Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States lead after the short dance portion of the ice dancing competition. (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia — Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the United States’ best hope of figure skating gold at the Sochi Olympics, took a healthy lead in the short dance at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, where the dance competition for under way.

Skating a lighter-than-air foxtrot and quickstep to music from “My Fair Lady,” choreographed with help from Dancing with the Stars’ stalwart Derek Hough, Davis and White exuded utter joy and command as they glided around the ice — he in tuxedo tails, she in cotton-candy pink. They were rewarded with a season-best 78.89 points.

Their Canadian rivals, defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, earned 76.33, putting them 2.56 points in arrears entering Monday’s free skate.

Davis and White, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, won the short dance competition in last week’s team event, with Virtue and Moir placing second. The two couples, who train under the same Russian coach at the same Michigan rink, have swapped world championships the past four years, with Americans winning the 2011 and 2013 titles, and the Canadians winning in 2010 and 2012.

Skating 18th among the 24 duo in contention, the Canadians were thrilled with their performance, which was a step up from their showing in the team competition. But judges had quibbles, scoring them more than one full point below their season’s best marks.

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov finished third (73.04 points).

And U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates stand eighth (65.46), while siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, the U.S. bronze medalists, stand ninth (64.47).

All three American duos are safely among the top 20 couples advancing to Monday’s free skate, which will settle the medals.

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Photos from Day 9 | Daily TV schedule | U.S. medal winners