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Kerrs aim for deeper edge

Team excited to perform lindy hop this season

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr.
Sinead Kerr and John Kerr. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(07/15/2008) - When ice dancers were faced with the challenge of creating a country or folk original dance for the 2007-08 season, many scratched their heads in confusion about what to perform. The opposite was the case for British ice dance champions Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who knew they would perform a traditional Scottish dance in tribute to their homeland. They even breathed a sigh of relief when updated rules allowed John to wear a kilt.

"If you're going to do your national folk dance, then your national country outfit is kind of essential," says Sinead. "What we were wearing was totally authentic. We were happy with the outfits and happy with the reaction." The dance can be found on YouTube, and regardless of the language of the commentary, it's impossible to miss the enthusiasm in the commentators' voices.

Sinead, 29, and John, 28, appeared on the international scene during the 2003-04 season and immediately received recognition for their innovative approach. After the 2006 Winter Olympics, they decided they needed to make a change in their training in order to make further progress. They moved to the U.S. to train with two-time Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Platov. Currently based at the Princeton Sports Center in Monmouth Junction, N.J., the Kerrs are happy to be Platov's only team.

"We're very much used to training by ourselves all our career," says Sinead. For several years, they mostly worked without a coach in Scotland and traveled to Manchester, England to work with Joan Slater.

They enjoy having the virtually undivided attention of their coach, especially now that they've forged such a close bond with Platov. "It's an understanding of one another, what each other needs and how each other acts," Sinead notes. "The little nuances. Now we've got a great, great connection with him."

Last season was a major glide forward for the Kerrs, who finished sixth at Europeans and eighth at worlds. They took two weeks vacation after worlds and then returned to New Jersey for hard training. When Platov headed to Ukraine to visit his family in June, the Kerrs went to Scotland, where they took a family vacation and then trained alone in Edinburgh. Since returning to U.S. about two weeks ago, they've completed choreography on their original dance and free dance for the 2008-09 season. Always known for their cool programs, this year their focus is on upping their technical proficiency.

"That has been a difficult process for us, because I suppose mentally we've always had a bit of an artistic mindset," Sinead explains. "We liked to be a bit free to do what we want to do. It's kind of hard being tied down by restrictions sometimes.

"This year, we're trying to focus on being more competitive," she continues. "You can only get yourselves so far with innovation. To get that bit farther, to beat the ones at the top, if you're really serious about getting to the top in the world, then you've got to really start thinking on a more technical way. More, 'How can we actually beat these people?' rather than, 'How can we entertain the audience?' which is what we normally think about. Getting those two things together is sometimes pretty tough, but I think we can do that this year. We're going to focus on having a bit more competitive mindset to go alongside our innovative side this year."

For this year's original dance, teams can choose music of the 1920s, 30s or 40s. The Kerrs have chosen the 40s, and will perform a lindy hop-style program to music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. They've been working both on and off-ice with world swing champion Robert Royston.

They will not reveal the music for the free dance, but will say it's influenced by contemporary dance. "We wanted to come up with something this year that is going to showcase the fact that we've been working on what the judges perceive to be our weaknesses, which was a bit more depth to our skating," says Sinead. "We've picked a slightly slower piece, something that can hopefully show off edges and really free flowing skating, because that's what we've been working on a lot."

Their Grand Prix events are Skate America and Trophée Eric Bompard. The goal is to medal at one or both and carry that upward momentum into Europeans and worlds. Their parents will definitely be at worlds in Los Angeles (they went there once on vacation and are dying to go back), and Sinead and John are looking forward to sticking around the West Coast for a week after the competition. "Have a chill out there," she says.

In between the Grand Prix circuit and Europeans, the Kerrs have another very important competition -- the British Championships. "One of our secret aims is to beat Torvill and Dean's record as to how many times we can win it," Sinead says. The legendary British ice dancers won six consecutive titles 1978-83 and then a seventh title when they reinstated in 1994. This season, the Kerrs will go for their sixth consecutive title.

"We will never beat their international record," Sinead says, "but maybe we can beat them nationally."