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Dance choreographer Tookey reveals rink roots

Teenage friend of Salé grew up skating at Edmonton's renowned Royal Glenora

Emmy-nominated dance choreographer Stacey Tookey likes working with skaters.
Emmy-nominated dance choreographer Stacey Tookey likes working with skaters. (courtesy of Stacey Tookey)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(11/21/2012) - A funny thing happened on my way to writing an article about Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje for a dance magazine. I asked Emmy-nominated dance choreographer Stacey Tookey, known for her exquisite contemporary routines on So You Think You Can Dance in the U.S. and Canada, to watch the couple's contemporary-style free dance and offer her comments.

For starters, she loved Weaver and Poje (more on that later). What Tookey revealed is that as a child growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, in addition to dancing, she also skated. Although she honestly describes herself as a low-level free skater, she did train at the world famous Royal Glenora Club.

"My dad used to freeze the backyard and make a skating rink. That's what you do growing up in Edmonton," Tookey, 36, said of her earliest skating memories. "My brother started hockey and power skating really young, and I started figure skating really young.

"I skated until I was about 12," she continued. "It became a question of 'Do I do the 5:30 a.m. ice times before school?' I was dancing several hours at night, so it became a battle between dance and skating. I chose to dance because I came from a dance family and that was kind of my first passion, but I've always had this second love for ice skating.

"My favorite sweater to skate in said, 'Don't bug me, my feet are freezing.' My feet were always frozen in my skates."

Tookey's mother still owns the dance studio, Shelley's Dance Company, where Tookey and her siblings began their dance careers. It is where skaters training in Edmonton have often come to take movement classes and to work individually with Shelley Tookey.

"Figure skating has always crossed in and out of my life," Tookey said.

Skating recently crossed in when U.S. ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt brought her in as a consultant. Tookey said she made some adjustments to their free dance and gave them some artistic suggestions. She hopes to choreograph a program for them in the future.

"That was my first opportunity to work with elite skaters," Tookey said. "I loved it because I had just enough of a background with skating. There's so much that crossed over.

"It was really exciting," she added. "They've been doing pretty well with the program since I worked with them." (The reigning U.S. pewter medalists finished fourth at Skate America.)

One elite skater that Tookey worked with on the dance floor was three-time Canadian men's champion Emanuel Sandhu, who competed on So You Think You Can Dance Canada in 2009. She choreographed one routine for him during the TV show and worked with him again on the show's live tour, of which she was the director.

As a teenager, Olympic gold medalist Jamie Salé was one of Tookey's closest friends. If Salé and pairs partner David Pelletier would like her to choreograph a routine for them, she said she would jump at the chance.

As for Weaver and Poje, Tookey was riveted by their quality of movement and artistry.

"I love how connected the two of them are. It was like one seamless breath," she said. "It looks like the movement flowed out of them. As a choreographer, I feel like they became the music."

Tookey's own dance company, Still Motion, debuted at the Nate Holden Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 9-10. She is eager to do more work in skating and feels her understanding of skating's fundamentals will give her an advantage over other dance choreographers who have never been on the ice.

"When I went to work with Lynn and Logan and I saw them on the ice the first time, it brought back all these feelings of being on the ice and skating myself," Tookey said. "There's something magical about skating. It sweeps you away. I hope to work with more skaters in the future."