Novice ice dancers Meghan McCullough and Joel Dear had a very successful debut season in 2002-2003, finishing second at the 2003 U. S. Nationals, winning the North American Challenge Skate in Huntsville, Alabama, and winning one gold and four silver medals at the 2002 Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships. The dancers also won both the South Atlantic Regionals and Eastern Sectionals for the 2002-2003 season. They also had the opportunity of skating in the opening and closing ceremonies for the World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, DC.
“I learned how to stand up on skates at a young age,” Dear said, “but I didn’t take an interest in competitive skating until I was 12. My older brothers used to take me to a lake near my parents house to skate. We would only go skating a few times each winter. I remember one time I had a severe asthma attack, but I didn’t want to stop skating because I knew that if we went home, we wouldn’t come back for a while. So, I waited until I could hardly stand up. My brothers had to pull me on a sled all the way back to our house so that I could take my asthma medication.”
“Years later when I was in fifth grade,” he continued, “a section of the playground at school flooded then froze. Our teachers told us that we could only go on the ice if we wore ice skates. I found a pair of figure skates at my house and started to skate at recess everyday. One of the girls had taken skating lessons and used to show us all her jumps and different maneuvers. I just started trying to copy her. I used to come home excited, telling my mom how much I enjoyed skating. She asked around and found a seasonal skating club in my hometown. I enrolled in the Learn to Skate program and the rest is history.”
McCullough said, “I started taking tot level learn-to-skate classes when I was five years old. I got my first pair of white skates (used) when I was in kindergarten. I was about seven when I began skating seriously. My brother was taking karate classes at the local rec center and while he was in class I would wander into the rink and watch the Ice Club of Washington ice dancers or the Washington Caps Hockey team practice.”
“One day, one of the players came out onto the ice early to warm up,” she remembered. He saw me watching and skated over, picked me up and stroked around the rink with me. I decided then and there that was what I wanted to do; I was about four years old at the time. I told my mother I wanted to ice skate, but she didn’t skate, and she was afraid to take me out on the ice. She would rent me skates and let me walk around the lobby in them. When I was finally old enough to take tot classes by myself, she signed me up for Learn to Skate.”
“I have always been an ice dancer,” McCullough stated. “When I started skating I competed both dance and singles, but as I became more involved as a novice I didn’t have time to train both. I had to choose one. At the time I was medalling at Junior Nationals in dance and still getting buried in the middle in freestyle. I naturally chose to pursue the one I was more successful in and have stayed with it ever since.”
But, she added, “I have always wanted to try pairs. I enjoy skating with someone else; it’s comforting to have someone else on the ice with you at competition and it makes practice more interesting.” “My coach also taught both singles and dance,” Dear noted, “so I started doing both. As I skated more, I discovered that I really enjoyed dance because it was more technically refined and articulate in addition to being a more artistic outlet in skating. I naturally just gravitated more to dance.”
The dancers have only been working with one another for a year. “We met at the USFSA’s partner tryouts in Colorado Springs last April,” McCullough said. “We didn’t even know each other until the camp. The coaches at the camp matched us up.” McCullough and Dear train in Reston, VA, where Dear also runs the Learn to Skate program on weekends. The dancers are coached by Scott Myers and Carissa Green Fraser. They spend about 2-3 hours on the ice every day as well as one to one and a half hours off the ice two days a week during the school year. In the summer, they spend about 3-4 hours on the ice plus off ice training five days a week. “We do ballet, jazz, ballroom and weightlifting and conditioning,” McCullough said. They also do gyrotonics, a variation of Pilates that combines stretching with strengthening, which is taught by Sharon Savoy.
Myers also does the couple’s choreography, although they choose their own music. “Joel and I chose our music,” McCullough said. “We sat for hours listening to music and agonizing over our decision, but I think the result was a piece we really related to and I think us choosing it rather than a coach made it special. For our free dance, we used Top Hat, Face the Music and Dance, and Let Yourself Go. We wanted something classy yet light, upbeat and playful. We wanted it to be as fun to skate to as it would be to watch.” “It was the only music we could all agree on,” Dear added.
“I really enjoy the choreographic side of skating,” he continued. “I like having standard dances and also having the freedom to experiment with different styles of choreography and music.” Dear said he liked to skate to almost any kind of music, while McCullough said, “I like to skate to this same kind of very dancy music, a kind of quickstep or foxtrot. It’s light and flirtatious yet classic.”
That explains why the quickstep is her favorite dance, followed by the paso, the samba, the blues and the starlight waltz. The rocker foxtrot is hardest for her. “It’s a relatively easy dance, but the rocker turn is hard for me,” she explained. Dear said, “My favorite dances are the Starlight Waltz, Westminster Waltz, Fiesta Tango and the Cha Cha. I don’t really find any of the dances especially difficult, but my least favorite dances are the Canasta Tango, Hickory Hoedown, and Viennese Waltz.”
Off ice, Dear listens to a variety of music. “I am very eclectic,” he said. “It all depends on my mood.” McCullough played the piano for four years and was also a drummer in the school band. Dear played the violin, but said he’d like to switch to the cello.
One of the couple’s goals last season was to medal in novice dance, which they accomplished. But that was not their main objective. “Our goals for the season were to gain competitive experience and to continue to improve our skating quality as a team,” Dear said. “I want to skate as long as we continue to improve and I enjoy it.”
“We want to represent the U.S. overseas and medal at Nationals at the junior level next year,” McCullough said. “I don’t know how long I will skate but competing in senior is a definite possibility. I would like to compete through college, but I want to attend medical school. I am not sure if I would focus on skating more after college and put off medical school for a few years or go straight to medical school. I would like to be a plastic surgeon.” Dear plans to remain in the sport later in life. “I would like to be a counselor or psychologist, although I would like to stay involved in skating by judging or being a choreographer,” he noted. “I was studying photography in Michigan,” said Dear, who has graduated from high school, “but I put school on hold temporarily to skate with Meghan.” Dear currently works in the human resources department of a Washington law firm during the week.
McCullough is a student at St. Stephens and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, VA. “I take my studies very seriously,” McCullough said. “I am a straight A student with a 4.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale with extra points that are given for honors classes. I was also selected to the Chevrolet Scholastic Honors Team for this year. It’s difficult to be a competitive skater and a full time student at the same time, but school has always been and will always remain my top priority.” She plans to attend college to study biology or physics and is considering only schools in areas that also offer skating programs as she plans to continue to compete while in college.
To relax, Dear said, “I really like movies and being around my friends and family. Comedy and drama are my favorites. ‘Life is Beautiful’ and ‘Rat Race’ are two of my favorite movies.” He also reads books about psychology and relationships. Dear has an unusual hobby. He collects Campbell’s Soup items like plates, cups, and mugs. “I was even the Campbell Soup Boy in a parade once,” he laughed. The only sport McCullough enjoys is skiing, while Dear prefers beach volleyball. McCullough’s pets include two guinea pigs named Silly and Stupid and Oliver, a Cavalier spaniel, while he has a German Shepherd named Keela.
For holidays, Dear goes home to visit his family, while McCullough goes to the beach in the summer and skiing in the winter with hers. Every summer her family makes at least one trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. His favorite place is the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes along the Lake Michigan Shoreline, near his parents’ home in Michigan, while her two favorite places are Breckenridge, Colorado and Coronado, California. She wants to visit Hawaii and Europe someday, while he wants to see Italy and Spain. This year their only break was a short vacation to Disney World.
In addition to her skating and studies, McCullough also finds time to volunteer three days a week with the Kids-on-Ice program at Fort DuPont Ice Arena, a program for underprivileged inner-city youth to participate in hockey, figure skating and speed skating. She has also worked with the Special Olympics.