BOSTON — After skating together for more than 15 years, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White have mastered the art of moving in tandem as instinctively as longtime couples finish one another’s sentences.
And as two-time world champions, Davis and White have mastered the twizzles, Finnsteps and step sequences that form the basis of ice-dancing programs.
So as they looked for areas to improve in preparing for the twofold challenge of the 2014 season — winning a record sixth consecutive U.S. championship and becoming the first Americans to win ice-dancing gold at an Olympics — the Michigan-based duo reflected on the essence of their discipline.
It is to create the illusion of ballroom dancing with a crowd-pleasing flair — through costume, character and consummate skating skill,
And who better to polish their quickstep and fox trot, they concluded, than Derek Hough, the choreographer and master-class coach who turned such celebrities as Brooke Burke and Kellie Pickler into present-day Ginger Rogerses on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”?
“He’s clearly a genius at what he does,” White said of Hough. “Being able to experience firsthand his creativity and seeing firsthand his ability to move and how he approached his steps was really a treat — especially for me being the guy. It’s so important to be able to show Meryl off in the right way.”
And in tux and tails, White did just that Friday at Boston’s TD Garden, leading a gossamer-gowned Davis through a short program set to music from “My Fair Lady” that was sheer romance and, in the eyes of judges, near statistical perfection.
Their score (80.69) crushed the 18-duo field, leaving no doubt they’ll clinch another U.S. title when the free dance is contested Saturday.
Madison Chock, 21, and Evan Bates, 24, were second (73.41) for a polished program that evoked Hollywood jazz-era glamor. And siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani, 22 and 19, Boston-area natives who train alongside Davis and White near Detroit, were a distant third (68.00) for an upbeat program set to a Michael Buble medley.
Davis and White drew cheers the moment they glided onto the ice in skating-style ballroom attire, thoroughly inhabiting their characters as “I Could Have Danced All Night” played. They didn’t put a foot wrong, nor a flourish of the arm or flick of a wrist, completing the required elements with such grace that any notion of figure skates disappeared.
“It wasn’t 100 percent perfect,” White said afterward, “but it was the best we have skated so far.”
Apart from taking silver at the 2012 world championships, edged by Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Davis and White haven’t won anything but gold since March 2010. As a result, they’re the country’s best hope for an ice skating medal in Sochi.
The current crop of U.S. men’s figure skaters lag behind a deep, gifted contingent from Japan and Canada’s three-time world champion Patrick Chan, considered the gold medal favorite.
The U.S. will send two men’s skaters to Sochi. December’s withdrawal of 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek has left the field wide open for those slots, which will be awarded Sunday night after the conclusion of U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Max Aaron, the 21-year-old reigning U.S. champion, is the most prolific and ambitious jumper among the contenders. But after a rocky start to the season, the converted hockey player decided to scale back the number of quads in his long program from three to two after consulting with his coach, choreographer, athletic trainer and sports psychologist.
During the break between Friday’s ice dance and men’s short programs, the women returned to TD Garden for 40-minute practice sessions in advance of Saturday night’s long program, which will crown the 2013 U.S. champion and serve as the deciding factor in naming the Sochi-bound Olympic team.
Two-time and defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner was fourth after Thursday’s short program, 7.41 points behind 18-year-old Gracie Gold but within striking distance of the surprising second-place finisher, Polina Edmunds, the 15-year-old 2013 U.S. junior champion, and less than one point in arrears to 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, in third.
Wagner, 22, a West Potomac High graduate, is all but assured of landing one of the three U.S. Olympic spots for women based on her international results during the past year. But she made plain after her short program that she’s not counting on any implied guarantee.
A self-proclaimed fighter, Wagner wants to finish on the podium in her last event before Sochi.
“I don’t want to feel like I take away an Olympic spot from someone,” Wagner said. “I want to earn it. That’s my goal here. For me, I need to get in the top three to really feel good with myself being on that Olympic team.
“I don’t like to get a big head. I think that I’ve had a great season, and I’ve definitely proved that I do deserve to be on the team. Now I need to earn it.”