BOSTON – There was a moment midway through their short dance Friday afternoon at the U.S. Championships when you forgot Meryl Davis and Charlie White were on skates.
That is exactly the illusion they were trying to create. Their ability to do it is what separates them by miles from every other ice dance team in the United States and makes them the favorites for the gold medal at next month’s Winter Olympics.
They were performing to “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, which set the mood. They had just finished an intricate step sequence, in which they moved separately but in unison the length of the TD Garden rink.
Then White put his arm around Davis’ waist, and they began to dance.
Really dance, not just try to look like dancers on skates.
It made you wish they could have done it all afternoon and night, but there were still some other technical elements to show off before their nearly three minutes on the ice ended.
Of course the reigning world champions easily won the short dance, and only illness or injury will keep them from a record sixth national title after Saturday’s free dance. For the record, they scored 80.69 to 73.41 for Madison Chock and Evan Bates and 68 for Maia and Alex Shibutani.
Skating by the numbers no longer is the reference point for the two University of Michigan students.
What Davis and White were able to do in some 20 exquisite seconds Friday brought them to that point where sport blends seamlessly into theater, athleticism into art.
``That part has really evolved as the season has gone on, step-wise, choreographically-wise,” Davis said. “We feel it’s a great place to show the dance. We are not rushing into an element or having to worry about something that is coming up. We can really enjoy it.
``I’m glad that stood out to you, because that is really what we were trying for.’’
After refining the program through hours of practice and using it to win the Grand Prix Final and two regular-season Grand Prix events last fall, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists have mastered the technical matters to the degree where they can feel like Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins in the wee hours of the morning - and express that.
``I think we have been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves for the technical aspect,’’ Davis said. ``We finally reached a comfort level where we can really focus on having fun with the program.’’
White feels dealing with that personalized pressure has accustomed them to the idea they are counted on for what could be the only U.S. figure skating medal – other than the new team event – at next month’s Winter Olympics.
Asked about the pressure, White first deadpanned, ``It’s just like insomnia. You never go to sleep.’’
``Because we have always placed pressure on ourselves, it has been sort of a healthy progression to this point,” he continued. “We recognize the pressure from the outside but we expect more than anyone expects from us.’’
When they do visualization with a sports psychologist, the one image that never comes up is winning an Olympic gold medal.
``That is what we try to avoid,” Davis said. ``We try to focus on what we can put on the ice in our performance.’’
Friday, it was a performance that briefly, wonderfully, turned that ice into a ballroom floor.