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Winnipeg Dancers Look to Future

by Barry Mittan
Barry Mittan

Manitoban dancers Lauren Flynn and Leif Gislason are among Canada's hopes for the future in ice dancing.

Manitoban dancers Lauren Flynn and Leif Gislason are among Canada’s hopes for the future in ice dancing. The couple won the novice dance title at the 2000 Canadians and finished third and second in juniors the last two years. They have competed in five international Junior Grand Prix events, finishing seventh at the 2000 Mexico Cup, fourth at the 2001 Sofia Cup in Bulgaria, and sixth at the 2001 SBC Cup in Nagano, Japan and fourth at both their 2002 events in Montreal and Beijing.

The dancers cited several popular dancers who have inspired their skating. Gislason said his favorites were definitely Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. “They have a calmness and ease about there skating that is unmatched. Confidence and balance are definite highlights with this team,” he said. Flynn listed her favorites as “Shae-Lynn (Bourne) and Victor (Kraatz) for all that they have done for ice dance in Canada. Marina and Gwendal for their innovative and powerful skating. Margarita (Drobiazko) and Povilas (Vanagas) for their strong technical abilities, and Angelica (Krylova) and Oleg (Ovsiannikov) for their presence and elegance on the ice.” The couple’s skating reflects many of the qualities of these skaters.

Gislason got into figure skating by accident. “I started hockey when I was two,” he said, “and at the age of seven I signed up for what I thought to be power skating lessons. When I arrived in all of my hockey equipment the lady said, ‘I’m sorry Leif this is figure skating,’ so naturally I didn’t really want to do it, but for some reason I did, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Flynn comes from a skating family and was on the ice when she was three. “I started skating because my older brother was always skating and I wanted to be able to as well,” she said. “My brothers both play hockey, as did my father and grandfather. One of my cousins still competes in singles, and two of my other cousins used to skate as well. There is an outdoor rink behind my house in Winnipeg, so that was where I learned how to skate. I started taking lessons at five years old and started skating with Leif when I was ten.”

“We were both singles skaters in Winnipeg and we both won our provincials the same year, so our parents decided it would be cute for us to skate together,” she continued. “I used to compete singles as well as dance, but I ran out of time to practice both disciplines. I favored dance over singles so my decision over which one to focus on was simple.” Neither skater has had another partner.

The dancers have trained at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club for the last four years with Paul MacIntosh, with assistance from Suzanne Killing and Rebecca Babb. Their off ice training includes ballet and conditioning work. Flynn started ballet when she was four. “I find it really helps my skating. My aunt danced professionally with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and she now teaches with a modern dance company,” she said. So dancing is in her blood.

“I love to dance off ice,” she continued. “I used to dance competitively in ballet, jazz and tap. We did a little ballroom, hip hop, and modern as well. If I had more time I would take a different dance class each day.” Gislason isn’t quite as sure-footed off ice. “I try,” he said. “but we have a great time.” He hasn’t taken ballet but said, “I’ve been able to pick up fairly quickly from Lauren, and subconsciously I guess I try to match her skating style which is indeed fairly balletic.”

Flynn even enjoys the compulsory dances. “I actually like all of the compulsories, well all of them that I know anyways,” Flynn noted. “We still have a lot of them to learn. I love the starlight waltz, the Argentine tango and the rocker foxtrot. Those would have to be my favorite compulsories so far.”

Suzanne Killing choreographed the dancer’s programs for last season, which included “Corazon de Ora” and “Milonga Des Mis Amores” for the Spanish medley original dance and “La Luna” by Sarah Brightman for the free dance. This season, they are using “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” for their free dance. “Our coaches usually select pieces of music for us to listen to, then we pick them as a team,” Flynn stated. They don’t add much to the choreography themselves. “We like to throw in a few arms or heads, but we try not to change the steps too much. Sometimes I get a little carried away though and make a few adjustments. Our coaches always tease us about that,” Flynn laughed. She added that costume designing for the programs falls on her mother’s shoulders. “I help a little, but my mom is basically in charge of that aspect,” she said. “That’s her specialty.”

Gislason said he likes to skate to “something that suits our style, powerful, but still gives us the opportunity to make the program appear effortless.” Flynn added “I personally love to skate to music that makes you feel like skating. I love powerful music. I also love classical and balletic types of music. Anything that sounds beautiful makes our skating feel that way.” Off ice, Gislason listens to whatever’s playing, while Flynn’s favorite music is pop. “Pretty much anything that you would hear on the top 40 countdown,” she said. “My favorite group is the Backstreet Boys and I like Nickelback, N’SYNC, and Eden’s Crush.

She noted that “My goals are to go as far in my skating as possible. Probably like every other skater I dream of competing at the World and Olympic championships, hopefully with hard work our dreams will be realized.” Last season their goal was to qualify for Junior Worlds, which they accomplished with their silver medal in junior dance at Canadians. They finished 16th at Junior Worlds in Hamar, Norway.

The dancers have considered skating professionally after they finish eligible skating. “Performing in ice shows is one of our favorite things to do,” Flynn said, “so skating professionally would be wonderful. We would get to perform regularly but there would still be the chance to compete as well.” Flynn has no definite plans for a post-skating employment but said that coaching was a possibility. “I think it would be a fun thing to do,” Gislason added, “perhaps not as a career though.” He plans to study business and law at the university to become a sports agent.

To relax, Gislason focuses on golf, hockey and cars, while Flynn enjoys dancing, shopping, and going to the movies. “I love all types of movies,” she said. “Although I’m definitely a sucker for the chick flicks.” Gislason prefers comedies to romances in his movie choices and reads mainly Golf Digest and automotive magazines. Flynn loves to read. “I read a lot of different types of books. I love all of the books on skating, especially ‘My Sergei.’ I also read tons of magazines.” Unlike her partner, Flynn isn’t involved with any other sports. “Unfortunately I’m pretty bad at other sports, especially ones with balls,” she said. “I definitely wasn’t gifted in that field.”

She collects “Beanie babies and cute stuffed animals. “My brother once threw a 7 foot monkey onto the ice. It was hilarious,” she said. “Sometimes people throw T-shirts and practical gifts which are always nice to receive.” Gislason added that “I seriously feel honored when audience members feel so strongly about a performance that they care enough to honor the program by throwing things on the ice. This may come as a surprise, but anything they throw I am grateful for.”

This year, Flynn is in her final year of high school. “For the first semester of the school year I go to school at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo,” she explained. “For the second semester I do my schooling by correspondence through Silver Heights Collegiate in Winnipeg.” Gislason is also studying at Bluevale Collegiate, taking calculus this term.

For holidays, Flynn likes to a family cottage on Lake Winnipeg. “My favorite trips are when I get to go back home to Winnipeg to see my family,” she said. “I love to travel, but I’m not a fan of the long flights. They are incredibly boring!” Gislason agreed: “I don’t necessarily like travel per se (i.e. airplanes and bus rides). I do however love destinations. I’d have to say that Norway was the all-time favorite, with Japan a close second.”

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