In an American dance landscape desperate for consistency, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are a breath of fresh air.
The two have been together longer than any other American couple, having paired up in 1998. And after 13 years of grueling work, their patience has paid off. The three-time National champs have won seven Grand Prix series titles, and Olympic and World silver medals since their senior debut in 2006. This past season, though, they did something no US dancers have ever done — claim World gold.
They displayed laser-like focus all season as they challenged themselves with the new short dance and a deliberately detailed free dance.
With the short dance, they were not alone.
The new dance was an attempt to blend the old-school technique of the compulsories with the expressiveness of original dance in an attempt to satisfy both skaters and judges. It shortens the competition, but keeps the focus on technique.
“We were excited,” White said, “because the obvious plus was only having two parts to the competition.”
But the new format presented its own dilemmas.
“The name itself obviously makes it clear that it’s no longer trying to do something that’s extraordinarily unique,” Davis said comparing the SD to the OD. “My main problem with it is that the originality isn’t necessarily as accessible as it was during the original dance.“
Now, both choreography and music have to mesh with compulsory steps.
“The original dance we did at the Olympics – the Indian one – there’s no compulsory dance that you can sort of put an Indian spin on, unfortunately,” Charlie said with a chuckle. But, in all seriousness added, “Everyone is going to be a little bit more similar, which, I think some of the judges really appreciate because it’s easier to compare, but it will take away from a more exciting competition.”
Meryl and Charlie aren’t a team to shy away from a challenge, though. That was clear by their Argentine Tango free dance that combined a mind-boggling amount of intricate tango steps with the Argentinian attitude.
“It was a departure for us, and we knew that going in,” White said.
“We weren’t sure what exactly we wanted the program to do on the ice,” Davis recalled. “We just knew that we wanted to make sure we were growing, doing something different and pushing the envelope for ourselves.”
With coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva on hand to help in the growing process, Davis and White were sure to be golden.
The Russian duo has built a bit of an empire in Canton, Michigan. Their success — and that of their athletes — is no accident.
“On top of just being extremely talented, I also think they have a really great understanding of what it takes to have skaters put their best foot forward,” Davis said.
“They’re part of the reason why everyone gets along so well,” he said. “They don’t pit one against the other to try to make us better. They just help us grow individually in our own ways.”
The Canton skaters were pushed again as the status of the World Championships hung in the balance after the tragedy in Japan.
“The only really challenging few weeks were the weeks when we didn’t know when worlds was going to happen or if it was going to happen,” Davis said.
But they pressed on, eager for the chance at a world title. Plus, having the reigning World and Olympic Champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir staging a comeback made it crucial for everyone to stay motivated.
“You can’t take for granted how much of a help it is to have your biggest competition train with you every day at the rink,” White said. “They trained as hard as I’ve ever seen them train, but I can say that we did the same thing and that did help us prepare.”
While the champs tried to downplay the history-making potential before Worlds, there’s no denying they understand — and appreciate — what the medal means now.
“It means everything,” White said. “It’s all the hard work you put into something like figure skating in the cold, since you were a little kid. It’s really nice to have it pay off in the end and just recognize that everything you’ve done has really led to something special.”
“Talking with previous American ice dance teams [about] how hard they worked and how amazingly talented they were, and representing our country and our sport within our country, being the first to be able to achieve something like that is such an honor for us,” Davis said.
An honor, and a fitting tribute to the dedicated partners. For two skaters to stay so long together is more a novelty than the norm. Charlie credits their longevity to their focus.
“I think we both have a very similar work ethic and we always have,” he said.”You really have to be on the same page if you want to be able to accomplish anything.”
And after enjoying some post-Worlds spoils including throwing out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers baseball game, Meryl and Charlie face a new challenge — mastering a Latin-style Short Dance for the coming season.
And as with everything, they’re anxious to see how much they can grow.