Ice dancing through the pandemic

March 3, 2021 — by Sanjoli Gupta

Freshman Ameya Saund returned to the ice in the middle of her two-hour session in November, zipped into a custom jacket and worn-out skates. She didn’t know what to do. Her ice dancing coach had just shouted instructions over the loud background music, but the music swallowed his words. Previously, skaters connected their phones to the facility’s sound system. But after the Shark’s High San Jose Ice Rink re-opened in mid-July, new pandemic policies forced skaters to bring their own music speakers that now line up where the coaches stand, drowning out their instructions. 

This is just one of the many challenges Saund has faced while continuing her passion for ice dancing during the pandemic. 

In ice dancing, athletes do classical dances such as the tango and waltz solo, in duets or groups on the ice. Saund is a solo dancer and is currently in the Bronze category, the third of six competition levels. Saund has been skating since 2014, ice dancing since 2016 and competing since 2017. 

Before the pandemic, she went to competitions twice a month and had the entire rink to practice instead of sharing with multiple groups.

When the pandemic began in March, Saund was initially relieved not to have to skate but soon realized it was something she enjoyed and looked forward to.

The pandemic has put Saund into a “determined streak,” where she attends all the sessions every morning and is dedicated during practices since she can’t make up sessions on the weekends.

Saund said she was unhappy the competitions for this season were canceled, though she hopes to compete next season.

To make up for the lack of competitions, a showcase was provided for dancers who had prepared for this year's canceled finals. They submitted their finals performances in a video sent to coaches, who provided feedback. 

Since multiple ice rinks were closed because of COVID-19, people from different communities and skating centers have been training at Saund’s center, Shark’s High San Jose Ice Rink. She said she tried to strike up conversations with the new skaters and make friends, but it proved difficult when she couldn’t hear them through a mask from 6 feet away. 

With more people coming to the same rink, multiple groups must share the rink to fit into the tight schedule. Saund recalled how advanced skaters were occasionally halted when younger skaters accidentally disrupted their routines.

She has also adapted to performing while wearing a mask. When Saund started skating again, she said her least favorite thing about practices was having to wear a mask, and while she understood their importance, she said it drastically changed her performance by reducing her oxygen intake.

But her coach told her a story about his coach, who would train with a mask in high altitude areas in Wales to prepare for competitions because the ice rinks would be located in higher altitudes with less oxygen. Slowly, after three weeks of practicing, Saund adjusted to the mask. Though the pandemic caused new restrictions, Saund found some new flexibility with online classes.  Her sessions are scheduled at 6 a.m., but she is able to begin virtual school in the car if she is running late.

In all these months, being on the ice has been a refuge for her. 

“It's a great way to express myself because there are lots of different types of dances and I’ve always loved dancing since I was little,” Saund said. “I love dancing and it was really cool to put it on the ice.”