Performing's in Their Blood
J. Barry Mittan

For Kimberly Navarro and Rob Shmalo, sixth-place finishers in senior dance at the last two U. S. Nationals, it's the performance that's most important. "I really love to perform," Navarro stated. That's a family trait for both skaters. Navarro's mother, Lisa, was a pairs skater who toured with several ice shows, including the Ice Capades. Her uncle, Mark Illsley, is a movie producer and director, while Shmalo's sister, also a former competitive skater, is involved in musical theatre.

Navarro's show business career began when she was only nine, starring as Woodstock, Snoopy's sidekick in the Charles Schulz Christmas ice shows. She continued as a soloist in the show every year until she was 18, when she moved to New York, where she now performs with the Ice Theatre of New York. Navarro also performed in in-line skating shows both nationally and internationally. To support her skating, Navarro has done modeling and acting since the age of ten. She is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and has appeared in seven national television commercials including Mattel, Levi's McDonalds, and Kelloggs as well as numerous print ads (Rollerblade, Sanrio).

As competitors, the young dancers have modest goals. "My goal is to keep improving so we can move up in the ranks," Shmalo stated. "It was such a thrill representing the U. S. at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, I hope to skate more internationally. " Navarro added, "I want to see how far we can go while still enjoying it as much as we do. This season has been a very exciting and motivating one for us. We competed in our first international competition, and I hope that we will be able to compete in more this upcoming year. Regardless of any placements, I feel I gained a bit of confidence after having that international experience."

 

 

Shmalo was a late entry into the skating world, beginning when he was 12. "I have always loved the sport," he said. "My mom had a friend whose daughter was skating at a local rink. I had a very big crush on her and she told me that if I started skating, I could be her pairs partner. I was thrilled. So I began taking lessons and loved it. " Navarro's two brothers skated recreationally while Shmalo's sister is a gold medallist in freestyle and moves.

In contrast, Navarro was literally on the ice from the time she was an infant. "My mom is a skating coach and she would take me to the rink with her when she taught," Navarro stated. "She would dress me up in a snowsuit and sit me on the ice, instead of leaving me with a babysitter. However, I do not believe she ever intended for me to get involved in skating seriously. It just happened. " She began skating when she was three.

Navarro said that she "competed in pairs and singles in addition to dance, but dance has always been where my heart is most. I love adagio skating, but never enjoyed competing in pairs. I also enjoy skating by myself. However I prefer skating with someone else. There is so much more you can do with another person -- such a different dynamic. And with dance, I feel like it is so much more about the actually skating rather than just executing elements. Shmalo agreed stating, "I love singles, pairs, and ice dancing. What draws me to ice dancing is the creativity, flow, and drama dancers are encouraged to exhibit in their performances."

That explains why Shmalo's favorite skaters are Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin. "We had the opportunity to work with Natalia and her presence is larger than life," he stated. "Also, Klimova and Ponomorenko were so sensual and passionate - they had a special chemistry on the ice which really mesmerized me. " Navarro said, "I love any skater who skates with their soul so to say, those skaters who truly look like they love it out there on the ice. Michele Kwan skates like that. I love the Canadian pair team (Jamie Sale and David Pelletier) because they are always looking at each other when they skate. They seem so connected. I also admire Robin Cousins for his beauty as a skater and person. Someone who accomplishes so much as a skater, and so much outside of skating, while being such a healthy human being truly amazes me!"

Navarro formerly competed in freestyle, reaching as high as seventh in senior ladies at Central Pacifics in 1999, and in pairs, where she finished sixth at the U. S. Junior Nationals in Intermediate Pairs in 1994 with Ashton Phillips She began dancing when she was 12. Her first dance partner was Matthew Tinney, with whom she competed four years, winning Juvenile Dance B in 1994 and finishing tenth in Novice Dance at the 1996 U. S. Nationals. She competed with Nicholas Hart at the 1998 Nationals in junior dance. Shmalo won three medals in figures at U. S. Nationals, including a silver in seniors in 1997. He competed in pairs for one season, winning at the Eastern Great Lakes Regional in Intermediate Pairs with Lauer Shea in 1994. He had a few dance partners, but never competed until he was matched with Navarro in 1999.

The dancers met when their coach, Inese Bucevica, went with U. S. ice dancers Beata Handra and Charles Sinek to work with Paul Spruell, who had also coached Navarro since she was a child. Bucevica, who had coached Shmalo for four years, recommended a tryout and the couple fit well together. They now train for about 3-4 hours on ice and an hour off ice at Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, NY. Their off ice training includes balletics, strength building with a personal trainer and ballroom dancing. One of this season's classes was in flamenco. Navarro explained "I have been taking ballet since I was young. My first class was a Mommy and Me ballet class. I had a special leotard to fit over my diaper. " Shmalo added "besides ballet, we hope to explore a class in Modern or Broadway-Fosse together."

Bucevica does the couple's choreography, but incorporates the dancers' ideas into the program. Both skaters indicated that choosing the music each year was a monumental task. "It is always such a project between the OD and free dance, and the three tastes of Inese, Rob, and myself," Navarro said. "I would be lying if I were to say it was an easy thing! Usually we all listen to tons of music and bring in anything we think might work well. " Shmalo added, "We like to skate to music that is upbeat and dancey. I think that best matches our personalities because we like to have fun with our skating."

"I like to skate to a vast majority of music. That is what is so great about skating and ice dance specifically," Navarro continued. "I truly enjoyed the first piece of our OD this year, "Hernando's Hideaway," because it had a great mix of story, seduction, and just plain fun. I also loved our free dance music ("Oceania") because it was very strong. It made you move whether you wanted to or not!" Among the compulsory dances, the Golden Waltz was their favorite and the Quickstep their least favorite. "I really enjoyed the Golden Waltz this season," Navarro said, "after Rob and I had worked on it for a good deal of time. There is so much involved in that dance- it really feels like a senior dance."

Navarro plans to continue to skate as a professional but isn't set on a career path as yet. She is currently a sophomore at Columbia University, where she is on the Dean's List. She plans to major in English or writing and minor in dance. As for the future, she said, "I think that depends where my studies at Columbia take me. I hope to find another passion outside of skating somewhere at Columbia that will spill over into my life after I graduate. But I hope to always be involved in skating one way or another. " Coaching is a possibility but as she noted candidly, "Instructing someone or guiding someone does sound scarier than actually skating myself."

Shmalo has more definite career plans. He intends to become an attorney practicing corporate or real estate law. A graduate of New York University, he is currently in his second year as a law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. This summer, he plans to work in an associate position at a large New York law firm, Rosenman and Colin. Shmalo has little time for outside interests. "I'm so busy with law school, all I have time for now is my law books. I loved property law and also find the corporate and securities law cases intriguing," he said. "Between skating and law school, my days are packed. I love living in New York City and exploring all the different cultural and social activities the city provides."
Navarro concurred. "Enjoying New York City is my favorite hobby," she said. "It is an amazing city. " Both skaters love to travel. Navarro's favorite was Hong Kong, a city where the duo skated in a Christmas show during their first season together. Shmalo said that his "favorite trip was going to visit my best friend from NYU. He is from Sydney Australia. The people were so friendly, the country was beautiful - and we got to jump of a large cliff into the crystal blue ocean below. It was amazing. " On holidays, both skaters return to their home towns to visit their families.

Off ice, Navarro loves to dance and enjoys most kinds of music. "One of my favorite types is Soul/R&B," she said. Shmalo listens to techno music and R&B. "I think Prince is an amazing artist," he said, "and Patty Labelle can serenade me anytime she wishes. "

Regretfully, Navarro said that "because of school I never get a chance to read literature of choice, however I most enjoy my Renaissance Drama class this semester. I loved Jane Austen when I read that in school last year and Pride and Prejudice was the last novel I read for fun. My favorite movie of all-time is 'Happy Texas. ' It has a great mix of comedy and romance in its own kind of way and I am extremely biased because it was the first movie my uncle directed, co-wrote, made and it became this huge family project that brought our family together in this incredible way."

The time constraints of skating and studying have made it difficult for Navarro to continue here modeling career, so she helps defray her expenses by working for a catering company, teaching inline skating in the summers and performing in skating shows.

 

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