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"Burn the Floor" inspires ice dancers

Broadway production shows skaters how to melt the ice

Former skater turned ballroom dancer Karina Smirnoff and fianc&eacute; Maksim Chmerkovskiy are performing in <i>Burn the Floor</i> on Broadway.
Former skater turned ballroom dancer Karina Smirnoff and fiancé Maksim Chmerkovskiy are performing in Burn the Floor on Broadway. (ABC Television)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(08/13/2009) - It's two hours of non-stop, high energy dancing. Billed as "the international ballroom dance spectacular," Burn the Floor was first conceived as a special performance for Sir Elton John's 50th birthday party in 1997. In 1999, it premiered in the United Kingdom as a stage show and various versions have toured the world since then.

The latest incarnation of Burn the Floor, a blend of Latin and standard dance, is currently on Broadway. One of the show's producers is Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba. The show is directed and choreographed by Jason Gilkison, who has choreographed for both the Australian and U.S. versions of So You Think You Can Dance. For the first three weeks of the run, the special guest stars were former skater turned ballroom dancer extraordinaire Karina Smirnoff and fiancé Maksim Chmerkovskiy of DWTS.

Ice dancers from the New York/New Jersey area have been eagerly checking out the show and have weighed in with icenetwork.com about their opinions and thoughts on what they could learn from the show.

"The whole cast was amazing," says Israeli ice dance champion Roman Zaretski. He and his sister/partner Alexandra have had ballroom instruction at one of Chmerkovskiy's studios in New Jersey.

"Of course, we're trying to get the basics of ballroom -- the arms, the positions, the steps," Zaretsky says. "Last year's OD-music of the 20s, 30s and 40s -- was very close to ballroom. We were taking pieces we had on the ice and putting them on the floor and then working on them with a ballroom teacher. Then we were doing it better on the ice.

"Our teacher was giving us some footwork on the floor and then we tried to put it on the ice. That's how we worked last year."

Zaretsky says their programs for the 2009-10 season are already choreographed, so he didn't necessarily get program ideas from Burn the Floor, but he did gain an additional perspective.

"All the hands, all the little moves you watch," he says. "The whole show I was watching and thinking, 'That we can use. That we can't use.' Some of the movements they were doing were breathtaking and not possible for us, but most of the show was, 'Ah hah! This is good.' I was trying to remember everything."

Italian ice dancer Stefano Caruso, who skates with Isabella Pajardi, notes the difference between the dance floor and the ice, but still sees the potential to incorporate choreographic ideas.

"It's a different kind of energy," says Caruso. "On the ice, you have the help of the ice for speed. You have not to do like a hundred things with your feet. You can do more interpreting, like drama. But if you are skating to fast music, like jive or Lindy hop [both of which were featured in the show], you can hold the power of the dancing on the ice."

Caruso saw a movement in Burn the Floor that he thought would translate to an interesting lift on the ice, but he couldn't sufficiently explain it to his partner. So he'll have to return with her to see it again.

"Some movements were really amazing," says Caruso, who says he didn't love the first 15 minutes of the show, but thought after that things picked up. "The Cha Cha was really high interpretation."

There are extended periods in the show where the men danced with their shirts open or off. Don't expect that on the ice anytime soon.

"I would feel very intimidated by that," Zaretsky says.

When told legendary ice dancer Christopher Dean has spoken about his dislike of dancing on the floor, Zaretsky says he can sympathize.

"I know how to dance on the floor," he says, "but I'm shy when I'm off the ice."