Skater Turns Her "Ice Castles" Dream Into Reality

by Brenna Walsh
Andrea Wallach in her "Into Character" costume, a little fancier than Alexis Winston's costume in the movie "Ice Castles," but including the white collar
Photo courtesy of AMC

(8/24/04) — For many people being on TV is a dream. For others, having a chance to be coached by five-time U.S. ice dancing champion Peter Tchernyshev is a dream. Andrea Wallach got to experience both in January when she was chosen to take part in the AMC show “Into Character,” where everyday people get the chance to be in the movie role of a lifetime. This Wednesday viewers can watch Wallach as she skates a program specially created by Tchernyshev to music from the movie “Ice Castles,” the 1970s tearjerker about a skater who is struck blind.

“It was hands down the best experience of my life,” the 40-year-old New York radio station account executive said. “I kept telling myself to enjoy it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I was lucky enough to be given.”

The majority of Wallach's limited skating experience has been with coaching hockey as well as participating in hockey. She has taken figure skating lessons at Rockefeller Center where her only goal at the time was to make it around the rink without holding on to anything. But her heart has always been with figure skating. Often she hears a song and imagines herself with a costume and a program.

She was finally able to use that love for skating when she answered a generic e-mail in January. The note basically stated that AMC was looking for fans of the movie “Ice Castles” who would like to turn their dreams of performing in figure skating competitions into reality. When Wallach replied, she honestly thought that she was applying for a background skating position — she would go, skate around a bit, have a cup of coffee and leave. That was not what happened at all.

Once she was chosen, she was whisked away in the middle of the night to Staten Island where she met Tchernyshev at the Pavilion.

“There on the ice in his skates and Olympic jacket, waiting to coach me, was none other than Peter Tchernyshev,” Wallach said. “I just about died and fell on the floor. I could not speak a coherent sentence.”

Once Wallach recovered, she changed and was on the ice to start her training. Her first lesson consisted of about two hours of warming up, where she skated around so that Tchernyshev could get a feel for her skating abilities.

“It is different because a non-professional's abilities are limited as compared to a professional skater,” Tchernyshev said. “We were trying to achieve a long-term goal in a short period of time.”

Peter Tchernyshev at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Championships.
Photo by Michelle Harvath

The experience became a bit grueling for Wallach. Not only was she practicing on the ice for approximately two hours every day, in addition to working a full-time job, but she was also taking ballet lessons from world-renowned coach Michael Vernon.

But it all began to fall together when she started to learn her program, which Tchernyshev created specifically for Wallach.

“The theme of her movie dream was ‘Ice Castles,' so the program was supposed to be made to that music and I needed to choreograph to her abilities,” Tchernyshev said.

Tchernyshev would demonstrate moves for Wallach, and she would follow him around the ice, taking note of where the steps were.

“I loved to watch him demonstrate things,” Wallach said. “To hear and see the depth of the edges, to feel the power and the wind caused by him speeding by me was truly amazing.”

After playing follow-the-leader for quite some time, they decided to skate the program to music, and Wallach was just a bit off.

“I was so off the beat and so incredibly off pattern. If I didn't have to perfom on TV the next day, it would have been funny,” Wallach said.

But neither Wallach nor Tchernyshev were about to give up. Tchernyshev pushed the pace a bit, going over small sections of the program at a time until they were acceptable. Wallach recalled working on her left arm for approximately 20 minutes until she got it right.

Wallach was determined, not only because she was going to be on TV, but because she did not want to let Tchernyshev down. She wrote down the steps and practiced them on the bus, on the sidewalk and in the lobby of her building. When the last training session was over and she had gotten the steps, she cried because she had really done it.

“I am please that she was so dedicated,” Tchernyshev said. “If you have a dream you must take all the necessary steps above and beyond to make that dream come true.”

And then the day of her actual performance was upon her. After two weeks of training she was ready — or as ready as she was going to be.

Wallach was taken to New Roc City where an audience of 300 was waiting in the stands just to watch her perform her program with approximately 14 hours of practice behind her. She was in costume for the first time, wearing a dress similar to the one used in the movie, but this one was made just for her. Needless to say, she was a bit scared.

“I had no idea what I would do or how I would react when the music started,” Wallach said. “At first I was a bit overwhelmed, but then I breathed and something kicked in. I looked over at Peter, got into my opening pose and waited for the music.”

Wallach was surprised by how quickly it was over. She wanted to skate the program again and again. She even enjoyed skating in front of an audience because she felt that the audience pumped her up.

Andrea Wallach
Photo courtesy of AMC

But what amazed Wallach the most was not the fact that she was going to be on TV or that she had just performed for 300 people, but that she had actually done it with Tchernyshev's training.

“Peter is an absolutely amazing coach,” Wallach said. “He's the perfect blend of tough and understanding. Peter made me raise my own bar even when I doubted myself. He pushed me to the limit and then over it. I learned that what you put into it is exactly what you get. You bring out what you are made of, share it and leave it out there for everyone to see.”

Wallach felt as though she was treated as an athlete, even though her skating experience was limited. She felt respected and never felt like less of a skater just because she was an adult or not as advanced.

“He made me get the best from myself, and you can't ask for more than that from a coach,” Wallach said. “This was the best experience of my life. Peter gave me a beautiful program that will be a part of me forever.”

Wallach and Tchernyshev will appear on AMC Wednesday, Aug. 25 at 10:00 p.m., Eastern time on “Into Character.” Check your local listings for channels and times.

Bookmark and Share