Reed/Ambrulevicius: “We haven’t reached our limit”

Ice dancers Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius, who represent Lithuania, have both been part of the international ice dance scene for many years now. Reed began competing internationally in 2009, while Ambrulevicius’s ice dance career began in 2014. But, it’s only since the couple teamed up and started to compete together that they have gained increasing recognition from ice dance judges and fans alike. 

Reed and Ambrulevicius started their partnership in spring 2017. The team was originally coached by Marina Zoueva, but recently joined the I.AM coaching group in Montreal. They have steadily climbed the ranks in ice dance, with higher placements each year at the European and World Championships. This season was the most successful yet: They won their first Challenger Series medal (silver) at Golden Spin of Zagreb, then placed 8th at Europeans. At the 2022 ISU World Championships in Montpellier, they finished 10th, breaking into the top 10 for the first time in either skater’s career. 

Yet, this season also brought disappointment. The duo qualified an Olympic spot for Lithuania at the 2021 World Championships in Stockholm, but due to Lithuania’s stringent citizenship requirements, Reed is not yet a citizen of the country she represents. The team hoped, up until late fall, that Reed’s citizenship would be approved so that they could compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, it did not happen, and Reed and Ambrulevicius were left to watch the Olympics at home. Although the decision was disappointing, Reed and Ambrulevicius have chosen to accept it and move on. They look forward to their fifth season together next year.

In Montpellier, Reed and Ambrulevicius took a few minutes to chat with me about how their partnership started, what makes them a good team, their creative direction in ice dance, and more. Reed, 27, is friendly and outgoing, while her partner, 29, comes across as thoughtful and well-spoken. The couple was happy to talk about their partnership and goals so that ice dance fans can get to know them better!

 Q:  A lot of skating fans don’t know much about your story. Tell us how you first teamed up.

Reed:  Oh, my gosh. It feels like a lifetime ago. I had quit skating for a little bit before that. I just wanted to see what else I could do with my career. But I was really, really happy to find Saul. He was skating with his previous partner [Taylor Tran] at the time, in Marina Zoueva’s group in Michigan. I just came to get back on my feet; I asked Marina to help me get back in the ice dance world again. And that’s where we met. It kicked off from there.

Ambrulevicius:  I quit my singles skating career back in 2013. Then, for almost a year, there was a gap. I had a different life happening, completely non-skating. Then I had a show that was like Dancing on Ice. And that was a gateway to try ice dance. I got an opportunity to come to the States to train. That’s where I met my first partner [Tran]. I came to Marina Zoueva’s school, where I did the first three seasons. I learned a lot and got some experience. And, at that moment, Allison came into the rink. I had my first World Championships [2017]. After that, my partner and I broke up. Allison and I had an official tryout. Everything else after that is history. (Smiles)

Q:  What made you click as partners?

Reed:  It was definitely our mindset and attitude toward training and our goals on the ice. And also our mutual interests off the ice. We clicked not only as athletes, but as people in general. It’s really benefited our relationship and helped us enjoy this journey together.

Ambrulevicius:  It was more than just a sport. You find a personality; you find a friend. It’s more fun when you go with a good friend toward the same dream, the same goal, and try to reach your limits. It’s like an extra boost. I feel personally that I’m blessed to have this kind of partnership. It was a very good choice.

Reed:  Yes. We spend every day together; we hold hands. It doesn’t get much closer than what we do. With Saul, I have a friend for life. 

Q:  You mentioned that you have off-ice interests in common. What are those?

Reed:  When we started together, we were training and living in Michigan, which is like rock music central. And we both enjoy rock music. So we went to concerts together that summer. We still do. We try to find different music adventures, although covid-19 did not help that. We’re both outdoorsy; we like to travel. We take road trips. One weekend in training, we’ll be like, “Hey, do you want to go climb this mountain?” And we’ll just go climb it. It’s that kind of atmosphere where you’re both like, “Let’s go do that,” spontaneously. He’s very good with spontaneity. He’s taught me to be more open to experiencing different things.

Ambrulevicius:  I introduced her to the European lifestyle. (Laughs)

Reed:  Yes, exactly that. Before I met him, I barely went anywhere or did anything. Now I’m like, “Let’s go here, let’s go there, let’s do this.” It’s been interesting.

Q:  So you teamed up and were in Marina Zoueva’’s school for a couple of years together, right?

Reed:  One year.

Ambrulevicius:  Yes, one year. Marina and her team taught me a lot. They gave me all the base I could build on as an ice dancer. For me, it was like Chinese at first. I was like, “What, turn a girl on the ice?”  Then we had a couple of ups and downs, and we also had to change the location, to move to Europe. We still continued working with Marina, but it was long-distance. We created our own environment with coaches and people from Europe.We tried every coach in Europe. We made a lot of friends through that. It was hard, but fun at the same time. We learned and got a lot of experience as people–independent people. We knew what we wanted; we knew what we’re capable of. It was hard, but at the same time, we pushed through it and came out stronger. That’s what everyone wants to do, right? When you have a struggle, you come out stronger. Then we got the opportunity to join Montreal. And yes, covid-19 didn’t help. We wanted to go there earlier. But, ever since we got there in person …. It’s not, at first, obvious that you’re improving. But then you reflect on it a little bit, a few months later, and you’re like, You know–

Reed:  –We did some good work.

Ambrulevicius:  We actually got way better. We feel different. We get into it, the nitty-gritty. 

Q:  You mentioned having to go back to Europe before going to Montreal. Was that for citizenship reasons? Why did you have to go back to Europe at that point?

Ambrulevicius:  It was a couple of documentation things. Also, Marina’s school [in Michigan] split up at that time. So we had to come back to Europe. We were looking for different opportunities. We enjoyed working with Marina, and we wanted to continue. But a lot of things were playing in the background, so we had to find the best possible way. We both knew people from Oberstdorf, so Oberstdorf seemed like a very good place to get the focus back and get prepared for the next season. It was helpful. But there was a moment we reached, where if we wanted to grow even more, we needed to find another place.

Q:  You said that you feel you have improved since going to Montreal. What is the focus there?

Reed:  Everything and anything. They have coaches who specialize in so many different things. So you’ve got all these aspects of different specialties coming together into one big team that is so supportive. And not only the coaching staff, but also the environment that they create here, is a huge boost. It’s better when the training environment is fun. You enjoy it, and you’re skating with your peers every day, and it’s just really motivating. 

Ambrulevicius:  Usually, once you get into competition routines, you get into this [place where it’s] almost like do it, do it, and leave it. And you don’t feel like you’re enjoying it that much. But in Montreal, you always feel busy, not only physically but mentally, and that busy-ness keeps you improving. They’ll give you something to work on–a little project–and you want to perfect it, of course. It doesn’t matter what stage you are at. Physically you might be tired, but you still build up from it. So that’s a very big benefit in that school. Everyone is going through the same thing, so we don’t feel alone. Sometimes, it’s hard. At the same time, you understand that that’s part of it, and if it were easy, everybody would do it. 

Q:  Among ice dance fans, you’re known for your original and interesting music choices.

Reed:  Nice; I’m glad that it has translated [to audiences]. We really try to pick music that is different, that people haven’t heard, that people haven’t skated to. So, to hear that is great!  

Q:  Does the originality in music choice come mostly from you, or your coaches?

Reed:  From us, actually. We find our own music. We even cut it ourselves to present to the coaches, so we have a whole package: “This is what we would like to skate to; what do you think?” We talk about it together, and we choose a direction that we want to go. We try to find music that people haven’t heard, or known.

Ambrulevicius:  There’s so many songs–so many creations–that you can choose from. You just have to work for it. Not just the same classical music that you hear all the time. I get that it’s classic …. At the same time, we want to grow the sport. We’re like ambassadors for the sport. You want to make this something evolving, and make it more fun for people. This is dance music. Why not try to bring in something new? Of course, it’s not going to be a one-day change. But, slowly bring it in. And I’m seeing that some [other] teams are also going the same way. That’s what’s making the sport different and more enjoyable, I hope.

Reed:  More enjoyable to watch.

Ambrulevicius:  Yes. It’s always a risk. Every year. Like this year, even Allison didn’t believe in our rhythm dance. I said: “This is going to work.” And I could see it. We cut it, and we started to build it. And it was like: “Yes, it’s fine.” You have to be sharp, you have to do your stuff at the same time [in unison]. But you work for it. If you have your vision, you put it on the ice, and you try to make it as clean as you can. In Montreal, they’re very open to that. 

Q:  This season, you were hoping to go to the Beijing Olympics, but unfortunately it didn’t work out due to citizenship reasons. How close did it get? Did you think it was going to happen?

Reed:  There was a sliver of hope up until the deadline. We were pushing; our federation was trying. Our [federation] president did everything possible, bless her heart. All the people behind her and us were doing everything. We’re super thankful for everything that they tried to do. We did what we could. We did our jobs.

Ambrulevicius:  We did everything that was possible. At the end of the day, it bounced against some people’s principles and ideologies. The only thing we could do was just respect that. It was a tough pill to swallow, and that period was pretty difficult. But, it is what it is, and what can you do about it? The world still keeps turning, so you might as well do the best with what you have. 

Q:  Do you foresee yourselves going for another Olympic cycle and maybe trying again?

Reed:  We’re taking it one step at a time. We both agreed that we want to go another season. We haven’t spent a full year with the Ice Academy in Montreal yet, because of border closures, covid-19, and everything. So we really want to spend a whole year, a whole summer, get our programs done with them, and really be a part of the school for an entire season. Then we’ll see.

Ambrulevicius:  We still haven’t reached our limit. Every year, we feel we come and reach [forward]. There are some things you can still improve and get better. So while there is a possibility, and while we’re both healthy–

Reed:  While my body will still let me do it. (Laughs)

Ambrulevicius:  Later, you will not have a chance. And to finish with regret, I don’t think that’s the best way to finish. We want to leave on our terms.

Reed:  When you think about it, we’ve all been doing this for so many years, day in, day out. Our life has been revolving around this sport, around this lifestyle, for years. It’s a big step to say, “Okay, I think I’m ready for that next part in my life.” And, to train with teams who are retiring this year–to see how they have approached this season and how they look ready for that next step– seeing that, I knew I wasn’t ready. It was a clarification that I think we still can accomplish more. 

Q:  What did you think about Russian skaters not being allowed to compete at Worlds this year?

Ambrulevicius:  What is going on in Ukraine is very unfair. We Lithuanians, we know this. We know what it is to be oppressed, occupied. It’s so unfair. And yes, the [Russian] athletes suffer, but it’s their leaders. And at this point, it’s a reflection. This is higher than the sport. War is not the way to go with anything. 

Q:  What else would you like fans to know about you, as a team?

Reed:  It always feels like we come into a competition slightly like the underdog. And not too many people know about us yet. So, the more that we can continue putting out different and interesting performances, and get people to notice our style and enjoy our skating, the better.

Ambrulevicius:  We’re from a small country. It shouldn’t make a difference that we’re from a small country. We shouldn’t care about that. But at the same time, yes, it’s maybe harder for us to be seen, among all the big stars. When we are starting to get [recognition], it means we’re doing it right. It’s just a tougher path for us.

Reed:  But as long as we keep forging through, it’s good. We enjoy performing for people. It’s part of the motivation of what we do.

Ambrulevicius:  The crowd [in Montpellier] was very fun. At the end of the day, we stepped off the ice, and we were like: “This was fun. This was fun to perform.” We didn’t care that much about level this, level that. You know, at the end of the day, what are you going to remembeReed: “Oh, I got a Level 4 at this blues keypoint,” or, “This was fun to perform.” I believe in that. You work on the technicalities back home. So when you come here, you can perform and enjoy and share what you love. 

Q:  Yes, it was nice having fans again, after watching the Olympics with no audience.

Reed:  Yes, even the Olympic qualifier [2022 Worlds] was just silence. (Groans) You’re reaching this pinnacle moment in your career, when you qualify for the Olympics, and– 

Ambrulevicius:  And you’re bowing to empty seats.

Reed:  Yes. You’re bowing to nothing. And silence. So to have people–an audience–again is really great.  

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