Demougeot and Le Mercier Thrive on Their Differences

The young French team set new personal bests at Europeans

Loïcia Demougeot and Theo Le Mercier relax before Europeans

I spoke with Loïcia Demougeot and Théo Le Mercier at the start of the European Championships, two days before their ice dance event began.

Théo would have preferred less time between their arrival in Kaunas and the start of the competition.

“When you wait too much, the stress accumulates and sometimes it’s not good for us…I like to do other things and not think about the competition. It’s important to think about it when we skate when we practice, and when we do the warmup. But when you’re in the room, if you do nothing, your mind will [get stuck] on this. We try to read, watch movies or series, or play video games, for me.”

Loïcia always brings her knitting with her. “Sometimes I don’t have that much time to do it. But I like to do something to switch off my brain, like go for a walk. Here it’s cold so not a long walk, but a short walk is okay!”

Their third senior season has been successful, as they placed fifth in both their Grand Prix events and won the silver at French Nationals for the second year in a row.  They are happy with these results because they started the season with injuries that impacted their preparation, and forced them to withdraw midway through the French Masters competition.

A highlight of 2023 was the extended time that they spent in Asia between the Cup of China and the NHK Trophy in Japan.

“It was a really good experience,” said Théo. “Even if, in the end, it was a bit long to be far from home, we have only good memories because they were good competitions and we met so many people.”

Between the events, Loïcia and Théo went to Beijing and trained in the Olympic center with a group of junior and senior Chinese teams. Loïcia noted that they weren’t sure if they would be alone or with other teams during that time. “I think it helped us to be with other teams, and we have such great memories.”

From Rasputin to Apache

Loïcia and Théo pose after a personal best rhythm dance

Loïcia and Théo are taking a hip-hop and R&B approach to the ’80s, with a rhythm dance to ‘Apache’ by the Sugarhill Gang, and ‘Why Can’t We Live Together” performed by Sade. However, this wasn’t their first idea. 

“At the beginning, we wanted to skate to ‘Rasputin’,” said Théo. “It was the first idea, we found the music really funny, it’s good music. [But] we learned that music was created in ‘79. We couldn’t risk losing points all year, and doing all this work for nothing.” 

They worked with their coach, Karine Arribert, to find a new idea. The first piece they chose was ‘Apache’. We were sure about it, and after, we had to find the other music [to go with it].” Next, they added the song by Sade. “It’s not the same kind of music but we liked the way it was going between…it has been building step by step during the season.” 

The hip-hop style is a little bit familiar, since during the 2021-2022 season, they skated to a remix of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, performed by Eminem, DMX, Ludacris & The Notorious B.I.G. Loïcia noted the similarity but added, “it was just the beginning of [exploring] the style, and now we’ve tried to go more and more in that direction.” She feels like the style fits them well, and it’s music they enjoy.

The team also worked off-ice with dancers and choreographers with hip-hop expertise, Théo noted. “Firstly we worked with Valentin Beaufils, who is the choreographer of Angèle – she is a well-known singer in France and Belgium, and he’s the choreographer of this star. He came to Villard to work with us. It was so good and we hope we can work with him in the future. But even the one time, it was really good. We also worked with Alexis Bergeon and Tiphanie Barroncas, who are dancers. And we try to work with a lot of people to be the best we can.”

Embracing the Challenge of Slow and Classical

The fast style may be a comfortable fit for Loïcia and Théo, but it’s the more classical Free Dance to ‘Clair de lune’ that has particularly been winning the approval of the judges. 

Loicia and Theo compete in their Free Dance in Kaunas (Photo Joosep Martinson/ International Skating Union)

“The idea of the free came a bit from the judges because some wanted to see more like last year’s second music [Gnossienne no. 3 by Erik Satie]. It was really slow. We said we’d think about it and [thought] that could be a great idea to work on the style that we aren’t really good at. So we worked with Benoit Richaud again.”

Although Clair de lune is frequently used in skating, Théo noted that it has been used more in singles than in ice dance. “That’s why it was the idea – – it’s classical but not so much used in ice dance. The second music [‘Waves’ by Chilly Gonzales] was to keep our style. We cannot keep going for four minutes in a classical piece. I think it is not good for us. Some couples, it is good for them, not for us!”

They are particularly proud of the double lift in the middle of the free skate. “I like to do it in competition,” said Théo “I don’t like to do lifts usually every day, but in competition, when you can hear people clapping when we do it, it is always pushing us.”

The combination stationary and rotational lift was the highest scoring element for them, earning +5 GOE from two judges at Europeans.

Loïcia agreed that the element is a strength for them. “I think this part can be a favorite to watch – not to do it, but to see it! I like the beginning of the free dance, it is really calm and something special when we do it every time. I think, for me, that can be my favorite part to do. Though maybe not to watch, so I don’t know!”

Like many teams, they were challenged by the new choreographic rhythm sequence, with the requirement to include steps from the silver samba pattern.

“At the beginning, I was not a really big fan,” said Théo, “because when they presented this, it was like you need to do the samba, but you need to change it, but also with the 80s music. We were like, ‘whoa, whoa, what is happening!’ But in the end, I think by working on it, it’s cool to do it. At the beginning, I see nobody was really happy to do it, but it’s not that bad.” 

He added that he doesn’t think too much about how the rules should be. “I will let the professionals figure it out! But it’s a good thing that the ISU is trying something new. Not every time will be a great idea.” 

Surpassing goals at Europeans

Loïcia Demougeot and Théo le Mercier of France compete in the Rhythm Dance at Europeans (Photo Joosep Martinson/International Skating Union)

At Europeans, Loïcia and Théo improved their personal bests in both programs and set a new combined total personal best by nearly 4 points in Kaunas – and more than 12 points higher than their 2023 Europeans score. 

The French federation sets goal placements for skaters at major competitions, and Loïcia and Théo were told to aim for 9th.

Before the competition, Théo said “We will be happy if we do two good performances. It’s hard to think that we will be on the podium, or even top five is really complicated. We want to skate well and see where we will place skating with such great competitors. I think the place isn’t so important – though of course, we don’t want to finish last, or lower than 9th.” 

“In ice dance, you need experience. Usually, the best couple are a bit older. Sometimes not – we could see this with Papadakis/Cizeron, who were World Champions really young. But that’s really special. It’s not for everyone. It’s not frustrating, because it’s always good to compete against those guys that we were watching when we were little on TV. But I think there is also maybe a time to stop and let the young generation do something!”

Three days later, Loïcia and Théo surpassed their goal, placing 5th and beating several teams expected to place above them. In the mixed zone, Théo commented, “We were happy with how we skated and were hoping, but it’s unbelievable, we don’t realize it yet!”

What makes their partnership work so well? 

Alongside their ice dance career, Loïcia and Théo compete in Ballet sur Glace/Ice Theatre as part of the Villard de Lans team. 

“It takes time to do both,” said Loïcia. “I think it’s a good idea, to improve the artistic style, explore some music you are not used to skating in ice dance. For us, it works pretty well, because with ballet we discovered Carmen in our junior years, and it worked really well for us [as their 19/20 Free Dance]. But now [ice dance] takes a bit more time for us, so we are doing only the last part of the [ballet] season. It’s always good to share the ice with other people, with our teammates.”

Although they are just 22 and 24, Loïcia and Théo have been skating together for nine years. What has made their partnership so successful?

“What I like the most is that we are really different,” reflected Loïcia. “He pushed me to try some things I am not used to doing and I think I am doing the same thing for him.  I think it’s like two pieces of a puzzle, we match well. The main thing I like is our difference, we have different ways to work, different ways to think…”

“Sometimes you don’t like!” Théo interjected, laughing.

“She’s really strict with herself, and with me. It’s important because…if I’m the car, she’s the driver. She always wants to drive straight, but sometimes the car wants to go faster or drift more. We are 100 percent so different, I think we need each other and what we bring to each other. I think she brings the qualities I don’t have and I bring the qualities she doesn’t have.”

“Of course sometimes, the fact that we are so different, means we are fighting each other, even at competitions sometimes! But in the end, it’s only love. We really like each other. I couldn’t skate with another person, and I think I couldn’t arrive at who I am without her. And I think the same for her.”

Following Europeans, Loïcia and Théo won the Challenge Cup in Tillberg, Netherlands. They will head to their second World Championships hoping to surpass last year’s 14th place. Regardless of the placement in Montreal, though, they have set themselves up as one of the most exciting rising teams in the sport.

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