Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Partners' chemistry brings heat to ice

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Olympic ice dancing champion Tessa Virtue has answered enough questions about her relationship with partner Scott Moir since the Vancouver Olympics.

The answer is no, they are not in an off-ice romance. Neither are they like brother and sister. Or a staid married couple that has been together so long they finish each other's sentences.

The truth is something more like a business partnership of two friends who grew up together, still spend most of their waking hours together and happen to exchange lingering looks and tender touches while they dance together on the ice, winning Olympic gold and world titles.

Virtue, 20, who is on tour with Moir, 22, as one of the headliners of Stars on Ice, politely but firmly says she would rather talk about pushing the envelope in ice dance. "We'll leave our personal lives separate," she says firmly.

Moir, who gets on the phone a couple of hours later while folding his laundry between shows in Halifax, proves to be the more talkative of the pair.

"It's not a romantic relationship off the ice. We live to skate together," he says. "It's a gift to relate to each other."

What about the gooey looks?

It's acting, says Moir. "When you see George Clooney and some actress kiss, it's his job."

And the reports that he is in a romantic relationship with someone else in the sport? Well, that's true, although Moir won't name names out of respect for both their skating partners.

"She's in a similar position. She's a skater and she has a partner," he says.

It's easy to believe the meaningful looks between Virtue and Moir are real. After all, they've know each other since they were children. In a laughing confession to a reporter last month, they admitted that they "dated" at camp when they were nine and seven until Moir broke it off.

Moir's mother Carol was a figure skating coach. His older brother Danny was also an ice dancer, and all four Moir brothers played hockey. So when Moir was having difficulty with skating, his mother "conned" him into taking figure skating.

And it worked. "It got to the point where hockey wasn't improving my figure skating skills," he says.

Moir fizzled as a solo skater. Being with Virtue made a difference. "I needed to be obligated to someone else. It really pushed a button for me," he says.

The ice-dance partners moved from their homes in London, Ont., to train in Kitchener-Waterloo at the ages of 13 and 15. "We still had a chance to have fun," says Moir. "But it was a different kind of teenage life."

The pair practically grew up on sports television, a fresh and youthful counterpoint to the bad hair and over-the-top costumes that can make ice dance a parody of itself.

"She's everything you think she is," says Moir of Virtue. "She's sweet and she's goal-oriented. She's a go-getter and a perfectionist on the ice. And off the ice, she's pretty much the same."

They still spend eight hours practising together almost every day, says Virtue. After the world championships in Turin, Italy, she and Moir spent a week vacationing in Monaco together before heading to Japan for the tour, which ends May 14 in Vancouver. They train in Canton, Mich., where their training mates are Olympic silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

As for pushing the envelope, Virtue says ice dancing is becoming more athletic. For Stars on Ice, they've brought back a program they did two years ago that combines ballet and hip hop, starting with Tchaikovsky and moving into C+C Music Factory's Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).

"It's that mix of athleticism and art. And that's what makes people want to watch," Virtue says.

Moir says it's always a fight to keep their lifts within the rules. "We're athletic and we're trying to give the sport more credibility."

The pair haven't committed to competing again next year.

"My gut feeling is we're not done yet," says Moir.

-- Canwest News Service

Show Preview

Stars on Ice

Starring Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Joannie Rochette, Kurt Browning

Tonight at MTS Centre

Tickets: $26-$121.75

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2010 D3

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