

Back to the competition…

Short Dance

For the Short Dance, the Seniors also do a Latin dance but they do the Rhumba for their Pattern Dance part and their step sequence is different too. The Rhumba is a very hard dance and this was obvious when even the top teams weren’t getting Level 3 or 4s for both patterns.

Which reminds me: I’m not sure I’m on board with the whole “levels for Pattern Dances” way of scoring Short Dances. For the Compulsory Dances back when they were a part of the competition (and weren’t called Pattern Dances), they were scored completely on GOE for each section. The dumb thing about scoring that way is that the dances were divided into uniform pieces and so for some dances one piece might be much harder than another and have two highlight moves while another section might have no highlight moves. But the weird thing about giving Pattern Dances levels is that it’s very binary. You either get a Yes or No. There are no shades of gray. So, if the Lady doesn’t put her foot down in exactly the right place with the correct edge and lean and the guy does, the team gets no level for that highlight move. But then they will also get a low Grade of Execution (GOE). So isn’t this double-dipping?

Oh well, I didn’t like the old way of scoring either. Maybe it’s just the nature of a Pattern Dance that there is no natural way to score it. In fact, this new way of scoring reminds me more of how we judge dance tests. There are certain moves that have to be performed to a certain level or the dance doesn’t pass. So that is like the levels. But you also pass or fail the dance based on overall quality. So that is like GOE. Or something.

I have to think about this some more.

My favorite Short Dance had to be the Shibutanis. I first became a fan of theirs back when they skated Novice. I can’t remember if they won that year or not but I could see they had “it” whatever that means and I’ve been following them ever since. Without detailed studying of the protocols, I would have put their dance in first, in fact. Can you imagine the controversy that would have caused?!

I’m also a big Davis & White fan. I first saw them the year they won Junior Dance. It was at a practice session in the big arena. My friends on the East Coast, who had seen them skate for much longer, had been raving about them so I had planned to take particular note of them. But before I could do that, they twizzled right down the rink right in front of the boards right in front of me and they were so fast and in such sync that I just about died.

I love twizzles. They turn me on the way a nice butt does on a guy. Yes, twizzles are sexy! And Davis & White’s are the sexiest! In the world…

In addition to “who will come in third?” the other big buzz was about Samuelson and Bates. Who are no longer Samuelson & Bates but Samuelson & Gillis and Chock & Bates. Their breakup was surprising and there was an under-current of bad blood to it, at least among the fans. Plus, it seems like a team that probably would have come in third broke up to skate with people with whom they couldn’t hope to come in third. So it was all very drama-filled especially on the internet. (Okay, everything is drama-filled on the internet.)

I guess I was on Samuelson’s side though only marginally. So of course I wanted Samuelson & Gillis to place over Chock & Bates. I actually thought they should have in the Short Dance. But not by much. In both cases, because of the Pattern Dance part of the program, it was extremely obvious that one partner in each team had much better edges and skating skills than the other. Since I tend to watch the girl and not the boy, I think that prejudiced me more against Chock & Bates. They did score over 2 points higher and were in 5th to Samuelson & Gillis’ 8th place.

But I was unhappy with both pairings, really. I didn’t want to be. Samuelson & Bates are no more so I wanted their breakup to result in two teams I could root for. That wasn’t happening after the Short Dance. I was bummed.

In terms of the “who will be in third?” drama, Madison Hubbell, who used to skate with her brother, and Zachary Donohue were in third while Kriengkrairut & Giuliette-Schmidt (that’s KringKYru & Jee-u-LET-tee Schmidt, by the way. Or at least I think it is) were in fourth separated by slightly over a point. I preferred Kriengkrairut & Giuliette-Schmidt’s Short Dance because I thought it was slinkier and more Latin.

This was surprising to me as there is a general belief among the fans that Girl Hubbell and Boy Hubbell needed to stop skating together because she’s too hot and that’s creepy in a brother and sister team and I have to say, the fans weren’t necessarily wrong on this. But I thought Kriengkrairut & Giuliette-Schmidt had more chemistry on ice than Hubbell & Donahue. Madison just comes across as very All American, Corn-Fed Farm Girl to me. Or maybe it’s because they are a new team and are still working on the little details that portray chemistry.

Plus, at some point in the dance, she developed a wedgie and then she went into a lift right in front my row and, without going into a lot of embarrassing details, I was traumatized by what was shoved in my face. It’s been days since the Short Dance and I’m still traumatized thinking about it, to be honest.

And speaking of siblings, there seem to be a lot in Dance. For example, Todd Gilles had a sister who ice danced and another who skates singles. Neither was at Nationals this year though (Dance Sister skates for Canada, in fact.) But we did have the Cannuscio sisters skating here and one of them is skating with a Lorello, the older brother to the Lorello twins I mentioned in my Novice Dance report.

And speaking of this team, when they twizzle, they don’t look in sync to me even when they are. I puzzled on this a bit trying to figure out what I saw in technical terms but I never did figure it out. And speaking of the Cannuscio sisters, Cannuscio & McManus did straight leg twizzles and they were fast and so close together that the audience held their breath hoping they wouldn’t whack each other with their skate blades. Wow!

The only other team that stood out to me was Lichtman & Copely who had great music and I enjoyed their dance. They finished ninth because the enjoyment factor only gets you so far in what is, after all, a sport.

Free Dance

In this portion of the dance, there are many lifts and no compulsory steps. At least that seems to be the main differences between the Short Dance and the Free Dance as both have steps and twizzles. (I could do without so many lifts in fact.)

Okay, you can do a “couple” spin too. But just one. Technically they are called Spins or Dance Spins, but I think of them as a Couple Spin because the couple is spinning around each other and many of the positions are not possible without another person to hang onto. It’s not like the Side-by-Side spins you see in Pairs. (But it’s exactly like the Pairs Spins you see in Pairs.)

Lifts have to be held for 6 seconds or less and there were a lot of deductions for over long lifts. One lift can be long but it has to really be two lifts stuck together and each section gets a level and a GOE mark. This “combo” lift can be held for a whopping 10 seconds. Extended lifts is the most common deduction in ice dance because of the short time allowed for them.

Because it’s the “free” dance, we saw every kind of music and every kind of costume. But by this point in the competition, we had heard a lot of tangos and a lot of the tangos were to a piece of music I call the Ear Worm Tango because it sticks in my head and drives me a bit mad. (Technically, there are two different Ear Worm Tangos, one of which is being used in a current Diet Pepsi commercial thus increasing its ear worm tendency.)

Hoptman & Filchenkov were up first and also were the first that day to skate to the Ear Worm tango. Zuber & Herring were next and their music included Alanis Morisette. I would say this means figure skating is getting edgier but I suspect it really means I’m getting old. Schmucher & Munday has excellent costume and did better in the free dance compared to the Short Dance, but not enough to change their final standings. All four teams stayed in 11th-14th place and in the same order they finished the Short Dance.

In the second group, we had the 6th through 10th place finishers of the Short Dance and many of these dances were quite enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed Lichtman & Copely who skated to Austin Powers and he had on Austin Power’s Blue outfit and she had Day Glo knee-hi boot covers. I did noticed some technical issues like them using crossovers to build up speed and then visibly slowing over the element that followed but, just like the crowd, I enjoyed the dance. If I am remembering correctly, the crowd booed their marks. Their Free Dance scores did drop them from ninth to tenth, but I think that was mostly due to a deduction for an extended lift.

We also had a James Bond dance from Olson & Cowan who came in 6th in the Free Dance but stayed in 7th place. Cannuscio & McManus came in 7th in the Free Dance but stayed in 6th. Cannuscio & Lorello moved from tenth to ninth and Samuelson & Gillis stayed in eight. I think their Free Dance was designed to show off her strengths and minimize his weaknesses and it worked for me better than their Short Dance. Still not feeling the team. She’s still a Goddess though and probably always will be.

The last group skaters started with Chock & Bates.

As with Samuelson & Gillis, Chock & Bates’ dance was better constructed to play to the strengths of both teams and the difference in quality between them and Samuelson & Gillis and the extra time to prepare (they teamed up first) was more apparent. I had no quibbles with the placements today (even before I realized Samuelson & Gillis had a deduction for an extended lift) and with a difference in score of around 7 points, the end results would have been the same even if the Short Dance has been scored the way I thought it should be.

Next I got to see Davis & White’s Die Fledermaus in person. I’d seen it on TV and was underwhelmed. In fact, I think I ended up becoming distracted half way through and went back to playing with my iPad. But in person? It’s amazing! The first part is a waltz and their waltz feel is the best I’ve ever seen. The whole dance really felt like a couple dancing at a ball. I was swept off my feet!

Then we had the 4th and 3rd place teams. I was really hoping Kriengkrairut & Giuliette-Schmidt would move up to third place but they did not.  They and Hubbell & Donahue did programs with a similar feel and skated one after the other which probably didn’t help. At least nothing traumatic happened this time. (But I hope someone clues Madison in and they make some alterations to the SD dress before 4CCs. Or move that lift farther from the boards.)

The final skaters of the night were the Shibutanis and I have to say I was not feeling their Free Dance. It seemed kind of flat considering they were skating to Big Band music which is peppy and foot-tapping by definition. I had heard they had reworked their Short Dance a lot since the Grand Prix so maybe the Free Dance just needs a tune-up. They rightly stayed in second place though.

So that was Dance.

Wrap-up

Looking forward to Worlds, I feel compelled to point out that neither the Shibs, nor Davis & White got all level 4s on everything in the Free Dance. If Davis & White expect to retain their World title with Virtue & Moir breathing down their necks, they need to get every point possible. So that’s something I am assuming they are working on.

The same with the Shibutani siblings. There is a strong belief among hard core skating fans that they only came in third last year because stronger teams faltered. So getting level 4s on their twizzles – which are truly world class – and their diagonal step sequence, might make the difference between retaining their title or losing it. Of course, there are other factors as well (getting all levels 4s in the Short Dance didn’t put them over Davis & White who did not) and their coaches are pretty savvy about such things so I’m sure they’ll do what they can between now and then.

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