Paul Poirier is an ice dancer. At the age of 27, he’s already a six-time Canadian national medalist and a two-time Olympian. However, when I met the lively Unionville-native for coffee, it quickly became evident that there was so much more to this young talent than his accolades.
By Jane Bradshaw
Photographer McKenzie James
Fashion Editor Corey Ng
Hoodie ($1,520) GUCCI. Shorts ($225) KENZO at SSENSE. Sneakers ($1,050) GUCCI at NORDSTROM.
Not only is he a full-time athlete, but Paul is also completing his master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Toronto. He is benevolent and humble, articulate and inquisitive, and displays a vibrant passion for learning, but, above all, he has a powerful inner drive that he exercises in all facets of his life. It’s no wonder he can compete – and succeed – on an international stage.
Poirier fell into his sport. “My parents are very sports-oriented, and we were pushed as kids to get into sports…. I started in the usual stuff – hockey and soccer and what have you, but I hated team sports very early on. Then I got put into figure skating and tennis and gymnastics, and the figure skating just stuck.”
With an impressive amount of natural ability and an intrinsic sense of ambition, Poirier excelled on the ice from a young age. He began his training in Richmond Hill before linking up with a partner and moving to the ice dance center in Scarborough, where he’s been ever since. “I was enjoying that private lesson nature of it, where I got individualized tasks that were specific to what I needed to do, where I needed to go, what I needed to improve on. I enjoyed that process of improving myself and not simply being given generic exercises that the entire group was doing.”
He quickly progressed through the levels of competition. By age 12, he was performing at national competitions, and by age 14, on the international stage. At 16, skating became a full-time job. However, he never let his training interfere with his education.
“I am very academically-minded by nature, and I had parents who were fairly realistic,” Paul explained. “I went to university because it was something that I wanted to do. It gave me a sense of balance, so I wasn’t obsessing over skating all the time. It gave me something else to think about.”
His commitments to both school and skating instilled an impressive work ethic, one that has enabled him to maintain scholastic pursuits. Currently, trilingual Paul is studying sentence structure, consulting language experts, and researching patterns in between training – a remarkable feat, considering how demanding his skating schedule is.
Besides on-ice practices, which can sometimes be up to five hours long, Poirier and his partner Piper Gilles, go to the gym twice a week for weight and strength training, weekly Pilates, Gyrotonic classes, and dance lessons, which change depending on the type of dance they are performing on ice.
Paul and his dance partner met in Taiwan at a junior international competition. “The junior competition goes from 13-19, so it’s quite a big age gap and in terms of maturity level. We were both 14, so we were both on the younger age of the spectrum. We hung out there; a group of us ended up playing Apples to Apples when the older ones went out drinking,” Paul tells me. “That’s how we met and how we were aware of each other, and then we were both looking for partners at the same time.”
Seven and a half years later, the partnership is still strong. Poirier credits their success to their contrasting performing styles. “She, as a performer is very warm, inviting, heart-on-sleeve, very emotionally-driven, and very present – that makes her very authentic as a performer, where she can be 100% present in the character that she is portraying, in the moment that she is in. I, on the other hand, am very cerebral and tend to overthink… I think we push each other; I tie her down in a way and force her to be a bit more consistent, and she forces me to come out of myself.”
He also credits their success to their similar outlooks on their work. “I think we approach it the same way – in the way we want to train, the way we approach choreography. I think we have the same goals in terms of the artistic impact we want to have on the world of skating. Skating can be a very traditional world. In the same ways, it can be a very artistic sport. It can fall into archetypes, where there are set characters people want to play and set styles people want to do. I think there is so much potential in what people can achieve in terms of artistry, in terms of athleticism, in terms of style, theme, and music, and in terms of the theatre of it all. There’s an element of theatre that comes [out] in our sport, and we are really trying to push that.”
They take their artistry seriously, conducting research on floor and stage dancing and building an arsenal of movements to lace together into a cohesive routine. “Every program materializes in a different way… You may have really cool things, but when you stick them together, they cancel each other out. That’s the toughest part of choreography – deciding which of it you want to have value and impact and making sure the rest of the choreography isn’t taking away from that.”
The value placed on theatrics and performance has solidified Poirier’s place as one of the most enchanting Canadian talents. He views his sport as one that transcends athleticism: it involves storytelling, chemistry, and creativity. With his quick-wit, poised demeanour, and hunger for discovery, we can’t wait to see what he does next, both on and off the ice.
Left photo: Pants ($850) BALENCIAGA at NORDSTROM. Sneakers ($965) PRADA. Right photo: Jacket ($2,690) BURBERRY at SSENSE. Hoodie ($165) REIGNING CHAMP at NORDSTROM. Bracelet ($270) LINKS OF LONDON.
Sweatshirt ($125) RYU. Shorts ($14.99)H&M. Photographer McKenzie James. Fashion Editor Corey Ng. Grooming Ronnie Tremblay at P1M.ca. Location Bisha Hotel Toronto.