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Gregory, Petukhov hit the ice with Proud Nation

Innovative show features country artists plus aerial, dance and acrobatics

Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov perform in last year's show.
Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov perform in last year's show. (courtesy Melissa Gregory)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/28/2011) - When Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov founded Fever on Ice in September 2009, they didn't only want to teach skating. They wanted to "eduskate."

The duo coined the term for their program's unique blend of blades and academics, where everyone from teachers demonstrating Newton's Laws to yoga practitioners showing stretches put their lesson plans on ice.

"This year, we've made big strides with academics; it's much more of a fusion," Gregory said.

"Kate McCoy, an English teacher with Sport and Medical Sciences Academy [a Hartford magnet school], oversees the academics. The kids are doing crafts, working on science projects. We also have a yoga teacher, Cindi Michaels, who gets on the ice with the kids."

Gregory and Petukhov, four-time U.S. ice dance silver medalists and 2006 Olympians, work with Hartford and Portland, Conn., inner-city middle-schoolers who might otherwise never get the chance to hit the ice. Their program combining learn-to-skate sessions with academics is so popular, they must regretfully turn applicants away.

On Friday, April 8, the youngsters get a chance to perform a group number, Aliens, in 2011 Proud Nation at Simsbury's International Skating Center of Connecticut. Show time is 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, see www.isccskate.com or the show's facebook site. The event will be co-hosted by What the Buck's, Michael Buckley.

The United States Olympic Committee named Fever on Ice one of two "Rings of Gold" award winners for 2010, with Gregory receiving the USOC's award for an individual, the first skater ever so honored. Rings of Gold, established in 1976, recognizes an individual and a program dedicated to helping children develop their Olympic or Paralympics dreams and reaching their highest personal potential.

"A lot of students came back for a second year," Gregory said. "We also have a lot of new students. Last year, we had 65; this year, we have 100.

"We're reapplying for a grant and hope to double in size, so we can expand to four towns [around the Hartford region] and reach 200 kids, including more fourth- and fifth-graders."

1976 Olympic and world champion Dorothy Hamill will host Proud Nation 2011, which features Cirque de Soleil star Stacey Carlson; AntiGravity, innovative dance and acrobatic performers featuring Olympic and X-Game athletes; and adagio skaters Melanie Lambert and Fred Palascek, winner (with soap opera actress Rebecca Budig) of ABC's reality TV competition Skating with the Stars.

Country artists Burns & Poe, 2010 Independent Artists of the Year, will perform live, and Gregory and Petukhov will interpret their new release, "Always a Woman."

Gregory and Petukhov teach the youngsters for an hour each Saturday and Sunday, often inviting guests to instruct on related topics. Each week, students turn in homework assignments to "buy" another session on the ice.

"When the kids heard Dorothy was coming, they were so excited," Gregory said. "We assigned a homework assignment about her career. Everyone wanted to talk to her. A lot of the moms said, 'Oh my God, I cut my hair like Dorothy when I was a kid.'"

Gregory works with teacher McCoy to create lesson plans that can be accomplished on ice.

"We email back and forth during the week, I create the academic assignments and materials, and we usually meet on Fridays to discuss how to incorporate the lesson plan on to the ice," McCoy said.

Although McCoy calls upon colleagues to help with science and math lessons, she took the lead with one of this year's most popular assignments, journaling.

"We had the kids write about their favorite memories, and created [on-ice] performances out of those memories," McCoy said. "Journaling -- looking back on how far you've come, how much you've learned -- helps the kids build confidence."

Alyssa Rivera, a student at the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, is a two-year participant.

"This program has taught me to never give up on yourself and work hard until you get good at something," Alyssa told Hartford Magazine.

Proceeds earned by Proud Nation 2011 will be donated to a charity chosen by the students.

"The kids are researching five Hartford-area charities and choosing which one or two they would like to support," Gregory said. "They're reading up on the organizations on the internet and making phone calls to find out what the groups are all about."

The charity or charities chosen will be announced during the show.

While Gregory and Petukhov -- who make their home in Hartford -- devote much of their time to Fever on Ice, the duo maintains a busy show schedule and also offers customized seminars and workshops to clubs and rinks throughout the country. Gregory provided insightful commentary for icenetwork.com's broadcast of the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships ice dance events.

Both were in Los Angeles this winter, where Petukhov partnered actress Sean Young on Skating with the Stars and Gregory worked with the show's production team.

Recently, they reconnected with one of their SWTS colleagues, Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil.

"We just celebrated our 10th anniversary and figured, 'This only happens once,' so we went to Las Vegas for a few days," Gregory said. "That's where we got married. Vince was having his 50th birthday party there, and it was great to see him again."