The news that they needed to pack their suitcases and pull out their passports came somewhat unexpectedly for U.S. ice dancers Kristina Bland and Matthew Sperry, who are now in their third season as a team. The duo was tapped to represent the U.S. at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating competition in Gdansk, Poland, at the end of September.

“It was a really nice surprise,” said Bland. “We didn’t really expect it. It was an exciting, fun opportunity, and we’re happy that we got a Junior Grand Prix assignment.”

The competition schedule provided some downtime to explore the city. “You definitely get new experiences,” said Sperry. “Even the airports are completely different than traveling domestically.”

The trip gave them a chance to perform their new programs, which is crucial in the build-up to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Their dramatic free dance is set to music by Klergy that Sperry found awhile ago. It provides maturity and character development to their skating. 

This year’s rhythm dance is centered on the theme of 1980s music. Bland and Sperry have selected the Paula Abdul songs “Straight Up” and “Cold Hearted Snake.”

“It actually took us a long time to pick our music because there’s so much music from the ’80s, and it’s hard to find something that you think is going to be unique, but you can also skate to,” said Bland. “There’s pop, rock, and R&B…We were drawn to Paula Abdul because it’s a fun piece of music that we could really dance to.”

Sperry said busloads of school kids came to watch the competition. “Every time we would do a lift or a spin, this group of very enthusiastic children would burst into applause,” he said. “They’d yell our names.”

Both Bland, 19, and Sperry, 21, are students at the University of Michigan, so an international competition meant missing a week of classes. They admitted it’s not easy to balance school and skating, but they value the college experience. Their next competition is the U.S. Ice Dance Final in mid-November, the final qualifying event for the 2024 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. They hope to not only qualify but vie for a spot on the podium.

“As we’re getting deeper into our partnership, it’s becoming easier to understand what the other person is thinking,” said Bland. “We’re able to do programs that better suit our style.”

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