Biechler and Dodge have been competing together since May of 2012. After four seasons competing as juniors, they are moving up to compete as seniors for the first time. Their best finish at nationals came last season when they placed 5th. They had their best international season last year as well, earning a bronze medal at JGP Austria. They had the opportunity to compete internationally this season, placing 4th at Lombardia Trophy.
How did you two pair up?
Dodge (DD): We paired up through ice partner search as well as through mutual connections between coaches. Julia had seen my former partner (Cassandra Jeandell) and I at a competition and stopped to watch us because we spray painted our hair multiple colors for our program. She remembered me because of this and as soon as she saw my name on partner search she reached out. We had one tryout and I had basically decided I wanted to skate with her, even before having any other tryouts. She had other prospects but luckily chose me.
How would you describe yourselves as a team?
We would describe ourselves as a unique and powerful team. We have always tried to steer away from being “traditional” ice dancers and enjoy coming up with programs we feel show our personalities in some capacity or another. As partners, we are up front with our expectations for ourselves and each other and this has allowed us to continue to work together without causing tension. We are our own biggest critics and this helps us to continue moving forward to avoid complacency.
Tell me about yourselves outside of skating.
Biechler (JB): I’m currently a high school senior at Commonwealth Charter Academy (online school) and will be attending Wilmington University this fall. I also have recently started coaching kids at the rink in Aston where we train.
I’m a senior at Drexel University with a major in health services administration and a minor in organizational management. I coach most afternoons between our training and going to class. My intermediate dance team, Olivia Sebastiani and Dillon Berry, are competing at nationals as well. I also volunteer for the Crisis Text Line (741741), as a crisis counselor, to help those in imminent risk of harming themselves or others. I try to volunteer for the Special Olympics, when time permits, because I have met some of the most amazing athletes through my time spent volunteering.
Tell me about your programs this season.
Our short dance is Why Don’t You Do Right from Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a swing remix of Tainted Love. The overall theme is the wealthy male hoping for the attention of the attractive woman. She continues to tease him until they start to have somewhat of a fling. She goes for the money and he goes for the looks.
Our free is a program we both feel extremely passionate about. Sia’s song is about a recurring negative thing and we decided to portray it as addiction. Most people become addicted to something negative at some point in their lives. Sometimes it’s love or money, or sometimes it can be drugs and alcohol. Our goal is to try to show Julia’s struggle with the addiction and Damian’s strong support throughout. Once she gets past the tough point, both can rejoice in the fact that she is “recovered.”
You won your first international medal last season at JGP Austria (a bronze). What was it like to stand on an international podium?
JB: It was surreal. I felt a huge amount of honor and pride to have been able to compete and win a bronze medal for our country internationally. It was an overwhelming feeling being up there and knowing that what you have been working for and dreaming about is finally happening.
DD: It was amazing! Being an “older team” has always been incredibly difficult and it seemed like we would never achieve our goals of being on Team USA, let alone medaling at a JGP. Last season was our last year of age eligibility, and taking the bronze in Austria was the perfect cap to our Junior international career.
Both of you have active volunteer schedules. Why is giving back so important to you?
DD: I love volunteering because I think it’s extremely important to give back whenever possible. When I was growing up, with a single mother, many people helped us along the way and I will always remember how far little acts of kindness can go. I also have learned so much about myself through giving back. When helping with the Special Olympics, I’ve met some of the most down to earth athletes and it reminds me that sports are all about having fun and enjoying the act of competing as opposed to the results. With my time volunteering for the Crisis Text Line, I’ve talked to people at, potentially, their lowest point in life and helped them to find the positives to realize their life is worth living. Having a person’s life essentially in the palm of my hand has shown me how valuable every day is and how just listening to a person can save their life.
Damian—you received the junior coach of the year award at your rink last year. What do you like best about coaching and what do you think it has added to your own skating?
DD: Coaching has been such an eye-opening experience in my life. I started teaching Learn to Skate when I was 13 and deciding coaching was something I’d never want to pursue. Over time I started to realize how beneficial coaching was towards my own skating and how much passion I had towards helping others learn the sport I love. The last few years I have started to coach almost as much as I skate, and my favorite thing is being able to help and watch skaters of all ages achieve their goals. There are many times I find myself telling students things I’ve been told by our coaches or judges in the past and I find myself having “aha” moments when it happens. This, by far, has been the most valuable aspect towards my own skating because it helps me truly understand where my coaches are coming from when they make certain comments.
What are you looking forward to most skating as seniors at nationals for the first time?
We’re excited to be competing against some of the teams we’ve looked up to for most, if not all, of our skating careers. It’s surreal to even be in the same event and we are looking forward to the learning experience this competition will provide for us. It feels like we can relax a little and try to enjoy the event in order to learn as much as we can about being a senior US team.
You competed as seniors internationally for the first time at Lombardia Trophy. What was that experience like?
It was surprisingly relaxed. Although we were not completely satisfied with our performances, it was crazy to see how different the atmosphere is at a Challenger Series event than at a Junior Grand Prix. Although it was still nerve-wracking and stressful to compete, especially as first time seniors, it was amazing to see the difference in attitude our competitors had. It’s almost as though, in junior, everyone is so eager to gain the attention of everyone watching they let it control their skating, while in senior, the mindset is to focus on making the skating look so effortless that it forces people to watch.
You’ve traveled to a lot of European countries through skating. What has been your favorite so far and why?
JB: Austria and Germany. Both are such beautiful countries and everything was easy to get to once there. We also skated extremely well at both.
DD: Italy was my favorite so far for several reasons. This was the first competition we’ve had where we had multiple days of “sightseeing time.” In most of the other countries we’ve been to, we had one good day of sightseeing, and usually a few hours here and there throughout the week. Slovenia was also one of my favorites because it was the first place in Europe I had ever been.
Julia—you still compete in singles skating, winning South Atlantic Regionals and finishing 6th at Eastern Sectionals in the junior ladies division. What do you like best about singles skating? How do you balance the training since it is a different skill set from ice dance?
JB: I love jumping, spinning, and being able to have the freedom to express myself out on the ice. Both disciplines complement each other more than people realize. Dance helps freestyle with footwork, edges, and everything that has to do with the components side. It helps me be graceful. Freestyle helps dance with lifts, spins, and even things like the one foot part of a step sequence. It helps me be able to hold my own while skating with Damian.
Have you made any changes to your programs for nationals?
After Lombardia, we essentially scrapped all choreography in both programs, and decided to keep only the few things we felt had potential to bring the programs where they needed to be. Sectionals helped to show us we were on the right path and we have made several small changes since. Most of our changes have been a result of working with Galit Chait on improving our technical skating and we have worked to improve our step sequences especially.
What are your goals for nationals? For next season?
Our main goal for nationals is to stay as relaxed as possible in order to show the work we have put in this season. We tend to stray from setting numerical goals because they do not necessarily help motivate us in preparing for competitions. When focusing on a score, or placement, we’d like to achieve, it takes the focus away from our own skating and does not provide us with the necessary steps needed to advance our skating. Also, as mentioned, our goal for nationals is to use it as a learning tool towards the coming seasons. Our goals for next season are to improve on our overall finesse and look on the ice. There are times we still feel we don’t quite look like a senior team yet and are eager to continue developing our basic skating skills.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
We’re excited to compete our first senior nationals and appreciate all the support we’ve received the last few seasons. Skating has opened up the world to us and are we are extremely grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given while being optimistic toward more to come. You can follow us at:
Instagram: @j_biechler and @tazdamiandevil
Twitter: @JuliaBiechler and @TazDamian_Devil