Olympic ice dancing gold medalists Charlie White and Meryl Davis found themselves in a strange position when they signed on for Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars: rather than being partners, as they have been on the ice for 17 years, they'd actually be competing against each other. But they don't really see it that way.
"I guess technically speaking, we are competing against each other, but it couldn't feel further from that," Davis tells TVGuide.com. "We really feel like we're in it together."
And it's true that, by necessity, White and Davis spend more time together than any other pair of celebs this season. When TVGuide.com spoke to the duo one morning last week, they were traveling together by car through New York City, getting ready to do promotions for the "Stars on Ice" tour, which they're currently juggling along with Dancing. The "Stars on Ice" schedule consists of several dates per week around the country, and so their DWTS pro partners, Sharna Burgess and Maks Chmerkovskiy, have been meeting them in tour cities to squeeze in dance rehearsals.
"We just have gotten into sort of a rhythm," White explains. "I think too, because we're having so much fun with both, that that really helps. As long as your spirits are high, you can get over being tired. If you're tired and you're not happy about it, then you're going to struggle. But we're having so much fun that we're sort of able to push past the exhaustion of the schedule and really make the most out of everything."
Check out our full Q&A with White and Davis to get their thoughts on whether they have an unfair advantage in the competition, as well as White's reaction to Len Goodman and Carrie Ann Inaba saying his and Peta Murgatroyd's dance last week wasn't really a rumba.
So you've started the "Stars on Ice" tour. How are you managing your crazy schedules?
Charlie White: [The first week of "Stars on Ice"] was a challenge, because we were just on the ice all day long and then had to squeeze in the four hours of training with our brand-new switch partners, either first thing in the morning or late at night.
Meryl Davis: There have certainly been a couple moments where I felt a little overwhelmed by fatigue ... but I think fatigue is kind of quickly wiped away by the excitement, and just our enthusiasm for the experiences that we're having. And also I think that last week, learning the numbers for "Stars on Ice" as well as being with different partners that we didn't know quite as well, I think that was definitely a big challenge. Now that we know the choreography for the skating, I think we feel a little bit more comfortable in our ability to tackle both things.
How did you both feel about the switch-up this week?
Davis: I felt great about the performance on Monday. Val [Chmerkovskiy] definitely challenged me with that routine, and so the beginning of the week was definitely not easy. But he's an incredible dancer and teacher, and so I felt really good about what we put out there on Monday.
White: It was fun to switch partners. I think it was a good challenge for all the stars to test their mettle with someone they're unfamiliar with. The great thing is that all of the professionals are so experienced and such good dancers that in a way they're interchangeable. They all have something that makes them special, but in terms of just their ability to make great things happen, they're all very, very capable. I certainly found that to be the case with Peta. I thought that she did a really, really wonderful job. I was super pleased to do the dance she put together, and I thought it was interesting having a little bit of a back and forth between the judges.
Charlie, what was your reaction to the judges' feedback that the dance wasn't a rumba?
White: When we looked back and saw what we did, we were very happy with it. ... From our perspective, it was quite clearly a rumba. What Len said about the hip movement, I was moving my hips. I could have moved them more, but I don't think that takes away from the steps of the dance being a rumba. But again, it's a personal preference type of thing. ... It's tough to take when you have such a wide range, but are at the same time trying to improve as a dancer. It's not like I feel like I'm at the apex of years of training. And so, it's different for me than it was for Peta, who felt like she put together a great dance, and I agree.
And Meryl, since Maks is your permanent partner, what was your reaction to Julianne Hough's comments that his routine felt "phoned in"?
Davis: Maks doesn't phone anything in. ... I think it's unfortunate that those comments were made, and I thought it was a great dance.
Meryl, were you surprised or disappointed that you didn't get paired with Derek Hough, since he choreographed one of your Olympic routines?
Davis: We were all given the option of encouraging people on Twitter to pair us with a certain pro, but I just decided I would kind of let [voters] decide. I didn't want to encourage anything in any particular direction, because as Charlie said, all the pros are so amazing that I knew I would be in good hands regardless of who I was with. So, I was really psyched to be with Val.
Now that you've worked with both Chmerkovskiy brothers, what's the biggest difference between their coaching styles?
Davis: They definitely have different styles of teaching. But I think it's really wonderful working with them, because I think they really enjoy working together. They use their differences as ways to kind of help each other. Val was sending videos to Maks all week, asking for feedback, and I know Maks is always asking for Val's opinion as well. So, it's so cool having the two of them with different perspectives and different eyes for things, because you really are getting the best of both worlds.
Has the competition been harder or easier than you expected?
White: It's tough to say. Each week is so different. Going from modern to tango to jive to rumba, each has such a different feeling and such a different approach, and the choreography is so different. It's such a week-to-week basis in finding how tired you're going to be, whether or not you're going to be able to get into the character, how easily you can learn the steps. I think overall, it's been about what I expected. And I think part of that is what you put into it of course, but I think the biggest thing is that it's still super enjoyable.
Davis: I think the dancing itself has been very challenging. ... Whether it's the Latin hip movement, or certain types of footwork, I think it's been surprisingly challenging for us to overcome our natural tendencies that we've gained after years of being on the ice. But at the same time, I'm having even more fun than I expected to. ... We're just thrilled to be a part of it.
How different is learning dance choreography than rehearsing for your skating routines?
Davis: We're so used to movement in general on the ice. But I think because so much of our days and the majority of our lives have been spent on the ice, we kind of like to think that the laws of physics that apply on the ice are the way it is on the floor as well. And because our previous dance experience has always been taking what we learned on the floor directly to the ice, I think it was hard for us to kind of wrap our minds around the idea of dancing on the floor for the sake of dancing on the floor.
White: I think the biggest difference is on the ice you know the patterns of steps. You know how one thing leads into another. And so, you don't have to remember exactly what the step is when you're doing the choreography; doing the actual steps kind of jogs your memory. Whereas in ballroom, because I'm so unfamiliar with what step leads into another, and ... if you should be walking on your heel or on your toe, or rising up or staying low, depending on the dance, it kind of seems like after every step there's just an infinite amount of possibilities, and so you really have to just focus on what comes next. And I think that's quite hard on the brain. That's what I've felt, even more so than physical exhaustion, is just mental exhaustion, trying to stay on top of everything and keep your timing up as well.
Some people say your ice training puts you at an unfair advantage.
Davis: I certainly think that it's more challenging for us perhaps than most people realize. ... We all bring something different to the table. Whether you're an actor, you're a pop star, a singer, I think everybody has these qualities that they're able to bring into their performances. And certainly, we're using our backgrounds and our previous experiences to create the best performances we can. But I think everybody's doing that.
White: I think what's special about [the cast] is that everyone sort of brings their own uniqueness and flavor to making their dances interesting. All the professionals are really bringing that out in their stars. Drew [Carey] or Cody [Simpson] or James [Maslow], they all have their sort of thing that they're able to throw into these dances that's unexpected to some degree, but makes it so interesting to watch. ... In terms of just an actual competition, it's really good. And it's fun to be a part of.
Is it odd to be going up against each other?
White: For Meryl and myself, it just really feels like we're in it together still. I don't know what it would take [for us to] actually be competing against each other. At this point, coming off of winning the Olympics ... we just have a different mindset coming in. We feel like we're doing a lot of this together. And in fact, we are. Right now we're sitting in a car together and we're traveling all over the country together and learning these steps, and we're on the same journey together. Our approach to everything is really just about self-improvement. It's not so much about competing against other people. That's how it was on the ice, and that's how it is on the ballroom floor. So, in that sense, we feel like we have each other's support, and I think that makes it a lot easier.
Davis: It's hard to explain. I guess technically speaking, we are competing against each other, but it couldn't feel further from that. We've been on this incredible journey together for 17 years, and our interests have been aligned almost our entire lives, so we just have this team mentality. We have this natural support for one another that has been formed over such a long period of time, and in this circumstance, I feel like we're supportive of one another. We are having fun together. We really feel like we're in it together.
Charlie, Erin Andrews told me last week that she feels like your personality is starting to come out more. Are you getting more comfortable in the ballroom?
White: It's tough, with the change of dance, to get some consistency. But at the same time, I definitely do feel like I'm a lot more comfortable week to week. I do think it's showing, and that's super sweet of Erin to say. With the jive definitely, it was fun, and that is sort of my personality. That's what I like to bring to everyday life, and not just the dance floor. Being able to sort of have that translate into a dance was special.
What are you working on for this week?
White: This week is Disney week. I can't tell you the song, but we're doing jazz. I think the whole Disney thing is about cheerfulness, and so much of it for me and for a lot of the other dancers is sort of connecting with your childhood and what made you so happy back then. I think it's going to be a very fun and funny week that everyone should look forward to.
Davis: Maks and I will be dancing a samba. I'm excited to get going with it. ... I think it's going to be a fun week.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.