Stars on Ice news-Naples, FL

Dazzling Olympic stars from Vancouver games skate at Germain

By ELIZABETH KELLAR

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Maybe you were a fan of ice dancing before the recent Winter Olympics. Maybe not. Maybe Vancouver made a convert out of you.

Or perhaps you didn’t tune in for a single twizzle of the ice dancing competitions, and are still not sure what the sport is — or at least how it differs from figure skating, its more popular cousin.

In either case, the April 1 arrival of the Smucker’s Stars on Ice Tour promises to be an ice dancing tour de force. -- Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won the 2010 Silver Medal

-- Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, who won the 2006 Silver Medal and finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics.

-- Men’s figure skating megastar Evan Lysacek. Lysacek took the 2010 Gold Medal in the sport, and he hasn’t been out of the public eye since then: he’s appearing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” as well.

Also appearing will be 2010 Canadian Olympic Bronze Medalist Joannie Rochette and a host of other accomplished skaters, such as Sasha Cohen, Todd Eldredge and Jeremy Abbott.

Tentatively, Davis and White plan to present the original dance routine, which has garnered applause around the world.

Choreographed to traditional Indian folk music and inspired by Indian wedding customs, the pair’s lively routine is bold, beautiful and unabashedly Bollywood. It’s authentic, too — Davis and White learned their moves from an Indian dance instructor who, professionally retired, now owns a Michigan exercise studio.

The level of love for the program has surprised the pair. One version of the performance is a You Tube sensation, already earning nearly 250,000 views.

“We knew going in that it would be very well received,” Davis said. “We worked very hard to make sure that it would be authentic. But it definitely has received more attention than we expected.”

“It’s such a fun piece to do,” White said. “The movements and everything.”

Both Davis and White are enrolled at the University of Michigan, and train nearby. As skaters, they’ve been together for 13 years, since they were little more than children. Davis often admits in interviews that she was so shy when they began skating together, their coach threatened to put stickers on White’s forehead to encourage Davis to look at her partner.

That problem has clearly corrected itself. At the Olympics, the pair’s free skate program was wildly romantic, choreographed to music from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” If Davis and White seemed a happy, smiling Indian bride and groom in their original dance, they equally inhabit the roles of Christine and the Phantom in their free skate, as Davis races away and White relentlessly pursues his prize.

Upon seeing the program, one commenter praised the duo for bringing a rawness to ice dancing that the sport sometimes lacks. In ice dancing, as in pairs figure skating, couples skate to music, but ice dancing draws from ballroom dance and certain figure skating moves are prohibited.

Which isn’t to say that ice dancing isn’t technically spectacular: At one point in Davis and White’s free skate, White takes his partner up over his shoulder and onto his back, where she ultimately comes to balance, skated foot and all, on his raised leg.

The Olympians agree that they put everything into their performances, working to create a feeling when they’re out on the ice. They give credit to their choice of music, too: “Phantom,” after all, is not timid.

“It came across really well,” White said of the free skate. “It didn’t look like we were holding back emotionally.”

Following such a competition as the Olympics, the pair would usually take a break, but have instead signed on to do the Stars on Ice tour. It’s their first Stars tour, and they hope that they will be able to bring a greater awareness to ice dancing.

It’s not the first Stars tour for Belbin and Agosto, however. The pair have guested previously.

Belbin is pleased to return, she said, and to share the ice with her fellow skaters. Competition can be a stressful time, and it’s inevitable that skaters are only able to focus on themselves and their goals. But a tour is different, she said, giving skaters a chance to move out of their competitive confines.

“It just really creates numbers that you would never see in competition,” she said.

Belbin and Agosto have skated together for 11 years, and have long been considered one of the sport’s leaders. Prior to Vancouver, they said they did not plan to train for another Olympics, and that hasn’t changed. The pair will likely use their time on the Stars tour to assess their next move, Belbin said. Competition may not be entirely out, but touring professionally may also be a life that they enjoy, she added.

Belbin has also begun to put a toe — or toe pick — into other arenas. She has an ongoing interest in broadcast journalism, and has appeared as a contributor on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“It’s just really fun to be able to do something different,” she said.

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