If you haven't figured it out, I love ice dance. There is nothing I like
better than an event where the skating is top notch and the dancers
roll out interesting , creative and distinctive programs one after the
The 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, taking place in Moncton next week, promise to deliver just that, with fresh teams testing themselves against old favourites.
in their first national championships together are ice dancers Paul
Poirier, who won last year's national title with former partner Vanessa
Crone, and new partner Piper Gilles.
If you haven't figured it out, I love ice dance. There is nothing I like better than an event where the skating is top notch and the dancers roll out interesting, creative and distinctive programs one after the other.
Skating in their first national championships together are ice dancers Paul Poirier, who won last year's national title with former partner Vanessa Crone, and new partner Piper Gilles.
Gilles is from a very well-known American skating family. Her twin sister, Alexe Gilles, competes at the senior level in ladies, while brother Todd is an internationally ranked dancer. Piper competed internationally with two different dance partners - most recently with Zachary Donohue in the 2009-10 season, when they finished ninth at the junior worlds.
Gilles's American citizenship is a minor hiccup in that she is currently not able to compete internationally for Canada. Under ISU rules, the team has to sit out an entire season following her last international appearance and wait for a release from the appropriate international federation, in this case the United States Figure Skating Association.
Coach Carol Lane confirmed that they have in writing from the U.S. body that Gilles will be released in May of 2012. Moving forward, this means that Gilles and Poirier will more than likely be competing at Skate Canada in 2012 with the possibility of another Grand Prix assignment as alternates.
"My grandmother is Canadian and I have family in Sarnia. My mother is in the middle of getting her passport and once that happens, I will be applying for my Canadian citizenship," Gilles says. "I would be proud to represent Canada and already feel part-Canadian."
Help from the Dean of dance
The frontrunners in Moncton are 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, whose free dance from Funny Face takes us back to a more elegant era, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire perfectly channelled by the team. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are the other established favourites for the national podium. They've set the world on fire this season with a compelling, modern and emotional free dance about a love relationship.
For Gilles and Poirier, creating a memorable program in order to challenge for a medal was key. Enter Olympic champion and father of modern ice dance Christopher Dean, who choreographed their free dance. The result is a fresh interpretation of a relationship. The concept is from the circus, with Poirier playing the ringmaster and Gilles his performing doll.
There is a refreshing interplay between the skaters that demonstrates great harmony and perfect balance. The ringmaster leads the doll and provides the framework for her to be able to shine in performance. Occasionally, though, she turns the tables and compels him to follow her. The program shows the skaters from many different angles: at times coy and at others exuberant, passionate and bold. I love the unexpected twists and turns. See for yourself in this video I took from their practice:
Headed to Moncton, Gilles and Poirier are in the enviable position of not having to worry about what comes next. Their job is to try to stake a claim on a podium spot that will put them in good standing for next season. This is not without its challenges, given that the team has only been skating together since July.
Still, Poirier sees unison as one of their strengths.
"I think we have a lot of underlying traits that are similar," he says.
Coach Jon Lane agrees.
"They skate the same. When you watch them, even from the first day, they actually skate the same. You can't teach that. It's God's gift. If you can get a team that skates the same, even before they start working together, they are lucky to have found each other."
Gilles is eager to get to her first Canadian nationals after winning both the Central Ontario Sectional and Challenge qualifying events.
"I want to get out there and show everyone how hard we have worked," she says. "Our main focus is on the program we're skating at the time and making a big impact."
Poirier points out that competing with a different partner, after 10 years with Crone, isn't as easy as one would think.
"I can tell you right now, when we competed for the first time at Octoberfest, I cannot even tell you how I felt," he says.
"Not knowing how it was going to be with Piper was strange. Things in competition felt more certain with Vanessa, we knew how each other would react. With a new partnership, you are throwing yourself into mid-air almost. I have to say, though, that through that experience and since, my doubts in myself and the partnership started to dissipate."
Poirier should feel confident, as this team is already showing that they're contenders, even if he's still not convinced.
"I feel like we're dark horses," he says. "We haven't competed yet against anyone on the national team. We don't know where we will be slotted."
Perhaps coach Carol Lane sums it up best.
"This is a learning year for both of them. Where they [place] is where they [place]. The important thing is to skate well.
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.