Harris & Chan embrace the challenges

by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

IDC caught up with Holly Harris and Jason Chan after their recent Skate America Free Dance.

The reigning Australian ice dance champions had just made their international Grand Prix debut at the first event of the 2022 Series. The dancers who train at I.AM, Montreal, Canada finished in fifth place.  

In the past three weeks after Nebelhorn, we made a lot of changes in the free dance because we had trouble with some levels and invalidated elements,” Chan explained. “We made a little mistake [today], but it was good for the first time out with the [updated] program.”

Harris was quite impressed with the crowd, claiming later that it was probably the most fun she’s had in a performance, and that the crowd played the biggest part in that experience. 

“I felt really connected as a team and the skate overall felt really good,” Harris added. “The crowd was amazing.  There were even Aussie flags. That was so cool. It was really enjoyable to skate, but with some small errors. The Rhythm Dance was incredible also.”

“Some small things to work on for next week at Skate Canada,” Chan confessed, “but fifth place at our first Grand Prix is very encouraging and something to be proud of.”

Fast forward a week to Skate Canada International.

The team was disappointed with their eighth place finish in Mississauga, but readily admitted doing back-to-back competitions was a challenge.

“Skate America was such a high being it was our first Grand Prix, and it’s hard to continue on that trajectory. You just have to learn to adapt and to go with it,” Harris said.

“The important thing was we didn’t really think about it. We just chugged along and focused on our job. Now that it’s over we deserve a little time for a rest, then we’ll get back at it next week,” Chan added.

Actually, they only have a week before leaving for the Challenge Cup (November 9-13) in Graz, Austria.

Both Harris and Chan came to the world of ice dance after initially skating as singles. 

Harris was born in Sydney, Australia and began skating when she was five.

“When I was seven, I started going overseas to train. Small trips turned into larger ones and eventually I was there mostly full time,” Harris explained. “I trained in Colorado Springs for about seven years in singles.“

In 2016, Harris won silver at the Junior Volvo Open Cup in Riga, Latvia. The same year she also competed at the Dresden, Germany JGP and then represented Australia at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Taiwan. Shortly thereafter, she closed the door on her singles skating career.

Harris had a couple of concussions and was afraid of hitting her head again, so during the extended time off the ice, she made the decision to try ice dance.

“I had a concussion doing singles, and it brought on a lot of stress jumping and all that. My whole career people kept telling me I should try dance, so I decided to give it a go, which eventually brought me to Montreal. I was meant to come with a previous partner, but it didn’t end up happening, so I found myself alone, and Jason was also skating alone.”

With three years of ice dancing under her belt, Harris reflected on what she has grown to love most about the discipline.

“When I was doing singles, the biggest part of skating I loved was the artistry, choreography and telling a story on the ice. That’s really what ice dance is, so it’s a perfect match. I really enjoy sharing it with somebody else. It surprised me how much I’m finding comfort in having somebody out there with me telling a story together and creating art on ice.”

Chan who previously competed for Canada was born in Montreal, as were his parents. The McGill University graduate is also fluent in French, which can sometimes be helpful and confusing at the same time. 

“It’s funny sometimes,” Chan said with a laugh. “We’ll be in a lesson and one of the coaches will be speaking French, and I’ll be like, YES! YES! Holly will be right next to me saying, NO! NO! I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t even realize it because it’s so natural.”

Chan began skating when he was five-years-old, but didn’t start ice dancing until ten years later when he partnered with Valerie Taillefer in 2011.  

“I enjoyed the skating, but didn’t enjoy jumping. I preferred staying on the ground, so I tried ice dance and really enjoyed it,” Chan said. “During training and competitions I shared the experience with somebody else, so I wasn’t alone on the ice, and that was special.”

Taillefer & Chan won the Canadian novice dance title in 2014. For the next four years they competed at Junior Grand Prix events until Taillefer retired after the 2018 Canadian Championships to attend medical school.

“After Valerie retired, I skated alone at the I.AM until Holly and I partnered for the 2019-2020 season.”

Harris & Chan made their international debut at the 2019 Challenger Series Warsaw Cup in November, followed by winning the Australian Championship in December and then competing at the 2020 Four Continents in Seoul, Korea.

Then came Covid-19 and a series of international and Canadian cancellations where the Australians were scheduled to debut. This included the March 2020 World Championships in Montreal and Skate Canada International in October. Their 2020 and 2021 Australian Nationals were also cancelled, so 2022 will be the first opportunity for them to defend their title.

The team opened their current season in August by winning the bronze medal at the inaugural Britannia International Cup in Sheffield, Great Britain. They finished seventh at the CS Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks later.

Harris & Chan discussed the programs and music they’ve chosen for this season.

The 2022-2023 Senior Rhythm Dance requires at least two different dance styles/rhythms chosen from: Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Mambo, Cha Cha, Rumba and Samba. There is no pattern, instead a new Choreographic Rhythm Sequence has been added. The Pattern Dance Type Step Sequence is now evaluated as one unit with a combined level for both partners.

The Australian team chose (Samba) “The Beat” by Watazu, (Cha Cha) “Cha Cha Danzon” by The Latin Drums and (Merengue) “Suavemente – House Remix by Fred Perry.

“Our rhythm dance is Latin, which is something we’ve never done before because we’re a new team,” Chan noted. 

In the last decade, Latin was competed in the 2011-2012 and 2017-2018 seasons both of which were prior to the forming of their partnership in 2019.

“We really enjoyed some ballroom dance classes we did while we were in Australia as well as some classes here in Montreal. That’s an aspect we really want to explore, and we really enjoy, so we were trying to translate that a little bit into our program.

Our FD music is from the television show, Euphoria,” Chan said.It’s music we wanted to skate to for a while. Then the second season came out, and it was perfect timing because we had more music to choose from. So now’s the time. 

“Our program is choreographed by Olympic Gold Medalist, Guillaume Cizeron. It’s been fun to work with him and see how he moves, and what ideas he brings to the table. It was really inspiring and fun.”

He challenged the team to execute some new moves.

“He would do something, and we would tell him we were okay with it,” Chan noted.

“We would really try, but It was so hard, and he would do it so effortlessly” Harris said. “He could do anything. It was really inspiring. I would feel really bad, but eventually we got the hang of things, and it came together.” 

“This program is really special for us. It’s my favorite so far. We enjoy it a lot.”

Cizeron wanted to be with the team at both Skate America and Skate Canada International, but he had obligations in France that prevented him from being at the events. 

Harris and Chan have set both short and long-term team goals for the team.

“Last year we qualified for the Free Dance at Worlds, which was one of our [immediate] main goals. This year we’re  aiming to set ourselves up for the next four years and also to improve on our ranking,” Chan said.

“Our long term goal is to not only qualify for the 2026 Olympics, but to do pretty well in Italy – to achieve things for Australia that haven’t been achieved before. It’s the main goal – a four year dream.”