Getting to know: Klara Kowar & Thomas Schwappach
by Anne Calder
Klara Kowar & Thomas Schwappach train in Colorado Springs with 2006 Olympic silver medalist Ben Agosto and choreographer, Katherine Hill. The team will make its U.S. National Championships debut in 2024.
Kowar has an older sister and two younger brothers who all grew up figure skating in Aspen, Colorado. She is currently a college student studying finance through Purdue University.
Her earliest skating memory took place in her hometown when she was three-years-old. She had the chickenpox and insisted on taking her stuffed purple dinosaur out on the ice while she competed.
She skated freestyle from age five to thirteen when she fell In love with dance after a knee injury kept her from jumping. As the only ice dancer at the Aspen Skating Club, Kowar traveled to Denver twice each month for five years to work with 1984 Olympic ice dancer, Carol Fox.*
Kowar qualified four times for the US Solo Dance Nationals. At her first competition in 2016, she won the Juvenile Combined gold medal and was third in bronze patterns.
“Solo Dance helped me focus on individual skating skills and dance technique that provided a great foundation moving into partner dance,” Kowar explained. “Before competing with a partner, I took all of my partnered tests and remember feeling so out of my element skating so close to someone else.”
In 2020, the Aspen High School honors graduate deferred her enrollment and scholarship to Syracuse University in lieu of a gap year to pursue her ice dance dreams.
“I went to Denver for the summer to begin looking for a partner and training more seriously,” Kowar said. “Ice availability was very limited in Aspen, and I wanted to immerse myself more fully into the skating world.”
In August she relocated to Massachusetts to partner with TJ Carey and train at the Skating Club of Boston. The duo competed at the 2021 Lake Placid Ice Dance International and the Alpharetta Championship Series event. The partnership ended in December 2021, and Kowar returned to Colorado.
Thomas Schwappach earned an international business degree in 2020 from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He is the youngest of three children who in his free time likes to sim race, go bowling, golf, build legos with his roommate and make puzzles with Klara.
“I’m also the biggest Star Wars nerd that Klara has ever met, while at the same time I was shocked that she’d never seen Star Wars before our partnership.”
When he was five-years-old, he tried both hockey and figure skating.
“I stuck with figure skating after my parents saw me practicing my crossovers in the middle of a hockey game on the opposite side of the rink from the puck,” Schwappach said with a laugh.
To improve his skating skills, his freestyle coach, Mia Hoeksema had him work with former Italian Ice Dance Champion, Stefano Stangalini.
“Stefano introduced me to ice dance and was extremely helpful in developing my skating,” Schwappach said. “He really emphasized to me the importance of turns being correct and twizzles.”
While attending UCCS, the Denver native co-founded its collegiate skating team. The second and third years they qualified for Intercollegiate Nationals with Schwappach winning silver in the 2019 Junior Men’s division.
“During those years I had great success with patterns, which helped me rediscover ice dance – not jumping definitely helped,” Schwappach noted.
Prior to graduation in 2020, Schwappach connected with Coach Ben Agosto and began training to compete in ice dance. The global pandemic made it difficult to find a partner initially, but in 2021 he teamed with Sophia Domonoske. The duo competed at the Dallas Cannon Classic in July and three months later at the Championship Series event in Blaine, Minnesota prior to ending the partnership.
After unsuccessfully searching on icepartnersearch.com, Kowar and Schwappach connected through a mutual coach in Colorado Springs.
“We had a great tryout and decided to become partners in May 2022,” Schwappach added.
“I was excited about the opportunity to skate closer to home and in the mountains,” Kowar revealed. “Training at altitude is a hard adjustment, but it’s so beneficial for stamina and makes preparation for competitions even stronger.”
The teammates have great admiration for each other. Schwappach values Kowar’s friendship, strive for perfection and pushing them to be better every day. Kowar respects her partner’s work ethic and compassion.
“We work really well together, and I have so much fun training with him every day,” Kowar added.
The new team’s initial priority was selecting music and creating choreography for their two programs.
The theme for the 2023-24 Rhythm Dance is “Music and Feeling of the Eighties”. The Free Dance music is the team’s personal choice.
“We were initially inspired by Dirty Dancing for our Rhythm Dance,” Kowar said. “We began the choreography, but discovered the majority of the soundtrack was written in the 1960’s.”
Going back down into a music rabbit hole, Chantelle [Kerry] Donohue, who had skated for Australia and was working with them in Colorado recommended they try music from the 1980’s Australian rock band, INXS.
“We were excited about her idea and collaborated with our coaches to create choreography for “Never Tear Us Apart” and “Need You Tonight”.
As for the team’s likes and dislikes for the 80’s decade, both like the music and the fashions, but differ on the ladies hairstyles. Schwappach definitely dislikes them because Klara’s hair is constantly looking to poke him in the eyes, while Kowar thought learning to crimp her hair was a challenge, but it’s definitely fun.
“For our Free Dance I came to Klara with the idea that we should do something character-based and suggested James Bond,” Schwappach explained. “We dove into capturing the characters by watching the Daniel Craig James Bond films. We went for Klara becoming the villain and I bringing Bond (of course). It’s been fun to see how it has changed [and developed] throughout the year.”
Thinking ahead to future programs, both ice dancers have given the subject some thought.
“I would really like us to skate to Gladiator at some point,” Schwappach disclosed. “The emotion conveyed in the story and the music are so beautiful. I think our style would make it a very special program.”
Kowar added, “I find picking music to be a very tedious process. That being said, I think it would be really fun to use a Jazz or Blues piece for a future Free Dance. This would pose a challenge for us and push us in our performance.”
When asked about having a private lesson from any ice dance team, Kowar thinks it would be amazing to have it with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir because the longevity of their career is inspirational.
Meanwhile, Schwappach recalled already having had an invaluable and challenging experience back in the spring working with retired U.S. Champion Zachary Donohue and his wife, Chantelle [Kerry] Donohue.
“It helped push me mentally getting me to a place where I was able to overcome mental blocks that had prevented me from qualifying for Nationals.” he confided.
As the team anticipates their U.S Championships debut, Schwappach reflected on two special skating memories from this season.
In August, the duo competed for the first time at Lake Placid in the same building where the 1980 U.S. hockey team made Olympic history. For him it was surreal.
“Miracle on Ice is one of my family’s favorite movies, so much so that for my brother’s bachelor party, we watched it and quoted as much as we could. To skate on that ice was an experience I’ll never forget and hope to skate on it many more times.
“Another favorite memory of the season is the most recent Ice Dance Final. It was so satisfying to see all our hard work and all the challenges sent our way this year.”
Kowar and Schwappach are excited about making their U.S. National Championships team debut in Columbus, Ohio in late January.
“I am looking forward to a new competitive experience and growing as a competitor,” Kowar noted. “I am excited to compete along side Thomas and take another step forward in our technical and artistic performances.”
Schwappach continued. “I’m really excited to take the ice for my first Nationals and the first with Klara. I’m also excited to go out there with nothing to lose and everything to gain and put all our hard work out on the ice. We love both of these programs and are excited to show them to the largest audience we will have competed in front of.”
The team is already looking forward to ice dancing together in the coming years. They shared their goals.
Kowar spoke first. “I would like to continue pushing our technical capabilities as a team and compete on the international stage.” Schwappach concurred. “My long term goal is to get on Team USA with Klara and compete internationally.
Kowar has a message about ice dance to those who are not yet fans of the discipline.
“I would encourage you to focus on the creativity and the beauty of the sport. While the technical aspect may be harder and not be interesting to everyone, I think that the emotive qualities and different characters dance teams have the ability to portray, are really special.”
* Carol Fox & Richard Dalley are 2019 US Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductees.