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Ballroom powerhouses have deep skating ties

Nick, Lena Kosovich have designed some of ice dancing's most memorable costumes

Nick and Lena Kosovich, once ballroom dance competitors, found love and now make costumes for ballroom and ice dancers.
Nick and Lena Kosovich, once ballroom dance competitors, found love and now make costumes for ballroom and ice dancers. (Courtesy of Nick Kosovich)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(04/19/2012) - As reigning world ice dance champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov prepared for their 2005-06 Olympic season, they turned to their longtime costume designers Nick and Lena Kosovich, world renowned ballroom dance champions, to create the perfect costumes for their Carmen free dance.

"When the Olympic year came, the pressure was on them to win. That pressure was carried onto our shoulders," Lena recalled. "We had a huge responsibility of making them the best they could ever be or ever will be."

Every time Navka and Kostomarov competed that season, they received comments about their costumes, so Lena would redo the costumes, eventually making five sets with different designs.

"Interestingly enough, for Olympics they wore the original Carmen costumes," Lena said. "The one I designed, the one I believed in, the first original idea. We appreciated the fact that they stuck with us. We stuck with them. Being a dancer, I knew the stress. Nick and I competed at the same time and we were also winning those years."

Formerly adversaries, Nick and Lena Kosovich became partners on and off the dance floor about 13 years ago. He joked that within 24 hours of becoming a couple they also became business partners in costume design, creating their company LeNique.

Having grown up around the ballroom world -- Lena's mother owned a dance studio in her native Siberia -- she knew about how to make costumes and often made them for her students. Nick's mother and grandmother were both costume makers in Australia, where he grew up, and from a young age he learned how to sew. He also attended fashion design school.

Their first skating client was Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul. At the time, Nick and Lena had a shop in New York City.

Not long after, Nick began going to the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., to work with several of the ice dance teams training there under Alexander Zhulin, including U.S. champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev and Israeli champions Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky. He worked with the teams on style for compulsory dances and routines with a ballroom influence as well as doing some choreography.

"I was coming in for all their ballroom elements," said Nick, who appeared on seasons two and three of Dancing with the Stars. "It was very interesting from the perspective of being on the ice. I was inspired to go and coach. Obviously, there are limitations because of ice and skates, but for me what was the most interesting were their connections. In skating, there was very much a downward pressure in the frame all the time rather than a forward and backward approach.

"It was challenging to see what we could come up with to make it work on the ice," he said.

While Nick focused on the ice, Lena concentrated on the costumes. Other skaters she worked with included Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin of Azerbaijan and American ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov.

"I appreciated all the knowledge the skaters were passing on to me about how the dresses moved," Lena said. "At the same time, I really appreciated the fact that they trusted me in letting them be different compared to other skaters. It was important to me that I bring the best out of every couple. I wanted to make them look different than others."

As dancers, Nick and Lena understood movement and the necessity for functional design. Lang said she still wears a costume they made for her in 2001. They also worked with Baiul when she originally launched her line of skate wear, producing the first samples and patterns.

Now based in Los Angeles, Nick and Lena have been designing and making costumes for Ilia Kulik and Katia Gordeeva for several years. They have also done costumes for several Detroit-based ice dance teams, including exhibition costumes for Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. They continue to design and make costumes for numerous ballroom dancers and have also created many ballroom costumes for the popular dance competition TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Nick and Lena retired from competitive dancing and now balance their time between coaching young dancers and their costume business. They recently moved LeNique into a new 6,000-square foot space in Los Angeles that includes a dance floor, showroom, café/bar area and an art gallery for dance-themed paintings and sculpture.

They welcome the opportunity to work with skaters as dance coaches, choreographers or costumers.

"With most of the couples, we get their music and then we design from that with their whole theme in mind," Nick said. Although in-person fittings are optimal, "We also do a lot of work via the internet and emailing," he said.