In Conversation with Piper Gilles
In both skating and in life, Canadian ice dancer Piper Gilles is always true to herself, true to her dreams, and true to her heart. All the creative programs, inventive lifts, and dazzling costumes are just the byproducts of her genuine nature, free spirit, and the unique way she approaches life and all it throws at her. She never tries to conform to what anyone else thinks she should do or be, and because of that, Piper is a one-of-a-kind gem whose positivity and perseverance have helped her shine through even the darkest of times.
And sparkling right alongside this quirky Capricorn is partner Paul Poirier, with whom she is a seven-time Canadian national medalist, nine-time Grand Prix medalist, and 2018 Olympian. Ever since teaming up almost a decade ago, the pyrotechnic pair have curated their own standout brand of ice dance. Their skating is an all-you-can-eat buffet of creativity, artistry, and almost every music genre and style known to man. It takes a special kind of person to break the mold and push the sport forward, but luckily, both Piper and Paul are up for the challenge.
Oh, what a night for (ice) dancing! Piper and Paul perform their iconic disco short dance at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships.
From funky disco (featuring a 70s 'stache on Paul, shaved off at the end of the season via a much-anticipated Facebook Live) to Beatles-themed waltz (which is being developed into a new pattern dance by the ISU) to last year's "Starry, Starry Night" free dance (Vincent Van Gogh himself couldn't have created such a beautiful masterpiece), Piper and Paul - or P2, as they're nicknamed - are paving the way for 21st-century figure skating. This season, they already charmed thousands with their fantastical Joni Mitchell free dance and even gave Torvill and Dean a run for their money with their showstopping Mack & Mabel program. Aided by their top-notch coaching team out of Scarborough, Ontario (headed by the amazing Carol & Jon Lane and Juris Razgulajevs), P2 are shooting for the stars - and the 2022 Olympic Games. And with two golds already this season (at Autumn Classic and Skate Canada International), they're well on their way to the top of the biggest podium!
A few weeks ago, Piper and I chatted via Skype while she took her adorable mini Goldendoodle puppy, Scout, for a walk around their bustling Toronto neighborhood. We would be on a serious topic, and then all of a sudden, Scout would eat something on the ground or commence a barrage of barks and momentarily distract us from life’s stress - just what dogs do best! Piper is a blast to talk to and is never without anything to say. She’s one of those people where you barely have to ask questions because she elaborates on everything and voluntarily offers up so many of her thoughts, emotions, and memories - a joy for any interviewer! We chatted about growing up hosting skaters at "Casa de Gilles," the lasting effects her early partnerships had on her life, what it was like creating a brand new pattern dance, how she and Paul hope to make their mark, and so much more. Read on!
(Original header photo courtesy of the Canadian Press.)
Piper at the 2017 Rostelecom Cup, pictured in her sassy bossa nova short dance costume - this was a few months before the PyeongChang Olympics!
(Photo courtesy of Maria Kaetshova Photography.)
Note: this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Many cute dog moments were unfortunately left on the cutting room floor.
SCOUT BREAKS THE ICE
(Scout barks at someone in the elevator.)
PIPER GILLES: (laughs) Yeah… she’s pretty social.
EDGES OF GLORY: Just like her mom!
PIPER: It’s true! (laughs) I always find it funny, even like talking with complete strangers at the dog park, it’s so much easier because it’s like, they have a dog too! You have a dog! There’s something in common!
EOG: I find that a lot of skaters have dogs. It’s nice to come home to a dog at the end of the day, no matter how hard your day was.
PIPER: Yeah exactly - something else to think about other than how your skating career is going. And if you have a bad day, they’re not gonna know. They just wanna be there to support you and love you, and I think that’s so special to have that release when you come home. I saw a lot of other skaters that had dogs, and I was like, how do they do it? I know for me, I don’t have any family in Toronto that could take care of her. And when I met my boyfriend (Nathan Kelly) last year - I live with him now - but when we moved into this building, there were so many dogs, and the people are super friendly, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a dog! I’ll watch your dog!”
Piper and her two biggest loves (other than skating): Nathan and Scout!
I can’t imagine my life a couple months ago without Scout, I can’t… she’s too special! They’re family members… like I’d be devastated right now if I lost her, devastated. It was such a weird year for me - I lost my mom, my grandma, two of my other dogs at home passed away. It was like, why is everything disappearing?! The dogs had been around for like 15 years, so it was just like the end of a bad year. I find it happens like that - you have a year, and it’s like they keep throwing more at you! I think it’s a test in life, like if you can get through those things, you can get through anything really. It makes all the small things seem so tiny compared to like, these big life-changing moments. Same with skating - I can’t be completely upset about having a rough day or rough session because at the end of the day, I’m doing this for fun - and obviously it’s my career right now - but people are sick, and people are going through a lot worse things right now than having a bad day. So now I’m starting fresh with a puppy that gets into everything. (laughs)
(Scout eats something off the ground.)
PIPER (to Scout): Okay, what are you eating? Can you stop eating leaves? Thank you.
If you're not following @scoutmydoodle on Instagram, then what are you doing with your life?
LET’S START FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
EOG: I thought we would just go down memory lane, kind of go chronologically, and just revisit your life and career. I love doing more insightful interviews and treating you guys more as people than just skaters with accomplishments, you know?
PIPER: I love that. At the end of the day, like yeah we all have accomplished so much, but we’re people too.
EOG: So you were born in Illinois, then you moved to Colorado Springs, and I just wanted to know - how did you get into skating in the first place?
PIPER: So it kind of starts with my brother (Todd Gilles) actually, ‘cause he started skating because my mom (Bonnie Gilles) wanted a coffee break with her girlfriends (laughs), so all the mothers put their girls - and my brother - in learn-to-skate. He just kind of started and loved it, and because he was six years older than us (my twin sister Alexe and me) when we were born, we were kind of always at the rink. So when we finally learned to walk, I think our curiosity of the ice got the best of us - my mom was saying like, “I had to like stop you from walking on the ice ‘cause you just wanted to be on it, you wanted to know what it was.”
So my brother’s friends would put us on these cones and push and spin us around on the ice and even let us walk on it. So we started really young, and it kind of became like this whole family affair. Including myself, there’s five of us, so we had so many siblings, and then it was just like a place for us to go that we could just have fun and be with our family.
It's always a fun time when you're in the Gilles family!
EOG: And did you love to perform as a young kid? Because you’re known for being such a performer!
PIPER: Oh my God, yeah. I LOVED to. My sister (Alexe Gilles) and I were like, okay, the first person that gets on the ice gets to play whatever music they want. I remember back then I LOVED country music - and Britney Spears - so it was always like Britney and the Dixie Chicks or Shania Twain or Faith Hill. My mom told me I used to like fly across the ice and do split jumps and drags - I was a spitfire, I just loved to skate. I loved to dance and move. I loved - this sounds funny - I loved the spotlight, I was like, Look Mom! Mom! Look! Watch this! Check this out! I was always asking for approval, and I wanted to do something that caught her attention and caught people’s attention. I think it worked to my advantage because I was always comfortable in front of people and kind of being silly. So yeah, I think I wasn’t lacking confidence as a child. (laughs) Which is good, it helped in the long run. I just loved to skate and perform.
Left: flower power - I call this the "baby Beatles short dance."
Center: Piper and brother Kemper at her third ice show.
Right: Little Piper's very first ice show - she was born to perform!
EOG: And I’m sure also being a twin, you were probably always in competition.
PIPER: Oh yeah. Always. (laughs with a mischevious gleam in her eyes) This is a funny story, I’ve actually never told anyone this - I was at a competition in Lansing, Michigan, and my mom had tried SO hard to not put my sister and me in the same competition or the same event, but sometimes just by draw, they would put us in the same one. It was the one and only time I beat my sister in freestyle, but I beat her, and I was so mad because they didn’t have all the medals there - like if you were on the podium, they had to send you your medal because they ran out - but if you didn’t place, you got these ribbons. I got second or third - actually I competed against Madi Hubbell (laughs), she was first and I was second I think. But I cried and cried and cried and cried because my sister got like a rainbow ribbon and I got an ugly green one. (laughs)
Again I look back and I was like, you think I was crying about being third and I didn't get a medal that day but my sister got a rainbow ribbon and I wish I had that. It’s those funny stories where you look back and are like, why was I so upset about a ribbon?! I remember my mom being like, "You medaled, you should be happy, and yet you’re crying because you didn’t get a rainbow ribbon!"
Sisters, twins, best friends! Piper and Alexe then and now.
COLORADO SPRINGS AND CASA DE GILLES
EOG: How did you get interested in ice dance - did you really like freestyle, or did you gravitate more towards the performance aspect of dance?
PIPER: We skated in Rockford, Illinois, and after a while, we kind of wanted to improve our skating, so we ended up driving to Chicago almost every afternoon to skate with other coaches. A coach approached my brother to start ice dance with this girl Margaret, and they really hit it off and were going to Junior Nationals, and I just remember seeing them and being like, this is kind of cool. And so the coach asked my mom if Alexe and I would want to just try our dances, and every Sunday night they’d have these public dances and they’d put the Dutch Waltz or Canasta Tango on, and you’d follow someone.
When we moved to Colorado, there was a dance coach, Patti Gottwein, who did moves in the field and stuff like that with me, and she knew I had potential in ice dance, but there was no boy available at the time. I think my first partner Tim McKernan actually had a partner at that time, so I was just kind of watching them in the morning before I would start freestyle, and when they split up, Patti kind of put us together like, let’s see how this works, and I just kind of fell in love with it.
I never really thought about which one I was gonna choose ‘til I was finishing up my intermediate dance with Tim, I kind of just say that I had more ability to dance and perform, whereas in singles I had to think about the next jump, and I hated that. I would just lose myself in performances, and there would be times where I’d be doing a clean program, and I’d fall in one jump, and then I was such a perfectionist that I’d let the rest of the program just die, I was like, Why am I trying?! Super dramatic. So dance was definitely the thing for me. (laughs) And I like having someone else at my side - your nerves tend to calm down a little bit, and you just enjoy the moment instead of like having to think like, I need to get this jump and all that stuff. I knew that it was something that could take me somewhere - I didn’t actually think it would take me THIS far (laughs), but you know, I think that’s kind of what makes it a cool story.
EOG: And then I know in Colorado Springs, your family used to host a lot of skaters in the summers.
PIPER: Oh man, many people. I know we had Adam Rippon, we had Yukina Ota from Japan. Our first one was like three Slovenians - they’ve actually come back, like we had one of them come visit the year before my mom passed away. Alex Johnson, Liam Firus… we’ve had over 50... we counted it, and it was around like 60-something skaters who have stayed at our house. And I think we’ve had eight or nine countries? Basically since we moved to Colorado, we always had someone in our house, it was never just us. Which was fine! My mom was a nurse, so I think she was just always used to taking care of people. She loved to entertain, so it was just like a fun thing for her, and it was good for us too because we got to experience different cultures, and when we went internationally, we already knew some people. I loved it, l couldn’t imagine my life without having skaters in and out of our house - it wouldn’t be normal! And some of them were like super good friends with my mom - there was Alex Bjelde who skated for Germany, he stayed at our house for I don’t know how long. He would like always watch cooking shows with my mom, they were pals, it was pretty cute. She really enjoyed it, and all of us did too. It was chaotic but fun.
EOG: So many countries - it was like the Cricket Club of billeting! (laughs)
PIPER: Yeah exactly! (laughs) "Casa de Gilles" was our nickname! Being with a big family, you’re used to the chaos, so it was like, all right let’s add more chaos in our life! What’s one more you know? Three more!
EOG: That’s really fun hearing about that - I guess Bonnie was like everyone’s mom!
PIPER: Yeah, she just became like, the skating mom. (At competitions) she’d just go and give everyone hugs, like my mom knew everyone, it was so funny.
Piper with her beloved mom Bonnie, who made ice rinks around the world feel a little more welcoming with her caring nature.
EOG: And then when did you team up with Zach Donohue? How did that come about?
PIPER: Over time, people just grow out of each other height-wise and size-wise, and for us, I kind of was outgrowing (my first partner) Tim. And Patti knew that Zach Donohue was available, so we set up a quick try-out, and Zach came out and stayed at my house. When we started skating together, we were so dynamic and so quick right away that it was a no-brainer at the time, in order for my career and his career to start - because at that point he hadn’t done any internationals yet. We really needed to jump on this opportunity, and I knew we were off to a good start. We went to Lake Placid, won everything, went to one of our Junior Grand Prixs, won that. Actually we were second to Madi Hubbell and Kieffer Hubbell at the time! We were very good together, but both of us were young and hotheaded, and I think you learn over time who you gel with. Paul and I are kind of yin and yang... and Zach and I were more like yang and yang! (laughs) We’re very similar - very emotional and driven - but it didn’t work for us. And we tried, we tried so hard to make it work, and again, it just wasn’t the right partnership for either of us.
EOG: It was interesting what you said about you and Zach being so similar because I thought the same thing, you guys are both such big characters! I actually watched your Lake Placid 2008 original dance performance, and you two were just like two hams on ice, it was lovely!
PIPER: (laughs) It’s one of those things where it works when it works, but I think over time, you need that balance, and I think that’s what he’s found in Madi. I think she calms him down, and Paul’s the same for me - he’s like my “cool.” And I think everyone needs that in any kind of relationship.
(to Scout) Why are you being such a little stinker right now?! What is going on? I just gave you a treat too!
EOG: What is it like being at so many of the same competitions as your former partner and sharing practice and warm-up ice?
PIPER: At the end of the day, neither of us would be where we are without that person. They were a part of our journey in some way and again, both of us realized that we were young, we were teenagers, we were emotional - like every teenager goes through those emotional stages, and everyone reacts to different things, right? We’ve had good conversations about it that, like we were kids, you know. Zach stayed for us for a long time, and he sent me flowers after my mom passed away, so it’s just like you have an appreciation for someone - whether it worked for you or it didn’t.
Piper and Paul at their home rink in Scarborough, Ontario, in 2013.
THE RISE OF P2
PIPER: So when it ended, I thought I was done skating completely. I just turned 18, and I wasn't gonna go to school the first year. I needed to kind of figure out what was my next step, and I ended up moving to Los Angeles to try acting, and I was doing some coaching out there. Acting was the only thing that could give me the butterflies like skating, so I continued with that for a bit, and I was actually about to sign a contract with Disney on Ice for the new Rapunzel show that they were working on because over the year, I was also doing acrobat training and hoops and trying to find something I liked, and I guess in that show they needed someone that’s done silks before, and I was like, well I've done some of that, so I'll give it a go.
They wanted me to sign the contract, and like the DAY they needed me to sign it, I got a phone call from Paul, and that changed my WHOLE life. I didn’t know what to do - I was like, do I take this opportunity and retire from skating and be professional, or do I take the chance of taking a try-out with Paul and figure out whether or not this would work. And so I took the chance, turned down Disney, and came out here (to Scarborough, Ontario), and I think a month later ended up moving. It was like one of those life-defining moments, closing one door and opening another. It was kind of scary, like I was at a fork in the road, I didn’t know which one was gonna take me in the right direction. But Disney ended up getting one of the sisters so… (Alexe currently tours with Disney on Ice)
EOG: How did you decide to represent Canada over the States?
PIPER: Well for me, it actually made more sense for me to come to Canada. For Paul, because he went to the Olympics (in 2010 with former partner Vanessa Crone), he would have had to sit out three years, and for me, it was two because I only went to a Junior World Championship, and I had already sat out a year, so it made more sense for us to be able to sit out one more year and compete domestically than not compete at all. And since my grandmother was born in Sarnia (in Ontario), my mom could get her passport by birthright. You can usually do it by second generation, so we went for that, but since I moved to Canada when I was 19, I was already legally an adult, so it didn’t apply. But because I was living here, I applied for permanent residency and then went for my citizenship.
So that was pretty much the real reason why we chose Canada, but again it was really hard for me the first couple years cause, of course, you wanna be with your new teammates, but you’ve grown up with Team USA, so it's like, do I sit at the table with them, or do I sit at the table with the U.S.? And it was like every time I sat with someone, I felt like I made the wrong decision. (laughs)
It took me a couple years to really figure out what to do! It was funny, like I mean Keegan came to Canada quite a few years after I went, but it was SO nice to have another person who I grew up with on the team! So when Keeg came in, I was like YES! I’ve been traveling with Keegan since I was like 12 or 13, so we’ve known each other for a really long time, so just to have someone who I know is so great! And then yeah, you start to love everyone and everyone becomes normal. It was hard for me though 'cause like everyone already grew up on the junior circuit together and you hang out with your friends, you have these bonds already set up before you get to the senior level, and I was like, I’m imposing! And I don’t know which side to go to! (laughs)
EOG: It’s like you’re switching high schools kind of!
PIPER: That’s exactly what it felt like! It’s like who do I hang out with, who’s the cool kids, who do I not hang out with?
Piper Gill(EH)s, proud Canadian!
EOG: Do you feel more American or Canadian at this point?
PIPER: Ummm I mean because I represent Canada, I’m very like Canada-focused, so I would say right now, I feel very Canadian. I mean I’m proud of my American roots, and I’m proud to be both, but I’m extremely proud to represent Canada and live here and move our career forward - and even the sport forward - for Canada. They took a chance on me and invested in kind of a wildcard, ‘cause they didn’t know what Paul and I were gonna do. I think the opportunities that we’ve gotten from them have been incredible - and even more than I expected - so I’m very, very, very proud to be Canadian.
EOG: You were in such a stacked dance field with Tessa & Scott and Kaitlyn & Andrew, and now you guys are kind of the top Canadian team. Do you feel like this is your quad?
PIPER: I do, I do feel like this kind of is like our quad. Last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to with the program we had, but we feel like it was the right step in the right direction, like we got people talking, we got people to see what we’re capable of. I think this year, we’re really trying to capitalize on that, and I think people know that this could be our quad, and this is exactly what we’ve been working for. And we’ve specifically chosen music that people could get behind and feel something from.
I don't know what's better - Piper and Paul's Joni Mitchell free dance or Piper and Paul's reactions to winning the free dance!
EOG: I feel like this Broadway rhythm dance was made for you guys - it’s so on brand.
PIPER: Oh yeah! (laughs) It’s so us. When they announced it like a year ago, everyone was like, “Oh my God Piper and Paul are totally gonna do Rocky Horror.” We’re like, do we do something people expect us to? Do we do something super classical and go way off of what people expect us to do? And I think we just kind of hit the right mark like, oh yeah this is Piper and Paul - but not trying too hard. Like we hit our perfect combination of quirky but refined. This is like grown-up Piper and Paul!
EoG: Quirky but refined! I like that. (laughs)
Watch Piper and Paul tap - er, skate? - their troubles away in their always-entertaining Mack & Mabel rhythm dance, from last weekend's Skate Canada International in Kelowna, British Columbia.
PIPER AND PATTERNS AND PAUL, OH MY!
EOG: I think one of my favorite ice dance programs of all time - that's just like what ice dance should be - is your 2015-16 short dance.
PIPER: Oh The Beatles!
EOG: Yes! And with the pattern dance, how did that happen?
(The ISU chose the partial pattern step sequence Piper and Paul created for their short dance to be developed into a new pattern dance called the Maple Leaf March.)
PIPER: Yeah so because that year, they had us kind of create our own partial pattern - like this year with the Finnstep, half of it is called the partial pattern, so it was one of those. So we were like okay, so we’ve got something like that but it's all the way around the rink, and we had to get like six or something turns each so we’re like, how do we do that? What if we did something and did it one way but then flipped it so the other person does the exact same steps but on the other side? And we were like, well that’s actually kind of interesting.
And as we started to create that over the year, people started to recognize that it was flipped and really creative and out of the box, so we were approached at Worlds because they said “Yeah we’ve been trying to add new compulsory dances, and this seems to fit the bid of what we were looking for.” And we were like REALLY honored 'cause we had kind of struggled with that program all season - we weren’t getting the marks we were hoping for with it, we didn’t make the Grand Prix Final with it. And then we ended up changing the program like three weeks before we went to Worlds - we just went completely Beatles. So everything about it, we were like (makes surprised face), “Okay, I guess they like it now!” But we were really honored that they chose ours, and actually during the next Olympic year (2021-22 season), the juniors are gonna be performing it.
The year was 2016, the pattern was the Ravensburger Waltz, and the music was truly epic - a Beatles medley featuring "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Norwegian Wood," and "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da."
EOG: Oh, that’s exciting! That’s going to be SO much fun, and I hope they bring as much quirk and energy as you guys did with that.
PIPER: Yeah I hope so!
(turns to Scout) You have to go in a time-out because you’re biting me too much. That’s not nice.
PIPER: But yeah, so it’s gonna be kind of cool to watch the juniors perform it. Some of the steps that we had, we left it open for them to create a piece, which because it’s hard, when you are skaters and you’re stuck in a box, it’s hard to be creative, and it gets repetitive, and we don’t wanna see the same person do the same dance over and over again - we wanna see them have their own flair and their own creativity, so we left pieces of it open for them to create what they want or what they want to perform it as, so it’s kind of fun.
Sergeant Pepper? We only know Sergeant Piper, sorry.
(Photo courtesy of Danielle Earl Photography.)
EOG: Are you keeping the twizzles with the head - the head twizzles? (tries to imitate the part where they keep their hand on the other’s head while they’re twizzling)
PIPER: We actually left that part open - so they have the option to do that if they choose, but they can do something else. And then there are those little butt kicks around that one corner - they still have to do that marching step, but their hands are optional on where they place them. (laughs) But I hope some people keep the head twizzles, it’s just cute!
EOG: Those are fun - I’d never seen anything like that before. I keep making my mom watch all your old programs.
PIPER: Aw! I loved our Paso Doble too, it was one I always forget about but like I loved the cape, and that one was fun because like every day, I had to wear that cape, or else Paul’s hands would get stuck, you know what I mean, like he had to be so precise on where he puts his hands. (laughs) ‘Cause he would get caught in my wings! Like a Paso butterfly, even though I was a bull… (makes confused face) I don’t know! (laughs) It was a mix of things.
Piper (aka the #PasoButterfly) and Paul put on their serious faces during the short dance event at 2014 Skate Canada International.
EOG: And for next year, since it’s the Ravensburger Waltz again, do you have any ideas so far?
PIPER: Uhhhh… no. (laughs) It was funny, ‘cause when they said the Rav, I was like, “Noooo!” I really wanted to do like another waltz, like the Golden Waltz hasn’t been done for MANY years, like since I’ve been senior - and I’ve been senior eight years! Like it hasn’t been done for a long time. And the Austrian Waltz hasn’t been done either, so we were kind of like, “Aw, man.” I feel like it’s hard to make all the waltzes different, you know what I mean? Same with the tango last year. After a while, everyone looks like… they’re doing tango. Right? Like you can’t vary that too much. So that one we’re gonna have to put a lot more thought into what we do, ‘cause like how do we top the Beatles? Maybe we’ll just do Beatles again, I don’t know! (laughs) I know I even thought about this year, when we were looking for short dance music, and I was like, “What if we do this NEW Mary Poppins? Mary Poppins 2.0!” And we were like, “No, we don’t really want to go back,” like we liked the first one, the original, it was our first international year out program. It was cute, it was perfect for that time, but we need to keep moving forward. (laughs) And I was so like hoping that someone would be like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” but no one was on my side. (laughs)
Always performing - even off the ice! Piper and Paul pose in the kiss & cry after performing their jolly Mary Poppins short dance at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, Canada.
WHAT THE FOLK
EOG: And the theme is folk, so folk and waltz - which I think are my two least favorites. Like you know, you can make waltz fun, but you can’t really make folk waltz fun. It’s not like hip hop, like it’s not relatable. And then, y’know, we’re gonna see so much cultural appropriation, like the Russians in 2010…
PIPER: That’s the thing, like, WHY? That’s the sad thing - so say Paul and I did a Kalinka, like a Russian folk dance - is that gonna be considered not okay because we’re not Russian? You know, would we be making fun of the Russian culture by doing that? It’s like we’re stuck, what do we do? I don’t know, I don’t think it’ll get that far, but the world’s kind of leaning in that direction, and you’re like, “Oh my God, like I don’t know what to do!”
EOG: Even this year, there are so many, like, Egyptian programs, and you see so much controversy over those… I mean, are there any Canadian folk… songs?
PIPER: I mean there’s a lot of like Quebec folk songs, but nothing recognizable that people are gonna be like, “Yeah! I know that song! I’m gonna get behind it!” I’m just excited, for the next Olympic year - I think they were thinking of doing hip hop…
EOG: Midnight Blues again?
PIPER: Yeah. I love the Midnight, so I’m okay with that!
EOG: I think more people will wanna watch if it’s music they know - I think commercially it’ll be better. At least, you know, it won’t be folk waltz for the Olympics, ‘cause that would just kill the sport.
PIPER: Oh yeah, no way, oh my God. It’d be like, why are we watching this? Take the ice dance out of the Olympics!
EOG: It’s like watching the Yankee Polka 40 times.
PIPER: Oof. Yeah. I’m glad they haven’t done that in a while.
EOG: They will. They will bring it back to haunt us.
PIPER: But it’s funny, I would rather do the polka than the Ravensburger. But again, I guess if they only do one side of it - which is like what they’ve been tending to do - I would rather do one side of the Yankee than the full thing.
EOG: I wish they had both sections of the Finnstep, it feels so short - you blink and you miss it!
PIPER: Yeah, it’s gone. When we first started practicing it (this year), like Paul and I initially, ‘cause we stop after the skid, like we would kind of just continue for fun, and Molly (Lanaghan) and Dima (Razgulajevs) - who are at our rink as well - they don’t know that part, so they were kind of like, “Teach us! Teach us!” I thought they (the ISU) could have kept in like the dance on the spot, but I guess they wanted that to be your creative moment. That’s the hard part, ‘cause it’s like you’ve got all these really nice dances, and it’s hard to choose which half you use. Like even for us, they’re trying to figure out if they want to use the full thing or just half of it.
Last season's Vincent free dance was so popular that Piper and Paul toured with it across the country!
STARRY, STARRY STARS ON ICE
EOG: And speaking of great programs, I LOVED your Stars on Ice “In The Mood.” I saw it in Halifax. How was that tour? That was your first time (in Stars on Ice).
PIPER: Oh thank you! It was good! It was definitely… it was an experience. Like you had to get used to tour life. Paul and I, we love to train, we love to have a schedule. Whereas with Stars, when you get there (for the first week of rehearsals), it’s great, ‘cause you have your whole schedule, you’re there morning to the afternoon. And then the tour starts, and you’re like, okay I’ve got my bus at 11, go to the rink, you have a little practice, skate around, and then you’re like, BOOM! Show. Then you have other days where you’re kind of off for two days. It’s just like these random - your life is complete chaos and not structured AT ALL, which is completely opposite of what Paul and I like, so that was like an adjustment. And I found it pretty difficult to fill time and not be like, twiddling your thumbs, and being like, I should be productive in some way, but I AM being productive ‘cause I’m on this tour but… it’s like a mental game (laughs), but it was really fun, we had a blast. It was really fun to be able to tour with like Kurt Browning, which is like a HUGE dream of mine. He’s lovely as a person, and he’s been so encouraging towards our career.
And like the 90s medley just kept getting better. You have your first rehearsals, and you’re told what to do and where to be and you’re kind of like, in the middle of the show and like, don’t screw up, don’t screw up, don’t screw up. And as the tour goes along, everything gets a little more flexible, and you’re way more relaxed. I can’t remember where we were, but our 90s number was a HOOT, we were cracking up like the whole time through. There’s a part where Medvedeva and Kaetlyn were out and they had this like big head roll, and it got to the point, where it was Elvis, Kaitlyn Weaver, myself, Paul, and we were just waiting to do the head roll, so all of us were on the edge of the box, like whipping our hair - or whatever we had. (laughs) And Paul one show lost his sunglasses, and I was trying to find them… It was a hoot, it was a really fun short to be part of.
EOG: You could just sense you were all a family. Team Canada is so amazing - as is all of Canada!
PIPER: With Canadians, everyone kind of works together to create something special. In the U.S. - that’s what I found like the difference is - you’re constantly having to prove yourself and be “on.” Whereas in Canada, you’re still proving yourself, but there’s appreciation of what you do, so that gives you the confidence, and it also makes you a little bit more open and relatable because you’re not putting this wall up between athlete and real world because you don’t have to, you know? We’re not being forced to, we’re under pressure of course, but we’re not under tremendous pressure being like, oh there’s someone behind me that’s gonna take my position. Canada is pretty nice about sticking with who they have and supporting them.
The cast of Canadian Stars on Ice having a blast during the 90s medley Act I finale!
(Photo courtesy of Max Gao Photography.)
IT’S LIFE’S ILLUSIONS I RECALL
EOG: So one last question before the lightning round - what kind of legacy do you want to leave in the sport?
PIPER: What I want to leave is like a portfolio of every type of genre of dance possible, because I think it’s easy when you do find success to kind of do it again in a similar way but not the same… I think for us, we’ve really strived each season to do something completely new, so I think when I leave this sport, I want people to know that one, I was 100% myself and completely genuine and open with what I’m leaving behind and who I am as a person, but again, being really proud of the work that I’ve done, and people can continue to go back and watch our stuff and appreciate the things that we’re doing. And even now, like we’re starting to see that in some of the juniors, ‘cause some of our lifts are showing up on the junior circuit! And people are like, oh they’re stealing it! Blah blah blah! And I’m like, not really, it’s just like a form of flattery!
EOG: They’re showing up in senior too. (laughs)
PIPER: Which is cool - we’re leaving something that people will remember and I want people to continue to do that when we leave. I think if everyone continues to do the same thing, again, no one will ever improve. So I think I want people to keep thinking outside the box and trying new things.
EOG: I wish everyone could have that attitude, constantly creating and reinventing and not doing the same program over and over again…
PIPER: It’s also frightening, like I know Paul, myself, and our coach Carol - we called ourselves the “Cliffjumpers” for a long time because it’s like, every time we went to do a program, we weren’t sure who was gonna like it. If we liked it, that doesn’t mean everyone else is gonna like it. So again it was like this name we gave ourselves - “We’re the Cliffjumpers, and we’re gonna do it again.”
The Cliffjumpers take the Olympics! Piper and Paul with coaches Juris Razgulajevs and Carol Lane at the Gangneung Ice Arena in South Korea.
EOG: Okay, lightning round! So just whatever comes to your mind. If you could live inside a movie for a day, which one would it be and why?
PIPER: Uhhh… How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days! Because Kate Hudson, I love her, and she has that very beautiful yellow gown and the really stunning diamond necklace, and even though she just kind of messed with him the whole time, they still fell in love. So cheesy, but yes!
EOG: You need to make a program to music from that and wear a version of the dress!
PIPER: Oh yeah, totally. Can someone lend me a diamond necklace? Anyone? Anyone? (laughs) A couple million of thousands of dollars that I don’t have, but maybe someone else has!
EOG: Yeah, just get some sponsors!
PIPER: Tiffany’s, wanna sponsor me?
EOG: They can make Scout a diamond dog collar.
PIPER: We can match!
EOG: I still can’t get over how on the official Skate Canada International poster announcement, they have you and Paul… and Scout. They’re like, “Here! There’s a dog here! Please come!”
PIPER: Oh yeah, she’s literally the mascot for everything, it’s so funny. Like at Autumn Classic, she just hung out in the media room, she’s a pal with everyone.
EOG: Thank you for having her do an Insta story takeover for us!
PIPER: Oh that was so fun, it was so cute, I loved it. It was funny, when we started her account, we could totally like have it as Nathan and I responding, but it would be funnier if it’s like us responding as her. So now when we reply to things - for the most part - if someone was like, “Aw you’re so cute!” we’d be like, “Oh you’re cute too, thanks!” And sign off with a paw mark. (laughs)
EOG: I think that was one of my favorite takeovers - er, barkovers…
PIPER: Barkover! That was so clever, I loved it.
Scout and her mommy at the Autumn Classic victory ceremony! So cute!
EOG: Scout is just adorable, I love her. Anyway, next question! Favorite time of day?
PIPER: Ummmm.... 11 AM! ‘Cause it’s not afternoon fully and it’s not morning, it’s a perfect time to be outside and not overly hot.
EOG: I mean, I thought you were going to say morning or afternoon, but you went for the actual time. (laughs) Have you seen the movie Miss Congeniality? Where they ask, “What’s your ideal date?” and she’s like “April 25th.”
PIPER: “It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, all you need is a light jacket!” (laughs)
EOG: That was exactly what I thought of when you said that because you phrased it like that. (laughs) What Disney princess are you most like?
PIPER: I’d have to say Anna and Elsa because they’re sisters, and I have a sister, so I think that would be the closest one. (laughs)
EOG: Which one are you - Anna or Elsa?
PIPER: I’m definitely more like Anna. Alexe fits Elsa for sure.
EOG: You should skate to Frozen.
PIPER: Paul can be Hans.
EOG: And Scout can be the reindeer Sven.
PIPER: Oh my God, that’d be hilarious. That’d be a great Halloween costume. I think my sister would kill me though if I dressed up as Frozen, she’d be like, “I wear that on a daily basis.” (Alexe plays Elsa on tour with Disney on Ice.)
EOG: If you were a color, which one would you be and why?
PIPER: Yellow! It’s just very inviting and bright - like I love all the colors, but I definitely love fiery ones, like there’s a lot of energy to them. But yellow’s just so jolly, you know, it’s just cheerful, so I’d definitely be yellow.
EOG: I thought you’d be yellow too - you have a yellow aura, I guess! What is your favorite memory with Paul?
PIPER: Aw man, we’ve had a lot. We stayed a couple extra days in Taipei (after Four Continents), and we went to the Chinese Lantern Festival - it’s like one of the biggest in the world. We had a blast, and it was just so magical that we were in a foreign country, in the mountains of Taipei, and witnessing thousands and thousands of these hopes and wishes being floated into the air. It was just like having the sky lit up with stars every half hour. We both made one together and like wrote our things. That’s probably one of my favorites.
Piper and Paul sending their hopes and dreams up to the heavens at the world-famous Chinese Lantern Festival in Taipei, Taiwan.
And like when we finished James Bond (free dance at the Olympics) - Paul’s very composed after a program, and when he jumped and like clapped his hands, I just like jumped on him ‘cause I was so energetic about it. It was such a powerful moment for both of us.
For their daring James Bond free dance, I'll give Piper and Paul a +007 GOE, naturally. #puns
EOG: What is your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
PIPER: Last year I was a racecar driver, it was pretty funny. I stole Nathan’s outfit, and I wore like the helmet and like made a whole little Instagram thing of it too. But when I was a child, my mom’s best friend was a seamstress, so we all had like matching outfits - one year all of us were like the Veggie Tales, and one year we were all different Beanie Babies with the “ty” tag on our sides.
EOG: And last but not least, what is a quote that you live by?
PIPER: “Life’s too short to not walk amongst the daisies.” It’s one that has always stuck with me.
EOG: Aw I like that! Well thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
PIPER: Yeah, of course! It’s been really fun, and it’s just really nice and natural too - which is hard when you’re in interviews, sometimes they’re like so structured and you’re like, “I just want to talk!”
Piper is one very colorful character - both metaphorically and literally!
(Photos courtesy of Nathan Kelly.)
KEEP UP WITH PIPER
Piper’s Instagram: @pipergilles
Piper’s Twitter: @PiperGilles
Team Facebook: Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
Scout’s Instagram: @scoutmydoodle
Catch P2 next month as they head to their second Grand Prix assignment, Rostelecom Cup, taking place November 15th - 17th in Moscow, Russia. More details (including information about schedules, starting orders, tickets, livestreams, results, and more) can be found here.
All other photos and videos courtesy of Piper Gilles.