HELSINKI — During her down time in her new home in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Henri, Tessa Virtue will take in a concert or wander through a museum.
When Virtue and ice dance partner Scott Moir returned to competition after a two-year hiatus, they decided to shake things up, moving to Montreal from Canton, Mich., to train with coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
While the two have taken to the city's vibrant arts scene, Virtue said it also transfers over to their performance on the ice.
"That's been a wonderful part of this move. We do live in such a wonderful cultural hub. . . there's art, culture, everywhere, on every corner," Virtue said recently. "Amazing museums. I joined the Young Philanthropists Circle at the Musee Des Beaux Arts, we have little events every month where you learn about a different artist and you see the exhibit and you get an inside an inside look at the technique used. That's just a small example of how I've immersed myself in the arts scene.
"But be it a dance performance or a drop-in class, a concert, it's amazing how that affects your overall energy. And how what you draw from that is applied to skating."
Virtue, a 27-year-old from London, Ont., and Moir, a 29-year-old from nearby Ilderton, Ont., take aim at their third world ice dance title this week in Helsinki. The Canadians who won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and silver four years later in Sochi have been spectacular in their return. They're undefeated, and set world-record scores in both the short dance and the overall points.
Coming off a six-week break between competitions, Moir said they're "probably the most prepared we've been for a world championship arguably in our whole career."
The seeming ease with which they've won every event this season, and the high scores they've posted, they said, has been one of the biggest surprises of their comeback.
"What's really surprised us is how much we've enjoyed it day-to-day," Moir added. "At this point in our career, I thought that we'd come back and we'd enjoy it for a bit and then we'd kind of get down to it. But it hasn't really gone away. We're still enjoying it every day, probably more than we ever have in our career. I think that just translates into a little bit of success."
The new coaching team and home in Montreal, Virtue added, feels "completely fresh and new and invigorating."
They've been working with Jean Francois Menard, who's known for his work in performance psychology, and Moir said that's translated in his approach to practice.
"For me I just realized that it was possible to both work really hard and have a ton of fun doing it," Moir said. "Obviously there are some days that are more fun than others. But at the same time we have grossly outnumbered those days with days where we just go in, work our butts off and just have tons of fun."
Virtue and Moir used to train alongside Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Michigan. Their move to Montreal has them on the ice with defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
"What I love about these two in the last couple of weeks is you can really tell that they are bringing everything they have and they want this world championship so bad," Moir said of the French skaters. "But they take their skates off and they're just the sweetest kids you've ever met. It does help you, it really pushes you. We've watched them a lot in practice. Hopefully they're watching us.
"I think we watch figure skating with a much more positive spin on it now," he added. "I really find myself watching what teams are doing well more than the negatives."
Among the positives for Virtue and Moir is their splendid balance between technical difficulty and beautiful artistry. They skate their short program to a Prince medley, while their long program is a flowing, romantic skate to "Pilgrims on a Long Journey" by French-Canadian artist Coeur de Pirate and an acoustic version of Sam Smith's "Latch."
"I think we're very pleased with the vehicle that our choreographers have made for us," Moir said. "But I think that as an artist and an athlete, you're always striving for more. That's something that we're really working with now, the finishing touches, making sure that we're not being too technical and we're still able to have a moment.
"I think Tessa and I are the type of people who won't be pleased until we look back in eight or nine years watching video."
Virtue and Moir's stiffest competition will come from their French training partners, plus Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani. Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier could also finish within striking distance of a medal.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press