Article & Feature Photo by Francesca
In the two weeks between their Junior Grand Prix events, Francesca got together with Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha to chat about their beginnings, last season and their goals for the future.
IDC: Introduce yourselves: how did you start skating, and got into ice dance?
ML: I started at 3. I went with my dad and I remember that I didn’t want him to help me skate. I wanted to skate alone. I fell in love with skating then. Where I was training for free style, I saw ice dancers and I thought – I want to be like them. I started dance at 10 with Zachary, so we are each other’s first partners.
ZL: I started at 3, then stopped and came back at 4, and I really fell in love with the sport at the age of 12 when I was watching Junior Worlds in Minsk. At that time, I was skating freestyle and a coach told me to try ice dance for one or two years, until I decided to try. I liked it, so we started together with Marjorie.
IDC: How did you become partners?
ML: Julien Lalonde was my coach and he matched us, we tried out and he said we should skate together.
IDC: How did you decide to re-team up after a brief split in 2015?
ZL: We didn’t train together for a while because we had different ideas. Then I moved here and Marie [Dubreuil] said we should get back together. We had a meeting and put ourselves on the right track with the same ideas.
ML: Marie really helped us with this.
IDC: You participated at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016. Can you tell us about your memories of that experience?
ML: It was really fun because there were different sports, so it was a good experience for the real Olympics. There was a team event with different countries; friends from everywhere competing together.
ZL: It was cool and different. We saw the sport more as a team sport and tried to do everything for the team.
ML: We always skate for ourselves and this instead was for the team. It was a good simulation to see what the Olympics are really like. It motivated us.
IDC: You had a very successful 2017-2018 season including two medals on the Junior Grand Prix series, reaching the JGPF, a placement just shy of the podium at Junior Worlds, and set a new Canadian record at Nationals. Talk us through your feelings and what are you most proud of during the past season.
ZL: Our best performance was at Junior Worlds. There we set a new level for ourselves of performance and connection with each other. We really felt something and our coach also told us that it was a lot better, but we also had injuries before the JGP Final.
ML: One month of concussion for me before the JGP Final, that’s why it wasn’t very good for us. We had only two weeks of training before leaving because I was off the ice for a whole month, both with a concussion and something to my hip, so I wasn’t even able to walk. We made it to the Final, but we weren’t fully in shape. Beating the Canadian record was pretty cool, because for the free dance the base score was lower, so we didn’t expect to beat the record again.
IDC: Where do you think you have improved last season, and what are you still working on and looking to improve?
ZL: I think technically we still have a lot to improve, especially the turns, the footwork. We improved a lot on artistry, power, body movement, but you know, those things are a work of life. It’s never going to be enough. We got better, but you never reach a moment when you stop learning. Now we are focusing more on technique because that’s what’s leaving us behind at the moment, for example at the JGP in Linz. [Editor’s note: The team lost levels on their elements and finished second.]
IDC: You have decided to return to the junior level this season. What is your goal?
ZL: Our goal is mainly to prepare ourselves for the senior level. We can say we want to win, but how many juniors have won Junior Worlds and did nothing after. The switch to seniors is completely different. The goal is not to win Junior Worlds, but start to look like seniors. We went to the Grand Prix Final, so we saw a little bit of how it is, but honestly we have no idea. We have talked a bit with some of our training-mates – Zach Donohue talked a lot about it – usually we just observe.
ML: We are going to live our own experience and see how it is.
IDC: What are your goals in the long term for the quad?
ML: Starting senior next year and seeing how it is, and then working hard for the four years.
ZL: Hopefully, making the Olympic Team. We haven’t talked about it yet with the coaches. We’ll have a meeting when we go senior, but at the moment we only focused on this junior year.
IDC: Tell us about your program choices for this year [Three tango pieces by Otros Aires for the rhythm dance, Warsaw Concerto for the free dance]. How did you pick the music and what’s the story behind the programs?
ML: We wanted to do something different in the rhythm dance and not pick the classical serious tango.
ZL: My dad sent me music from the group Otros Aires and I played it for Romain [Haguenauer] and Marjorie. Romain said it was good. We listened to the album and we chose the songs. For the free dance, I just put the music on the ice because we were looking for too long, and everybody said ‘oh that’s good’!
ML: The coaches wanted us to skate to one classical piece, but I hated it and instead I liked the one that Zachary chose.
Zach: I’m pretty surprised the Warsaw Concerto wasn’t used that much in skating. It’s got everything. It’s made for a movie so there is a story. It’s a rich music with lots of accents, nuances and contrast. I really like this program. There are some defined spots on the music where it calls for something like turns, etc. Everything is difficult when you try to do it right and to do different things. Romain did fantastic choreography. He did both programs. We are also working a little with Sam Chouinard on the accents, to add body movements.
IDC: What’s your daily training schedule like?
ML: We train off-ice in the morning like gym, pilates, ballet, ballroom. Everyday something different.
ZL: We did it this summer. We were not used to work like that before, all this ballet and ballroom. I think our work got to another level. We are really enjoying it.
ML: We feel that on the ice we are more able to move and feel the music after we train on ice for 3-4 hours. We also see a nutritionist, physio, mental coach.
IDC: Are you going to school this year?
ML: Yes, probably home school, I’m not sure yet.
ZL: I’m home schooled. I have to manage not to procrastinate…
IDC: You train at Gadbois alongside the top senior ice dancers. How is it to share the ice with them, and what are you learning from them?
ML: We are learning how to train, how to push every run like it’s competition. It’s really inspiring for us. Everyone is supportive, cheering and clapping. It’s not because we are juniors that they leave us on the side.
ZL: And it’s so much better because they are senior. When you are training you want to be the best, so you want to be better than all of them even if they are seniors. That’s really making us push ourselves.
IDC: To which current or past couples do you look at for inspiration?
ML: Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir] and Gabi [Papadakis] and Guillaume [Cizeron] because they were the two best in the world and training together. It was cool to see that competition on the ice at the same time.
ZL: For me there are a few. Each of them with their strengths. When I was younger, I really liked Nikita Katsalapov when he was skating with Elena [Ilinykh], then Tessa and Scott of course, Gabi and Guillaume, Madi [Hubbell] and Zach [Donohue]. They all have their style and qualities.
IDC: What’s your favorite thing about skating with each other?
ZL: The work. It’s cool and it’s easy. We are not fighting each other all the time even though sometimes we have different opinions. The ease of working together is pretty good.
ML: Same. In some couples, one wants to work more and the other less, but we have the same ideas and goals. We have a talk about it at the beginning of the year and then we are set. We do a debriefing after each competition to see what we need to work on and then we work.
ZL: Not too much talk, action!
IDC: How are your off-ice projects developing? Zachary, you are a successful pianist and Marjorie you are an actress. Tell us more about your projects, how you balance them with skating, and how they influence your performance on the ice.
ML: To balance with skating, I say no to every audition that is a big movie or requires a full day of filming. I’m only doing auditions for small things at the moment so it doesn’t go over skating. After skating, I’ll see what I’m going to do with that, but I’m getting experience. It helps me to tell a story on the ice.
ZL: I’m doing piano on the side. Usually during the skating season I work less and when that stops I do a piano marathon. Last year, I did a competition in Canada and got fourth at the final. It’s a lot of work. I finish skating then go home and practice 4 hours because that’s what you need. It makes you understand the music you are skating to on the ice and at the same time you think about something other than skating, even though it’s pretty intense to think about it, but I enjoy it a lot. You have to focus on skating when you are skating and piano when you are playing. For me, it helps to feel and understand the music.
IDC: What do you guys like to do in your free time?
ML: I spend a lot of time with my little brother and of course friends.
ZL: Music in my free time and listening to music. And, of course, I also see some friends, but it’s pretty rare.
IDC: Tell us your favorite…
ML: Twizzles… they are stressful. I like to do them at practice, but not in competition.
ZL: Choreo step
-Costume you wore
ML: Rhythm dance this year.
ZL: Don Quixote I had 3 years ago.
-Rhythm or short dance pattern
ZL: At the end of the year, I really enjoyed the cha cha.
ML: I like the blues.
-Skater from another discipline
ML: I don’t watch much outside ice dance…maybe Bruno [Massot] and Aljona [Savchenko].
ZL: Denis Ten
-Program from the Olympic season
Together: Moulin Rouge!
ML: I don’t read!
ZL: I always talk about this book, it’s about ants by Bernand Werber [The Empire of the Ants]. It’s a parallel between the life of humans and ants.
ZL: Shutter Island
ML: I don’t have one in particular. I like a lot of different groups/singers
ZL: Michael Jackson. And to play on piano, the Tchaikovsky concerto.
ZL: Simple eggs. Sunny side up.
ML: After JGP Zagreb we went to visit a forest. The water was so clear. It was really beautiful.
ML: Where there are concerts or stuff going on. I like Montréal, especially in the night.
ZL: I personally don’t really hang out much in Montréal.
IDC: Anything you’d like to say to your fans:
Both: Thank you!
ML: We have some fans who contact us on Instagram. They send us good vibes. Maybe they don’t know it, but it helps a lot. Sometimes there are such bad comments online…
ZL: Yeah, especially with Gabriella and Guillaume and Tessa and Scott, it was really horrible when you think it’s figure skating. It’s not like football where people talk trash about each other, you are supposed to enjoy the dance.
ML: We see the bad comments, so it really helps when people send us good comments and are there for us.