Dancing on the Far Side of Beyond
Way down under and on the far side of the Outback in Perth, Western Australia, live the world’s most isolated ice dancers, Gabrielle Biffin (14) and Tye Nagy (17). They are an unlikely pair. Nagy was a hockey player, who competed as a right wing from the time he first took to the ice at eleven until a figure skating coach spotted him and asked him to switch. Biffin started skating when she was three because her mother used to skate. Although she won the Western Australian ladies title, she said she went into dance because ‘Tye was lonely and needed a partner’. I was too lanky for singles and I thought there would be more opportunities in ice dance.” They began skating together when she was ten and he was 12. They plan to compete as juniors for the next several years with an ultimate goal of skating in the 2010 Olympics.
Andrei and Marina Filippov have coached the dancers for their four years together. They train for only about an hour and fifteen minutes a day, six days a week. That’s a tiny fraction of what most international ice dancers train. Off ice, they try to go to the gym about four times a week, but don’t have any ballet or ballroom dance classes. They don’t participate in many other sports either. Although Nagy used to be a competitive swimmer, all he does now is a bit of body boarding. Biffin said, “I did netball for a while, but I suck at eye/hand coordination sports.”
Andrei Filippov chooses the music for their programs. For the 2003-2004 season, they used Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Good Golly Miss Molly for the swing combo original dance and three selections from Edward Grieg’s Peer Gynt for their free dance. They included Solveig’s Song, Arabian Dance and In the Hall of the Mountain Kings. “I like dramatic music,” Nagy said. “We skate better to it. For our free dance, we always try something dramatic. Our coaches us tell us the story and we try to act it out.” “Our free dance is supposed to be about witches, so I try to be scary,” Biffin added. “I like dramatic music, but I like Spanish music too.”
For compulsory dance, she likes waltzes. “You can smile the whole way through and not worry too much about expression,” she said. “We don’t like the rhumba. The steps are hard and it’s too quick.” Nagy added, “It’s a dance about love, but the music’s not. It’s too rigid.” Off ice, Nagy likes rap and punk, while Biffin prefers punk and pop.
The Australian junior dance champions finished 27th at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, their first major international competition. “We went to South Africa once but there was only one other team there,” Biffin said. “Juniors was scary but inspiring. We’ll go back and try harder now.” Nagy added, “We learned a lot artistic-wise.”
Nagy will finish high school this year and plans to go to TAFE (the Australian equivalent of community college) for two years to study physical education en route to becoming a gym instructor. Biffin is in tenth grade, where her favorite subject is science. “I definitely plan to go to university,” she said. “I want to do something working with kids.” She currently sells chocolates to help finance her skating, while Nagy works about ten hours a week in a pie shop.
For fun, Nagy said he likes “to ride around in the car with my mates and go to the beach.” Biffin likes to hang out with her friends and go shopping. He doesn’t have any collectibles, but she keeps all of the flowers and stuffed animals that they receive. She also has a couple of real animals including a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, all of which are black, and a brown mouse. She also sings. “I just do it for fun,” she said. “I had singing lessons in classical music and I do a lot of jazz. Sometimes I sing in front of my whole school. I’m more nervous when I sing then when I skate.”
They haven’t traveled much but enjoyed South Africa. “We liked the atmosphere with the casino and Disneyland and lots of tourism things to do,” Nagy said. “The South Africans are really lovely people.” They also had the chance to visit Paris for a few days after the end of Junior Worlds in the Netherlands. She would like to visit the United States and Canada, especially Vancouver, while he wants to go anywhere in North America.