Piper Gilles and Tim McKernan, just 15 and 17, decided to take a gamble last summer and move up from novice to juniors in ice dancing. The couple won the intermediate dance title at U. S. Junior Nationals in 2005, but only placed seventh the following season in novice dance. But they decided to move up anyway. “We only decided to skate juniors two days before the cutoff,” McKernan added. “When we went to the Lake Placid Dance Championships, we’d only ever done the novice compulsory dances.”
“We skated our butts off up in Lake Placid to make the international team,” Gilles said candidly. “We finished second in the free dance and third in the original dance and there were a lot of teams there.” That got them the chance they needed. They won their first junior international, a North American Challenge Skate in Vancouver, Canada. Then, they won a bronze medal at their first Junior Grand Prix in Mexico and finished sixth in Taipei. “We were shocked when we got our first international medal,” Gilles said. They finished the season with a fourth place at U. S. Nationals in junior dance.
Gilles comes from a family of skaters. Her brother, Todd, competes in senior dance and her twin sister, Alexe, competes in junior ladies. Gilles began skating when she was about two and a half years old. “I was at the rink all the time with Todd,” she said, “so I started skating too. I took some dance lessons with his coach and just fell in love with it. I competed in ladies up to intermediate two years ago, but I hated falling.” Other than skating, she tried gymnastics for six months. “I didn’t like it,” she said. “The energy level was too high.”
McKernan was also from a skating family, but started much later. “I was a late bloomer,” he said. “My sister (Lauren, an ice dancer) was a skater and my mom managed an ice rink in Richmond, Virginia but I didn’t start skating until I was nine. I was playing soccer and baseball instead.” He competed up to the juvenile level in singles, but quit when he was 12 to go into dance. “I liked it more than jumping,” he noted. “I moved to Colorado Springs in August 2001 to get a partner, Alicia Wallace, I skated with her for a year.” Gilles skated with McKernan when Walls was ill and when she retired, they made their partnership permanent in January 2003.
The dancers train at the World Ice Arena in Colorado Springs with a team of coaches including Patti Gottwein, Christopher Dean, and Rich Griffin. They usually skate for three to four hours a day, six days a week and do another hour of off ice work daily.
Christopher Dean, Tom Dickson, and Catarina Lindgren choreographed their 2006-07 dances. They used “Tanguedia” by Astor Piazzolla for their original dance and “Bulgarian Baroque” from “Dreamscape” for their free dance. “Chris found the original dance music,” McKernan said. “He usually brings in the music and everything that he’s picked, we’ve liked. Tom Dickson brought us the music for the free dance. Tom cuts all of our music.” Dickson choreographed their 2007-08 free dance, while Mathew Gates choreographed the original dance.
“We haven’t found a particular style yet,” Gilles noted. “We started out doing jazz, then we did a samba from ‘My Fair Lady’. I was also doing a singles program to ‘My Fair Lady’ that year. Last year we did something closer to classical, but not pure classical. Next season, we may try some French music, but we both have to agree on it.”
“I like more upbeat music,” McKernan said. “We used Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ for a show program. We found it ourselves and cut the music. That was the first time we tried choreographing our own program.” “It was a lot of fun,” Gilles added. Off ice, he listens to anything but country or classical music, while she listens to anything new on the top ten.
Gilles will be a sophomore next season at Cheyenne Mountain High School. “I like anything that involves math,” she said. “I like architecture and I’m into designing things. I’ll work with anything I can get my hands on. I partially designed my own bedroom.” The fashion-conscious teen used to model when she was younger. Now she designs jewelry and does a lot of beading. She hopes to become a fashion designer. McKernan just graduated from high school this year and plans to study meteorology in college. “I always wanted to be a weather forecaster,” he said. “I was always watching the Weather Channel.”
Off ice, McKernan likes playing video games, ping-pong, poker and tennis. Gilles swims every weekend and enjoys water and snow skiing. She also enjoys dancing. Her family has numerous pets including four poodles, two cockatiels and several fish. Both skaters play four square and dodge ball with the other skaters at the rink in the summer.
The dancers will continue to compete as juniors in 2007-08. “We hope to medal at our Junior Grand Prix events, make the JGP Final and go to Junior Worlds,” Gilles said. They will begin the season by competing at the Lake Placid Dance Championships and the Junior Grand Prix in Estonia. “We want to skate as long as it takes to accomplish everything we can,” McKernan added. “We want to get to the Olympics.”