Meet Olivia McIsaac
To be a figure skater, you have to be very detail-oriented, and no one displays that vital trait quite like Olivia McIsaac, the bubbly Canadian ice dancer who trains at the world-famous Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club. And by detail-oriented, I'm not just talking about her articulate expressions, acute focus, and fervent commitment to each rocker, twizzle, and edge - her meticulous nature extends off the ice as well. I witnessed this firsthand when I asked Olivia if she could send me a short list of some of the earlier competitions she took part in, and she replied with a perfectly-formatted three-page spreadsheet that included columns for the competition name, date, the level she competed at, the results, and also any anecdotes she had from each particular event. So yeah, I'd say she is very, very detail-oriented.
And it's certainly paid off - Olivia has grown up competing in ladies' singles and ice dance, achieving success in both disciplines, and only recently switching to dance full-time. Her career highlights include a trip to Junior Worlds, a silver medal at junior Nationals, a coveted spot on Skate Canada's NextGen team, and of course, experience on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. This season, Olivia and partner Corey Circelli are more determined than ever to reach their goals and give it their all. Read on to learn all about this extraordinary young woman who is such a gift to the skating community!
(Original cover photo courtesy of Kathleen Burgess)
Birthday: October 30th, 2001 (17 years old)
Born: Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Hometown: Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Currently: North York, Ontario, Canada
Country Represented: Canada
Skating Club: Burlington Skating Centre
Discipline: Ice Dance
Partner: Corey Circelli
Training Location: Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club in North York, Ontario, Canada
Coaches: Andrew Hallam, Tracy Wilson, Joey Russell
Blades: MK Dance
Olivia and Corey performing their Mumford & Sons free dance at the 2019 Canadian National Championships
Q: Before you were an ice dancer, you were a singles skater. And before you were a singles skater, you were a tiny one-year-old toddling out onto the ice! How did you get involved in skating, and even as a young child, did you realize how much you loved skating and wanted to pursue it?
A: My mom was a singles skater and represented Canada internationally at the senior level before becoming a coach, so I stepped on the ice for the first time before I was even two years old - I don’t remember life before being able to skate! I tried many different sports over the years, and I happened to be pretty good at gymnastics. When I was little, I cried to my nana and told her that I didn’t want to do gymnastics, and that I just wanted to skate and do a triple salchow like Jeffrey Buttle. I guess that’s when everyone realized how much I really loved skating!
#throwback to Olivia's early skating days - pictured left with her mom/coach
Q: Up until two years ago, you actually trained and competed simultaneously in both ice dance and singles, with your mom (alongside Shelly Barnett) coaching you for all those years. Was it difficult to keep the mother/daughter and coach/student relationships separate?
A: Keeping the relationship between mother/daughter and coach/student separate was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. It definitely wasn’t easy to leave what happened during training at the rink. A lot of skaters rely on their coach to push them and have their parent as more of a supporter or shoulder to cry on, but my situation was very different. My unique experience really taught me tough love. I remember once struggling to land my single axel, and my mom told me I couldn’t do it. Determined to prove her wrong, I landed the very next one I tried! We also had an ongoing competition of who would land their double axel at a younger age - I think I won by just a few months!
I definitely wasn’t the perfect student (or most well-behaved student) for my mom. I once competed really badly after refusing to listen to my mom on warm-up, and we got into a huge fight after my score was announced. I may or may not have thrown my skate guards at her... Despite the obstacles we had to overcome, I would say that our coach/student relationship ended really well. We both knew that my last free skate competition would be my mom’s last time standing at the boards with me because I was planning on quitting free skate to pursue dance more seriously. I skated really well, and everyone cried when I got off the ice, including the ice captain! It was such a good way to end my singles career.
Left: Olivia pictured with her mom Clare and sister Rachel
Right: Rachel and Olivia in their annual Christmas show "duet," where Olivia skates and Rachel - who does musical theatre - sings!
Q: You competed in dance for the first time in 2015 at the pre-novice level with partner Scott Norton. What made you want to try dance, and what challenges did you encounter while getting used to a new discipline?
A: The year before I started dance, I watched the juvenile free dance at Sectionals and mentioned to my mom that I would be interested in trying dance. I didn’t really think anything of it until a partner came up in the spring, and I went for a tryout. I was hesitant when I found out that you had to compete pattern dances, but that actually ended up being one of my favourite aspects of the discipline! Competing dance for the first time felt so weird. I wasn’t used to having someone on the ice with me, and I’d never been so nervous about just skating! In free skate, jumping was the only really nerve-wracking part for me, but I quickly learned that with ice dance comes a very different competition mindset.
Q: You've had several experiences being an alternate and then actually getting to compete, like when you and your next partner Liam McDonald found out you would be going to novice Nationals with only three days to get ready. Some other skaters I've talked to about being alternates said they sometimes felt like they didn't deserve to be there - did you ever feel that way?
A: I think I was so excited that Liam and I were going to get to compete at Nationals that I didn’t really have time to even think about whether or not we deserved to be there! After a fall in the pattern dance and in the free dance at Challenge, getting to compete at Nationals felt like a chance to redeem ourselves and prove that we deserved to be there. Despite all of the excitement though, I felt really sorry for the team that had to withdraw due to injury. They actually still came to watch the competition and congratulated us after, which was so sweet!
Q: In 2017, you decided to focus solely on ice dance, so you said goodbye to singles and moved away from home to be partners with Elliott Graham and train at the Mariposa School of Skating (in Barrie, Ontario). Was it hard suddenly living in a new city, going to a new school, training at a new rink, and teaming up with a new skater? That's a lot of change in a very short amount of time!
A: I never imagined I would be moving away from home at just 15 years old. I’d lived, skated, and gone to school in Burlington my whole life and didn’t really know any different. The opportunity to skate with Elliott almost seemed too good to be true, being that it’s pretty uncommon for a novice dancer who’d barely made it to Nationals to end up skating with one of the most experienced junior skaters in the country at the time. It was difficult dealing with all of the change in such a short period of time, but I was so excited and eager to achieve my new goals that I just kind of focused on that. I also had a great group of coaches and friends in Barrie that were so welcoming and made me feel right at home!
Left: Olivia and some of her Mariposa friends
Right: Exploring Gdansk, Poland, during her first Junior Grand Prix
Q: From placing 4th at your first-ever Junior Grand Prix to winning Sectionals and medaling at Challenge and Nationals (not to mention making the Junior World team), your and Elliott's first season couldn't have gone better. Did that make it even harder when Elliott decided to end the partnership, forcing you to start the partner search all over again?
A: The success that Elliott and I had was what made ending the partnership the most difficult for me. It’s tough to let go of something you worked so hard and sacrificed so much for. I always say that everything happens for a reason, and deep down I believed that even though ending the partnership was hard in the moment, it was only a bump in the road of what I hoped would be a long and successful career. I’m so glad now that I didn’t give up!
Q: I guess fourth time's the charm because now you're partners with the awesome Corey Circelli, and you two train at the world-famous Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club (TCC)! What do you love about being partners with Corey, and what do you love about being part of the Cricket family?
A: Along with skating with Corey comes so many great things. Corey is very talented and hardworking, and I’m so lucky to be able to skate with him. Being a double-discipline skater (Corey also trains and competes in men's singles) definitely isn’t easy, but he is a pro at it. He is very artistic and fun to be around - we are focused on the ice but never fail to have a good laugh!
Olivia with Corey and her Cricket family
There are so many things to love about being a part of the Cricket family. All of the skaters and coaches are so friendly and caring, and they really put forward a team effort. Cricket just has such a positive energy that keeps the skaters motivated while also having fun and loving what they do. It truly is a great group of people, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be surrounded by amazing people in such an amazing environment.
Q: TCC is home to many champion singles skaters (Yuzuru Hanyu, Jason Brown, Evgenia Medvedeva, etc.), but I didn't realize until recently that they had an ice dance program. Can you tell us a bit more about your training and schedule?
A: We are on the ice bright and early every day at 6:15 AM! We skate until either 8:15 or 9:25 AM, and then Corey trains free skate in the afternoon as well. For off-ice, we do ballet, hip hop, ballroom, pilates, strength training, and cardio on the treadmill or bike. We also have a stroking class in the afternoon with Brian (Orser) and Tracy (Wilson). I love getting to do stroking with the free skaters!
Olivia and Corey competing at Junior Grand Prix Ostrava in September 2018
(Video courtesy of ISU Junior Grand Prix)
Q: You've been through a lot of changes and challenges, but you've never lost your love for skating. What kept you going through the hard times, and what is your very favorite thing about ice dance?
A: I think that going through all of the changes and challenges I’ve experienced definitely shaped me to be the person I am today, and have also made me realize how much I love the sport. What kept me going through the hard times was nothing more than my passion for skating and the power of positive thinking. I always try and look at the bright side of things because being optimistic will get you so much further than dwelling on things you can’t change. My favourite part of ice dance is with no doubt performing - I love to entertain and draw in the attention of an audience, whether it be my coaches in training or the judges at a competition!
Q: Looking ahead to next season, what are your and Corey's goals? And what music have you chosen for your programs?
A: Corey and I’s goals for the upcoming season are to improve our connection and power together and compete at two Junior Grand Prix events. We'd also love to earn a spot to Junior Worlds this year. For our rhythm dance, we're skating to Funny Girl ("I'd Rather Be Blue" and "Don't Rain on My Parade"), and for our free dance, we're doing a Danse Macabre medley!
Olivia and Corey unleashing their tango rhythm dance at the 2018 Minto Summer Skate
Favorite program you've ever done?
Song that always makes you smile?
"Tongue Tied" by Grouplove - definitely an all-time favourite of mine.
Best makeup tip? (Because yours is always on fleek!)
Thank you! My best makeup tip would be to hold a tissue under your eye when you’re applying sparkly eyeshadow - it’s the best way to prevent a sparkly mess all over your face! Also, lip gloss is always a good idea!
The left splits - I could sleep in them!
Who is your role model?
My role models are my good friends Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha. They are incredibly hardworking and so passionate about skating. Marjo and Zach are two of the kindest and most supportive (not to mention talented) people I’ve ever met!
Olivia with #TeamCanada teammate/friend/role model Marjorie Lajoie
If you were an ice cream topping, which one would you be?
I know it’s not really an ice cream topping, but I would be bubblegum because that’s what my friends call me when they’re referring to my cheery personality!
Food you wish you could eat all day every day?
Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate!
Favorite vacation you've ever been on?
If you could choose the location for the next Winter Olympics, where would it be?
Either Japan because they have the most supportive skating fans ever, or Canada because who wouldn’t want to perform in front of a home crowd?
Quote to live by?
"Your feet can do the steps, but only your heart can skate them."
Olivia enjoys a chocolate donut that's almost as sweet as she is!
KEEP UP WITH OLIVIA
All other photos courtesy of Olivia McIsaac