Golden Skate

Interview with Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov

Melissa Gregory (26) and Denis Petukhov (29) perform their Free Dance to Preliator and Sarabande by Yoav Goren ("Adam & Eve" routine) at the 2007 US Figure Skating Championships.

After seven years together, U.S. ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov are currently ranked seventh in the world for the 2007 season. Could “seven” be a lucky number for them?

The team began competing internationally in 2003, and have steadily risen up the ranks, placing 10th at their fourth World Figure Skating Championship in 2007. They have also placed second for the past four consecutive years at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships.

Petukhov was born in Kirov, Russia, and competed with Oksana Podtykova for six years until 2000. Their results included a bronze and silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 1997 and 1998, respectively, and a 12th place finish at Europeans in 2000.

“Oksana got a very bad injury to her achilles tendon and could not skate anymore,” explained Petukhov. “So she stopped skating and I started to look for a new partner.”

He then posted an ad on the ISU website which stated he was searching for a new partner. Gregory, who previously competed with James Shuford, was looking too.

“It was one of my mom’s friends that found the post from Denis on the internet and thought that I should respond,” recalled Gregory. “She contacted me and I emailed Denis. We talked via email about goals and then decided to have a tryout in Colorado Springs.”

The tryout in September 2000 was a success.

“After the first practice, which we tried by ourselves with no coaches or parents there, we knew that we were going to skate together,” said Gregory, adding that they still keep Petukhov’s return plane ticket to Russia which was never used.

The couple melded as a team off the ice as well, and were married five months later in February 2001.

“It was quite a surprise,” recalled Gregory of their relationship off the ice. “We both were trying to fight it because we knew that it wasn’t a good idea to have relationships with your partners because they can ruin a partnership. And at that point we were both not looking for a girlfriend/boyfriend – let alone a spouse! But when it is meant to be, then it is meant to be.”

When they decided to compete for the U.S., Petukhov was able to obtain a release from the Russian Federation. He later obtained U.S. Citizenship in February 2005.

The new dance team was coached at various times by Nicholai Morozov, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Oleg Epstein, and Sandy Hess. At the end of the 2005-06 season, they changed coaches and began working with 1980 Olympic Ice Dance champions, Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov.

“We feel that as ice dancers sometimes you just need a change to evolve and improve yourself,” explained Gregory. “So it was just time to try something different. We have always been close are still very close with Sandy Hess. She is a very special person and like family to us.”

Currently, the team is scheduled to compete at Skate Canada and Cup of Russia this upcoming season.

“We have started our new material and are very excited for next season,” said Gregory, adding that we can expect to see something different this season.Gail (USA): Your Adam & Eve free dance was brilliant! We were so fortunate to see it at the University of Delaware Worlds Send-Off Show, and as Adam & Eve with Johnny at Marshall’s. What was the original inspiration for this program?

Melissa: Thank you Gail, the initial inspiration for the program came from wanting to break away from the usual and make something fresh and different. The rules are so binding we thought that it would be nice and refreshing to create something that was so artistic and completely opposite of a competitive and figure skating.

Denis: Most of my inspiration comes from when I listen to the music. When I listen to the music the ideas just start to come (sometimes I can’t turn off my ideas!).

Nika (RUS): First of all, many thanks for your Fallen Angels number! It’s a real breath of fresh air in exhibitions, which were mostly boring this year. To whom belongs this idea? I know you invented it together, but who initiated it? Do you plan to do something of a kind again, maybe with some other skaters?

Melissa: We are glad that you feel that way about Fallen Angels! The idea belongs to Denis. He had the inspiration behind the creation and he choreographed the piece. We definitely plan to continue and evolve on this idea in the future. We already have new projects in the works.

Denis: When I had this idea about fallen angels I approached Johnny Weir about it on the plane ride back from Tokyo. He was really excited to try something new and out of the box. Everything melded together pretty quickly because Melissa and my style is very similar to Johnny’s. We skate with the same quality and it was very easy to skate with him and work with him.

Toni R. (USA): Denis, Fallen Angels is an amazing program and according to ABC, you choreographed most of it. Do you see choreography as something you will pursue more in the future?

Denis: Thank you Toni, yes for sure. Right now we are working on our next project but you will have to wait to see until we release it. I enjoy creating and choreographing and hope to do more of it.

Nika (RUS): Denis, was it difficult to enter a single skater with his elements into what was a free dance for Fallen Angels?

Denis: It was not very difficult because most of the choreography was new for Johnny and us. We had such a blast making this number with him!

Fran (USA): I loved your free dance this past season and the Fallen Angels number that you performed with Johnny Weir. I think that you are under-marked by the judges. Is it difficult to deal with the politics of skating?

Melissa & Denis: Thanks, Fran. It is difficult, but it is also the same for everybody. So we feel that we are all in the same boat and everyone has to deal with it, you just have to keep our eyes looking forward for what is most important to us and keep in good spirits.

Lisa (USA): I want to start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed your Romeo and Juliet program! How do you both feel about the new judging system?

Melissa & Denis: Hi Lisa, thank you. The new judging system is very complex, it is keeping us constantly on our toes. I think that it still has some flaws but they are still reworking it and we look forward to see how it develops further.

Larry (USA): Ice Dance in the U.S. has zoomed from being figure skating’s unwanted step-child to being our strongest discipline. It must be an exciting time to be an American ice dancing team. Do you think we will have a good chance to corral three spots for the 2010 Olympics?

Melissa: I definitely think that we can have three spots for the Olympics. It was a great turn in U.S. ice dance to have three teams in Torino and I think that it will only get better and better. Soon America will dominate in dance.

Denis: Most Definitely! We are going to rock the world with US ice dance.

Mary (USA): I really enjoyed your Free Dance this season. How was the dance developed?

Melissa & Denis: Hi Mary, we have had the idea, Adam & Eve for some time now but have never found the right music to do the story justice. When we heard this music in the summer we immediately knew that this was the right piece for us. We took it to our coach and presented our idea to her. She immediately fell in love with it and the process began.

Janet (USA): How did you feel about Meryl Davis and Charlie White beating you at Worlds?

Melissa & Denis: We feel good about how we skated and we had a great year last season. With this new system every competition is a new event and anyone’s game. So we look forward to next season and reinventing ourselves again to challenge many couples.

Paula (USA): Your OD this past season was titillating! How much input did you have in the music selection and choreography?

Melissa & Denis: We always have a lot of input in our material each year. We have to love and feel our music and choreography. It is a split effort between us and our coaches.

Mary (USA): How do you feel you’ve improved from your new coaches?

Melissa & Denis: We have improved a lot in our basic quality and technique. Which allows us to do more creative and challenging things on the ice. We have also improved in the performance area. We are able to perform and bring the audience into our dance much more now.

Anne (USA): What do you think of Belbin and Agosto?

Melissa: I think that they are a very strong and capable team. They have brought their own style to ice dancing and challenged a lot of top teams. And along with Elizabeth Punsalan & Jerod Swallow, and Renee Roca & Gorsha Sur, U.S. dance has become a strong sport.

Denis: It is nice to have a high level couple in the US. It makes it more interesting for the audience and makes for stronger competition standards in the US.

Mavy (USA): I really loved your Adam & Eve Free dance last season. The expressions and retelling of the story was first rate. Would you consider using this free dance again next season? Of not, what type of story would you like to portray next time?

Melissa: I think we probably will not keep this free dance for next season even though we do love it and we think that it is our best free yet to date. But we always are trying to better ourselves and grow as ice dancers and artists, so we feel that we need to try to challenge ourselves to try something different. We have not decided on a theme yet but it will for sure be different from anything else.

Denis: We are only on the beginning of discovering new ideas. Adam & Eve was a stepping stone and definitely our best yet, but we think that we can create even more.

Peggy (USA): Who were some of your skating role models when you were young?

Melissa: My biggest role model and pretty much sole reason that I skated is Brian Boitano. I was completely in love with him when I was a kid and respected his skating and technique.

Denis: I really liked Klimova & Ponomarenko when I was young. Christopher Dean, Usova & Zhulin, and Grishuk& Platov were all people that I watched and respected and could learn something different from all of them.

Marylou (USA): You are my favorite ice dance team and two of my favorite people in the world of skating. Up to this point in your career, what is the “best moment” that you have had on the ice?

Melissa: Thank you so much Marylou! I think that the best moment for me was the Olympic Games. When we finished our free dance and could take a second and look around with pride realizing that we are Olympians for the U.S.A. That was a very emotional moment I will never forget.

Denis: Hi Marylou! Thank you for such kind words. The best moments for me was when we received our standing ovations this past season with our competitive and show programs.

Toni R. (USA): Another great and amazing season behind you! 🙂 You never cease to amaze me! Which country/state that you haven’t skated in (tour or competition) that you would like to?

Melissa: Hi Toni, we feel very lucky because we love to travel and we get to do it so much! I really want to go to Egypt and India. I love history and all different cultures and I also would like to see South America and Africa.

Denis: I would love to go to Africa! I am not sure if they have an ice rink though, but if not it still would be cool to visit.

Larry (USA): Melissa, do you speak Russian? Do you often get a chance to visit Russia and meet Denis’ family?

Melissa: I do speak Russian! We try to get to Russia as often as possible but sometimes with our busy schedules it is hard. We are fortunate now though that my mother-in-law is able to get a visa to visit us here in the US.

Betty (USA): I love your skating, your programs, your music and costumes. You are the most attractive couple on the ice today. What is it like hanging out with Johnny Weir?

Melissa & Denis: Hi Betty, thank you! Johnny is awesome! He is a rock star! LOL We love Johnny, and we loved making this program and skating it with him for the whole tour. We love him for the person that he is, he is real and not afraid to be himself. And he has a really good heart.

Toni R. (USA): Do you have a favorite event you like to skate at?

Melissa & Denis: We loved skating and performing with Champions on Ice this year. We had such a great time and got to do what we love the most. Performing.

Alice (USA): I really don’t know much about ice dance and pair skating, but I do know that it must take a whole lot of trust in each other. Were there times when you two could not stand each other? If so, is it one of those things where you just have to suck it up and deal with it?

Melissa: It takes a lot of trust in your partner to be successful so I feel very thankful that my partner is my husband! He is one of the only people that I trust the most because I know that in any situation he only wants the best for me and us. I know that he will do anything he can to make me the happiest and the best. So if there are tired days which everyone has them and I would be lying if I said that we didn’t but, in those times I always remember that we are only trying and aiming for the same goals and result, we are only trying to better each other to be the best because we love each other.

Denis: I could never not stand my wife! There is always a lot of times in life that you don’t want to do things or you get tired but you have to do what’s right because I love the person that I am working with. You have to have a lot of courage to succeed in life.

Eros (USA): I had the pleasure of seeing the two of you at Champions on Ice this year. Both your competition and exhibition programs are stunning! Where do you get ideas for your programs, and how do you go about choreographing them? They always seem to have taken so much thought!

Melissa & Denis: Thanks Eros. They do take a lot of thought and not just on our part. We have choreographers and coaches and costume designers and many other people that go into making the final product perfect. We usually put the music on on the ice and just start skating and moving how we feel to the music and from there we find ideas.

Annie F. (USA): Other than ice dancing, what are your other interests in life?

Melissa & Denis: We love to travel. We love to see the different cultures and history all around the world. I (Denis) like cars and we like good gourmet food. We love to go out and have an amazing meal together and taste different foods. We like to go see shows like movies, concerts, Broadway shows, anything that has good quality entertainment. And I (Melissa) love to cook.

Toni R. (USA): Have any funny moments from touring with COI that you could share?

Melissa & Denis: There are so many great and funny moments and memories that we had on tour. We had a great time and made so many friends and met a lot of people. We can’t really define one particular moment because there are so many.

Paula (USA): Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions! What advice would you give to young skaters who would like to become competitive ice dancers?

Melissa & Denis: Just to follow your dreams and have fun doing it. Remember that it always gets difficult sometimes but that’s ok and never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something! Because you can do anything! Don’t fall into and become a part of your coach or critics or anyone, make them become a part of you.