The pressure is on for Canadian ice dancers Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, who won the silver medal in senior dance at the 2009 Canadian Nationals.
Along with Canada’s world silver medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the teenagers are responsible for placing high enough at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles in March to give Canada three dance teams for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
“Obviously, there will be a lot of pressure on us at Worlds,” Crone stated, “but we’ll just put ourselves out there and do what we can. If we make the top ten, that’s great. Otherwise, we’ll readjust and try to improve for next season.”
Only 18 and 17 respectively, the dancers appear to be equal to the task. Already during the 2008-09 season, the couple won a silver medal in their very first ISU Grand Prix event at Skate Canada, then placed fourth at Trophée Eric Bompard in France, narrowly missing the ISU Grand Prix Final.
“We didn’t have any expectations for this year,” Poirier said. “We went into the Grand Prix season with an open mind set knowing we had the possibility to do well. To get a medal and then fourth in Paris was great. It really boosted our confidence knowing we could compete with the best.”
“We knew at Canadians it would be a fair game if we skated well,” Crone continued. “So we knew we had to work really hard to be ready.”
“Our goal was to have some senior Worlds experience before the Olympics,” Poirier added. “Being the second team in Canada puts us in a good position for the Olympic Games, but our main goal is just to have three good skates at Worlds.”
Last season, the dancers, who have skated together for eight years, took second place at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, so they are no strangers to high-level competition. Whether they compete in Vancouver or not, the dancers plan to go on until at least 2014.
In a tune up for the World Championships, Crone and Poirier placed fourth at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. The event was held in the same rink where figure skating will be competed at the 2010 Olympic Games.
“It’s really incredible to compete in our own country,” Poirier said. “We’ve already done Canadians and training camps here.”
Both Crone and Poirier have continued to compete in singles even as they have risen in the dance rankings. Poirier finished 11th in senior men at Canadian Nationals in 2009, while Crone placed about the same in junior ladies at Divisionals.
“I’ll definitely skate singles again next season,” Poirier offered. “I’m almost there on my triple Axel and I’ll definitely be working on it again this summer.”
“I don’t think I’ll continue competing in singles next season,” Crone said, “but I’ll continue my singles training.”
The dancers, who train in Scarborough, are coached by Carol and Jon Lane and Juris Razguliaevs. They usually train on ice for six days a week, three hours a day. In addition, Crone works with Brian Orser and Ernest Pryhitka in Toronto for another three hours a day on her singles. Mark and Jana-Kim Batka coach Poirier, who puts in about two hours a day in freestyle work in Richmond.
“We’ve increased the amount of time we spend off ice,” noted Poirier. “Now we have ballet class three times a week and stretch class with an instructor. Next summer, we’re talking about doing yoga and Pilates.”
“Our ballet teacher helps us work with our extension and upper body movements,” Crone added.
The dancers have always been strong technically, but have been working to improve their second mark.
“Our big thing now is improving our level of expression,” Poirier said. “We’ve looked a bit juniorish and all the senior teams are big performers out there. We have to step it up to reach that level.”
“We’ve worked with a variety of ballroom people to help us improve our expression,” he continued. “We’ve also had a lot of input from a lot of judges. It’s important to get a lot of criticism from lots of different people so we can improve.”
The dancers are always trying to add innovative lifts and other moves to their programs.
“Because the judging system is based so much on levels, it limits the originality of the dances,” said Poirier. “We’re trying not only to get high levels, but also be innovative with things like our pull-through into twizzles and multi-dimensional spins.”
“We’re both good spinners because of out singles training,” Crone said. “We both spin in opposite directions, so one of us is always on our good side.”
Lane and Razguliaevs choreographed the dancer’s 2008-09 programs. For their original dance, the duo danced a slow rag to Solace and a ragtime two step to The Entertainer, both by Scott Joplin.
“We wanted to do something really different,” Poirier explained of their unique choice this season. “Last year, there were a lot of people skating to the same music, so we thought it was the right time to do something unusual.”
“Carol brought in the music and we kind of fooled around with it,” Crone said. “It’s kind of dramatic, so it was easy to put in some cool tricks.”
When they skated their original dance, Poirier had a handlebar mustache painted on his face. “We wanted to put in more character,” he said. “It’s a very 20’s look. We are trying to portray a silent movie with the costume and the mustache.”
Crone has cropped her long locks into a short bob this year, but not specifically for the flapper look. “I was just going for a new look,” she said.
Their free dance was performed to Doce de Cocco by Jacob do Bandolim.
“We did a lot of looking around for music,” Poirier said. “We were really looking everywhere and this piece that we heard on a classical music radio station really stood out.”
For shows, Crone and Poirier skate a tango waltz to Valse Lente by Artango. “It was just really pretty music,” Crone said.
“We had done tangos our last couple of years,” Poirier explained. “We wanted to do something we were familiar with because we didn’t have a lot of time to train for it. But we didn’t want to do a traditional tango.”
“We had enough time to do the program without really cramming it in,” Crone added, “but we had a lot of other stuff to do like learning the Finnstep. We had about two weeks for the Finnstep – enough time to learn the basics but not really enough time to break it down and perfect all the steps.”
“It’s a fun dance, different from anything else we’ve ever done,” she continued. “It’s really fast and has some neat steps.”
“We could see some of the steps in Rahkamo and Kokko’s original dance,” Poirier added, “especially the quick step and places where it shows off the edges. But all of the couples we’ve seen seem to be doing different versions so it’s hard to pick out the right way to do it.”
Both Crone and Poirier are seniors in high school. “I’ll graduate this year,” Crone said, “but then I’ll do some extra courses. I won’t decide on anything else until after 2010.”
“I’ve got another year to finish since I’m on the five-year program,” Poirier said. “All my friends are graduating and going to university and I still have no idea what to study.”
Off ice, Poirier likes to read, go dancing, and watch movies. Crone enjoys playing soccer, snow boarding, dancing and hanging out with friends.
She has also started competing in track and field again. “I was on the track team in elementary school and grade 9, but then I had to stop for skating,” she said. “I really enjoy running, so I’m going to start competing for a local team in Toronto.”