Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang ready for the ISU Junior Grand Prix Circuit

Madeline Edwards and ZhaoKai Pang are busy young people. They juggle. They strive.

They are part of Canada’s next generation of talented ice dancers.

Their season will start early, and they’re ready to tackle all sorts of goals. The best part of it all is they have a new aura of confidence, coming from having won the world junior championship bronze medal last season, despite an early season injury that could have scuttled their season. (Edwards had a massive injury to her Achilles tendon) They didn’t let it. Just refused.

They asked for an early Junior Grand Prix event this year and they got it. Edwards and Pang will compete at the event in Courcheval, France August 20 to 24. They’ve been there before, when they took a bronze medal and got to stand on a podium in front of what looked like an alpine hut. Courcheval is a tiny, pricy ski resort in the French Alps where royalty often stays.

Their dance slate is particularly full because, like last season, Edwards and Pang will juggle junior and senior programs this year; skating junior internationally and taking another crack at the senior level nationally. Last season, Edwards and Pang finished seventh at the Canadian championships, but they had the fifth highest technical mark, ahead of a couple of more seasoned senior veterans. And they earned the spot as alternates for the world senior championships because a couple of teams ranked ahead of them hadn’t achieved the minimum score for the event. That success also helped them psychologically.

“There is a new confidence going into this season, knowing that we can stand up against the best in the world,” Edwards said. “I hope that shows with speed and presence and maturity in our skating.”

The young team found it exhilarating to skate in the same event as senior teams trying to get to the Olympics. “To see everybody train and get ready with such intensity and with their eyes on the prize, it was really cool to be around that,” Edwards said. “And skating with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir was like a dream come true.”

Both of them look up to Virtue and Moir, feeling that they “renewed” and “reinvented” ice dance. “You can draw a lot of inspiration from that,” Edwards said. “They do stay within the rules, but they are able to stretch their styles creatively.”

Pang remembers warming up with Virtue and Moir. Edwards remembers them actually talking to them. She giggled.

They also look up to others, too: “I think Canada has a wealth of strong senior ice dance teams that we can look up to,” Pang said. He’s thinking of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam. Even skating under the guidance of Olympians Megan Wing and Aaron Low is an inspiration, they say. “We’re able to look up to them, knowing that they know what they’re doing and they have the experience,” Edwards said.

“It’s really cool to watch them,” said Pang of his teachers. At times, they’ll demonstrate a move – and Pang finds it “cool.”

“They’ve still got it, if you’re wondering,” Edwards said. Edwards figures she was about 10 years old when her coaches retired. She’s seen them on YouTube videos.

This summer has not been a time of rest for Edwards and Pang, who have had to develop two different short dances (Silver samba and rhumba for junior and paso doble and flamenco for senior). And this season, they have fashioned another epic free dance, this time to a “Life is Beautiful” theme. They will add an extra 25 seconds of choreography when they skate to it at the senior level at the Canadian championships. They’ve already done it, but right now, they will focus on their junior routines.

Skating to Latin music suits them perfectly. It’s in their bones. They found a samba piece that they liked quite easily, and then chose to do a rhumba rhythm for contrast. Expect to hear some Toni Braxton for this one.

The search for a free dance was more difficult. “We had sort of an idea what genre we wanted to play with this season,” Edwards said. “We listen to hundreds of beautiful pieces of music, but we just wanted one that we really connect to and that stood out. And it took us a while to find it. We’re really happy with what we found.”

Last year, they skated to the big drama of “Les Miserables” – and it served their expressiveness well. This time the music for the Italian movie “Life is Beautiful” is softer, more subtle, perfect for their light touch on the ice. It’s a completely different style from their short dance and from their long program from last season. It will require more refinement. They are up to the challenge.

Their goals this season are to show more maturity, to fill the rink with their presence, to improve their edges and speed and flow of the program. (“My legs hurt right now,” said Pang after a practice session.) They have increased the difficulty of some of the elements, and have learned a new lift, after working with Cirque du Soleil and another circus group.

They’ve also been careful about which lifts they chose to do in their programs, because new International Skating Union rules have dropped a dance lift from the free dance. How do they feel about that?

“I never minded lifting her,” Pang said. “But I think they were trying to leave more time to dance. That makes sense to me.”

Both of them enjoy skating on the ice with a partner. Edwards likes sharing the ice with another person. Pang? “We skate for four hours every day,” Pang said. “It doesn’t feel as long when you have a partner next to you.”

This year, they hope to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, (they were first alternates last year), improve their ranking at the world junior championships, and perhaps earn a spot on the national senior team after they compete at the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Kingston, Ontario.

Beverley Smith

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