One joke and one laugh was all it took for Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto to realize that they were meant to be ice dancing partners. In 1998, Belbin and Agosto were without partners and searching.
Agosto had recently separated from his partner. Belbin was alone for a year and had gone through 10 tryouts with potential partners. “The biggest part is we got along and we could talk to each other,” Agosto said after he and Belbin won Wednesday’s compulsory ice dance in the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at World Arena. “I cracked a corny joke and she laughed at it. And I knew right away that it was going to work.” Seven years and numerous competitions later, Belbin, 21, and Agosto, 24, are owners of the 2005 World Championships silver medal. They are also favorites to claim a medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. “The feeling that we had as far as the synchronization of our personalities and our sense of humor was more important to us than what we did on the ice,” Belbin said about their first meeting. “There’s definitely kind of that emotional connection that really made the difference for us.” That immediate connection surprised Belbin, who hadn’t been having good luck in her tryouts. “I think Ben was like my 10th tryout or something,” Belbin said. “It was really nice. It just felt so different compared to all those other tryouts — I (meet) this person who is basically a stranger, and you have to dance together, which is so close. Half the time I didn’t even want them to touch me. ‘I don’t know who you are. I don’t know why you grabbed me down here. I don’t like it.’ “And then when I was with Ben, I just felt so at ease. It’s a lot like meeting the person that you’re going to marry or something like that. They say that you feel it on the first date. That was kind of how our tryout went.” Their ease shows on the ice. Where other couples appear to force their chemistry, Belbin and Agosto appear natural. They skated in front of fewer than 200 fans Wednesday afternoon. But the looks on their faces appeared as if they were performing for a million. Either that or they were in their own fantasy world. “I think that Tanith and I are both natural performers,” Agosto said. “That’s the part of skating we love the most. Going out in front of an audience and performing, trying to draw them in to whatever experience we’re having.” Ice dancers are supposed to be one, intertwined, linked in a symbiotic two-step that elicits emotions from the judges’ panel. Belbin and Agosto skate as a team, one relying on the other. But spectators can easily see their individuality. Call their flavor showmanship or charisma. But definitely call it a part of the chemistry mix that makes Belbin and Agosto so successful. “We feel extremely comfortable with each other,” Agosto said. “It’s because we’re best friends. We’ve always been best friends. We have a very open relationship. We can talk to each other about anything. I think the trust that we have with each other really makes it very easy to put on any kind of emotions and try to role play any sort of scenario.” That kind of relationship is typically found with married dance partners. But Belbin and Agosto said they aren’t romantically involved. In fact, Agosto has a girlfriend and Belbin has a boyfriend. In some aspects, Belbin and Agosto said that not being romantically involved is a plus to their relationship. Work happens on the ice. They don’t have to take stressful practices any further than the edge of the sheet. “I compare it to my mom, who was my first coach,” Belbin said. “When you had lessons that didn’t go well, you had to get in the car with her, drive home and have dinner with (her). You couldn’t let it go. It carried on the whole time. “I think it’s better for us to be able to separate that and say, ‘This is my job. And this is my life at home.’” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0252 or firstname.lastname@example.org SCHEDULE Today — Original dance, 11:30 a.m.; pairs free skating (finals), 3 p.m.; ladies’ short program, 6:30 p.m. Friday — Free dance (finals), 2 p.m.; men’s free skating (finals), 6:30 p.m. Saturday — Ladies’ free skate (finals), 11:30 a.m.; exhibition of champions, 6:30 p.m. Why we care: International event showcases some skaters who will compete in the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, that begin Feb. 10. Tickets: Call TicketsWest at 719-576-2626 or 866-464-2626; visit World Arena box office; or see www.worldarena.com Notable entries (subject to skaters’ confirmation): Ladies — Bebe Liang, Katy Taylor, Christine Zukowski; Men — Matt Savoie*, Michael Weiss, Scott Smith; Pairs — Rena Inoue and John Baldwin*; Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem*; Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash; Dance — Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto*; Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O’Meara* (* — 2006 U.S. Olympic team)