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DWTS's van Amstel quicksteps with Chait again

Revered ballroom pro helps prep ice dance teams for this season's short dance

(L-R) Chris Reed, Cathy Reed, Louis van Amstel and Galit Chait in Hackensack, N.J.
(L-R) Chris Reed, Cathy Reed, Louis van Amstel and Galit Chait in Hackensack, N.J. (courtesy of Galit Chait)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(06/27/2013) - More than 12 years after they first worked together, renowned ballroom/Latin dancer, coach and choreographer Louis van Amstel came to Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., to work with coach Galit Chait's ice dance teams. He had previously helped Chait and former partner Sergei Sakhnovski hone their quickstep for the 2000-01 original dance, and he worked with them again prior to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

For two days last week, van Amstel worked with Chait's four teams, who represent Japan, Ukraine and Israel, on the quickstep and foxtrot for the short dance.

For Japanese champion Chris Reed, it was an extraordinary experience.

"It was an unbelievable lesson, even in the short amount of time that we had with him," Reed said. "We learned so much. His advice and his teachings will pretty much last our entire career. I would say it was a life-changing experience."

Having worked with Chait and Sakhnovski, and several years later with U.S. ice dancers Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, van Amstel said he now knows what aspects of ballroom translate to the ice.

A big point of discussion was how to increase the interpretation of masculine and feminine.

"The skaters don't really think about it that way," said van Amstel, a longtime pro dancer on Dancing with the Stars and choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance. "They just do certain movements. In comparison, I try and make them aware.

"For example, if you do this kind of movement, if you go wider versus longer, you would actually make it more masculine -- not by thinking more masculine, but by choosing certain ways of movement.

"To see the change was amazing; the girls, too," he continued. "I felt, with the girls, that it was freeing. They felt more expressive. You could see it in the smiles on their faces. They were involved."

As the Olympic season approaches, Chait, a three-time Olympian (1998, 2002 and '06) representing Israel, wants her teams to have the best possible preparation. Reflecting on the coaching she received from van Amstel, Chait admitted it took her years to fully understand all the information he had imparted.

In preparation for his visit, she told her skaters to have open minds and listen intently.

"I told the skaters, 'When I was skating, I didn't take it all in,'" Chait said. "I told them, 'Really try to understand what he's saying.'"

Reed said there was a lot of discussion about how to enhance transitions between elements and create new ways to move.

"It opens up so many opportunities," said Reed, who skates with sister Cathy. "He was talking to me about even from the start [of a program], you have to look like you own the entire arena ... You take charge, especially from the start, to grab people's attention."

Although his schedule is packed with coaching, choreography and performing, van Amstel said he will make time to return to New Jersey and work with Chait's teams again. Given his previous experiences in skating, he was able to create things off the ice that translated nicely to the ice.

"We took a real ballroom sequence, and when we got to the ice, it actually worked. They made it their own," van Amstel said. "Now, I'm thinking blades and toes. What can I do with the toes to push off? That's challenging creatively. I love it."

"His techniques have helped me a lot, helped me step by step in order to achieve my goals in the future," Reed said. "We can't wait to work with him again. It was an amazing experience."