Hubbell, Donohue hip hop their way to first placeJapan's Muramoto, Reed finish second; Smart, Diaz come in third
SALT LAKE CITY - Attempting to bring a dance style born on inner-city streets to ice dance is just the kind of challenge Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue craved.
"We read the rules and said, 'What's the most extreme version of this that we can do?'" Donohue said, after he and Hubbell earned the top score (64.82 points) in the short dance Friday afternoon at the 2016 International Figure Skating Classic. "Because we feel like with all the rules it's getting very hard to be super creative. And if you're allowed to do something, you should do it."
That's why as MC Hammer blares, Donohue slides on his knee in Hubbell's direction, a move that is so unusual, it elicited an audible response from the audience at the Salt Lake Sports Complex.
"That's the problem now," Donohue said of trying to create something new in such a tradition-bound sport. "It's 2016; everyone is sick of foxtrots, sick of tangos, and the judges are coming to us and saying, 'We watch all these great numbers on 'Dancing with the Stars', and we're like, 'But you don't let us do any of that!' I think the rules are changing in a good way. ISU is pushing, but I think it takes time. We as athletes have a responsibility to show what they give us, can be. I think this program really allows for that, and it's in its baby stages."
Not only does the dance style's movement almost inherently conflict with the gliding required in ice dancing, but there was also the more elemental question of how to marry traditional blues with such a modern style of music and dance.
"We struggled to do something very traditional blues, because we really love that dance style, and then to do something modern, and how we can mix those," Hubbell said. "And that's how our coach Mary-France Dubreuil came up with the idea of hip-hop evolution and how it goes through the decades. When we talk to judges and audience members, it's really reaching all demographics, which was our goal."
The short dance program married "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone and then a medley by various hip-hop artists, including "Push it" and "Turn Down for What."
Their choreographer, Sam Chouinard, actually took up ice skating so he'd understand the challenges the dance moves present for Hubbell and Donohue.
"I think it's going to be a really great program throughout the season," Hubbell said, "And kind of wake up the audience and wake up the judges from seeing so many things in a row."
They may also add new dance moves as pop culture presents them.
"If something evolves during the season, we'll add more moves," Hubbell said. "We just really want to bring in a newer generation to the appreciation of skating."
Japan's Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed finished second in the short dance with a score of 61.10, while Spain's Olivia Smart and Adrià Diaz sit in third place with 57.12.
"It feels great," Muramoto said of finishing in second.
Reed said the two had a hard time finding music they liked for the short, but eventually a coach's suggestion of skating to a Ray Charles medley resonated with them.
"It worked perfectly," Reed said. "The choreography fit perfectly. Our goal in the short dance was to hit 60 points; we weren't able to do that last season because we were so new. We knew where we were, and we knew where we can be."
Now they look to the challenges of performing a completely different free dance program Saturday night.
"That will be one of the biggest challenges for us this season," Reed said.
Added Muramoto, "We love it."
It was also a coach who gave Smart and Diaz the idea to dance to Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."
The duo said their coach played it one day at practice and they couldn't get it out of their heads.
"Now doing the program, I literally sing the whole program," Smart said, laughing. "It's like a karaoke game for me. It's something I really, really enjoy skating to."
Diaz said the song elicits strong emotions, and that makes it the perfect choice for dance.
"When you're listening to a song, and you're feeling something inside, you think 'I've got to skate to that one.'"
U.S. team Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson sit in sixth place with a score of 53.60. They had a slight mistake on a hand hold right at the beginning of their performance that was frustrating, but nothing they're worried about.
"It wasn't a timing issue, just a grip issue," Johnson said. "That was a nothing step, right in front of the judges. I wanted to yell, 'Mulligan!'"
Danielle Thomas and Daniel Eaton finished in ninth place with a score of 48.92, and they also had a mistake by Eaton.
"It was a good performance, the first international of the season for us," Eaton said. "It's good to debut here in the home country, but we've got to improve on some stuff. So we'll go home and get to work."