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Capturing ‘sweet spots’ is the goal for Lajoie and Lagha

Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha

Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha of Canada perform their Free Dance at 2023 Nepela Memorial.

Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha

Canadian National silver medalist Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha have faced a challenging start to their season, but they remain determined to rebound at 2023 Skate America this week. Earlier in the season, the duo had to withdraw from their first Challenger Series event in Canada due to injuries. Lagha suffered a shoulder injury in May, which prevented them from performing any lifts throughout the summer.

“I almost dislocated it, but then it went right back in,” Lagha explained. “But I couldn’t lift anything. Then, when that got fixed, I had a back injury. I had underestimated a pain that was going on for a long time and I thought it was just sore. One day it just started to hurt, and I realized I had strained my back.”

Not only could the team not do any lifts over the summer, but they hardly trained at all. This was evident in Slovakia where they placed fifth in their first competition of the season. Both skaters made costly mistakes on the twizzles during both programs.

“That was not the best competition we did,” said Lajoie. “We’re not used to having two mistakes. The only thing I can think is I can’t wait to go back to training and make sure that doesn’t happen again.

While the team only had a week to do a full run-through before the event, both ice dancers agreed that it was not an excuse for their performance.

Lagha bluntly admitted, “We screwed up.”

“We felt ready because we worked very hard during those two weeks,” said Lajoie. “At home, those run-throughs were clean, and we were happy. We were actually confident coming here and very proud of what we did in two weeks! For sure we didn’t have the numbers that we usually have.”

When asked of their goals moving forward, Lagha said, “to just skate better” with an obvious hand gesture that mirrors his humorous side.

“The result will follow,” he said. “I feel like the free dance is good. Like we show good skating skills, but in the [rhythm] dance, we don’t. This annoys me and we need to fix this as soon as possible. Because when I look at the videos, the free everything is fine. But the [rhythm] dance is not good. So, the main goal right now is finding that problem and then fix it.”

Despite much anticipation for their “Thriller” rhythm dance, Lagha expressed some discomfort with the attention as he believed the program wasn’t yet where it should be. However, his partner feels confident that the program would improve with time and effort.

Michael Jackson is one of Lagha’s favorite singers, so it was a no-brainer when it was time to start work with Romain Haguenauer, who choreographed both dances this season.

“Basically, I’ve just texted my coach and I said, ‘I have good news’ and he asked ‘what’? and I told him I agreed to skate to Michael Jackson,” Lagha explained. “He said, ‘what the hell’ and I said, ‘yeah!'”

The Free Dance and ‘Sweet Spots’

The 2022 Olympians crafted a moving and lyrical free dance set to “Roses” by Jean-Michel Blais, a pianist from Montreal. Lajoie admitted that they had some difficulty finding the right music this for this season as they wanted something from Montreal.

At Nepela Memorial, Lajoie was delighted, and relieved, to receive so many positive comments regarding her free dance costume. She had just received it the day they left for competition.

“We always train the day we leave, so I had a chance to try it on during practice” she said. “I was hoping people would like it, because I, myself, didn’t have time to digest the dress. It took a lot of time to find the concept for the dress, and I’m really starting to like it myself!”

The ice dancers wanted their free dance music to be something special from Montreal.

“We were struggling, but then we had a session with Guillaume Cizeron where he played a lot of random music while we were stroking,” Lajoie recalled. “When “Roses” came up, Zach and I really liked it! Then when we realized the artist was from Montreal, were sold, we knew this was it!”

The Canadians were really drawn to the ostinato, the repeating single note in the intro of the piece. Blais wrote and dedicated this as a funeral piece to his friend’s mother who passed from cancer. He explained that the first note represents her “beating heart, and the tumor’s presence, sometimes forgotten but still spreading.”

Lajoie admits that the style is somewhat similar to their free dance last year to “Nureyev” from The White Crow, but the there’s a potential to go even deeper.

“We found that in using this style, we connected more than we have before,” she said. “This for us is like another level. It allows us to find an even deeper connection that we want to explore. It’s not just about losing someone, but also a celebration of life.”

Incidentally, “Roses” is the last song on one of Lajoie’s favorite TV series “M’entends-tu.” She didn’t realize this until her mother pointed it out to her.

“So, it has a great deal of deep sentiment for me!” she explained. “It makes this music we are using even more meaningful and special for me!”

Lagha pointed out that they were not trying to present a literal story on the ice, but rather, they want to capture those emotions and display them in such a way that will help connect them to the audience.

“We want them to make it their own as well, to feel and share the emotion with us,” he summed up.

There is a great deal of vulnerability involved when ice dancers are trying to open up and lay everything on the ice, not just to the audience, but to themselves. This is a challenge that many, if not all teams, deal with. It can be difficult when they are not on the same page emotionally at the same time due to external factors, experiences, mental distractions, etc.

“There is a magical moment, the sweet spot,” Lajoie explained. “Our goal is to capture that moment as often as possible. When we do, it’s so satisfying and not about skating anymore. It’s more about living a moment together and with the crowd. We’ve hit that spot before, but now it’s about finding out how and repeating it.”

From the beginning to “Lala”

Many young ice dance teams split and team up with new partners during their Novice and/or Junior years, but not so for Lajoie and Lagha. The duo teamed back in 2010 when Lajoie and Lagha were 10 and 11, respectively. Reflecting on the first moments of their partnership Lagha recalled that a coach “threw them together back then.”

“Marjorie was looking for a partner,” Lagha recalled. “I actually back then wanted to be a Free Style skater, so I didn’t care that much at the beginning! But when we trained in Detroit together, I decided to fully commit to Ice Dance.”

“We have the same goals and that is of course a very important factor!” Lajoie explained. “We are willing to invest the same amount effort. But of course, that is not the only factor. Our personalities really match.” “We accept our differences and that is I think the main factor why this is working!” added Lagha.

The duo began training at the prestigious Ice Academy of Montreal when they were only 14 and 15 years old.

“We are both from Montreal, but it’s indeed very young for ice dancers to go there,” Lagha pointed out. “Most teams join there when they are already a bit older. At IAM you have to be very independent, so we learned that from a young age!”

Over the past few years, this duo has garnered quite a global fan base, and their admirers endearingly refer to them as “Lala.”

“I really love that name!” said Lajoie. “I didn’t expect us to become fan-favorites.”

Lagha is also pleased, noting that they don’t spend much time on social media.

“But it means a lot,” he said. “I try to be a bit more active on social media for the fans. Overall, I hope we can inspire a lot of people because that is what this sport is all about.”

“I love to give back!” chimed in Lajoie, “but I am seeing the younger teams being so active on social media, doing vlogs and stuff like that and I am thinking, ‘oh my god, I am not there yet.’ Social media is also a lot of pressure. I am too much of a perfectionist, I guess, with pictures, but I will try my best to do more for our fans!”

Helping out, studying and hobbies

When the war in Ukraine started, ice dancers Mariia Holubtsova and Kyryl Bielobrov were invited to train at IAM but didn’t have a place to stay. Lajoie’s family jumped in and hosted them in their house.

“My family heard that they were looking for a place to stay,” said Lajoie, “and we opened the house for them. They stayed for a long time and became like family. It became a very special, unique relationship. Now they live in their own place, but we still train together and have such a good bond. They were of course very thankful to my family, but also my family gained from it in the end.”

Off the ice, Lajoie and Lagha are both very busy studying and are educating themselves in the fields they plan to work in in the future. Lajoie just started her program in Psychology and Sexual Health.

“I am so interested in everything around psychology,” she offered. “I am super excited about these studies! I really see myself working in this field in the future.”

Meanwhile Lagha is studying contemporary dance at Concordia University and plans to become a coach after his competitive career.

While several sources on the internet still list that Lajoie is an actress next to her sports career, she says that these days are over.

“I am not an actress anymore,” she confirmed. “I used to do a bit of acting when I was between 10 and 14 years old. I loved it, and I’m still in an agency, so am not closed to doing more in the future. But now that chapter is on pause. I am really a family person. I love my three cats and my dog, and I just love spending time with them as well as with my friends!”

Lagha’s intensive hobby is playing the piano, which he began when he was only 4 years old.

“Because of my tight schedule with training and my studies, it is currently hard to practice as much as I would like to, but I really love it.”

While he used to play in front of audiences, he is now unfortunately missing the time for it. His favorite piece to play on the piano is Schumann’s “Piano Concerto, in A minor, OP. 54.”

“It’s very romantic and a fantastic piece of music,” he said.

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