From throws to twizzles: Blackmer takes up danceFormer U.S. junior pairs champion forms new partnership with Aldridge
Often, skaters will search for the right partner for months or years, finding their match only after dozens of tryouts. And sometimes the perfect partner walks through the door before the search even begins.
Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, who won two U.S. junior titles and the 2014 Four Continents bronze medal, split right after the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Aldridge hadn't even started looking for a partner when Matthew Blackmer walked into the gym one day and said, "Hey, do you want to come skate with me?"
The two officially teamed up two months ago, necessitating a switch in disciplines from pairs to dance for Blackmer. They competed their short dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships on Thursday night, scoring 46.78, and they'll perform their free dance Saturday.
Blackmer won the U.S. junior pairs title in 2013 with Britney Simpson. After the pair split up, Blackmer had a brief partnership that went nowhere and then went looking for a new partner, a search that lasted months. He decided to leave his training base in Colorado and return home to Detroit.
"I was having a really tough time being out in Colorado," he said. "It was tough being away from my family for so long, especially when I was struggling and my last partnership fizzled. It was hard because I have so much respect and love for (former coach) Dalilah Sappenfield. Colorado is an incredible training atmosphere, but I wanted to be back with my family."
Switching to dance wasn't Blackmer's plan. He kept looking for a pairs partner and had some tryouts, including some good ones that didn't work out. In March, unsure of his future, he asked Aldridge to skate with him in a show. Since he was very young, Blackmer has been performing in a show at the rink in Ohio where he first started skating.
"I was like, 'If you're not doing anything, do you want to come and help me out and do the show with me?'" he said. "After we did the show, that was when I wanted to skate with Alex. It wasn't so much switching to dance -- it was skating with Alex that was the decider."
Aldridge had been skating alone since her breakup with Eaton and hadn't had any tryouts yet. Blackmer wanted to work on his skating skills, so after the show in Ohio, the two decided to skate together for a while.
"We made a fun show program, and from that moment, I knew we could skate together," Aldridge said. "We have the same work ethic, and it made me realize why I love to skate so much."
The two spent as much as three hours a day stroking and trying different lifts.
"It was so much fun," Aldridge said. "Time passed so fast, and we were like one person on the ice. We had the same drive, the same work ethic, and that's all I've ever wanted in a partner. It was almost like I forgot we were from two different sports. The way our bodies moved was very similar."
Before they could team up for real, the new team had to convince Aldridge's dance coaches that it would work. At first, Angelika Krylova was skeptical that a pairs skater could turn into an ice dancer. After watching Aldridge and Blackmer skate together for a couple of days, she gave the team the go-ahead. They will work with her, Paquale Camerlengo and Natalia Annenko-Deller at the Detroit Skating Club.
"Angelika was like, 'Yeah, of course you're going to skate together!'" Aldridge said.
The decision made, Blackmer had to test up to senior as an ice dancer. He had competed in dance in the past but only as high as the preliminary level. He spent about two months learning all the required dances and then had a marathon session, taking 16 dance tests in one day.
"And then another four, plus the free dance," Blackmer said. "It was like getting a college degree in a day."
"He did amazing," Aldridge said. "One of the test judges said his dance was the cat's meow."
"Some of [the dances] are very simple, and you know how much of a ham I can be," Blackmer admitted. "So in the cha cha, I was biting my lip, winking, shaking my booty. I was sharing the ice with a 6-year-old. But they were all very instructional. It was a crash course in ice dance over two months."
With Blackmer tested up, the team could focus on creating its programs for the season. For the short dance, they will skate to "Masquerade Waltz" and Johann Strauss' "Radetzky March." The free dance will be a tango, to "Oblivion" and "Tango de Amor." Both programs were choreographed by Camerlengo and Krylova.
Because of his pairs background, Blackmer has taken to some aspects of ice dance rather quickly.
"Lifts were easy," he said. "Our size difference is super helpful for that; 'Shortstop' (Aldridge) here isn't much to lift. The dance lifts were mentally a little challenging. Spins were very easy."
The transition has not been without its challenges, however.
"Those darn twizzles, man," Blackmer said, laughing. "And I'd be like, 'That was a three-turn.' And the coach will be like, 'No, it wasn't.' The hardest part was learning to skate in such close proximity to another person. I found it a big challenge to learn to connect my hip with another person. I don't like people in my bubble."
Building up his stamina is something Blackmer has had to work on as well.
"It's mentally exhausting. Pairs takes a lot of physical explosive energy," Blackmer said. "I'm used to doing three or four pairs sessions. Now I do six or seven sessions a day."
Aldridge couldn't be prouder of how quickly her partner has progressed.
"He made so many improvements so fast, I forget he was a pairs skater sometimes," Aldridge said. "Every day he comes in and works his butt off."