Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Golden Finale: Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy Capture DWTS Title

Congratulations to Meryl and Maks on their outstanding run on Dancing with the Stars! Their title is truly deserved. It is a testament to their unbelievable chemistry and soulful and spirited dancing this season. Their dancing has been a true gift to the world and I'm truly going to miss watching them create magic week after week.

Judge Carrie-Ann Inaba summed up the couple best in her commentary on Monday evening: "This is what true dance is about: the soulful expression of your true self; it has honesty, integrity, and substance. What you did there was the most stunning example of divinity in motion."

Let's take a look back at their last dances together on Monday night's show: a tango and their freestyle, as well as Tuesday night's 24-hour fusion challenge, which co-host Erin Andrews said sounded like a deodorant.

Argentine Tango:


Fusion of foxtrot and cha-cha:

Monday, May 19, 2014

True Grit: Michelle Kwan's Tosca

When I need inspiration, I look to Michelle Kwan. Her "Tosca" freeskate from the 2004 U.S. Championships in Atlanta, Georgia is nothing short of amazing. It has nothing to do with the seven triple jumps that she landed. It has everything to do with the heart that she showed. No matter what the naysayers said, or the incredible pressure that Michelle was under, she always found a way to be strong, stay positive, mentally tough, and lay her heart on the line.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of grit in psychology is a positive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include perseverance, hardiness, resilience, ambition, need for achievement, and conscientiousness. Michelle Kwan embodied the concept of grit throughout her career. She approached every challenge head-on and skated with attack, joy, and conviction, and heart. She was motivated by the desire to be the best, to give everything and hold back nothing.

In the last year or so, I have let fear creep in and take control of my life. I have held back because of doubt, indecisiveness, and negativity. I can't always define what it is that I'm afraid of. Is it a fear of not living up to my potential? Or is it a fear of my potential being without measure? I sometimes fear that I'm not following the correct path, but in truth, I don't always know what the correct path is. My best friend once told me that it doesn't matter if I don't have all the answers, or if I don't always have a clear idea of what it is that I want to achieve; the most important thing is to be driven by the desire to be the best version of myself, the desire to move forward in all ways. In order to move forward to be my best, I need to be strong, positive, persistent, and above all, have true grit.

Flashback to the 1994 World Championships: Stojko & Candeloro

If I wasn't already sold on figure skating before the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan, I was irrevocably hooked after watching the men's competition. The top three at that year's event, Canada's Elvis Stojko, France's Philippe Candeloro and Ukraine's Viachaslav Zagurudniak were epic. Elvis' freeskate to the soundtrack of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," and Philippe's freeskate to the music from "The Godfather" are two of the best freeskates that I've seen in my twenty years of following the sport. These freeskates have everything: incredible triple jumps (and in Elvis' case, a nearly-landed quad-triple), great, passionate movie soundtracks, and artistic concepts that skillfully showcase the best that each skater has to offer.

Elvis Stojko's "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story":

Philippe Candeloro's "Godfather":

Charlie White's DWTS Swan Song: Foxtrot with Sharna Burgess

Last week's episode of Dancing with the Stars featured the surprise exit of Olympic ice dance champion, Charlie White. Charlie and his partner Sharna began their DWTS journey back in March at the top of the leader board. They had their ups and downs along the way, but overall, Charlie was a fantastic competitor on the show--both on the floor with his joyful musicality and off the floor with his gracious, positive attitude. Anyone going through challenges should look to Charlie White to see how to handle pressure with a balanced perspective that places focus on the journey, not the result. He's been an inspiration to me in these last few weeks, encouraging me to stay happy, motivated, and enjoying my present moment as much as I can. It is obvious to me that Charlie had fun on DWTS and used that energy to deliver happy, buoyant, lighthearted performances throughout the show.

To the dismay of many fans, including the flabbergasted judges, Charlie and Sharna were voted off last week, just missing the cut into the show's two-part finale, beginning tonight on ABC. I felt that his exit was premature. I didn't think Charlie would take home the mirrorball when the show is said and done, but I did think that the strength of his body of work on the DWTS season, was enough to warrant him a spot in the final showcase. He paid his dues and truly deserved a spot in the finale.

So, readers, what do you think??

Here is Charlie and Sharna's foxtrot to "New York, New York" :

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Italian Stars Melt the Ice: Valentina Marchei and Carolina Kostner's Olympic-Year Freeskates

Valentina Marchei is a 4-time Italian Champion. The 27-year-old Milan-native competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and placed 11th.
Her freeskate this year to the music of "Nyah" by Hans Zimmer was sultry, sexy, and passionate. Marchei skated this program very well in the team-event in Sochi, but unfortunately, I can't find a video. Here are videos of her "Nyah" program at the 2014 European Championships in Budapest,Hungary where she placed 6th, and at the 2014 Worlds in Saitama, Japan, where she placed 16th.

2014 European Championships:

2014 Worlds:

Carolina Kostner is a 7-time Italian Champion, the 2012 World Champion, a 5-time European Champion, and the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist. Her freeskate to "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel, choreographed by Lori Nichol, is a masterpiece. It's seductive, suggestive, sophisticated, and is more like a work of art than a competitive program. After imploding at the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Games, the 27-year-old finally pulled it together and delivered a terrific freeskate to win a medal. Here is Kostner's gold-medal winning performance at the 2014 Europeans and her bronze-medal winning skate at the Sochi Winter Olympics.



Michelle Kwan's "Totentanz"

Skating fans only had one opportunity to see Michelle Kwan's 2006 Olympic short program ---and it wasn't at the Olympics. Kwan debuted her "Totentanz" program at the 2005 Marshalls Figure Skating Challenge in December of 2005, a mere two months before the Games. What fans didn't realize at the time was that the 5-time World Champion was seriously injured. Signs of the injury were evident in Kwan's uncharacteristic shaky performance that included a two-footed Triple Lutz and a popped Triple Flip, but fans had any idea that it would be the last time they would see Kwan skate that season, or again on competitive ice--made-for-TV-"fluff" competition or otherwise.

Weeks later, Kwan withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which served as the Olympic qualifying event, due to a hip injury. She was named to the team and planned to compete in Torino. Kwan did in fact go to Torino, and even marched in the opening ceremonies, but withdrew before the skating competition began. I remember being woken up by a phone call early in the morning by a friend who had heard the news and wanted to be the first to tell me. Me being a die-hard Michelle Kwan fan, was of course devastated by the news. I sat on the edge of my bed in disbelief, tears welling in my eyes. I liken it to a star football player being pulled off the team's roster days before the Superbowl.

Though not considered a gold-medal favorite in Torino, the ladies freeskate event ended up being significantly weaker than in many Olympics of the past (as an example: there were two falls and a major step-out on a landing in the top 3 ladies). Had Kwan skated in her vintage fashion of clean jumps and rousing artistic presentation, it's highly possible she could have placed on the podium. It is a shame that we never got to see her freeskate, not even a practice video.

In this "Totentanz" short program, Michelle went outside the box. Her musical choices were never this modern and upbeat--it was obvious she was trying to create impact with a faster, sharper, more updated look. She also worked with legendary Russian coach and choreographer Tatitiana Tarasova, I believe in an attempt to go in a new direction. While I much prefer classic Kwan short programs, such as "Dream of Desdemonda" (1996/1997), Rachmaninoff (1997/1998, 2002), this was something fresh and I love the joy on her face throughout this performance.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Yuna Kim's Final Spin: Skating Icon Announces Retirement

South Korea's skating diva has announced her official retirement from competitive figure skating. Yuna Kim ends her career as a 2-time World Champion, Olympic Champion, and Olympic silver medalist.

Kim made her announcement Tuesday night after her annual All That Skate show wrapped in Seoul.

At her All That Skate show, Yuna skated her short program to "Send in the Clowns" from the Olympics in Sochi, and "Nessun Dorma."

Farewell to a gracious and beautiful champion!

Gold Standard: Meryl Davis and Charlie White Continue to Dazzle on DWTS

On Monday night's show, Charlie and Sharna wowed the judges with their Quickstep and earned Charlie's first-ever perfect total score of 40/40. Meryl and Maks seduced the crowd with their sultry Rhumba, scoring a 36/40.

Added bonus: Charlie White's Contemporary team dance with Candace Cameron Bure.