Ice Network

Boston dance party: Which free dances stand out?

Pro dancer Cherry stresses importance of connecting to partner, music
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Brittany Cherry said of all the performances she watched, she was most impressed by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron's free dance. -Mathieu Young/FOX

It's the time of year again: We asked a well-known dancer to check out the free dances of the top ice dance teams heading to the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. For this year's edition, we've enlisted Brittany Cherry, a self-confessed skating fan. Growing up in Utah, Cherry, 21, tried skating as a kid but found her talents better suited for the dance floor.

Cherry is a familiar face to TV viewers. She competed on season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance and appeared as a member of the troupe on Dancing with the Stars. She was also prominently featured in Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" video. Cherry is also a dance teacher and choreographer.

Icenetwork caught up with Cherry shortly after she finished her third Dancing with the Stars Live! tour. As is the case with this piece every year, the dance expert was not asked to offer any technical commentary but instead focused on each team's free dance from a strictly dance perspective.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani

"This was beautiful; it absolutely was breathtaking," Cherry said. "They opened up, and it was so still. There were a few seconds of no movement, and that took me in. The simplicity of their presence, the tone that it was setting, was so beautiful."

She found the routine to Coldplay's "Fix You" dynamic in terms of how the Shibutanis matched their choreography to the music and how they attacked the performance. Cherry also appreciated the blend of light and shade in the program. The synchronization of the side-by-side twizzles was a highlight. She said the team's transitions were seamless and effortless.

"It's a melancholy song that has a story. They did a good job in telling the story," Cherry said. "I found myself getting lost in the performance."

Cherry said she appreciates the challenge that a sister-and-brother team face in finding the right connection in a performance, and she felt the Shibutanis struck a good chord. She also appreciated their interpretation of ballroom technique.

"They have great frame -- great closed-hold moments and movement through their closed hold," she said.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates

Cherry thought the story that Chock and Bates portrayed was beautiful, and that they set the right tone from the onset of the program to Rachmaninoff's "Concerto No. 2." She found it to be a melancholy love story that led to a romantic conclusion.

"I thought their lines were super graceful and beautiful pictures," she noted. "I thought their chemistry and connection were strong between them. A lot of times, I focus on choreography or performance quality. I thought they did a really good job. It was beautiful."

Cherry appreciated how Chock's petite size meshed well with Bates' tall, long lines. Despite the height difference, they matched the speed and intensity of their skating.

"The tricks and lifts move a bit faster, so they look cooler," Cherry said. "I didn't as much get lost in their story with the music, but I found myself paying attention to their connection with each other."

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron

This was Cherry's favorite routine. She even loved Papadakis and Cizeron's costumes, emphasizing that they weren't distracting or over the top, making the couple look clean and well put together.

"I thought this was absolutely stunning. I loved the music; it was a great song choice (to "Rain, In Your Black Eyes" by Ezio Bosso and "To Build a Home" by The Cinematic Orchestra). I loved how their choreography built with the music," Cherry said. "The choreography did the music justice, and they executed it so well. The story they were trying to portray really resonated with the music."

One of their low lifts early in the program made Cherry cheer. She even enjoyed that in some instances, Papadakis and Cizeron were playing out individual moments rather than the same thing. She said they also did a great job at changing their dynamics.

"They had big, powerful movements and they also had subtle, soft moments. The ups and downs of it were so great," she said. "It seemed effortless. I was so in love with the choreography and their connection with each other. I didn't feel like it was being over-performed. It was genuine, and that's what captivates me as a dancer."

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

Cherry loved Weaver and Poje's music choices, "On the Nature of Daylight" by Max Richter and "Run" by Ludovico Einaudi. She found the program to be both powerful and vulnerable, with the woman pouring out her heart and soul.

"I think the choreography was intricate, precise, together, clean, hard, but I didn't feel that emotional connection to the music," she said. "I think the movement matched, but their performance quality wasn't exactly what I felt related to the music."

Cherry did say that Weaver and Poje look connected with each other and that they were the most powerful couple in terms of their physicality. The program progressed seamlessly and the transitions were smooth, but she said it didn't match the music for her.

"I will say, this was probably the most difficult routine that I saw, and it's so impressive with their intricacies and the way they move on the ice," Cherry said. "It was a very beautiful routine, but when I watch a routine, I need to get lost in it, and I can't get lost in it without them getting lost in the music."