In Conversation With Olympic Ice Dancer Paul Poirier
Paul Poirier is an ice dancer. At the age of 27, he’s already a six-time Canadian national medalist and a two-time Olympian. But, when I met the lively Unionville-native for coffee, it quickly became evident that there was so much more to this young talent than his accolades. Not only is he a full-time athlete, but he is also completing his master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Toronto. He is benevolent and humble, articulate and inquisitive, and displays a vibrant passion for learning. But, above all, has a powerful inner drive that he exercises in all facets of his life. It’s no wonder he can compete – and succeed - on an international stage.
1. How did you get into ice dancing?
My parents are very sports-oriented, and we were pushed as kids to get into sports. I started in the usual stuff, in the hockey and the soccer and what have you, but I hated team sports very early on. Then I got put in figure skating and tennis and gymnastics and that sort of stuff, and the figure skating stuck.
2. Where do you find inspiration for the choreography and the emotion in your performances?
Every program materializes in a different way. Some you have a concept, whether that is a character or storyline you want to portray. We do a lot of research– YouTube is really awesome for this. We watch a lot of floor and stage dancing as well, just to get ideas of what works and what doesn’t work to keep it interesting. You sort of get this arsenal of movements, the tricky part is how do you lace them together, how do you make them cohesive, and how do you make them make sense. The hard thing is taking your highlights and lacing them together with more subtle things, so they stand out and have their full value. That’s the toughest part of choreography – deciding which of the choreography you want to have value and impact and making sure the rest of the choreography isn’t taking away from that.
3. How did you meet your current partner, Piper? What has it been like working with her?
We actually met in Taiwan, at a junior international there. The junior competition goes from 13-19, so it’s quite a big gap in terms of maturity level. We were both 14, so on the younger end of the spectrum. A group of us ended up playing Apples To Appleswhen the older ones went out drinking. We just remained in contact, and then we were both looking for partners at the same time.
She, as a performer, is very warm, inviting, heart on sleeve, emotionally driven and very present. I on the other hand, am very cerebral and tend to overthink. I think we approach work in the same way – in the way we want to train, the way we approach choreography. We have the same goals in terms of the artistic impact we want to have on the world of skating. We are both driven to touching different corners of the universe that are not necessarily explored.
4. How does your partnership compare to a romantic relationship?
There are different kinds of chemistry that exist between partners. Even in terms of romantic chemistry, there is the romantic chemistry that is very steamy, and filled with this really sexual energy and there is also a huge amount of romantic chemistry in that quiet mature love, that comes from that feeling of “I know you, I know who you are.” That could be portrayed very well and have a very romantic effect. There is a level of trying to play between those different kinds of chemistry depending on the routine. We’ve been vulnerable together as people, and that allows us to create a real chemistry on the ice.
5. What has been the biggest challenge for you throughout your career?
The biggest obstacle for me is my own sense of self-sufficiency. I am one of those people who really prides myself of being independent and getting things done on my own, and not needing people’s help, and figuring it out myself. I think that can get you to a certain distance, but when you are trying to achieve what we are trying to achieve now, it’s just not possible. It’s really forced me to understand that I am so reliant on my partner, my coaches, the people I choose to include in my wider team and the people I choose to surround myself with. I find as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned how dependent I am on those people, and I’ve allowed myself to be dependent on those people. I think that’s made me a much better skater.
6. What was going to the Olympics like? Was there anything about the games that you didn’t expect?
There is so much amazing comradery that exists with the games. In some ways, I feel like it’s an extended frosh week, where you are just meeting all these people for the first time and hanging out. And then on the other hand, it’s the most stressful, intense few weeks of your life. Somehow, those two things exist together in a magical wonderful way. The biggest surprise was competing in front of people who know nothing about skating; there was such a different energy in the building, people were clapping at unexpected moment. It took me by surprise, but that makes the game special. I get to share my art with so many more people.
7. Besides skating, what are your passions?
I think a lot of things – I think I struggle with liking too many things. I am very passionate about food in all respects, whether that’s cooking or the restaurant scene, I’m really interested in agriculture and seasons where things grow. I had shares with a local farm and would get a certain amount of things they would produce every week, which I loved because I felt very connected to the food that I was eating.