Afanasieva brings talents to "Battle of the Blades"

Extreme skater joins the cast with her husband as coach

Violetta Afanasieva will be part of the action on season two of <i>Battle of the Blades</i>. Pictured here with husband Pete Dack, who is coaching for the show.
Violetta Afanasieva will be part of the action on season two of Battle of the Blades. Pictured here with husband Pete Dack, who is coaching for the show. (Stephan Potopnyk)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(09/17/2010) - It's just a few weeks until the first live competition show of Battle of the Blades and cast newcomer Violetta Afanasieva is feeling "very healthy good butterflies in the stomach." Not only is she new to the show, which teams female figure skaters with hockey players, she's fairly new to competing.

"My family is from the Russian circus," says Afanasieva, 31, who started skating at the age of 5 and competed in singles until the age of 11. "Since I was little, I was always watching my parents perform in front of an audience. I kind of always wanted to go in that direction. So when I was 12, I started working on my circus numbers -- little tricks and things to put together with my skating."

At 13, she debuted her hula-hoop skating routine with Moscow Circus on Ice. Several years later, she brought her act to Holiday on Ice, where in 1999 she met Canadian pairs skater Pete Dack. He first joined Holiday on Ice in 1991 and then after a few years decided to move back to Canada and start coaching. The itch to perform again drew him back to touring, and since teaming with Afanasieva, he hasn't really stopped. They perform both traditional adagio routines and unique programs that incorporate circus moves, contortion and acrobatics.

"When Violetta and I started dating [they married in 2002] we started brainstorming what we could do together on the ice," says Dack, 40. "We starting working with the hula-hoops and it started developing. There are some things she can do with hula-hoops I wouldn't try. It's too difficult. I leave that to her and I help her out as much as I can. As far as the figure skating, the pair skating and adagio, that's where hopefully I bring a little bit extra to it."

Dack's knowledge of pairs and adagio (a theatrical version of pairs skating with dramatic lifts) has been coming into play as he's coached Afanasieva and her hockey player partner.

"I must say, the last few weeks already have been very entertaining," says Afanasieva. "I cannot tell you who my partner is [although some pairings have been leaked, the official announcement will come on Sept. 27], but I can say that I think he's a natural entertainer.

"He's learning figure skating quite seriously and taking all the corrections very quickly," she adds. "I think he'll be very good for the cameras and for the entertainment value of the show."

Dack is making sure the new pair progress slowly and with caution.

"Everything is concentrated and slow right now," Dack says. "We're getting a really good base for him."

When not on the road, Afanasieva and Dack live in Peterborough, Ontario, so although she's part of the new international cast, she is extremely familiar with Canada. They've performed with Celebration on Ice, and will do so again this December. In January, they'll be part of a Canadian tour Elvis Stojko and Daniel Weiss are putting together. They've also performed with Holiday on Ice, been frequent guest artists aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise ships that have ice rinks, skated shows all over Europe and won the first-ever Extreme Ice Skating World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2006.

At one time or another they've performed with all the figure skaters in the cast. Battle of the Blades co-host Kurt Browning introduced Afanasieva to the show's creator, Sandra Bezic, and this opportunity came to be.

"Going into this show, I was a little bit worried about being lifted by someone who hasn't really been doing that stuff, but since we started working with my partner, I really got confident very quickly with him," she says.

Of course, all lifts begin off the ice. Having Dack as one of their coaches is helpful because it's easy for him to convey the best possible way to lift Afanasieva.

"He is very quickly able to correct what is going wrong or what needs to be fixed," she explains. "Sometimes a very simple little thing like a straight elbow or an inch to the right or to the left."

Now, most days are consumed with on- and off-ice practice in anticipation of the first competition show on Oct. 3.

"Anytime I think about it, I get so excited. I literally cannot wait," Afanasieva says. "I hope it's going to be good adrenalin."

Afanasieva and Dack are hopeful they may get to perform together on one of the results shows. Regardless if that happens, both are eager to feel the positive energy from the Canadian audience.

"We always talk about how well the audience receives figure skating and how enjoyable it is to perform in Canada. It's the best audience in the world," she says. "Also, I can see how seriously everyone is preparing for this season."