That changed in 1995, when the Ann Arbor Ice Cube opened. With access to its three year-round rinks, the AAFSC "went from eighteen hours [of practice time] to sixty hours a week," says longtime board member Ann Dougherty. Membership tripled, and enrollment in skating classes soared.
But it was ice dancing that really put the AAFSC on the skating world map. In 1998, the club hired Russian ice dancers Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava Nechaeva as coaches. Under them, the club has turned out some of the country's top competitors in the esoteric sport, which blends elements of skating and ballroom dance.
"Yuri and Yasa brought a new elitism to the rink," says Diane Wilson, Cube manager and former AAFSC president. Along with Samuelson and Bates, four other pairs trained by Chesnichenko and Nechaeva at the Cube also are headed to the nationals this month. The coaches' reputation has grown to the point that they are now attracting ice dance hopefuls from Texas, California, even Ukraine.
Members of the last generation trained in the mighty Soviet Union sports machine, Chesnichenko and Nechaeva are described by reporter Barnas as among the "hardest-working coaches" she's ever seen. They and their students have created an excitement at the Cube that AAFSC old-timers never experienced.