Who Needs a Partner? Solo Ice Dancers Shine at National Championship Event

By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to U.S. Figure Skating Online

The podium for the bronze event at the National Solo Dance Championships.
Photo by Jason Frisch

(9/30/09) - The first National Solo Dance Championships were held Sept. 26, 2009, at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo., with participation of 33 skaters from all over the United States. This competition was developed from ideas presented by figure skating officials Janna Blanter and Jack Curtis and U.S. Figure Skating's Developmental Committee as a means to encourage more figure skaters to give ice dancing a try.

To qualify for the competition, certain compulsory ice dances had to be passed before the entry deadline date. Skaters were permitted to compete at one level above their test level. In order to compete in the bronze event, skaters had to have passed the preliminary dance test. Silver-level skaters were required to complete the bronze dance test, and gold-level competitors had to have the silver dance test behind them.

The 6.0 judging system was used at the event. There were no age restrictions; adults competed against children, and men and boys competed against women and young girls. Instead of the traditional posting of results, competitors had to wait for a special on-ice awards ceremony that took place in the late afternoon on the day of the competition. A podium was set up at center ice, and participants lined up and waited in anticipation to hear their name called. Trophies were presented to the top four finishers in each category.

The 2009 U.S. solo gold dance champion is Jessica Mancini of Castle Rock, Colo., and the Broadmoor Skating Club. The 13-year-old competed and medaled in the 2008-09 qualifying season at the Midwestern Sectional Figure Skating Championships in Sugar Land, Texas. Shortly before the 2009 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships, Mancini and her partner went their separate ways. The young ice dancer has hoped to find another partner, but none have come her way as of yet. Instead, Mancini has worked hard on her solo ice dancing skills, and that hard work paid off as she won the Kilian and Westminster Waltz, the dances chosen for the gold-level solo championship.

U.S. solo gold dance champion Jessica Mancini
Photo by Jo Ann Schneider-Farris
"I was thrilled to win," Mancini said. "I was also thrilled to share the podium with three great male ice dancers!"

Second place went to Mark Jahnke of the Seattle Skating Club, third to Brett Ryan of the San Diego Figure Skating Club and fourth to Justin Ly of the Centennial Figure Skating Club.

Jahnke and Ryan left their busy lives as college students to be at the event, both flying into Colorado Springs the night before the competition. Darlene Gilbert, a former U.S. ice dancing champion, Worlds competitor and international and national dance coach, traveled from southern California just to be at the competition. The skaters' efforts to make it to the event and Gilbert's presence there showed how much enthusiasm there was for this pilot competition.

"Ice dancing has become so very expensive," Gilbert said. "The National Solo Dance Championships have given ice dancers of all ages something to do without the expenses involved in traveling to partner searches or relocating. I was delighted to be a part of this first national solo dance event."

Justin Ly, an adult figure skater and competitive ballroom dancer, is a radiologist based at the United States Air Force Academy Hospital in Colorado Springs. Ly did freestyle as a kid and started ice dancing in 2006. He is working on his international dances.

"It was really fun to compete against little girls and college students," Ly said.

Ice dancer Ashleyann Carlson, a spectator at the event, said the following about Ly's performance: "Anyone who thinks solo dance is not dancing hasn't seen Justin Ly perform. I thought I was witnessing a reincarnated Fred Astaire tap dance his way across an MGM movie set."

Bronze-level bronze medalist Alice VanDeveer (right) with her coach, Karen Kight
Photo by Michelle VanDeveer
Carlson was impressed with the quality of skating in general.

"The solo dancers in the lower individual dance events all looked like they were in heaven. You could not have knocked the smiles off their faces,” Carlson said. “This new competition was an absolute delight to watch."

Paolina Bushur, of the Broadmoor Skating Club, won the silver-level event with first-place scores from all five judges on both the Fourteenstep and Tango, the two dances chosen for the competition. Bushur competed during the 2008-09 season in juvenile dance at both the Midwestern Sectional and U.S. Junior championships, but her partner decided to leave ice dancing to concentrate on singles. Bushur had hoped to find a new partner, but, like Jessica Mancini, one has not come her way.

"My ice dancing coach, Patti Gottwein, suggested I enter the National Solo Dance Championships since I've worked hard on my solo dance skills during the past year. It was really fun,” Bushur said. “Of course, I was thrilled when my name was called as the winner. I couldn't believe I was standing on top of a national podium! All my hard work paid off!"

The bronze event was won by Vivian Luo of the Pasadena Figure Skating Club. Luo won both the Cha Cha and the Hickory Hoedown.

Some of the parents of the bronze-level competitors said that the National Solo Dance Championships have given their children something else to do. It's difficult for every skater interested in ice dancing to find a partner, and this event gives a certain level of prestige to solo ice dancing and challenges skaters to work hard at their solo skating skills.

Coach Stefano Stangalini summed up the National Solo Dance Championships as a major step for figure skating, saying, "Thanks to Janna Blanter and all the people involved in making this type of event a reality. In Europe, we have had this for a long time, and it is such a great stage for new talents to be discovered and for partnerships to be formed. I'm so glad to see it becoming a reality in the United States!"

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