Martine Patenaude & Pascal Denis
Canada’s Martine Patenaude, 30, had been out of the competitive arena for a decade before she teamed up with 29-year-old Pascal Denis to challenge for a podium spot at Canadians and a possible Olympic berth in 2006. Although many spectators mistook Patenaude for a teenager because of her youthful beauty and superb physical conditioning, the lovely blonde is less than a year older than Megan Wing and a bit younger than Marie-France Dubreuil. “We will skate for at least two years, maybe more,” Denis said. “The Olympics is a goal we have not reached yet. After that we will sit down and talk about the future.”
“It wasn’t difficult to get back to competing, but it was difficult to get back into competition shape,” Patenaude remarked. “My skills were perfect but I hadn’t been skating a four-minute competition program. I was a little nervous in Obertsdorf since it had been a long time, but I’ve learned a lot from coaching so I understood things better than before.”
Patenaude had previously skated for seven years with Eric Masse, reaching the podium at Canadians at all levels including bronze in seniors in 1994, bronze in juniors in 1991, and silver in novice in 1989. The couple finished fifth at Junior Worlds in 1990 and seventh in 1991. Patenaude’s last major international was at Skate Canada in 1992, when she and Masse finished eighth.
She originally began skating when she was six. “My two older sisters skated and I was at the rink with them,” she recalled. “I skated six years in singles, before switching to dance. My coach said I had good skating quality and got me a partner and we skated together from when I was 12 to 19. He stopped and I tried to find another good boy, but I couldn’t find one at that level so I went on to other things.”
“I went almost immediately into coaching,” Patenaude continued. “I only taught dance, working with Bruno Yvars and Emilie LeBlanc. We have fourteen dance teams now. I’m still working with all the same students, coaching and training at the same time.” Both Patenaude and Denis spend three to five hours a day coaching. He works with three dance teams under different coaches.
Denis began skating when he was seven. “I liked watching ice shows,” he said. “I went to see Ice Capades and Ice Follies in person.” He was dancing within three years. “A non-ice dance coach matched me with Josee Piche when I was 12,” he remembered. “Honestly I don’t know why. It was just circumstance I guess, but I liked it. I loved the communication with the audience and a partner. Skating alone is just not the same thing. I kept doing freestyle until I was 16, but I was too tall. Long legs don’t make it easy to jump. They could wrap around me three times. I got up to a double lutz and that was it.”
The couple had finished in the top seven three times at Four Continents and eleven times at Canadians, winning the silver medal in 1994 and bronze medals in 1993 and 2000.
“When Josee finished in April, I wasn’t ready to quit,” said Denis. “I was having breakfast with Bruno and Martine and said I needed a tall blonde. I turned and looked at Martine and asked her if she would consider it. We’ve already known each other for 18 years.” “I took about half a day to consider it,” Patenaude said. “I wasn’t sure it was a good idea but we did a tryout. We had the same style so it went well. At the end of June, we started our real training.”
In their first competition, the couple finished second at the Nebelhorn Trophy in 2004, eleven years after she won the dance title there in 1993 with Masse. “We were notified two weeks before,” Denis said. “We were hoping for an international and were happy not to get Vienna or Finland where the dance was cancelled.” “We hoped it would open the door to the Grand Prix series,” Patenaude added. “We don’t have a ten-year career so there’s no time to wait.” Two days afterwards, they were invited to Skate Canada, where they finished eighth.
The dancers train in Montreal with Bruno Yvars. They work for three to four hours a day on ice, five days a week. Aime LeBlanc also assists in their on-ice training. In addition, the couple works off ice with ballroom dance coach Ginette Cournoyer. “We don’t take ballet but we work with her one or two days a week,” Denis said. “She’s very good. She was second at the world championships in ballroom.” Neither of the skaters is involved in other athletic activities although Patenaude occasionally rollerblades. “I used to play a lot of sports when I was young, but not anymore,” Denis noted. “We have to keep our energy,” Patenaude explained.
Yvars is the couple’s official choreographer, but Denis said, “Basically we did the choreography ourselves and our coaches and others put in their ideas. I like to use a lot of upper body movements – moves that are more interesting than the classical poses you use forever.” The duo closely follows the results from the new judging system to adapt their programs. “Every day, we work with the sheets,” Patenaude said. “We’ll have increased levels of difficulty for Nationals. The system is a good guide for training. I know all the rules and taught my students all the rules.”
For this season, they are using “Sparkling Diamonds” and “Tango de Roxane” from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for their free dance. Their original dance incorporates a Charleston to the opening of the Chicago soundtrack, a foxtrot to “Nowadays” and a Charleston to “All That Jazz.” “All of us work together to choose the music,” Denis said. “I found the original dance music but for the free dance, we threw many ideas on the table. Our first idea was a tango, so we found a tango.” “We wanted a song that people knew so that they could relate to it,” Patenaude added. “But next year, we want someone different to do our choreography.
Off ice, Denis said, “I listen to so many kinds of music. It depends on what I’m doing but there’s no limit to what I’ll listen to. My favorite is Celine Dion, of course.” “I listen to everything, even to people who are unknown,” Patenuade said. “I even watch American and Canadian Idol. I get the music and download it.”
Both skaters intend to continue their coaching careers after they finish skating together. “My passion is dance and choreography,” Denis said. “I do all the programs for my teams now. I’ve been teaching figure skating for about four years and dance for about a year.” Patenaude has also done choreography for her students for most of the ten years that she has been coaching. “I always go with what the skaters do best, what suits their style.”
Denis is still taking one or two courses a year in public relations at the university. “It’s something for me that’s very relaxing,” he explained. “There’s normal people doing other things who are not athletes. After I finish skating, I’ll take more classes.”
To relax, Patenaude likes to spend time with her boyfriend, go out to movies with friends and watch television. She enjoys painting and photography. “I like painting a lot,” she said. “I do scenes from publicity posters, flowers, all kinds of things. I even paint Christmas ornaments. I take lots of black and white photos of all sorts of things – people, monuments, flowers”. She also collects clocks, a hobby that her boyfriend started with a Christmas present. As for stuffed toys, she doesn’t have any left from her previous career but said, “I may keep the first one I get now.” Denis said, “I keep the ones with special messages, but the others I give to Josee’s aunt to give to poor kids.”
Denis keeps himself busy off ice with cinema, music, piano, and volunteer work. “To relax, I like to go to the shopping center with my friends,” he said. “I really like to shop for others. I also love to travel. I don’t have any favorite places but I like to see different places and different things. When you’re young, you don’t appreciate it when you go. Once I went to Obertsdorf for two weeks for a seminar and never saw the village. Now I’ve rediscovered Europe and I appreciate it more. I’ve never been to Paris, London or New York City so I’d like to go there.” “I went to Obertsdorf ten years ago and it’s still one of the nicest places to stay,” Patenaude noted. “I want to go to Greece and Venice for sure.”