Below are excerpts from Meryl Davis and Charlie White's (see right) teleconference. This season, Meryl and Charlie won the NHK Trophy, Cup of Russia, as well as the Grand Prix Final. They are also the defending U.S. ice dance champions.
Ice dancers in the US are now a major force to contend with. Do you have a theory as to why?
Meryl: I think it's a combination of a lot of things. I think that first and foremost, the judging system has changed in the last few years and I think it's changed in the favor of North American ice dance teams. North American teams have always been very technically skilled and I think that the way the sport has gone as of late kind of supports that and encourages skaters to be more technically proficient. I think that for us, for Tanith [Belbin] and Ben [Agosto], for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and a lot of other really talented North American teams, I think that it works in our favor. And then on top of that, I definitely think that there's a lot of really great talent in the ice dance field right now in the US and in Canada, and I think that Tanith and Ben have done a lot for the sport, and they definitely kind of paved the way for success for American ice dancers. Charlie and I are really happy to be in the sport at such an exciting time and we're really thrilled to see the way ice dance is taking a turn.
Charlie: Definitely, everything Meryl said is right on. I just would add that the coaching too -- it's really improved over the years and with our coaches Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband, they obviously took Tanith and Ben to the last Olympics where they had so much success and we've been fortunate enough to work with them as well. They're the best at what they do, we really trust in them and they're really helping take American ice dancing in a good direction.
Do you think that the popularity of ice dancing will attract kids more to your sport rather than singles or pairs?
Meryl: I certainly hope so. The draw for both people to participate in our sport and really to watch our sport and enjoy our sport is a huge thing for us. And I would imagine that all American ice dancers are really excited at the level of popularity and the rising rates of viewers that we have. I hope that the way the sport is going definitely will attract more people and I think that the increased level of athleticism really is probably the biggest draw. Charlie and I really are embracing that as a whole. If we can kind of advertise ice dancing as something that's not only athletic but also beautiful and artistic, it's a very unique sport in that way, and I think that it can only help.
Charlie: If you look at the trend across America with TV shows, like So You Think Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, I think there's a sort of love affair with dancing! Ice dancers are fortunate enough to kind of pick up on that, and at the same time, we've all been kind of very successful. So it's kind of a good combination and hopefully it will lead to a lot of American viewers kind of getting into it.
Your Original Dance this season is a Bollywood-inspired Indian folk dance and is a huge hit in India and around the world. What are your thoughts about your new fanbase in India and do you have any stories to share?
Meryl: Our families, Charlie and myself are all really excited about the growing popularity of our program in India. No stories really because we haven't really had any first hand contact with anyone over there. It's really exciting. Charlie and I have said all along that taking on a program like this is really exciting -- to have kind of an approval by the Indian people, and having the positive feedback that we've gotten -- has been so rewarding because for two kids growing up in America to take on an Indian program, to have an acceptance from native people in the land is really the best compliment we could have.
Charlie: It's been pretty cool. The YouTube video of our Indian OD taking place in Russia -- it was obvious from the statistics and data on YouTube, that it was the most watched, mostly watched in India, like 225,000 views, which is incredible especially for a figure skating video, which usually tops out at 10,000. So that was a really cool phenomenon. We really enjoyed being in the spotlight in India and hopefully doing them justice with our dancing and I think we've done a pretty good job.
What was the inspiration for the OD?
Meryl: Our coach Marina is the one who came up with the idea to do an Indian Original Dance. She got the idea from seeing some Indian scarves at a store in Spain. When she told us that that was what she was thinking, Charlie and I were excited about it - we looked into finding a professional in the area. We found an Indian folk dancer in the Ann Arbor area, she is really the one who helped us to understand what Indian folk dance is all about because it wasn't something either of us had much knowledge about. She helped to show us some of the basics and she taught us for a few months on the floor in her studio -- a lot of dance moves and what Indian dance was all about. She helped us find the music and we were able to explain to her what we were looking for and how we wanted to translate Indian dance onto the ice. She's been so great and helpful for us and we couldn't have done it without her. [Name of the Indian choreographer: Anuja Rajendra] We wanna make a note also that although she definitely did a lot, Marina and Igor were also very involved in the choreography, so it wasn't her alone who choreographed our OD.
Charlie: It was really something we didn't know anything about. The more we did it, the more we fell in love with it. I think that it really translates well onto the ice just how into it we are and how much we love doing that program.
Did you have any sense that it would be so well received?
Meryl: We weren't really sure how it was going to be received. But once we started listening to the music and deciding which pieces we were going to use, our coaches, and Charlie and myself were really excited about it. It was very different and we were really excited about what we thought we would be able to do with it. Once our program started coming together I think that we knew we had something special for ourselves, something we could really connect with. I think we knew mid-summer we had something we were all really excited about.
Charlie: Yeah, definitely.
You are both part-time students at the University of Michigan. When will you return to college?
Meryl: Charlie and I really take pride in our education and having lives at the University of Michigan has really added to being well-rounded people and to our happiness. I think that we're both taking next semester off from classes -- hopefully we'll be really busy. But we definitely have a lot of friends and our lives are really in Ann Arbor. So we'll be living in Ann Arbor mostly even though we won't be attending classes. We'll be looking forward to going back to classes in the spring.
Now that you won the 2009 Nationals, is it a little difficult preparing for this year with the Olympic berth on the line? Is there a greater sense of intensity?
Meryl: It's no secret that there's more pressure in an Olympic year and I think that if you ask any athlete going into Nationals this year, competing 2-3 weeks before the Olympics is definitely a little bit different than any other year. But Charlie and I, with our coaches, have focused on making sure that we go into this season just like any other season. All we can really do is skate our best and prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities. That's what we're doing. We hope to stay level-headed going in.
Charlie: We take everything kind of like one step at a time, we live in the moment. We're really focused on Nationals right now, it's important to us to keep our title. We've obviously, in the back of our heads, been thinking about the Olympics a bit, but most important is Nationals because that's gonna really set the tone for how we enter the Olympics. We'd like to be way out there, way ahead of everyone else. So mostly the usual training and focusing but it hasn't been too much of a distraction.
What will it take to win Nationals?
Charlie: I would say just go out there and skate like we know how to skate. We've shown all year long that our programs are really technically difficult and we've shown a lot of passion. Everything we needed to do to prove that we deserve to have that National title again. All we have to do now is to go out there and skate our best like we know how to do.
Meryl: I agree with Charlie. I think we definitely have what it takes to defend our title. If we can go out there and put out some really good performances in Spokane, there's no reason that we shouldn't have a great shot at the title.
Congratulations on your Grand Prix Final win last month, the first American ice dancers to win by the way. You had a couple of levels dropped in your programs in the Final and I wonder what they were and why that happened.
Meryl: We had levels dropped in some of our forward sequences, speaking in the general sense, with OD and Free Dance. We had a level dropped in a twizzle on the Free Dance and a spin on the Free Dance and we've resolved those things pretty quickly when we came home. And we knew exactly what we needed to fix. So I think that after reviewing everything carefully we feel really confident going into Nationals. We shouldn't really have any further problems with our levels.
Charlie: It takes a tiny little thing to mess up that level. Unfortunately we made a few stupid little mistakes at the Final but like Meryl said, we've been working really hard so that when we get out on the ice, it's not something we have to think about. It should just be automatic, that's the way it usually is and I think that's how it will be at Nationals as well.
Were you expecting to win the Grand Prix Final and how did that affect your approach this season?
Charlie: Going into the Final we had a lot of confidence from our two Grand Prixs, we've been getting very good responses. Our really close contenders were Tessa and Scott whom we train with every day. We know they're amazing and we know how good they are. We knew it would be a really close battle. We definitely were prepared to win, but moreso, we wanted to go and skate our best because that's really the only thing you can count on, especially in ice dance sometimes. We were able to go and perform really well. When we took the victory, it wasn't a surprise but it was definitely something that was really nice and a big confidence booster for us.
You mentioned that it's getting harder and harder to reach the top level - Level 4s. What do you do in your head when you get out there?
Charlie: By the time we step out on the ice, it's something that you can't think about. You have to be trained and ready to do all the necessary things out on the ice to get the levels. You don't wanna have to think about it or be distracted from your performance, oh, did I do enough twizzles or did I do enough rotations on my spin, did I miss an edge or anything like that because that will detract from the overall performance so it just has to be automatic.
Happy birthday to you Meryl (she turned 23 on January 1). Do you think you will continue to the 2014 Olympics if you don't win the gold this year?
Meryl: Charlie said we really take everything one day at a time. We definitely haven't said for sure we're gonna continue to 2014 or for sure aren't. I think that we have definitely talked about continuing on after this season and as long as we're doing the sport, we'll see where it takes us.
Who comes up with the idea for programs? For example in the 2007-2008 season, who came up with Beyond the Sea for your exhibition and Eleanor Rigby for the Free Dance?
Meryl: For Beyond the Sea, my Mom actually found the music. We watched the movie and she really liked the soundtrack, and we brought it in and Marina and Igor really liked it. So we decided to go with it for the show program. And then for the Eleanor Rigby program it was pretty much all Igor's idea -- he came up with all the music, the idea behind the program, so once we started to develop the program, Charlie, myself and of course Marina started to really put ourselves into the program as well, but originally it was Igor.
Did Igor choreograph your Free Dance this year too?
Charlie: It's a joint choreography thing between Igor and Marina. They will both work on it and see what they like and so we can kind of get the best out of both of them and it works really well.
Can you talk a little about your relationship with Tanith and Ben?
Meryl: Growing up with them in Detroit, we really didn't have a lot of contact with them at the Detroit Skating Club when we were younger. We always looked up to them and all the other elite ice dancers we grew up with, Naomi [Lang] and Peter [Tchernyshev], Elizabeth [Punsalan] and Jerod [Swallow], and then when we moved to Canton to train, we became close friends with them. Our relationship changed a little bit for the better. It's been great competing with them the last few years and training with them in prior years. I think that going into this year, we definitely support each other. It's great to see a couple of teams on top of American ice dance.
Is there a friendly rivalry that exists among the four of you?
Charlie: It's been a little bit different. We haven't really competed against them very much. They withdrew from the Final last year and they withdrew from the Final this year. They were really only at Worlds against us last year. So it's been a little bit of a strange rivalry just because we haven't competed against them very much. But we're very close just from the time we spent together in Canton and we definitely support each other, especially being on the same Team America.
Following up on Olympic pressure, going into Nationals this season, maybe for the first time, you are a favorite even though Tanith and Ben will be there. Do you think playing the role of a favorite changes your mindset?
Meryl: I think that it's very different going in not as underdogs. Charlie and I have always seen ourselves as underdogs and I don't think that's necessarily the case this year. Going in a different position than we usually do, it's very important to come prepared as we always do. We're training really hard and as prepared as we could possibly be. We're really confident, we've had a great season so far, we're really excited to go out there and compete.
Charlie: The key, whether you're the underdog or everyone expects you to win, is just to be prepared. If we can go out there and skate our best and basically let our skating do the talking, that's always been the key to us I think, not worrying about placement so much. Just really letting our skating do the talk.
At last year's Worlds, you came in fourth and just missed the bronze medal. The fact that it was so close -- was that more of a confidence boost or a motivator?
Meryl: It's funny, we were actually talking about this earlier, and although...I would say it was definitely both. Worlds last year definitely elevated our confidence, not only in terms of what we were capable of, in terms of results, but also in terms of our skating. I think that after Worlds last year, we approached the off season a little bit differently -- just going in a little bit more confident and excited about what we could do. And I also think that it was a motivator but Charlie and I were saying earlier that, we don't need more motivation going into this season. We're both so dedicated to the sport and so excited about this season that although something like that definitely helped to motivate us, we're not sure we needed more motivation for this year, because we're just so excited.
Charlie: Even though it was really tough to take, it did put us in a very good position this year. We have the confidence to know that we belong in the top, at the same time, having come so close, we're extra-motivated to prove ourselves every time we step on the ice. Just like what Meryl said.