Social media has become an important outlet in many lives as a means of keeping up with and making friends, meeting potential life partners, or simply having a distraction from real life. Sometimes, as in the case of Canadian ice dancers Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams, it can be the starting point of a budding business relationship.
At the 2010 Canadian Championships in London, Ont., Orford finished in seventh place in the junior dance competition and Thomas in ninth with their respective partners. When Orford found herself without a partner after those championships, she looked to her coaches, Olympians Meagan Wing and Aaron Lowe for guidance. The duo suggested that she contact Williams for a tryout.
“My coaches heard that (Williams) and his partner had split up, and we assumed that he would be searching for a new partner,” Orford recalled. “After a few months of trying to contact him themselves, my coaches asked me to try to contact him via Facebook. He eventually replied and said that he wasn’t actually looking for a partner.”
But Wing and Lowe were persistent and encouraged Williams to come to Vancouver to see if things clicked with their student.
“I was actually going to take a year off from competing to move back home and work for a year before returning to skating,” Williams explained. “(Lowe) contacted me about coming out to Vancouver for a tryout, and I thought why not give it a try. I knew within the first hour of our tryout that I wanted to skate with Nicole.”
To train in Burnaby, B.C. with Wing and Lowe and to skate with Orford, Williams would have to forgo the opportunity to live once again with his family in Alberta. Fortunately for everyone involved, Williams made the decision to relocate to the west coast to begin the new partnership.
“I moved in with relatives here in Surrey, B.C. (about 30 minutes from the training center),” Williams said. “I’m originally from a town outside of Calgary called Okotoks which is where my family lives. From 2008-2010 I lived in Kitchener-Waterloo to train, so I haven’t actually lived at home for a while.”
With the partnership in place, Orford and Williams began a race against the clock to not only get to know each other as a team, but also to pull together competitive programs for the approaching season.
“Everything fell into place pretty easily, thankfully, since we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the season,” 18 year-old Orford said. “We didn’t start actually training together until the end of May, so we were just thrown right into choreography, skipping most of the basics.”
Because both skaters had just competed on the junior level at nationals and had two more years of international age eligibility, Orford and Williams settled on competing as juniors.
“We thought that we could be more competitive as juniors,” Williams, 20, explained.
Orford and Williams selected music by The Beetles for their short dance and a medley of popular music re-orchestrated by The Vitamin String Quartet for their free with the help of their coaching team.
“Our coaches asked us if we had any specific music in mind,” Williams said. “When neither one of us did, they played us a selection of music that they thought would suit us. We both really liked what they picked for us, and from there we selected the pieces that we liked the most.”
Orford continued, “We tried to emulate a love story in both programs. Each one started out as with a sense of innocence— like that of a first love. Then the programs progressed to the eternal love stage of a relationship. I think it worked for us because it almost was a parallel to our real life relationship as skating partners. We were just getting to know each other and were in the process of building our partnership.”
To qualify to compete in fall internationals, Orford and Williams stood up to the task of competing in three high profile summer competitions in the span of about five weeks. In their competitive debut at the Minto Summer Skate in Ottawa, Ont., at the end of July, they finished in 10th place in the short dance and fourth in the free dance. At the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, just a few days later, they finished in second in the short dance and won the free dance.
At the end of August in their home competition, the BC Summer Skate, Orford and Williams equaled their Lake Placid placements, and were rewarded with an assignment to skate in the Junior Grand Prix—at the John Curry Memorial in Sheffield, England.
“One of our goals this past season was to earn a spot on the Junior Grand Prix circuit,” Orford said. “We were thrilled that we even got a chance to go to Sheffield.”
Two strong skates later, and Orford and Williams found themselves on the podium of their very first international competition.
“We were just hoping to make a good first impression, so we were very surprised when we came third,” Orford said. “It felt really good to know that all the hard work was amounting to something. We had only been skating together for four months at the time, so it was very promising.”
Williams was equally happy with the result.
“Standing on the podium in Sheffield was an amazing experience,” he said. “Before that, I had never really medaled at any major competitions at all during my career, so to place at our first (international) was awesome.”
Soon after, Orford and Williams learned that they had been selected for a second event on the circuit, and headed to the event in Ostrava, Czech Republic, just two weeks after their debut in Sheffield. They finished in fifth place.
“We were very thankful that we got the chance to go to a second event, and we were determined to make improvements upon our performances in Sheffield,” Orford shared. “We had new personal bests in both the short and free dance in Ostrava, which we were really happy with, and that’s all we could have asked for.”
“It really shows just how stiff the competition is in ice dance. Ostrava inspired us to work even harder in practice, especially on our weak points, so that we could place better at our next competition.
On a high from their strong international debut, Orford and Williams headed to the Canadian Championships in Victoria, B.C., in January as strong favorites to win the junior title. They won the title in convincing fashion, winning both portions of the event, and outscored the silver medalists by more than seven points.
“It was great to see all of our hard work throughout the year pay off,” Williams said. “Winning hasn’t really changed my life all that much besides the fact that we’ve been congratulated by a lot of people. After we won, I went out for a nice dinner with my family to celebrate.”
In winning the title, Orford and Williams were rewarded once with a trip to compete at the Junior World Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, at the end of February. In finishing in eighth place, Orford and Williams earned a new personal best, ending the season on a high note.
“For the most part the competition went smoothly,” Orford said. “The first practice was a little rough, but that’s to be expected fresh from almost 24 hours of travel. The whole experience was altogether such a high, especially when we got our season’s best in the free dance.”
With their season over, Orford and Williams took a few days off, but quickly headed back to their regular training regime.
“Two weeks after Junior Worlds, we took a week off, but now we’re back to training full time,” Williams said. “Our next break will be for ten days near the end of May.”
As they prepare for next season, Orford and Williams realize that there is much work to be done, and are looking forward to having a full off-season to properly prepare for their senior debut at Canadians.
“Next season is going to be an extremely busy season as we’ll be competing at both the junior and senior levels—internationally we will compete junior and nationally we will compete senior,” Williams explained. “Over the summer I hope to improve my expression and performance level. I also need to improve my field movements like spread eagles and Ina Bauers. As a team we hope to improve on our connection with each other and our footwork.”
Both Orford and Williams are pursuing education— Williams has just one more class to complete in order to finish high school, and Orford is a part time college student.
“I graduated from high school last year from Moscrop Secondary School in Burnaby,” she said. “Although I was only a part time student, I did some online courses to be able to graduate on time. I’m currently attending Simon Fraser University, and I hope to get a degree in either kinesiology or health sciences.
Away from the rink, Orford likes spending time with her friends and family, and also likes to watch movies, listen to music, and read.
“My family is really close, and very supportive of my skating,” Orford said “I have a younger sister who is a competitive dancer in everything from ballet to hip hop. My parents are co-owners of a restaurant and my dad is also a network administrator.
Williams also enjoys hanging out with his friends and family, but also likes to bowl and work on cars. Both of Williams’s sisters have been involved in skating—he used to partner his older sister Alicia, while his younger sister Chantal is also a skater.