Meet Daniel Tsarik
If you would have asked ice dancer Daniel Tsarik three years ago what he thought he would be doing in 2019, he probably wouldn't have guessed that he would representing Team USA internationally or training with one of the best coaches in the world. But here he is, three years after he traded in his ballroom dance shoes for a pair of skates and a seemingly impossible dream. I am so inspired by Daniel's story and his unique path to ice dancing. He is a hard worker, a thoughtful human being, and a very talented skater who is just getting started. Read on to learn about Daniel's amazing journey and how he and partner Ella Ales are making a name for themselves!
Birthday: February 11th, 2001 (18 years old)
Born: Grodno, Belarus
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Currently: Novi, Michigan, USA
Country Represented: USA
Skating Club: Novi SC
Discipline: Ice Dance
Partner: Ella Ales
Training Location: Novi Ice Arena in Novi, Michigan, USA
Coach: Igor Shpilband
Blades: MK Dance
Ballroom --> Hockey --> Ice Dance
Q: You didn't have the most conventional path to ice dance: you were a ballroom dancer for seven years (and won two national titles), played hockey for two years, and actually just started figure skating three years ago - which is very hard to believe because you're so good! So first things first, how did you get your start in ballroom dance?
A: My start in the world of ballroom came thanks to my parents enrolling me in an excellent Russian private school in Philadelphia. Other than offering a very strict curriculum, the school also offered plenty of activities for us to try, one of which was ballroom dance. The ballroom teacher noticed I had a particular gravitation toward the world of art and dance and encouraged my parents to sign me up in his local classes. Before this, I was also taking theatre classes in the city and Russian ballet - all at the age of six.
Q: Can you explain the world of ballroom dance to us a bit? What does the competitive circuit look like, and how similar or different is everything from ice dance (besides, you know, the whole ice part)?
A: The world of ballroom was very unique to anything I had previously experienced. I still remember my first ballroom competition - I walked through the doors and was instantly immersed in the smell of bronzer and hairspray. Nothing beats the feeling of walking onto the dance floor and hearing the number on the back of your shirt being yelled by everyone at the top of their lungs, you get a certain rush that is indescribable. Ballroom is a very high-class sport, and this is very apparent when you walk in and see that everyone is in suits and heels. The main difference between ballroom and figure skating is that you may sometimes have to dance fifteen rounds (one round being five dances), where in figure skating you are done after seven minutes.
Daniel in his ballroom dance days, with former partner Victoria Gribman
Q: What was your hockey experience like when you were younger, and do you think it helped or hurt your figure skating technique, since the two sports are more different than people think?
A: Any on-ice movement will definitely help, so I believe that hockey absolutely helped me more than it hurt me. As you said, hockey and figure skating are very different, and that was very evident from the first time I stepped onto the ice in figure skates and instantly fell because of my toepick.
Q: Okay, now onto ice dance! What inspired you to start and how hard was it at first - did you have days early on where you wanted to give up?
A: I started taking ballet lessons to help my dancing with a Russian coach named Zhanna Palagina six months before my ballroom partner and I split. Zhanna worked with Evgeni Platov in New Jersey, and when she found out that I didn't currently have a partner, she encouraged me to try figure skating. I was still trying to find a "good enough" partner for ballroom, so I was very reluctant at first. My search wasn't successful, so I decided to try something new. I was very embarrassed at first because I could hardly do anything. Usually, I would love it when people would watch me dance, but not on the ice. There were plenty of days where I would doubt myself and wonder why I was doing this, but the people at my rink helped encouraged me every day, which made me work even harder and not pity myself.
Daniel and Ella during their Argentine Tango rhythm dance at the 2019 US Nationals
(photo by Daphne Backman, ice-dance.com)
Q: How much did your ballroom dance partnering translate over to ice dance partnering?
A: Partnering was surprisingly very similar to ballroom. I believe that if you can lead a girl off the ice, you should be able to lead on the ice as well.
Q: You grew up in Philadelphia and recently made the move to Novi, Michigan, to train with Igor Shpilband and skate with Ella Ales - how did that partnership come about, and were you excited to train at one of the top ice dance schools in the country?
A: I skated in Montreal with the Gadbois team for about three months, and when I came back to Philadelphia, I called Igor asking him if he had any singles girls for me to try out with. I knew Ella was with Igor because I previously DM'd her about a possible tryout before I left for Gadbois, but it didn't work out because we both weren't willing to relocate at the time. I arrived in Novi at the end of May knowing I would have multiple tryouts; however, I came knowing I would really only want to skate with Ella.
Daniel and Ella on and off the ice (second photo from bottom left by Daphne Backman, ice-dance.com)
Q: I'm seriously so amazed by you and Ella, your programs, and your progress in your first season together and your first season skating full-time. Did it even cross your mind that you might medal at Sectionals or be invited onto Team USA during your first year?
A: As it was my first full season as a figure skater, I went in hopeful but also with little expectations. Ella and I used this season to test out the waters a bit and see where we would end up. We are very happy to have made Team USA and cannot wait to come in guns blazing next season!
Q: Do you ever feel like you're playing catch-up since you're new to the world of ice dance? What has surprised you the most about the skating world?
A: I try to take every day, every training session, one step at a time. Sometimes I do think about the fact that I haven't been in this sport for long and that I don't have the same experience as others, but I guess that's what makes me unique. The thing that surprised me about the skating world is that everyone knows each other; the skating world seems a lot smaller - but at the same time a lot friendlier - than the ballroom world.
These two firecrackers are a perfect match! Pictured striking poses on a Michigan balcony and taking a selfie on a German mountaintop during the Bavarian Open
Q: Between training and school, you also somehow find the time to run @inspiringskaters on Instagram - which has 63K followers and counting! What's the backstory on that, and how much time of your daily life does it consume?
A: My friend Sasha (you probably know her as @sashaskates) started the Instagram page and then asked me to keep it going for her in the summer. Training and school obviously take up most of my time, but I try to set aside some time during the day to find cool skating videos to repost!
Q: What are your goals going forward in the next few seasons?
A: Our goal for the upcoming seasons is to really make a name for ourselves, both individually and as a team. We really want to be thought of as a unit on the ice that has something special.
These two are rising stars for sure!
Favorite dance style/rhythm as a ballroom dancer?
Favorite pattern dance as an ice dancer?
Argentine Tango, just because we competed it this year
What's at the top of your bucket list?
Bungee jumping off a cliff and deep-sea diving!
Who do you look up to in ice dance?
Hardest skating move to master for you?
Twizzles and spins
Look, Daniel and Anthony are flying!
Who's the last person that made you laugh?
Strangest thing you've ever eaten?
What do you want to be remembered for?
Quote to live by?
Keep up with Daniel
Watch out for Daniel and Ella this upcoming season, and make sure to follow Daniel's account @inspiringskaters for daily figure skating content!
Check out our interview with Daniel's partner Ella Ales here.
All other photos courtesy of Daniel Tsarik