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Tobias, Stagniunas find rhythm in partnership

Lithuanian ice dancers excited for second season together

Isabelle Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas are competing at 2011 Skate America.
Isabelle Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas are competing at 2011 Skate America. (courtesy of Isabelle Tobias)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/12/2011) - Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, an ice dancing team representing Lithuania, began their second season together with a fifth-place finish at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, and were planning to compete at a couple senior B competitions before their one Grand Prix event, the Rostelecom Cup.

Then last Wednesday they got the news that they had been added to the roster for Skate America.

"It's exciting that we got two Grand Prixs. We're both thrilled," Stagniunas said.

Tobias, 20, and Stagniunas, 26, teamed up in the spring of 2010 and made their competitive debut at last year's Nebelhorn Trophy, where they were the first senior dance team ever to skate a short dance at an ISU-sanctioned competition. They placed 12th at the European championships and 14th in their world championships debut.

"It was such a terrible tragedy that happened in Japan, but Russia did an incredible job with the world championships," Tobias said. "It was impeccably organized. The weather was beautiful every day. It was really a pleasure to compete there."

With a season together under their collective belts, they've found a good rhythm for their partnership, which was evident to them at Nebelhorn.

"You know each other's habits and what you like to do during a competition," Stagniunas said. "How much you need to prepare, how you like to prepare ... the second season, you know that stuff."

"We know how to stand by each other and help each other through a competition now," Tobias added. "That makes a big difference."

This year's short dance is Latin style, with two patterns of the compulsory rumba included. Tobias and Stagniunas worked with U.S. and world American rhythm champion Elena Grinenko on their program, using words like "fantastic," "incredible" and "amazing" to describe Grinenko's teaching.

"She explains so well," Stagniunas noted. "If you can't do something because it's hard, she explains, and you get it from a different way and it works."

"Our music is Shakira, so it's a more contemporary, clubby kind of Latin music," Tobias said. "To work with her and to be able to infuse that flavor, it's just so fun and sexy. We love it."

Although the footwork in the rumba sections is prescribed, Grinenko helped them make it uniquely theirs by adding arm and body movements to accentuate the music and give it an authentic Latin demeanor.

Skate America will be Tobias' first time competing on U.S. soil since she came in fifth, with then partner James Warren, in novice at the 2004 Eastern Sectional Championships. After that Easterns, she decided to focus on ballet but returned to skating in 2007, when she competed on the international junior circuit with Otar Japaridze for a year. She began working with coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in February 2010 and teamed with Stagniunas later that spring.

Stagniunas, who was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and whose parents and brother now live in Chicago, competed in the U.S. much more recently, having finished 14th with Katherine Copely at the 2009 world championships in Los Angeles.

"A bunch of family members and friends are coming to watch and support us at Skate America," said Tobias, who attends the University of Michigan part time and hopes to transfer back to Columbia (which she attended before heading off to Michigan) to finish her bachelor's degree after her competitive days are done. "Honestly, I'm so proud to skate for Lithuania, but it's going to be a real joy to compete in the United States."

While their steady progress as a team makes the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a realistic possibility, Stagniunas said they keep it in the back of their minds so as to avoid distraction.

"Our goal is always the same: to enjoy ourselves and do the best that we can," Tobias said. "No matter what happens, life is short. It's not worth it if you don't enjoy every single moment. That's what our goal will be for our whole career."