Skaters' cool tale of love off the ice

JUST MARRIED

Dawn Latona And Chris Conte

September 09, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun Staff

Cinderella and her prince were falling in love nightly on the stage of a 1996 Ice Capades tour of China as Dawn Latona and Chris Conte began their own love story off the ice.

Roles as the Spanish Princess ("There's some casting," says the fair, blue-eyed Dawn) and Buttons, Cinderella's comic sidekick ("I played the village idiot," jokes Chris) reunited the two, who had known each other as children when they were skating competitively in Buffalo, N.Y.

Back then, "I thought she was cute," says Chris, but "she would never talk to me."

Dawn moved to Philadelphia when she was 9 to train and compete, and 16 years passed before she and Chris met again. When she was 20, Dawn gave up competitive skating and started touring with ice shows. Chris competed throughout his childhood, spent two years in college and then joined the cast of Disney on Ice as Pinocchio.

Both were tired of the professional skating business but couldn't pass up the opportunity when the Ice Capades called. Chris got the call a year before Dawn, who joined in 1996, just before the China tour. Chris saw Dawn's name on a cast list, and at the first day of rehearsals, sought out his childhood crush.

Dawn's mother had told her Chris' name was on the list when it arrived at her home, but when he actually said, "Hi," Dawn remembers, "I have no idea who it is, none. ... I'm still picturing him the last way I saw him, with glasses, his hair was kind of long ... a skinny little kid." But, she adds, "By the end of that week, I knew I was going to marry him."

Their relationship reached a first "real" date of dinner and sightseeing in Beijing at the end of the tour. They continued to see each other from their respective homes -- Chris was back in Buffalo and Dawn was in Philadelphia -- and then they moved to Baltimore to skate together in a group called the Next Ice Age.

Three years after they started dating, Chris proposed. But they faced some difficult times as they tried to figure out what to do after ending their professional skating careers.

"From the time I was 5 or 6 until the time I was 26, I did nothing but ice-skate," says Dawn.

In 2000, six weeks before a "very big, elaborate, ridiculously expensive" wedding, the couple realized they were not ready to be married, and they called off the wedding.

Chris continued to pursue his passion for skating and for music by becoming a skating teacher and choreographer. Dawn decided to get her bachelor's degree in biology at Towson University. It was an arrangement that worked well for the couple.

Chris had attended college and Dawn knew all about skating, so "even though we do completely different things, we both know what the other's day was like.... It's just easier for us to understand each other," she says.

Last March, Dawn, 30, and Chris, 31, began to plan a smaller, simpler wedding. And on Aug. 25, they were married at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo. A Rolls-Royce took the couple from the church to a reception at the Italian restaurant owned by Dawn's parents, Ernestine and Jeffrey Latona of Buffalo.

Chris' mother, Linda May Conte of Buffalo, works at a florist shop and helped create flower arrangements. Ernestine Latona was one of her daughter's attendants, along with Chris' sister, Jill Clulow. Chris' childhood friend Paul Laforna was his best man.

Because Dawn had to start classes a few days after the wedding, they stopped for two nights at a bed and breakfast in Jim Thorpe, Pa., on the way from Buffalo to their home in Roland Park. They hope to travel to Europe, possibly Italy, for their first anniversary.

They have talked about living on a farm someday with horses, dogs and pigs. But they say, really, anything could happen.

"I thought marriage was about losing your freedom and not being able to do whatever it is you want to do," Dawn says. But now she believes, "You're actually gaining freedom. You have somebody that's going to love and support you. That gives you the courage to do what you want."

For details on submitting wedding and engagement announcements to The Sun, and to order wedding forms, please call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter code 6240. To share your unique Just Married story, send an e-mail to justmarried@baltsun.com.

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