The Ballerina and the Sailor
- Published: September 27, 2003
For years, European countries, especially Russia, have dominated ice dancing. One of the reasons is the extensive ballet training that young skaters receive, especially ice dancers. Few American ice dancers have such extensive training. One exception is 16-year-old Brooke Frieling who competes with Buck Withrow in intermediate dance for the Skating Club of Boston.
“I began taking ballet lessons when I was three years old,” Frieling recounted. “I went on to Boston Ballet School of Dance and was invited to audition for a spot in the intensive dance division where I danced for six years. At Boston Ballet I was taught from the Vaganova Syllabus, which is a very rigorous, and precise Russian ballet philosophy. While in the intensive dance division, this was a major commitment of approximately 12 to 15 hours per week. During the last few summers I studied at professional ballet schools such as the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Through Boston Ballet, I learned a wide variety of dances – modern, character, Latin, and of course classical ballet. I also performed in many productions through Boston Ballet including over 100 performances in a variety of roles in the “Nutcracker” as well as other professional productions in the Boston area. The ballet training really helped me to focus on technique, attention to details and memorizing long complicated dance combinations. It is only in the last year that I have spent more time dancing on the ice than dancing en pointe in the ballet studio or on the stage.”
With over ten years of serious ballet training, Frieling is a natural ice dancer. “I have an appreciation for movement to music,” she said. “When I hear music I see movement. Ice dancing allows creative dance expression in a more expanded form than freestyle skating. I also like the idea of a partner to dance with. When you dance with a partner you are relating to each other and it is easier to create a feeling or story with the dance. I have always enjoyed both skating and ballet equally. Ice dancing is a combination of my two favorite activities. I appreciate the elegant positions you can create gliding across the ice that you cannot achieve on firm ground.”
Frieling began skating when she was five. “I was in junior kindergarten when my school offered group skating lessons over the winter,” she said. “I fell in love with the ice and at the age of 6, I was taking private lessons.” Withrow began when he was seven. “My friend brought me to a skating rink one afternoon, or at least this is what I’m told,” he said. “For some reason I can’t remember that particular event. Apparently I couldn’t even stand up. I just crawled around on my hands and knees. And apparently I hated the experience, but somehow enjoyed it at the same time, so I started taking group lessons at a rink in Lynn, MA, which I do remember. I would stumble around in my snowsuit and helmet, until I eventually figured out how to skate. Though I enjoy jumps, I had trouble landing them. I was getting far too frustrated with my inconsistent Axel and two-footed double salchow. Then after threatening to quit twice, my coach suggested that I start taking dance from Jesi Valentine. I enjoyed dance and found it to be much less frustrating.”
Frieling was introduced to ice dancing in the summer of 2001 by Felita Carr and Alex Komorov. She and Withrow teamed up in May 2002. “Buck and I had each been auditioning other potential partners for a number of months before we were introduced,” Frieling explained. “Within fifteen minutes of our audition, we were each off in the corners telling our coaches that we wanted to skate together. I guess you could say it was an instant click. Since then everything has continued to move in a positive direction. We are the same age and in the same grade at different high schools so we share many of the same experiences simultaneously. We have a friendship that emerged immediately and has continued to grow. This kind of interconnectedness has helped to nurture our partnership. My partnership experience with Buck has taught me a great deal and I know that having a partner that you are compatible with is 80 percent of the foundation for a long-term productive and pleasurable skating experience. People who watch us skate comment that our chemistry shows and enhances our skating.”
That chemistry led to immediate results in juvenile dance competition, including a gold medal at 2003 New Englands and sixth at 2003 Junior Nationals. In their first intermediate dance competition, they placed sixth overall in the compulsories and eighth in the free dance at the 2003 Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships. Since their return from Lake Placid, the dancers have decided to invent their own lifts to add to their signature move in which Frieling does a spiral while Withrow does a spreadeagle. The dancers hope to medal at Junior Nationals this season and compete at Nationals the following year. Eventually, they hope to represent the U.S. in international competitions.
As relatively new dancers, the youngsters are concentrating on perfecting their compulsory dances. “I like the style of the foxtrot and the difficulty of the European Waltz, Withrow said. “It takes a lot of finesse to do the dance correctly. To get it good enough for competition takes a lot of work and time. They are both challenging and in a weird way, I find them fun.” “The Hickory Hoedown is the most difficult for me, not because it is technically difficult, but because I would rather do some of the other dances,” Frieling admitted. “Because of my classical ballet background I tend to favor the more elegant waltzes that highlight long leg lines and graceful arm movements with a straight ballet back. This year I am really enjoying the European Waltz.”
During the school year, the dancers train on the ice two hours every morning before school. In the summertime, they train 17 hours a week on the ice. They attend two hours a week of off ice conditioning training, an hour of Pilates, and an hour and a half of balletics together plus three hours of conditioning alone. Withrow’s routine includes bicycling and weightlifting, while Frieling does Pilates, strength training and conditioning.
Frieling and Withrow have three coaches: Barret Brown, Tom Lescinski and Karen Cullinan. Both Brown and Lescinski teach the technical aspects of the compulsory dances, while Brown works with them on music selection and choreography. Cullinan assists with lifts and choreography, costuming and off ice training. “We receive a lot of encouragement and support from the other dance teams at The Skating Club of Boston,” Frieling added. “We are fortunate to train with some of the best senior and junior dance teams in the United States. This pushes us during training and inspires us in terms of what we might be able to achieve if we continue to work hard.”
Selecting the music for the free dance is a collaborative effort between the skaters, their parents and their coaches. “Choosing music is difficult as we all have varying tastes and there are a lot of songs that we all like,” Withrow said. “Choosing just one is a hard task.” “As a musician, Buck brings the musicality to our partnership with his excellent ear and sense of timing,” Frieling said. “We tend to like the same kinds of music for ice dancing and tend to have the same idea of what music suits our personality on the ice. Barret pulls it all together with her vision of how we will perform on the ice.”
This season, the couple is using a Fred Astaire piece sung by Tony Bennett called Step’n Out with My Baby. “We all liked the style and the beat that it had,” Withrow said. “Brooke and I think that we could skate very well to it and Barret is able to work with it and give us difficult choreography.” “We wanted to challenge ourselves in terms of speed and difficulty of footwork and choreography,” Frieling added. “We are hoping to do some really great lifts and very challenging footwork this year.”
Withrow likes to skate to jazz, while Frieling prefers classical dance music of the 30’s and 40’s. “Musical pieces like Phantom of the Opera or the overture from Romeo and Juliet are wonderful as well,” she said. Both dancers have musical talents. Frieling is a member of her high school’s 10-singer a cappella singing group, while Withrow is a section leader in his high school marching band, He plays alto saxophone in both the marching and jazz bands. He also participates in the Skating Club of Boston’s Theater on Ice team formed this year and coached by Lescinski. The team competed in their first national competition in July, performing a composition adapted from “West Side Story”. Withrow’s participation in Theater on Ice enhances his ability to theatrically express a mood or idea. This is a helpful skill that is directly applied to the mood or idea ice dancers attempt to convey in the free dance. Off ice, Frieling listens to pop, punk, rock, rap, metal, techno, and country, while Withrow prefers classic rock, reggae rock, punk rock and hard rock but not soft rock.
Frieling attends Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, while Withrow goes to Swampscott High School. Both are honor students. “My teachers have always been supportive of my dance and skating,” she said. “They are helping me to achieve my dreams. They have truly role modeled for me the kind of professional I want to be.” Frieling is planning on attending college in Boston so she can continue skating. “I am interested in ultimately being a clinical psychologist at a major teaching hospital,” she said. “Recently, I have begun to explore the requirements necessary to become an emergency medical technician. I would like to undergo the training and work as an EMT to better understand the experiences of individuals who have survived a traumatic event. I think this type of training would help prepare me to be a psychologist that specializes in the treatment of patients that have survived a traumatic event.” Withrow is planning a career in aviation after college, preferably as a pilot.
To relax, Withrow likes to sail, snowboard, listen to music, play Frisbee, and hacki-sack. He enjoys rollerblading as part of his off ice exercise and frequently rollerblades with his friends from his mainland coastal town of Swampscott to the island of Nahant across the causeway and back. He is a terrific sailor and is currently refurbishing his own sailboat which he hopes to have seaworthy by the end of the year.
He’s also on the ultimate Frisbee team at his high school. An avid Boy Scout, he is now working on his requirements for Eagle Scout. Frieling said, “I have a wonderful group of friends – friendships that have endured since the elementary school years. I also enjoy spending time with my family and traveling. In addition, I like to visit the museums and theaters in Boston. I continue to dance at open ballet classes around the Boston area to relax.”
Frieling reads “mysteries that are filled with suspense,” while Withrow likes comedic novels, science fiction books, and science magazines. Comedy, adventure and science fiction are also his movie favorites, while Frieling enjoys all kinds of films. She collects vintage jewelry, mostly rhinestone pieces that she wears whenever possible.
For holidays, Withrow goes skiing, sailing or to the beach. “My family likes to go to the mountains here in New England,” Frieling said. “Of course there is always the beach -The Cape, the Vineyard, South Carolina, Florida, Aruba, Bermuda, anywhere. “I really enjoyed Bermuda and would like to go back soon. I also enjoyed my tour of France this past April and fell in love with Paris. I would like to see more of Europe, especially Italy, over the next few years.” Withrow enjoyed his summer trip to the British Isles with the People to People Organization and hopes some day to visit the Polynesian Islands.