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Meryl and Charlie work with SYTYCD's Alex Wong


Star of TV, Broadway schools Davis, White in ballet

Four-time U.S. champions employ Alex Wong to assist with Giselle short dance

By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com

(11/19/2012) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who started their season with superb performances and scores at Skate America in October, are trying to raise the level of their dancing even higher.
They recently spent three days working with Alex Wong, a former soloist with the Miami City Ballet and star of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Wong is well known for his expertise in a wide range of styles; he was the world junior champion in tap and showdance, and he won the 2004 Prix de Lausanne ballet competition. He recently completed a run on Broadway inNewsies.
"Charlie and I wanted to work with someone with a really strong dance background," Davis said. "Our agent came to us with the idea [of working with Wong]. He was incredible on the show So You Think You Can Dance. We love that show, and it was really exciting for us to get in contact with him.
"As always, when you're collaborating with someone who doesn't have a figure skating background, you don't know what to expect. From the first minute or two, he picked it up so quickly, and he was helpful from the first second."
Wong worked with Davis and White on both their short and free dances. Davis said that since the Giselle short dance is based on a ballet, they were looking for someone with a background in that area.
"We felt like both programs needed something," Davis said. "It's the little things that make a huge difference. In the free dance, it's wonderful because [Wong] also does modern and jazz and he has a great understanding of how to make your body evoke different emotions. It was fascinating to watch him show us what to do -- he was mesmerizing."
Working with a non-skating choreographer can be a challenge because the skaters have to take the choreographer's concepts and adapt them to fit the constraints of ice skating. In a way, the skater has to do a bit of self-choreographing.
For example, a skater can only glide directly forward or backward. On the floor, a dancer can side-step, slide and easily change between directions.
Also, the balance point on skates is different than on the floor, so some kinds of body articulations don't translate as well.
"This is actually my first time working with figure skaters," Wong said. "It's so exciting seeing dance steps translated on ice because on a normal floor, it's impossible to glide the way skaters can, so there's an unexpected speed to the movement that looks very gratifying and free."
Wong has a little bit of a skating background, having taken figure skating lessons between the ages of 5 and 7. (He also went to high school with Canadian bronze medalist Jeremy Ten).
"I did start skating lessons for a little bit before I started dance, so it's actually always been a love of mine," Wong said. "It's interesting how close the two forms can be. All the upper body should be the same and much of the lower body looks the same, with the exception of the skaters not being able to articulate their feet because of the physical skates -- I think that is replaced by detailed footwork, like skating on the inside/outside of the blade! However, I really don't feel the overall picture is much different."
Wong worked with Davis and White for three days. Since the time was short, they started on the ice rather than working in a studio.
"We get the best idea of where we are when we're on the ice," White said. "He could have been coaching skating his whole life, he was such a natural at it. He gave us a lot of advice on following through movements, what to do with our heads."
Davis and White said they had watched many different versions of Giselle to get a sense of the story and the characters they are portraying: Duke Albrecht and the peasant girl, Giselle.
"We wanted to do it justice: the characters, the general style," White said. "It's exciting to try to do that on the ice. It's fun to compare and contrast; we're always going to have our own little twist."
Wong and the skaters both said that they worked mostly on details.
"Everything comes into play, from obvious things like how your costume looks all the way to the placement of one finger," Wong said. "Little details like that are so important, and sometimes it takes a very trained eye to spot how to fix minor details which, in the end, amount to a much bigger picture."
The collaboration seems to have been very exciting for both skaters and dancer. Wong has gained legions of fans from his TV appearances and for his engaging personality, as well as his brilliant dancing.
Davis spoke of Wong with tremendous enthusiasm, and Wong reciprocated.
"We enjoyed not only working with him but getting to talk to him," Davis said. "He's really inspirational."
"On top of being extremely talented, Meryl and Charlie are such great people!" Wong said. "So humble and great to work with. Their attention to detail and work ethic are great. When I see them skate, the joy, energy and freedom that radiates through their bodies make me want to instantly run out there and skate with them, but I'd probably slip and break a few bones!"
Davis confirmed that, despite their many successes, she and White are always striving to increase their skills and reach greater heights.
"We're still trying to improve everything," Davis said. "That's what makes us true competitors. Every year after worlds, we look at what we have and where we are, and we want to make sure that the following year we take a step up. There's no foreseeable top; we can always be faster, we can always be more expressive.
"When we no longer have a desire to improve, that would be a problem."

Charlie visits the NHL

Hockey Background helps White dominate ice dancing


Ensconced in a suite at Vancouver's Rogers Arena, longtime hockey player Charlie White had a great seat for the gold-medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics. So did a group of neighboring Canadians, who shot some icy stares at the Michigan-born White when the United States tied the game with 25 seconds remaining in regulation time. But after Canada won 3-2 in overtime to take the gold medal, White knew he was in the line of fire.

"As soon as they scored, I just jetted out of there. I knew I had it coming," White said. "It was a great game. Being able to see them go at it like that was really cool."
Charlie White chose figure skating over hockey but says the skills he learned while playing the game helped turn him into an Olympic medalist and world champion. (Photos: Gerard Chataigneau and NBC Sports)
Once the agony of losing in overtime passed, Americans hailed their runner-up hockey team for helping to grow the game in the United States. They did the same for White, whose silver medal with partner Meryl Davis in the 2010 Olympic ice dancing competition has made him among his sport's most prominent ambassadors. It was a huge moment for the University of Michigan student and defending world champion -- one that might not have happened had he not grown up playing hockey.
"Representing the U.S. was a real honor. Being able to win the silver medal on top of that was amazing. Up to that point, we hadn't even won a world medal," White told NHL.com. "One of the things Meryl and I are better at than other teams is our athleticism and our speed across the ice. That's directly attributable to my past in hockey."
Most fans first became aware of White's competitive streak at the 2010 Winter Games. But the 25-year-old demonstrated that fighting spirit long before arriving in Vancouver.
It developed over a childhood split between hockey and figure skating. As a playmaking center, White competed in the Detroit metro area playing AAA hockey for the Honeybaked Hockey Club, a prominent local organization that has sent more than 50 players to the NCAA ranks and seen 18 former players drafted by NHL teams since 2000 -- including Ryan KeslerTim Gleason and Jim Slater.
While White developed world-class skating skills that would eventually earn him Olympic glory, he was also playing hockey at an incredibly high level, all while balancing both sports with school. Already established as a teen as one of the country's top junior skaters, White won a state hockey championship as well. But when it came time to choose one sport, he knew his future was in ice dancing with Davis; it's an on-ice relationship that remains one of the longest lasting in the country. White's hockey teammates were more than understanding.
"I was such a good skater that they really respected what figure skating was able to do for my hockey. I think that led them to respect figure skating. Through the years, I've been in contact with the guys and they continue to be very supportive," said White, who followed up Olympic silver in 2010 by winning gold at the World Championships in 2011, the first by an American team in ice dancing. "They were very understanding when I decided to step away from hockey."
"I grew up watching Steve Yzerman and [Sergei] Fedorov; later on [Nicklas] Lidstrom and all the Stanley Cups. It was really awesome for a kid who loved hockey. It was always so nice to step away from figure skating and school with hockey. To this day I'm still a huge fan."
-- World-class figure skater Charlie White
The decision obviously paid off for White, but it didn't dull his passion for hockey. Though he no longer plays the game, he's still as passionate as ever about it. After all, he grew up with the Mighty Ducks movies, NHL video games, and a Red Wings team that was the class of the NHL.
"I grew up watching Steve Yzerman and [Sergei] Fedorov; later on [Nicklas] Lidstrom and all the Stanley Cups," White said. "It was really awesome for a kid who loved hockey. It was always so nice to step away from figure skating and school with hockey. To this day I'm still a huge fan."
That's why it's no surprise that the kid from Detroit kept an eye out for his favorite NHL players when he finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of skating at the Olympics. With most athletes congregating in the Olympic Village dining hall, White took notice of some of the NHL players who came in and out of the common area -- with a particularly keen eye on the Red Wings players who came in. White shared a unique experience with some of his favorite athletes, making an already remarkable experience even more memorable.
"It was great because they [hockey players] had an interest in what we were doing too," White said. "They loved being part of the Olympic experience and stepping away from their normal professional careers. They really enjoyed soaking it in. Having that experience was really awesome."

teamusa blog: Charlie

Fifteen Years and Counting

Meryl Davis, Charlie White

The younger days
Meryl Davis, Charlie White
With our moms, Jacqui White (L) and
Cheryl Davis (R)
Meryl Davis, Charlie White
Being honored at a Michigan game

As kids beginning our journey together in the fall of 1997, we didn’t have a great idea of what it was we were doing on the ice. In those early years, our greatest hurdle was to achieve the daunting task of making eye contact with each other.
Fifteen years in, we’re four-time American ice dance champions, Olympic medalists and world champions. I can’t say that we totally expected to be here. In fact, we didn’t begin with any expectations at all.
Today, we’re a little over a year out from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and “expectations” are running high for all those who’ve set their sights on Sochi. Still, it’s not all about the next 15-odd months for us leading up to the Games. Our journey began well before our Olympic ambitions took off.
Somewhere between running back and forth between school, hockey, soccer, skating and music practice, we developed a rhythm. Our families living just ten minutes down the road from one another, our mothers, or “the moms,” quickly became an integral part of our team. Whether they were toting us from one activity to another or leading us on a tour of one of the many cities we visited together, the similar convictions of our mothers may have been the backbone of our career.
In truth, our mothers are still the backbone of our career. Even today, they’ve hardly missed a single one of our skating events between the two of them. In retrospect, I don’t know how they did it. Both working, they somehow managed to find the time to be our support systems in every way. Over the years, we were encouraged to maintain a balance between school and athletics as well as spending time with our friends and families.
It is that similar outlook on balance that has best served us over the years. Currently students at the University of Michigan, we feel so fortunate that we’ve been able to pursue our athletic and academic goals while remaining so close to our families. With such opportunities made available to us, we’ve been able to develop our skill on the ice as well as develop a comfort zone upon which we’ve come to rely.
For the last 15 years, we’ve spent just about every day together. Our unique relationship is one built of hard work as well as years of memories and experiences that have shaped our lives, as a team and as individuals. Thus, it seems fitting that when we take to the ice to compete, it is on each other we most rely.
We’ve just begun this pre-Olympic season and are halfway through the Grand Prix Series. Looking to take gold at our second assignment at the NHK Trophy in Japan, this would allow us to attend the Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating this December in Sochi. During what would be our first visit to the 2014 Olympic venue, we hope to defend our title at that championship event. We’ll be blogging with TeamUSA.org over the course of the next few months. We hope you’ll join us as we share our adventure!

Classroom Champions Series: Inspiration

Meryl and Charlie talk about inspiration