It was a new look: Paul Poirier stepping onto the ice with a muscle shirt, no sleeves, showing his deltoids, sparking the spark.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the 2021 world bronze medalists in ice dancing, do quirky and iconic. Now they’re bringing sexy to the mix.
Coach Carol Lane found the music in a commercial. “Do What I Do” was a cha cha; “Rhythm Only” was a rhumba. Perfect for the required rhythm in the rhythm dance.
They worked quietly on it. After taking six weeks off from a torrid Olympic season, with some disappointing moments, they decided to return, but it was later in the game than normal. Their programs weren’t quite finished for the high performance training camp at the end of the summer. They did no Challenger events this season, as usual. So they feel they are coming into the season under the radar.
Now they are not.
They won the rhythm dance at the Skate Canada International Grand Prix on Friday with a sky-high, personal best score of 87.23 points, bettering their previous best of 85.65.
They are 3.43 points ahead of their closest competitors Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Great Britain, who ended with 83.80. Americans Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are third with 76.13.
To put things in perspective, Gilles and Poirier’s score is the fifth highest ever recorded for a rhythm dance. Three of the four teams ahead of them are either not skating this year or are retired.
The only team still skating with a higher score is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who won Skate America last week by a hair. Their best score is only .28 more than Gilles and Poirier.
While Gilles and Poirier finished fifth at the world championships, only two ranked ahead of them are still skating: Chock and Bates, and fourth-placed Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, still waiting in the Grand Prix wings. The Italians won the Lombardia Trophy, taking the rhythm dance with 87.09. And they got bonus marks of 6.38 for their choreographic rhythm step.
“Having the later start, we feel quite fresh,” Gilles said. “I feel like sometimes after the senior B competitions, it’s like a scramble to get to the Grand Prix. You’re changing things, things don’t fully feel under your belt when you come to your first Grand Prix. So this feels really nice.
“We’ve made all our changes a while ago,” she said. “Now it’s just been details. And I think we’re very comfortable in this program. And it felt that way today. I don’t think we really missed anything by not doing those senior Bs. We stayed in our element. We stayed where we were today and let the program skate I the moment and be very present.”
The program still has room to grow, although they got a whopping, incredible, ground-breaking 6.25 bonus points for their choreographic rhythm steps, which are worth only two points to start with. They scored 8.25 points on this element alone.
They both earned level 4 for their twizzles and rotational lift, and level three for the midline step sequence and pattern dance step.
The world record for the rhythm dance is the 92.73 scored by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the world championships last season.
It’s not a stretch to think Gilles and Poirier could win the world title this season. But they are not thinking about that. They say they got caught up too much last season – being Olympic season, with all of its expectations – with placements. They are not going that route this year. This year is for themselves, like it is for Keegan Messing.
“I think we’re really proud of ourselves,” Poirier said. “This is our first competition of the season and especially first time out, there’s always jitters, no one’s seen the programs yet, you don’t know how it’s going to be received, if people are going to enjoy it, if really the crowd is going to get into your energy.
“But I think we were able to put all those things aside for us,” he said. “Really the goal for this season, especially for the first competition, was really just to get out and compete with that joy of skating again.
“And I think we really felt that between the two of us today. We felt connected. We felt grounded. And we felt in our element.”
The goal this season is to be “humble” and “not put too much pressure on ourselves,” Gilles said. “Because we love to skate. And when we skate, when we’re comfortable and proud of what we’re doing and not really looking forward to those goals, we skate better.”
Sometimes not even speaking the goals verbally is better for them this year. “Because we’re not putting this unnecessary pressure on ourselves, because we know we can do the job at the end of the day,” Gilles said.
Their more modern sexy Latin vibe is working for them. It’s new for them. And it’s working. “It shows how much we love to skate,” Gilles said.
In short, they just want to enjoy every single moment this year.
Two other Canadian teams competed, too. Marjorie Lajoie and Zach Lagha steamed away with a cha cha and samba to earn 75.94 points, losing a point for an extended lift. They lost some levels, but earned good GOE to finish fourth.
Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac, who won a bronze medal at Skate America last week, sit in fifth place, here at Skate Canada because of a withdrawal due to injury.
They actually got higher technical points than Lajoie and Lagha, who outpointed them with higher component marks. Lauriault and LeGac, who used to skate for France, but now call Canada home, sit on their heels with 74.59 points, a couple of points higher than they received at Skate America.