There’s no arguing with Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s lead. No questioning the authenticity of their Bollywood-style dance, either.
Davis and White won the original dance Friday night, extending their lead and moving one step closer to an upset victory over Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Davis and White are 1.62 points ahead going into Saturday’s free dance, a margin that is difficult to make up in dance.
“It’s a slight confidence boost, but nothing we’re going to think about,” White said. “We know what we have to do.”
In original dance, couples can create any kind of dance that falls within an assigned theme. This year it’s country/folk, and world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin have outraged some Australian aboriginal leaders, who claim their dance is offensive cultural theft, with inauthentic steps and gaudy costumes.
There are no such complaints about Davis and White, whose original dance has become a viral hit in India and among people with ties to South Asia. One video of their OD has been viewed almost 236,000 times on YouTube, astronomical numbers for a skating video, and it’s gotten high praise on several Web sites celebrating Indian culture.
The idea for the dance came from coach-choreographer Marina Zoueva, who was inspired by an Hermes scarf with Indian dancers, and Davis and White took great pains to make sure their program was true to the culture and character. To learn how to move their arms and bodies in true Indian dance style, they spent months working with Anuja Rajendra, who once performed professionally and now combines Bollywood music and dance with exercise at her BollyFit studio in Ann Arbor, Mich.
They bought her red, turquoise and gold sari-like outfit and his long, beige-colored coat at an authentic Indian clothing store and had them remade to suit their needs.
“We can’t speak for anyone else, but it was very important for us to do research and do the theme justice, so as not to offend anyone or do anything off-base,” Davis said.
There certainly weren’t any complaints Friday night.
Davis and White’s performance was non-stop entertainment that masked their high technical difficulty. They flew across the ice and never slowed for a second, not even in their section of twizzles which they paired with arm and hand movements. You know how hard it is to pat your stomach and rub your head at the same time? It’s like that — only on skates and about 10 times harder.
Their lifts were done with lots of ease and fluidity, and they had several changes of position on the final one.
But the best part of their dance is how much fun it was to watch. Their movements and playful facial expressions make it easy to visualize a wedding in Mumbai.
“We wanted to connect with the audience and the judges because that’s such a big part of our dance,” White said.
Their only flaw was a slight bobble in their last section of twizzles, traveling spins.
“We felt like it was a really good performance today. The elements were not the most solid they’ve ever been or as they will be in a few weeks,” Davis said.
Belbin and Agosto’s dance to traditional Moldovian folk music was nice, but it doesn’t stand out. For those who don’t understand the details, it could have been Russian, Ukranian or any other Slavic region.
It had great energy, surprising because the music started slow and sweet, like a first date. But as the seconds passed, they bumped up the tempo as if they’d just gotten a shot of espresso. It turned into a raucous, rousing dance that had fans clapping and smiling right along with them.
They had great unison and personality, and one section of really fun dance steps.
“We really did have fun,” Belbin said. “It’s the best feeling to be at nationals, with the crowd on its feet. That’s what you live for as an athlete.”
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, last year’s silver medalists, jumped from fourth to third with a crowd-pleasing Dixie Chicks medley.