When Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates announced the end of their successful 11-year partnership in late July many were surprised.
But just a few days later, Bates revealed that he would be continuing his career with 2011 U.S. bronze medalist Madison Chock, squashing any hope of reconciliation.
After sitting out the 2010-11 season while Bates healed from an Achilles tendon injury, Samuelson faced the possibility of missing another year of competition.
“After skating with someone for 11 years, it was a little diffi- cult to figure out what to do next,” the 21-year-old explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I started thinking about the direction in which I wanted to take my life.”
At the same time, 2005 U.S. junior ice dance champion Todd Gilles, 25, was doing a little soul searching of his own after taking a yearlong hiatus from the sport.
“I was considering going back to school or coaching,” Gilles said. “It was a weird year for me. So much of my life had been all about skating, and I knew that I had the ability to do well. It was all kind of sad for me.”
Gilles was working at a local club in Lake Placid, N.Y. when he struck up a conversation with Samuelson’s former coach, Yuri Chesnichenko.
“He asked me what my plans were,” Gilles recalled. “I told him that if the right partner became available, I would consider coming back.”
Chesnichenko immediately phoned Samuelson to let her know that Gilles might be coaxed back into skating, and suggested that she ask for a tryout.
“Todd and I have been friends for many years, so it was easy for me to approach him,” Samuelson said. “I watched some videos of him before we had our tryout, and I was struck with how expressive he was.”
Gilles had always admired the precision that Samuelson demonstrated as a competitor, and accepted Samuelson’s invitation for an audition.
“I noticed immediately that Emily is a very hard worker,” Gilles said. “We get along well together, and we both thought that we should give this a shot.”
Samuelson and Gilles made the commitment to skate together as a team, but knew they had their work cut out for them.
First on the list was to find a coaching situation that supported their desire to compete this season. “We were really open to anything, but it was important that we chose someone who had enough time and energy to devote to us,” Gilles said. “We checked out a number of coaching scenarios, and came to a mutual decision.”
In the end, they decided to work with Samuelson’s former coaching team of Chesnichenko and Yaroslava (Yasa) Nechaeva in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It is comforting to be back with my old coaches,” Samuelson admitted. “I felt like I didn’t miss any time with them at all.”
Though he is still new to the training camp, Gilles is impressed with what he has seen thus far. “Yuri and Yasa have a lot of time to dedicate to us. There’s no looking back — it’s always about what do we do tomorrow,” he said. The duo decided to work with Gilles’ longtime choreographers Christopher Dean and Tom Dickson in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Todd was singing the praises of Chris and Tom’s choreography, so we thought it would be a good fit,” Samuelson said. “My impression of Chris is that he is just a genius — everything is so precise, yet so loose and free at the same time. He has everything mapped out before you even step foot onto the ice. He choreographed our free dance in one week.”
Dickson was charged with creating the duo’s short dance for the season — a tall order for the self-described “ginger” pair. “We don’t look Latin with our red hair and fair skin, so Tom didn’t create the traditional Latin dance for us,” Gilles explained. “He did everything to make the program work for us without
losing the flavor of the Rumba.”
Samuelson and Gilles hope that the blending of different approaches to their discipline from their previous partnerships will make them stand out at competitions.
“Emily never has a finger out of place, and I think that has forced me to be more exact,” Gilles said. “We’re kind of meeting somewhere in the middle of both of our styles, and we’re starting to create something new for both of us.”
With choreography done, the pair hopped into Gilles’ car and made the 1,300-mile trek back to Ann Arbor to prepare for their scheduled competitive debut at the 2012 Midwestern Sectionals in Fort Collins, Colo. in November.
“Our goal is to get to nationals,” Gilles said. “It would be great if we could make the Four Continents team, since it is in my hometown of Colorado Springs this season. In the long term, we want to go to Worlds and compete at the Olympic Winter Games."
Originally published in December 2011