Ice dancing her heart out
Meryl Davis didn’t always dream of being an ice dancer. But, when she was 9 years old, she met Charlie White and the world of ice dancing opened up to her. In her first year as part of an ice dancing team, Meryl won the silver medal at the Junior Olympics. Several championships and medals later, including an Olympic silver medal, Meryl couldn’t deny that ice dancing was something that was part of her soul. Read her interview to learn more about the competitive sport of ice dancing, to see how Meryl balances work and school, and to get her advice about how girls can achieve their dreams.
How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 24 years old and I’m from West Bloomfield, Michigan.
How old were you when you first started skating?
I was 5 years old when I started taking skating lessons. I grew up on a lake in Michigan, and my mom wanted me to be able to skate on it in the winter time.
Can you explain what ice dancing is?
Ice dance is one of the four main types of figure skating. The other types are single skating, pair skating, and synchronized skating. In competitions, ice dancing is done with a male and female couple and looks more like regular “off-ice” dancing than the other types of figure skating. Unlike pair skating, ice dancing is more about how everything fits together as a single dance rather than showing off different elements like lifts, spins, and footwork.
Why did you choose ice dancing?
I didn't start my ice dance career knowing that's what I wanted to do. I began as a free skater. Then I tried ice dancing with Charlie. At the time, I was nine years old and really did not know much about the sport of ice dance. As Charlie and I danced more often, I developed a love for it. When I was about 18, I made the decision to focus only on ice dance.
Did you ever feel like you were missing out on things that other girls got to do?
While I was growing up, my parents were very careful to make sure skating was something I wanted to do. While I certainly missed out on a sleepover here or a fieldtrip there, I feel as though I've had all the experiences I wanted and needed. From my middle school soccer team to my sorority days at the University of Michigan, I've worked hard to maintain a well-rounded lifestyle. I don't regret the time I've spent on the ice, because it was always a choice I made for myself.
How do you and Charlie balance college classes with being two of the world's best ice dancers?
Now that I'm in college, I find scheduling much easier. Charlie and I were both full-time students in high school, and I'm not sure how we had the energy to handle all the skating, traveling, schoolwork, and our social lives. At the University of Michigan, Charlie and I take one or two classes at a time and are really able to enjoy the balance between skating, school, and our other endeavors. While our schedules have certainly always been a challenge, we quickly learned that if you want something badly enough, hard work and time management can go far! Monday through Friday, we're typically on the ice for about four hours in the morning until early afternoon. Then we workout or go to ballet class for an hour or so. Then, we make our way to school for a few hours before finishing the day with homework and other tasks that need to be done. I think one of the most important things I've learned about making it through a work week is listening to my body. When you have a packed week, eating healthy, lots of sleep, and recovery time are very important.
What did it feel like when you won your Olympic medal in Vancouver?
When Charlie and I were on the podium in Vancouver, it was a very surreal feeling — quite a mix of emotions. We felt so grateful for our friends and family who had supported us along the way, proud of ourselves and each other, and in disbelief that we had finally arrived here after years of hard work.
I'm so glad that the Olympic Games are well documented. It was such a whirlwind that sometimes I like to go back to pictures from the games and remind myself of the feelings I had while I was there. I feel so blessed to have had such a wonderful Olympic experience. Not only was winning a medal something I'll treasure forever, but every moment, from the opening to closing ceremonies, was priceless.
Where is your medal now?
My medal is actually in a fire-proof safe in my parents' home in Michigan. I'd like to display it someday but I still take it to events now and then, so I like to make sure it's safe and accessible in the meantime.
You are currently on the longest lasting ice dance team in the United States with Charlie. You two must have a strong friendship. Do you have any tips on building a good friendship?
We are, but it took some time to get there. I was so shy when we were younger, that it took us a while to open up and get to know one another. Fifteen years later, we know each other quite well. One thing we've learned over the years is that communication is vitally important. Charlie and I have been lucky in that we both have very strong work ethics, but learning how to function with another person as both a friend and partner takes more than just getting things done. Having a mutual respect for one another and taking the time to learn about and listen to each other has not only been the key to our having a strong relationship, but also to our ability to enjoy what we do.
Do you have a role model?
I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of great role models in my life. I'm very close with my family, and don't know what I would do without them. While I would consider my parents my greatest role models, I think it's so important to learn in any way you can! Whether I'm reading about amazing people, doing great things for humanity, or just watching a fellow figure skater going about his or her day, there is so much to learn from people around you. It seems silly to have only one role model when there are so many impressive people in the world!
What do you do to stay healthy besides skating?
Over the years, I've learned that the experts don't tell you to get lots of sleep, eat healthy, and exercise just for kicks! Exercise, eating healthy, and lots of sleep really do make me feel better, perform better, and generally make me a happier person! Still, everyone is different and you have to find out what kinds of food and activities make you feel good. I live a pretty active life, even when I'm not on the ice. I work out and do ballet a few times a week, and in the summer I spend a lot of time outdoors, playing sports with my friends.
Do you have any advice for young girls on achieving their dreams?
The best piece of advice I can give is to know what you want and take responsibility for it. Your mom or dad can help push you out the door in the morning and your teachers can tell you to do your homework, but at the end of the day, it's really about getting where you want to go and being who you want to be. Achieving success is always tough, but if you know what you want, it's a lot easier to get there.
**Update ** As we published this interview, Meryl and Charlie made U.S. history by winning the first gold medal in ice dance at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships. Congratulations from all of us at girlshealth.gov!
Content last reviewed May 01, 2011
Page last updated May 01, 2011