Korean ice dancers Hannah Lim and Ye Quan give the past season “95 and 99 out of 100” for previous season and looking forward to compete at the senior level
Interview with Korean ice dancers Hannah Lim and Ye Quan.
source: mfocus.kr dd. May 5th 2023 by Jimin Park
In 2023, South Korean figure skating faced a new turning point. From August onwards, news of winning new medals poured in week after week. The 2022/2023 season was even more special, as ice dance became a new trend in Korean figure skating after Kim Yuna’s era of dominance in singles. At the center of this favorable wind were Lim Hannah (18) and Ye Quan (21), a team that synchronizes everything from their favorite music to food.
In an online meeting, Lim Hannah and Ye praised each other as “the strongest person they know” and “a truly positive person.” Even during a late-night interview, their expressions were filled with vitality.
How did you both start figure skating, especially ice dance?
Ye Quan: I started figure skating at the age of five. When I saw figure skaters on the ice, I told my mom that I wanted to try it, so she took me a pair of rental skates. Then, when I was around eleven, Coach Benjamin suggested ice dance to me. At first, I didn’t know much about ice dance, but I tried it, and I really liked it. That’s how I started.
I heard that Lim Hannah used to do rhythmic gymnastics when she was younger. Was there a specific reason for choosing figure skating?
Hannah Lim: I started rhythmic gymnastics at the age of six and did it until I was 12 or 13. I was about to participate in international competitions, but I chose figure skating instead. I liked that on the ice, I could express my favorite performances more freely, and I enjoyed gliding on the ice. Figure skating was more appealing to me. For me, rhythmic gymnastics required a lot of thinking during competitions, so I couldn’t fully enjoy the performance.
Rhythmic gymnastics places a lot of importance on flexibility. Did this aspect have any influence on your figure skating?
Hannah Lim: Yes, it did. Flexibility was essential, so I did a lot of stretching. On the other hand, in figure skating, I had to become stronger. It was the opposite of rhythmic gymnastics, so there were challenges. However, the flexibility I gained from rhythmic gymnastics definitely helped me create more beautiful lines in figure skating.
Do you remember what your first impressions of each other were? I’m curious about your oldest memories of each other.
Ye Quan: I was happy. When I first went to the Montreal Ice Academy (hereafter referred to as ‘I.AM’), they said I wouldn’t have a partner that year, but finally, I got one. I was really happy, and Hannah was also very delighted. She was someone with a strong determination to do what she really wanted.
At first, we had different thoughts, so sometimes we wanted to do things in our own ways. However, after our first competition, seeing other senior teams performing so well, we were motivated to do better. We thought we had to work harder. So, we both experienced a lot of stress. But we also had the thought, “Actually, we’re not that bad.” We started to learn more about each other and how to communicate.
Hannah Lim: I was in a state of first experiencing ice dance, and I knew Ye had been doing it for a while, so I was really happy to do it together. I don’t remember it very well, but since it was something new for me, it was fun to try it out.
Hanna Lim and Ye Quan spent most of their lives in foreign countries. Hannah was born and raised in Canada. She had visited Korea several times before representing South Korea, but her place of residence was in Canada. Ye was born in Iceland and is of Chinese descent with Canadian nationality. She is a “language genius” at home, using French, English, and Chinese, but she is just starting to learn Korean. It was a natural progression for them to form a team representing Canada. Ye was already considered a promising talent, ranking fifth in Canada’s junior ice dance championships, which is known as a dominant ice dance country.
Hanna Lim: I spent a long time in Canada, and I had many close friends in Team Canada, so it felt more familiar. In Team Korea, I didn’t know anyone, so it was a bit challenging to adapt. The first year was tough, but this year, as we went to team events we became closer. I have become really close to Korean skaters like friends, and I am really grateful for that.
Ye Quan: I also found it challenging to adapt at first because my Korean language skills were not strong. I’m still learning. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not fully part of conversations because I don’t understand everything being said. But now, I feel more accustomed. Especially at the World Team Trophy, since most senior figure skaters can speak English, I could communicate better. It was really enjoyable to be able to have conversations with them.
Their journey to represent a country on the opposite side of the world began in 2021, a time when international exchanges were especially challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Choosing to represent South Korea was not an easy decision for Hanna Lim and Ye Quan, who had lived different lives in terms of language and culture. After spending two years as Team Canada and two years as Team Korea, they were asked about the challenges they faced.
Hanna Lim: In order to compete in Korea, we needed a club. So, we contacted Coach Kim Su-jin first. She was very kind and greeted us warmly from the first meeting. She guided us on where to go in Korea, helped arrange ice time, and practiced with us. She took great care of us. We are really thankful to both coach Kim Su-jin and coach Kim Wan for being there; it eased our worries.
On the other hand, there is another support group behind them, the domestic figure skating fans. They are called the “Bokdungi” (which means small pebbles). As they participate in competitions, making Korean and Asian history, these fans are always there for them.
However, it took quite some time for Korean figure skating fans to meet them. During their first season in Korea, the 2021/2022 season, even the Junior Grand Prix Selection was conducted remotely. By the 2022/2023 season, social distancing measures were eased, and spectators were allowed. When asked about meeting Korean fans for the first time at the National Championships in January, both Hannah and Ye had smiles on their faces.
Hanna Lim: When our competition ended, the fans cheered loudly in excitement. After the event, we had a schedule, so we came out about two hours later, and many fans were waiting to take photos and congratulate us! That’s what left the most memorable impression.
Ye Quan: The fans welcomed us warmly. Even though I’m not fluent in Korean, I could understand their encouraging words. It was great to see their efforts to communicate in English. Even if it wasn’t perfect, I could understand the message, and I can’t express how heartwarming it is to know that they like us.
After the April World Team Trophy, Hannah and I made a short visit to Korea. We stayed for only 5 days. Amid a busy schedule, including interviews with the media and meetings with the Korea Skating Union, we still made time to receive a book filled with messages of support from the fans.
Hanna Lim: There were so many recommended songs that I loved, and they were categorized by sections, which was great. If you wanted to do Tango, there was Tango; if you wanted to do Ballet, there was Ballet, like that. In the Tango section, I saw Yuna Kim’s “Adios Nonino,” and I thought, “This is a perfect Tango Free Dance!” And among the Ballet sections, I really liked “Giselle.” It’s a piece with a very strong character. So, if I were to choose Ballet, I think “Giselle” would be really nice.
Ye Quan: I didn’t have enough time to read everything, but there was a QR code in the book for music recommendations, and when I scanned it, it took me to a YouTube playlist. I was really surprised and pleased. The one I liked the most was ‘Black Swan.’ I thought, “Ah, should we try it this year?” The idea just popped into my head.
Recently, Hannah has been listening to NewJin’s ‘OMG’ the most. It took less than 3 seconds for Ye to name ‘OMG’ as “the song that Hannah listens to the most.” She could follow the choreography right away.
Hannah mentioned that she listens to a lot of Korean music, from drama OSTs to K-POP. In fact, their international debut music was a remix of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and Hwasa’s ‘Don’t’ which can be considered the origins of K-POP. Hannah stated that she personally chose the latter part of the music with ‘Don’t’.
Ye Quan: ‘Gangnam Style’ was chosen and proposed by our coach. At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but when we actually tried it, I liked it and it looked cool.
Hanna Lim: ‘Don’t’ was my idea. We needed a slow bluesy music. I already knew that song from before, and it was my favorite at the time. So when I played the song for our coach, she really liked it.
The program that earned the first medal for Ye and Hannah in their junior debut season was from the musical “Cats” OST. They used the music from the movie based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original musical. They said that while the program followed the storyline of the movie released in 2020, it also incorporated their own story. It was a program that resembled the ice dance story of Ye and Hannah.
Ye Quan: To move more like cats, we watched the Broadway musical and the movie “Cats” a bit. We also trained before the season. We received a lot of training outside the ice with dance and theater teachers to learn how to move more like cats.
I portrayed the main male cat (Gus) overall. It felt like following a scene from the Broadway theater. However, in our actual program, we still had our own story. It wasn’t just following the story of the movie or the theater.
Hanna Lim: Actually, we did watch the Broadway show, but our program is more based on the movie. I was closer to the main female cat (Victoria). She is white, innocent, and doesn’t know much about the world. Ye, on the other hand, was a bit older and knew more about the world. I was like a young cat, and Ye was like an older and more experienced cat, so I followed her lead.
Ye and Hannah are not only top-notch partners on the ice but also the best friends outside the rink. They enjoy playing “escape room games” and having dinner together with friends off the ice. They share their lives beyond skating, refresh themselves, and communicate even more closely by exchanging their thoughts. Apart from the keywords “ice dance,” “partners,” and “figure skating,” Ye and Hannah describe each other as human beings in a skillful manner.
Ye Quan: Hannah is one of the strongest people I know. She works very hard and always gives her best. She strives to bring out her maximum in every experience.
Hanna Lim: Ye is a really kind and caring person. Even though he works very hard every day, he makes an effort to make me feel more comfortable when I’m feeling down or stressed. Ye is very understanding, and he tries to turn things into a more positive direction. He’s truly a positive person.
Perhaps it’s because of this positive interaction. The 2022/2023 season was truly a triumphant one for Ye and Hannah. They stood on the podium in every junior competition they participated in. Even in their first senior appearance at the Team Trophy, prepared in just three weeks, they showed excellent teamwork and secured the second place, effectively earning podium finishes in every competition they entered this season. They had a remarkable year on the junior international stage, and each gave themselves a rating of “95 points” and “99 points.”
Ye Quan: Combining our time as juniors in Canada, we have been active for four years. After representing Korea and making our international debut, we were able to grow well with the guidance of those who could lead us in the right direction. They supported us so we could progress well, and in just two years since our international debut, we achieved significant growth.
Hanna Lim: I don’t have any regrets or disappointments. The past two years have been valuable experiences, and they allowed us to develop a lot and learn about ourselves. So now, I feel prepared to move on to the senior level.
If you were to rate your performance in the junior season?
Hanna Lim: I would say around 95 points. Close to 100 points.
Ye Quan: 99 points. Especially this year, as we achieved all the goals we set in the early season, I would rate it that way.
While singles skating has been dominant in Korea, ice dance remains a relatively unfamiliar discipline in the country. Many people are not aware that figure skating includes a mixed discipline like ice dance. Starting from the upcoming 2023/2024 season, Ye and Hannah will be moving up to the senior level. They are preparing for an entirely different and new stage compared to the junior level. To enhance the understanding of ice dance, here are some questions for them.
In the last press conference and in the current interview, you used the word ‘connect’ a lot. I am curious about the specific point of that ‘connection’. Is it a spiritual connection with your partner, the audience, or the judges? What’s the point of ‘connection’?
Hanna Lim: The term “Connect” can have several meanings.
When we say “Connect with the audience,” it means that we genuinely look at the audience during our performances. Usually, when performing in front of the audience, we try to make eye contact, smile, and engage with them. It makes us really happy to see the audience enjoying our performance when they smile. So, it’s like connecting with the audience.
Ye Quan: “Connecting with each other” has a more emotional meaning.
For example, before the competition, we connect with each other by looking at each other. It’s to reassure each other and give each other strength, and to become one within the program. We want to share our story with everyone and convince them of our story. So, we also need to convince each other of our story. That’s what “Connect” means.
As for ice dance programs that showcase this connection, we would like to mention Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s free dance program “Moulin Rouge” from the 2018 Olympics. You could see a strong connection, and we were convinced by their storytelling.
Also, we really admire Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Their unity is remarkable. They look like one when they are together. They seem to understand how to follow each other and skate together really well.
Hanna Lim: Within the I.AM team, I really enjoyed Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s Latin program. It was unique and enjoyable. They deeply immersed themselves in the characters and their acting was fascinating.
Another team that I absolutely love is Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen. Both of their programs were amazing, but especially their free dance with flamenco-like Western dance was fantastic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and their connection with each other was impressive. It was passionate and intense.
Ye Quan: I really admire Jean-Luc Baker. The way he expresses stories through dance is really amazing. In fact, he coached us a little today and gave us advice on how to connect better and follow each other more effectively.
Hanna Lim: I really like Madison Chock. The way she moves is so charming that I can’t take my eyes off her. In fact, during the Grand Prix Final, we used the same dressing room. I usually get very nervous during competitions, but Chock has much more experience and has been competing for a much longer time than me. So, I asked her, “You’ve been doing this for so long, and yet you still get nervous like me?” Then she said, “Nervousness doesn’t go away no matter how many competitions you’ve done. But try thinking about it differently. Other people must feel the same way too.” She gave me really good advice, and I was grateful for that.
What are you looking forward to the most in the senior level?
Hanna Lim: I am most excited to compete with the seniors. Also, I feel like I will be closer to the big goal, which is the Olympics, compared to when I was in the junior level. I also want to feel the excitement of the competition. It’s like realizing, “Oh, this is the senior level.”
Ye Quan: I am most looking forward to skating with other senior teams. Now we feel more grown up, and we are no longer juniors. As Hannah mentioned, we will be closer to our dream of the Olympics and will skate in front of more spectators… In junior competitions, there were far fewer spectators. This is what it means to become seniors. So, I am really excited about that.
As we prepare for the senior level, we are focusing more on maintaining consistency in the technical aspects. We are also making efforts to connect more with each other. We are learning how to connect with each other better, not pulling or pushing too much, but finding ways to connect smoothly.
Hanna Lim: Technically, I am working on receiving level 4 in the step sequences consistently. And while in the junior level and the new rhythm dance, it was more about expressing the feeling to the audience, in the free dance, it should feel more intimate, like real love.
I heard that the rhythm dance for the next season is with music by Prince.
Hanna Lim: Yes, that’s right. The coaches and we all agreed to do Prince, and we think it will be a really fun program. At first, we didn’t think we could do well with Prince’s and we weren’t familiar with those movements. But with a lot of practice on and off the ice, we think we can do really well.
In figure skating, ice dance is a discipline where external elements have a significant impact on branding. Besides choreographing programs that suit them, skaters also pay attention to costumes and makeup. In the 2022/2023 season, Lim Hannah portrayed the goddess of death in her free dance program “Dance Macabre” wearing a dress that resembled a fashion week outfit. The costume was created by Ann Dress, a company based in Gangnam. Lim Hannah expressed her intention to continue working with them for her next season’s costumes.
Hanna Lim: I haven’t decided yet, but I want to have the costumes made in Korea. The costumes for the Prince program are really extravagant, with elaborate decorations and sparkles. Korean-made costumes also have a lot of glitz and vibrant colors. So, I think it would be great to have them made in Korea. I haven’t asked yet, but I think Ye would also like to have costumes made in Korea to show a different side of himself.
In the upcoming 2026 season, Hannah Lim and Ye Quan are preparing for the dream stage: the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter, all participating athletes must have the nationality of their respective countries. Ye is undergoing a special naturalization process to represent Korea, showing his immense dedication by taking private Korean lessons. Apart from the Olympics, what other goals do Hannah Lim and and Ye Quan have? As a team, and as individual skaters, how do they want to be remembered?
Hanna Lim: I want all our fans to feel that we are a team that truly enjoys what we do. I hope they see us as genuinely happy skaters, giving our all on the ice. I want them to recognize that we put our hearts into our performances. If it’s a joyful song, I want the audience to feel like dancing along with us, and if it’s a love story or a sad song, I want them to feel like crying along with us. That’s the kind of team we want to be.
Ye Quan: I feel the same as Hannah. I want people to see that we genuinely love skating. And I hope that when people watch us, they feel like they become a part of the story we are telling through our performance. That’s our ultimate goal.
With the goal of improving their technical skills and better communicating their stories to the audience, Hannah Lim and Ye Quan are making steady progress. In their debut year, during their first performance of “Gangnam Style” by PSY, they received praise from the ISU official commentary, stating, “To add more convincing power to the music, facial expressions are needed, and matching it with technical difficulty is not an easy task. This team does this job excellently.”
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