For Australian ice dancing champions Natalie Buck and Trent Nelson-Bond, training with famed Russian dance coach Natalia Dubova at the Stamford Twin Rinks in Connecticut has been a dream come true. They originally began working with Dubova on a part-time basis last winter. “When we decided to work with Natalia, we sat down to set some goals to get to the 2006 Olympics with our parents and our coach, Anne-Zoe (Heiss),” Nelson-Bond explained. “We thought moving up two spots a year would be awesome. We’re not a strong skating country and we thought that was reasonable. But when we got the results in Washington, we couldn’t believe it. We moved up four places and just missed the free dance by one judge. It was refreshing to see our hard work pay off.” “Our judges and the association were really happy with the results,” Buck added. “It showed a real commitment. No one had done that before.” That was after only a few months of part-time training and it convinced them to move to Connecticut and train full-time with Dubova for a year.
“It took us a couple of years to get here,” Nelson-Bond remembered. “We were surprised when Natalia talked to us at our first Four Continents and told us she wanted us to work with her. It’s a big honor because she doesn’t take just anyone. She wants people who are willing to work and work hard. Natalia wants to keep the tradition of skating going. She lets Anne-Zoe sit in on our lessons so she can pass on her ideas and techniques. That was a real surprise for us. She does it because she loves it, not for the money. When we told her we wanted to come, she organized everything – the rinks, ice time, a place to stay, contacts, everything. It was amazing.”
“When we started training with Natalia, she pulled our technique apart and sent us back to the basics,” he continued. “We had to relearn a lot of technique and we were only just started when we got to Worlds. “We decided to put everything we had into our skating this year and see if it makes a difference,” Buck noted. “We’re doing all we can be to be the best we can be, tweaking up the costumes, doing lots of ice work, and spending a lot of time just thinking about our skating.” “This is the first time we’ve been able to focus all of our energies on skating,” Nelson-Bond emphasized. “Before, we’d skate at 5:30 in the morning, then work all day, plus Natalie had school. Now all of our focus is on skating.”
The training conditions in Connecticut are far beyond what they had experienced back home. “We have a lot more ice time here than we had in Australia,” Nelson-Bond said. “We’ve at least doubled from two to four hours a day.” “Now we get the ice to ourselves for our music instead of trying to skate around 50 kids when we were lucky to have our music played once or twice,” Buck added. They also have role models to watch. “We had really good couples to watch — the Chinese, the British, and the Russians,” Nelson-Bond stated. “And they’ll be back this year. “We learned a lot just watching them,” Buck echoed. “We got to see what we wanted to achieve. There was no one to compare ourselves to back home.”
The skaters have also benefited from the special fitness programs developed by Dubova’s husband, Simeon Belits-Geiman, an Olympic swimmer. “It’s a special program for skaters that helps to increase our coordination and flexibility,” Buck stated. “It reinforces the ideas that we’ve learned from Natalia on ice and helps us have a subconscious idea of how our partner’s moving. We do an hour a day twice a week and sometimes three to four times a week before competitions.” “We also have a lot more mirror work off ice now that we have a place with a mirror room in the gym,” Nelson-Bond noted. “It helps us get our timing right and determine where our hands need to be. We used to have to try things in our coach’s garage.”
They started their season at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships, where they won a gold medal in the Austrian Waltz and a silver in the Ravensburger. They also finished sixth in the senior free dance competition even though they didn’t yet have an ending for the program. “We want to do as many competitions as we can this season to show people that we are serious,” said Buck. “Usually, they see an Australian couple once and then never again. We put in for the Grand Prix, the Nebelhorn, Golden Spin, and Finlandia.” In their first competition at the Nebelhorn Trophy, they finished eleventh, but considered their free skate a personal best.” They finished tenth at the Finlandia Trophy.
This year they are skating to Vanessa Mae’s Storm for the free dance. “Natalie chose it,” Nelson-Bond said. “It’s really passionate and classical. It suits us.” “We want to show our long legs and extensions,” Buck added. “Andrea Toppe of the Australian Ballet choreographed a lot of the lifts and moves for us, but Natalia wants to increase the difficulty of the lifts and the moves during the season.” “We have to change our step sequences to match the new rules,” Nelson-Bond added. For their original dance, they are using Bernhardiner Blues by the Günter Noris Big Band and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy ‘s Modest Kind of Love – blues and swing music that Heiss put together from music that she and Dubova selected.
They also are working to raise the level of their compulsories. “We haven’t done the Yankee Polka before,” Buck stated. “It’s a weird one, not like anything else.” “It was actually invented by one of Natalia’s students, Jim Slatsky,” Nelson-Bond noted. “He comes by and helps us with it now and then when we have problems.”
It’s still a struggle for the young Aussies to finance their training. “It’s basically just us and our parents,” Nelson-Bond said. “I sold my car and we’re using all our savings. It’s hard when we hear of other skaters who have big funding, but it’s what most athletes go through sometime.” “The Cassellas have been great to us,” Buck said of Stamford’s owners. “And we live with a very nice family, whose daughter is a student of Natalia’s,” Buck said. “They couldn’t be nicer to us and even let us drive their car.” It’s a two-hour drive for the dancers to the rink in Stamford and 45 minutes to the Champions Rink in Cromwell, where they also train on some days.
“Now we have to prove ourselves, to be taken seriously at the competitions,” Nelson-Bond stated. “We want to show we appreciate all the things that people have done for us to get us here, especially, our parents. Without their support, we couldn’t have come at all.”