Ice Network

Volozhinskaya pours emotion into teaching style

Choreographer shares insights with top skaters, including Daniel Samohin
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In addition to working with top figure skaters, Olga Volozhinskaya enjoys spending time with sons Anton (left) and Nikita, and husband Sergey. -courtesy of Olga Volozhinskaya

The most vibrant time in choreographer Olga Volozhinskaya's skating career was when she skated professionally. Freed from the constraints of amateur competition and the politics that often surrounded it, professional skating allowed her to express herself on a larger stage.

With former ice dance partner Alexander Svinin, Volozhinskaya toured Europe with the Russian All-Stars, embracing any role presented to her.

"[Tatiana Tarasova] gave me all leading parts," Volozhinskaya said. "I could be a witch, I could be a swan or I could be Carmen; I was just hungry to perform. It was 10 years of fantastic, phenomenal experience with [Tarasova] being a brilliant choreographer and director. The whole acting part was easy for me."

Over the past two decades, Volozhinskaya has been based in the United States, bringing all the experience she gained as a performer and putting it into her work with competitive skaters. After spending many years in Detroit, Volozhinskaya relocated to Florida two years ago. Her choreography and styling have been seen in the programs of various skaters, including Todd Eldredge, Jennifer Kirk, Surya Bonaly, Alena Leonova and Maria Butyrskaya. She's also working with Israeli skater Daniel Samohin, the 2016 world junior champion.

"I'm always coming from a theatrical perspective," Volozhinskaya said. "My background in Russia comes from the fact that I finished the theater academy. Acting is number one for me in presentation. When I'm choreographing programs, I'm always thinking about what you want to present, what you should imagine and who you are. Don't just do the moves -- do like a little movie on the ice."

Before beginning the process of movement on the ice, Volozhinskaya talks to skaters during the choreography process in order to get inside their heads. The goal is to get each skater to portray characters that give their programs a dynamic, lively and emotional quality. She also encourages them to listen carefully to the music and follow it in their skating.

"It's the approach of acting," she noted. "They're going from the character and the theme. This is the first step. Then it goes into the skating movement. Every person is unique. One person does one move beautifully, while a different person does another one. How can this be incorporated in a program so they look their best? I need to find the key to how to make them look great. It's very personal."

Born in Tallinn, Estonia, Volozhinskaya started skating for health reasons. In time, she was invited to skate with an ice dance group run by renowned Russian coach Elena Tchaikovskaia, who spotted Volozhinskaya at a competition and saw her artistry. There, she was paired with Svinin.

Volozhinskaya and Svinin competed under the old Soviet system. While they were in the shadows of 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, the duo still managed to impress audiences with their charisma and stylish programs. Today, Svinin is coach to Bukin's son, Ivan Bukin, and his partner, Alexandra Stepanova.

For Volozhinskaya, recalling her time at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo doesn't bring about the happiest of memories. Despite delivering clean programs, she and Svinin finished seventh, as two other Soviet teams earned spots on the podium. They competed internationally for two more seasons before joining the show skating world.

While touring with the Russian All-Stars, Volozhinskaya and Svinin were invited to a professional competition in Barcelona, a moment Volozhinskaya cites as the highlight of her skating career.

"It was six years after Sarajevo and we met pretty much all the people we were competing with at the Olympics," she said. "And we finished second after [Jayne] Torvill and [Christopher] Dean. In that professional championship, there were no politics; it was very personal. Carlo Fassi gave us a 10. It was the best!"

This season is Volozhinskaya's third working with Samohin, a skater she believes is capable of putting together a tremendous campaign.

She said, "I want to surprise everybody with his programs. He's been an absolutely phenomenal student."