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After busy “off-season” Davis and White compete again

Since Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the first U.S. world ice dance champions last April in Moscow, the endless hours the team spends perfecting routines have been interrupted by some pretty high honors.

The skaters, on-ice partners since 1997, got a hero’s welcome when they returned home to their training site in Canton, Mich., complete with a key to the city. They threw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers’ game. Both University of Michigan students, they were recognized at the Big House during the first quarter of a Wolverines football game against Eastern Michigan.

All this was sandwiched between tours and speaking engagements, including one for 100 high-achieving high school students receiving Comcast Foundation scholarships.

“I don’t think (winning worlds) has changed our everyday lives so much,” Davis, 24, said. “We just get to do some extra things in the lives we’ve been leading for the same way for a really long time.

“When we go to the Big House, when we get honored on the field, we’re just having so much fun with it. I think we’re just kind of taking it in stride and making sure we’re taking it all in and will remember it.”

It’s a good thing the two are keeping their heads in the game. While training to defend their title at the Hilton HHonors Skate America, the first event of the fall ISU Grand Prix Series, set for this weekend in Ontario, Calif., their plans took an abrupt turn.

After showing their free dance to judges and officials at the annual U.S. Figure Skating Champs Camp in late August, the world champions and their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, were advised to go back to the drawing board. The foursome ended up scrapping the four-and-a-half minute routine, set to the Nino Rota soundtrack of Federico Fellini’s “La Strada,” and starting over from scratch.

“The judges weren’t particularly thrilled with the program,” Davis said. “Once we got back from Champs Camp, we realized that both Igor and Marina thought we could do something better, and Charlie and I decided we would go with whatever our coaches thought best for us.”

That ended up being “Die Fledermaus,” a sparkling Johann Strauss operetta the polar opposite of the poignant, but rather bleak, “La Strada”.

“We’re super thrilled with the outcome,” White, 23, said. “The Die Fledermaus music really has a lot of range to it. Because we didn’t have as much time to choreograph, we wanted to make sure we could do it justice and we’ve certainly been able to do more than that.

“We really exceeded our highest expectations for the choreography, especially for having made it so quickly.”

Thank Zoueva, who has been keeping the music in her back pocket for years.

“I used ‘Die Fledermaus’ for an original dance I did for them, eight years ago, when they were first-year juniors,” the Moscow-born coach and choreographer said.

“I remember their parents saying, ‘Oh Marina, it’s such a wonderful program, everybody loves it.’ So after that, every few years or so, I would say to them, ‘Can you do Die Fledermaus?’ I would tell Charlie’s mom, ‘I think Charlie was born in a tuxedo.’ The program is perfect for his image. And in this program, everyone will see Meryl as a very charming, playful woman.”

Davis and White also will debut their Latin American short dance, set to rumba and samba rhythms, at Skate America. With their usual meticulous eye to detail, the two worked with TV’s “Dancing With The Stars” pro Elena Grinenko to incorporate an authentic Latin feel into the routine.

“We wanted to get an even better sense for the movements and familiar ourselves with the feel of the steps, so we can better translate the dances to the ice,” White said.

“Elena has come back (to Canton) a few times and we’ve really focused on getting the Latin feel across throughout the entire program. We don’t want to do a few Latin steps, and then just look like a team skating.”

Shpilband has no doubt the program will be a big success.

“The Latin short dance really suits them,” he said. “It’s a modern dance (to a medley including Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor”) that is very appealing to the younger audience, as well as the mature audience. Sometimes dances come easily to skaters, and the rumba comes easily to Meryl and Charlie.”

Winning has become a habit for Davis and White. Last season, they brought home gold from every competition they entered.

Over the past few seasons, the Americans’ only true rivals for the top of the podium have been Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who also train in Canton under Shpilband and Zoueva. Davis and White placed second to the Canadians at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships before defeating them in Moscow last season.

“I don’t think there is any more pressure coming into this season as world champions as (there is) any other year,” Davis said. “Charlie and I have always come into every season with really high expectations. We want to make sure we’re putting out our best every year.

“We want to improve; we want to make drastic strides in our abilities on the ice, our ability to perform. Both of our programs have a high level of difficulty.”

Virtue and Moir are slated to make their season debut at Skate Canada on Oct. 27-30 and will not compete at Skate America. Instead, Davis and White will square off against European champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, as well as up-and-coming young Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello

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