Pogrebinsky and Benoit bring beauty, strength, and passion to their senior debut

Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit teamed up in the spring of 2014.  They saw immediate success as a team, claiming the bronze medal at US Nationals as juniors less than a year after their partnership began.  They are also the reigning US Junior Bronze Medalists.  Their international credits include a bronze medal at JGP Spain in 2015 and a 4th place finish at Junior Worlds last season.  The team is based in Novi, Michigan and trains in Igor Shpilband’s renowned camp.

They moved up to seniors this season and earned a 7th place finish at Skate America and a 6th place finish at Rostlecom Cup, in addition to a 4th place finish at Nebelhorn Trophy and a bronze medal at Tallinn Trophy.  They earned personal bests in all segments of competition at Tallinn Trophy, and have the 17th best total score of the season internationally for juniors and seniors.

In addition to their competition demands (they flew a whopping 32,000 miles this season already) and daily training regimen, they both are attending college and find the time to give back through various volunteer work.

They are an incredibly warm and likable team on the ice (just check out their Elvis Presley themed short dance) and those same attributes can be used to describe them off the ice as well.  There’s a level of openness and honesty that makes their skating accessible, even to people who are not knowledgeable about the intricacies of ice dancing.  Behind that, there is a wealth of thought and detail put into their choreography and the nuances give way to a different experience for the audience with each performance.  If you haven’t seen Ellie and Alex skate yet, you’ll definitely be a fan after Kansas City!

How would you describe yourselves as a team?

Wow!  You started off with the difficult questions!  Currently in the discipline, many of the teams are artistically similar to one another, embracing the soft, lyrical, yet emotionally detached programs which are the trend of the moment.  In contrast, we feel that we are a unique team and that our strength lies in creating a classic beauty with underlying sophisticated power, and a genuine, palpable chemistry on the ice.  Obviously, we are a physically large team and that allows us to utilize our leg length not only for line, but for speed and ice coverage, too.  Coupled with Ellie’s love of dramatically intense programs, along with Alex’s theatre background, we are fortunate to be able to change up our program concepts each year, while still delivering a performance that can touch the spectator with a mix of emotions.  It has been fun for us to play the angel or the devil or the temptress or the rockstar and hopefully entertain the audience as well!  If we were forced to be succinct, we would describe ourselves with these six words: classic beauty, contemporary strength, palpable passion.

Tell me about yourselves outside of skating.

Pogrebinsky (EP):  I am a very artistic person and love photography.  I also enjoy drawing, painting, and playing the guitar.  Recently, I started cooking and baking, and after some experimentation with easy recipes, I’m now starting to feel natural in the kitchen and have enjoyed creating my own dinner and dessert ideas.  Another big part of me is my love for animals. In addition to donating to a local shelter, I will be volunteering there after Nationals. At various times in my life, I’ve had a dog, hamsters, a gerbil, and have a guinea pig. Recently, I adopted a 9-month-old cat (Tux) from the shelter, and he has been a wonderful addition to our family!  In my free time, you can almost always find me hanging with my pets and laughing at all the silly things they do. 

Benoit (AB): I love spending time with friends, researching fast cars, hiking outdoors, or enjoying film and other pop culture.  I also spend my free time creating ……whether it is writing, photography, art …. Which ultimately helps me to figure out who I am as a person.

Tell me about your programs this seson. 

Our short dance  (“Trouble” by Elvis Presley) is a story told from two perspectives, as a rock star (the King) interacts with one of his adoring fans.  Initially, the King is full of bravado, bragging about his bad boy persona while the fangirl is swooning.  But her persistence and cuteness ultimately win him over, and while he insists that he’s trouble, they end the dance together.  Fabian Bourzat and Rohene Ward both had significant roles in this program, and it has been a fun process to bring this story and these roles to life.

Our free dance tells the Persian legend of Layla’s temptation of Majn
un, using classical and contemporary music.  In our story, the beautiful Layla tempts Majnun to the edge of insanity, since he is prohibited from marrying her. The element placement and choreography is fascinating in this program, because the intention is to draw the spectator (along with Majnun), through the temptation (represented by the sinuous, fluid curves and elements of the first two minutes) to the brink of insanity (skated with tight, complex curves, rotational elements and increasing tempo from the twizzles through the end of the program).  The ending pose of the program is intentionally ambiguous, to let the spectator decide whether Majnun gets Layla or loses her.  We have absolutely fallen in love with this program — the music is mesmerizingly seductive, and it allows Ellie to have fun being provocative and little bit bad, all at the same time!

What made you decide to move up to compete as seniors this season?

We made the decision to forego our last year of junior eligibility and move up to senior, because we (our coaching team, our parents, and us) felt that we could benefit from the move.  We had finished our 2016 season with a very successful World Junior Championships in Hungary, and when we had our post-season team meeting, the question was asked whether we would grow as a team more from remaining junior or from challenging ourselves as seniors.  The two of us were very intrigued with the prospect of moving up, although we knew that we would likely be turning down an opportunity to compete at the Junior Grand Prix Final.  It was ultimately decided that moving up would be the better challenge, Igor approached US Figure Skating about the move, and they were supportive of the request.

You were assigned to two Grand Prix events this year.  How was that experience compared to the Junior Grand Prix circuit?

It was exhilarating to take the ice with most of the top ice dancers in the world, even though we have the pleasure of training with many of them on our home ice in Novi.  However, when you add in the excitement of the crowd, the officials, the television cameras and the “supersized” atmosphere of a Grand Prix event, the entire experience takes on a life of its own.  We felt pretty prepared for the event by the time we got to Skate America.  USFS does a great job with simulations at Champs Camp, plus our coaching staff has so much experience in guiding teams down this path, that our job was made much easier.  We got to enjoy the process of pushing ourselves so much further than we could have otherwise, and to start to discover just how much we could achieve!

In addition to your two Grand Prix assignments, you competed twice on the Challenger Series, winning bronze at the Tallinn Trophy.  What was it like to win your first senior international medal?

Actually, our first event as a senior team was the Senior B event at the Lake Placid International Championships, in July.  To win that event, even after getting a late start to our season, was just amazing, and it helped us to believe in ourselves and in this first senior season.  That being said, to finish our fall competition season with a podium finish in Tallinn was awesome!  From June (Dance Camp) through late November (Tallinn Trophy), we had 7 major skating events, flew 32,000 miles, had 48 time zone changes, and were both attending college.  Needless to say, we wre feeling some mental and physical fatigue by the time we reached Tallinn Trophy, and the bronze medal, along with personal best scores in both events, was a really wonderful acknowledgement of what we had achieved.

Having competed so many times internationally before nationals, what have you learned before your senior national debut?

We were fortunate for the opportunity to perform in front of such knowledgeable and appreciative audiences at Skate America and Rostelecom Cup, and we learned to stay in the moment when we are performing.  A truly memorable performance is created when the technical elements are balanced with the artistic aspects, AND the spectator (audience member or official) has a positive, visceral response to what is being experienced.  As athletes, we train to perform the technical; as artists, we train to perform the artistic.  But as actors, we must connect with one another and with the audience, while we are in the moment, to create the desired response.  We feel that we improved this process significantly during our fall competitions, and are prepared to get out on the ice in Kansas City and share something truly incredible with another wonderful audience!

How has your training changed now that you’re both in college?  What do your studies
(Kinesiology and Acting) add to your skating

EP: I take all of my classes online, which allows me to be more flexible and free to skate in the mornings before Alex goes off to his classes.  We still get a good amount of time on and off the ice before we have to leave the rink.  It isn’t our training schedule that has changed this season, as much as what we used to do after our practices.  Knowing that kinesiology will be my profession has made me more aware of my body and how to keep it in prime shape.  I am so interested in this path, due to the fact that sports have been such a major part of my entire life.  Dealing with pains is something that every elite athlete endures.  I have already gained so much knowledge through experience, and now gaining the education to back that up is a really exciting process.

AB: School has definitely helped our training!  While Ellie gets to develop her knowledge about the human body, I get to study culture and human interaction.  We each bring these new elements to our partnership, both on and off the ice.  Obviously, my studies involve a tremendous amount of work to develop characters and movement styles, in addition to performing in front of an audience.  There is a direct connection between this work and what the ice dance discipline rewards, so I feel that I have a significant advantage over skaters without this type of training.

Alex—what interested you in becoming a figure skating judge?

AB: Growing up, my mother served as a USFS National Dance Judge & Technical Controller, but she also was very active locally as a test judge for my home club (Skokie Valley Skating Club).  I was always impressed by how she could be so impactful in multiple roles at the same time — incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and helpful to developing skaters on one hand, and yet fully committed to staying home to raise my brothers and me on the other.  I saw how many skaters were helped by her knowledge, and how selflessly she gave of her time and expertise to help them become the best that they could be. When she resigned from judging for the sake of my skating career and to eliminate the potential for conflict of interest, she never made me feel as if she were making a sacrifice, even though I know how important judging had been to her.  I love my mother and have an unbelievable respect for what she did for me, and for what she has done for this sport.  And it was this respect that inspired me to give back to my sport and to serve as a USFS judge.

Elliana—you’ve worked with three very famous coaching teams in the U.S.  What have you taken from each of those experiences?

EP: Every coaching team has a special aspect about them.  I think I am fortunate to have been with those who have passed on their skills and have helped mold me into the skater I am.  Each training location is different and is based around certain focuses.  By coming from multiple coaches (including Olympic Champions Klimova and Ponomarenko and by the coaches at Wheaton Ice Skating Academy), I am able to have a mix of all the qualities that help an ice dancer grow.  I could not be happier learning from Igor Shpilband and everyone else in Team Novi.  I believe I have found my permanent location and look forward to all that the future may bring for Alex and I as we train with Igor. 

Talk to me about your work with Touch My Heart USA.

AB: I have worked with Touch My Heart USA for a while, as they are headquartered near my home in Chicago, and I have known the founders of the not-for-profit organization for a number of years.  The charity serves a community that frequently goes unnoticed, and the idea of helping others who are less fortunate resonates with me.  The organization creates leisure and educational opportunities for people with special needs, in addition to collecting and distributing goods to their group homes.  When I was still in Chicago, I visited the group homes and assisted with the collection and distribution of donations.  Due to my move to Michigan, my involvement with TMH is severely restricted, so when I realized that I could use our participation in Skate America to help TMH, I asked Ellie for her help, and we created the glove drive.  Our fan response was outstanding and we collected so many pairs of gloves during our two events.  They were donated to TMH and shared as gifts from Santa for the 500 special needs guests at the TMH-hosted holiday party in December.

Have you made any changes to your programs for nationals?

We are both laughing at this question!  There is an urban legend that Igor once changed a team’s program between the free dance five-minute warmup and when they took the ice to compete the program, so needless to say, all of us in Novi are continually updating our programs.  Frankly, we have made so many changes — some big and some small — since Tallinn, that it is hard to remember exactly what our programs were like then.  Some changes are made to boost levels and GOEs and others are made to help with PCS.  But inevitably, the changes make the programs better and keep them fresh after all of the mileage they have already seen.  It is a wonderful process to see the evolution of each program over the course of the season.

What are your goals for nationals? For next season?

Oh wow — another incredibly difficult question to answer!!  If we were being overly politically correct, we would say that our goals are to skate our best and to deliver two strong performances and let the chips fall where they may.  If we were being completely frank, however, we would say that with the amount of dedication, sacrifice, time, money, and pure hard work that skating demands, EVERY competitor strives for more than that.  Truth be told, our US dance field is so ridiculously deep right now, that stating a placement goal would be impulsive.  Instead, we know that we are trained and we expect ourselves to perform well in Kansas City and to enjoy the experience.  As a sidebar, we hope that our skating will engage the audience enough to encourage them to follow us on social media, and to continue to grow our Ellie & Alex following!  

Is there anything else you want people to know?

We are grateful to have so many wonderful experiences through skating and we love to share them with our fabulous fans.  We love to hear from our fans and we personally respond to our inquiries.  You can follow us at: 

  1. Instagram: pogrebinsky_benoit
  2. Twitter: @Ellie_and_Alex
  3. Facebook: www.facebook.com/PogrebinskyBenoit
  4. http://pogrebinsky-benoit.ice-dance.com


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