Ice Network

Cannuscio, McManus forge own path to success

Delaware-based ice dancers realize dream of making U.S. podium
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Staying true to themselves and having faith in their coaches and their training paid off for Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus this season. -Jay Adeff

The level of ice dance in the United States is so high that making even the slightest move up the rankings can feel like scaling Mount Everest.

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus know that feeling better than anyone.

The team, which trains at the University of Delaware, finished between fifth and seventh at the national level every year from 2012-15. During that time, they continued to gain experience and eliminate the costly errors that were keeping them from breaking through. This season, their hard work was rewarded when the couple finished on the podium, in fourth place, at the 2016 U.S. Championships in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Indeed, the signs that they were an improved team were evident since the beginning of the season. They started out by winning the bronze at the Nebelhorn Trophy and put out two very respectable showings at their Grand Prix assignments, finishing fifth at Skate America and sixth at the NHK Trophy.

Icenetwork talked with Cannuscio and McManus about their recent achievements, their thoughts on their programs this season, classic versus contemporary music and their aspirations for the future.

Icenetwork: In January, you won the pewter medal at the U.S. championships, which represents your highest finish at that event to date. What does this achievement mean to you?

Cannuscio and McManus: We feel incredibly validated. We have always believed in our abilities and our coaches, and to be standing on the championship podium felt like a culmination of all of our hard work and dedication. In a sport and discipline that tends to "follow the trend," we have never strayed from our path. We have always stuck by our coaches and our training facility, and we are now one of the top four ice dance teams in the United States.

Icenetwork: It seemed like you were completely satisfied with both your results and performances in Saint Paul. Did you accomplish everything that you set out to do there?

Cannuscio and McManus: That's exactly what we set out to achieve at the beginning of the season: From the beginning, our goal was to be standing on the podium at the U.S. championships. We felt like we had a good amount of momentum coming into Saint Paul. We were coming off a great international season. We started with a third-place finish in Oberstdorf (Nebelhorn Trophy) in early September and were assigned two Grand Prix events for the first time. That aside, we knew that we had to put out two amazing performances if was wanted to be standing on the podium, and that's exactly what we accomplished.

Icenetwork: What are some things you have improved this season and what are some things you feel you could still do better?

Cannuscio and McManus: We think we definitely improved our lifts this season. Our lift exiting directly into our spin was our coach Christie [Moxley's] idea and something that definitely helped us achieve our fourth-place finish.

We want to continue doing things no one has done before, and being as creative and innovative as possible.

Icenetwork: Both your short and free dance programs are full of soft choreographic movements, and you're able to perform them amid the nervous tension of competition. How are you able to do that?

Cannuscio and McManus: We think it's another testament to our training, and how prepared we were leading into the U.S. championships. We played a big part in the choreography of both programs this season, along with our coach, Karen Ludington. That really helped us to feel connected to every movement we did. Both of these programs were completely ours, and when we went out to compete, we felt like we were sharing our love for our material. That took some of the nerves and tension out of it for us, and it made us feel more comfortable.

Icenetwork: Your short dance is set to Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella, which is demanding material to portray properly on the ice, considering all the technical requirements of ice dance. What went into the creation of this program?

Cannuscio and McManus: The decision to skate to Cinderella was an incredibly easy one. We had almost used it for our free dance the previous season, but there was not enough music to carry through a four-minute program. When the requirements for the short dance came out, we knew the music could be great. It suited the waltz/march rhythms perfectly, and there was a story that we could tell.

The Cinderella waltz sounded like it was almost composed to be a Ravensburger. There were so many highlights within the music that matched perfectly with the highlights of the dance. As for the march section, we decided to be a bit more abstract and use the clock as our inspiration. The precise and sharp motions of the clock hands and the strong ticking in the music gave us so much to work with. It was kind of a perfect storm, with Prokofiev's music and the requirements of the short dance, that all came together for us to portray the story of Cinderella.

Icenetwork: What motivated you to create your free dance, which is set to three Beethoven pieces?

Cannuscio and McManus: Our main theme in searching for music for the free dance was "triumph over adversity." We felt that it was a strong message, and it was one that we ourselves were facing in our own skating. We knew how much was working against us leading into the season, and we wanted so badly to break through (into) that top four. We knew that Beethoven's music and story could get us there.

Just the music alone is so emotional. We really wanted to capitalize on that, as well as tell the story of his life. Our coach, Karen, did so much research on Beethoven throughout the season. Every day she would come into the rink with another story from Beethoven's life. Some were letters he wrote to his friends about dealing with his loss of hearing, and others were musicians of his time recalling his mannerisms as he walked down the street. Between his music and Beethoven himself, we had so much to draw from, and at the end of the day we wanted to do it justice with the program we created.

Icenetwork: Last fall you said that the music of composers like Beethoven lives forever. Some believe that modern ice dance lacks contemporary music. What do you think about that?

Cannuscio and McManus: To that we would say that all music, classical or contemporary, is inspirational, but it's what you can do with that music that makes a program special. Our free dances from the past two seasons have been inspired by classical music. Our goal when skating to anything classical was to put a contemporary twist on it and breathe new life into music that is so familiar to everyone. In our Danse Macabre free dance last season, we used the classical music as inspiration to tell a story of two souls who get to come back to life for one night a year to capture a new soul before the sun rises.

For this season, we used Beethoven's symphonies to portray a story of a composer's struggle with becoming deaf. On the other end of the spectrum, the Shibutanis used music from Coldplay to portray their own story and struggles. So, to us, it's not so much a battle of classical versus contemporary music -- it's how you can use that music to tell a story.

Icenetwork: In your view, in which direction do you see ice dance choreography going, and what role will it serve?

Cannuscio and McManus: We see it heading in a more modern direction. Working on our programs for the past two seasons, we always based our movements more so in a modern dance style than in the classical style. When we are skating, we cannot literally tell you that we are feeling sad or happy, but we have to show you (that) through our body. Having more freedom in your movement gives you a better opportunity to get your emotions across, and we think that will lead to more emotional and impactful performances in ice dance.

Icenetwork: Colin, in addition to keeping a full training schedule, I understand you coach skaters of all kinds for as many as 35 hours a week. How do you manage such a heavy workload?

McManus: While it is a lot of time, I feel like I learn a lot about myself as a skater when I am working with my students. Coaching has always been a passion for me, and it's so difficult for me to call it work. Nothing makes me happier than helping my students achieve their goals and seeing their love for skating. It's incredibly rewarding to be involved with so many skaters across so many disciplines. So, I guess that helps me to manage the amount of time that I am on my skates.

Icenetwork: Anastasia, you love to bake and run your own blog where you post recipes and pictures of your creations. Might we visit you in your own café or bakery one day?

Cannuscio: Maybe! I love baking and have recently started selling some of my goodies. I'm also very passionate about coaching, so I'm trying to grow that business as well. In the future, I hope I can be successful in both of my passions.

Icenetwork: What would you like to achieve in the future?

Cannuscio and McManus: We want to continue to show that you don't have to do the same thing as everyone to achieve your goals. If one thing is true about us, we have always forged our own path. We have amazing coaches, an amazing facility, and we have had amazing results. Being one of the top four ice dance teams in the U.S. was a great victory for all of us, and we hope it brings more recognition to our work and our coaches in the future.