That Tango Romantica dance? It’s easier said than done.
What a twisty, ticklish, gnarly, knotty, exacting, formidable dance it is. It’s no picnic, for sure. It’s been a jaw-breaker for ice dancers all season, and Canada’s best will be giving it a go Friday at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.
None of the Canadian teams has aced it this season. But then, hardly anybody in the world has, not even the willowy-limbed French world champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Their best go at it in competition season was at their only Grand Prix, the Internationaux de France, when they earned only a level one on the first second Tango Romantica section in the rhythm dance and a level four on the second.
What gives? Are the members of the technical panels just being particularly naughty and unforgiving, peering down at their subjects from above their spectacles?
The thing is, says Paul Poirier, that these dance sections are particularly long. The rhumba or the Midnight Blues call for only three or four key steps. If you performed them correctly in those dances, judges would give you a “yes” to get higher levels of difficulty.
The Tango Romantica asks for 12 key steps or points. The more key points, the more chance that a team can have a little wobble or find a wrong edge, or have a foot in the wrong place or muff up the timing. “There’s more of a chance for the technical panel to take key points away,” Poirier said.
“This year we believe getting yeses or noes on the key points are not necessarily reflective of someone performing a dance well, skating it nicely, portraying the character of the dance,” Poirier said, looking at the big picture. “I think those are things that are reflected in the GOE [Grade of Execution.] And I think those are the things that in the end are going to separate the teams.”
Papadakis and Cizeron won their only Grand Prix with the season’s highest rhythm dance score: 84.13, well ahead of second-placed Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue of the United States with 80.53. Hubbell and Donohue got levels 3 and 2 at Skate America and 1 and 3 at Skate Canada. Then the eagle eyes of the technical panel members gave them only levels 1 and 2 for their Tango Romantica sections at the Grand Prix Final, which they won, with their highest total score of the season.
Gilles believes that where the technical panel actually sits on the judging podium can make a different in what they see on the ice, whether they are to the right or left, too. (They do have access to replay.] Still, sometimes it’s still all a mystery.
“We’ve had multiple technical specialists come in, and then we’ll go to an event, and those technical specialists are focusing on another thing that we didn’t even think about,” she said. “The hard part is that no one is really on the same page when it comes to this dance, and it really reflects in everyone’s scores.”
The technical panel at one event is judging everybody the same way, she said, so it’s fair, but at the next event, another technical panel focuses on other things. “You can’t really measure up and say what you are doing is or isn’t better than the other team because someone else is looking for something different.”
You won’t find Tango Romantica in any dance books, because legendary Russian coach Elena Tchaikovskaya created it specifically for her ice dance team, Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov who performed it first in 1974, two years before they became the first Olympic dance champions. And then it became a compulsory dance.
It’s a sinuous thing, with curve upon curve upon curve, requiring deep edges, with foot and body movements that must be deliberate and exact, with the correct carriage, with precise timing (oh lord, those half-beats!) and foot placement and correct use of edges at every point. It’s full of complicated steps and turns, twizzles, Choctaws, rockers, the whole nine yards. Every step must start and end in a specific way. It’s a minefield. And all the time, the skaters must maintain an air of dignity bordering on arrogance. And make it look ridiculously easy.
The last time it was skated in its entirety as a complete compulsory dance was at the 2010 Olympics, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, still fuzzy cheeked and precocious, finished second in that portion of the event, then steamed ahead to win the original dance and the free dance and their first Olympic gold medal.
During their season, Gilles and Poirier have faced the whirlwind to find their best tango footing. At the Nebelhorn Trophy, they earned levels 3 and 2 for the tango sections on route to a lofty rhythm dance score of 77.40. But at Skate Canada, Gilles fell against the boards, and their levels were 1 and B, indicating that the section requirements hadn’t been fulfilled. That trip put them behind the eight ball, negating a trip to the Grand Prix Final.
At their other Grand Prix, the Internationaux de France, they finished third with tango levels of 1 and 2. Highly frustrating, considering what they earned at their first event.
With no Grand Prix Final in sight, they hustled off to the Golden Spin of Zagreb, which they easily won with huge marks, including a career best of 79.80 for the rhythm dance, helped with levels 3s on both tango sections.
Weaver and Poje have had only one shot at an international competition this season, as they took a detour to the Thank You Canada tour. At the Autumn Classic International, they received levels of 2 for both of their tango sections. And for this, they earned 76.53 points.
So who is going to win this toss-up between these two teams in Saint John? Gilles and Poirier have long been in Weaver and Poje’s shadow, but constantly nipping at their heels, and this season, their marks are higher – but they’ve had more chances.
“We’re definitely excited to have them [at the Canadian championships,]” Poirier said of the two-time Canadian champions, who have also won silver and bronze medals at world championships. “I think the higher the level of competition, the more exciting it is for everyone.”
Weaver and Poje say they have been showing off their routines every night on the tour, and have had a little help from Virtue and Moir along the way.
But Poirier makes no bones about the fact that one of their goals is to win the Canadian title. “I don’t think that changes whether or not Kaitlyn and Andrew are there,” Poirier said. “We know they are very strong competitors. We do feel that we have the advantage having competed throughout the fall, and after having gotten feedback from a lot of international panels. And we feel we are prepared for this event.”
Still, no matter whether or not the Canadian contingent is as power-packed as it was with Virtue and Moir, Poirier says they look to the strong competitors internationally – and that’s who they will measure themselves against.
“We want to be competing with those top couples, Gabby and Guillaume, Maddy and Zach, so we need to be on our best no matter what,” Poirier said.
So how have the rest of their international competitors been handling the Tango Romantica? It’s been tough for all:
Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia earned two level 3s at Skate Canada, and Internationaux de France, and finally got a four for one of the sections at the Grand Prix Final, at which they finished third.
Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia earned two levels threes at Grand Prix of Helsinki, which they won, and took a step back at home at the Rostelcom Cup, with a B and a level 1. They won that event in a weak field. At the Grand Prix Final, these Russians had another B and a level 3.
Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy, in a breakthrough season, earned two levels 3s at Skate America (finished second in the rhythm dance) And they earned a rare level four at Grand Prix of Helsinki, along with a level 2 – levels they repeated at the Grand Prix Final, where they upset Sinitsina and Katsalapov.
Anybody else get a level four throughout the season? Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro earned a level 4 at Skate America (third), a level 4 and a 3 at NHK, and a 1 and 4 at the Grand Prix Final.
Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu of China earned levels 4 and 3 at Autumn Classic after starting to work with the Patrice Lauzon/Marie-France Dubreuil school in Montreal, but had a much tougher time of it at Skate Canada, where they had a 2 and a 1. And they had a 3 and a 1 at NHK Trophy.
And guess what? Kudos goes to German team Shari Koch and Christian Nuchten who train in Milan with Barbara Fusar-Poli. They seem to be the only team in the world that have earned two levels 4s for tango sections and they did it at the Golden Spin of Zagreb. Gilles and Poirier easily outscored them with much higher GOE.
And yes, Gilles and Poirier are buoyed by their scores this season. Currently, they have the fourth best total score of the season: 201.27, behind Papadakis and Cizeron (216.78), Hubbell and Donohue (205.35) and Sinitsina and Katsalapov (201.37.) Weaver and Poje got 197.27 at the beginning of the season, mind. Seventh best.
Gilles and Poirier also have the third highest rhythm dance score at 79.80 behind Papadakis and Cizeron (84.13) and Hubbell and Donohue (80.53). Hubbell and Donohue, world silver medalists, are only .73 ahead of Gilles and Poirier on the season’s rhythm dance scores. Weaver and Poje’s score ranks them seventh (76.53).
And Gilles and Poirier have the fifth highest free-dance score of 121.47, behind Papadakis and Cizeron (132.65), Stepanova and Bukin (124.94 at Rostecom Cup), Hubbell and Donohue (124.82) and Sinitsina and Katsalapov (124.47). Weaver and Poje are sixth, right behind Gilles and Poirier with 120.74.
Both Gilles and Poirier and Weaver and Poje have outstanding free dances. In Saint John, it will be fought, out on the ice, at Harbour Station. It will be epic.