- Figure Skating
Shibutanis on their skating start and going viral
The ice dancing pair of Maia and Alex Shibutani have years of experience side-by-side, which helps them on the ice and off of it, where they’ve become viral sensations with a behind-the-scenes YouTube series. Here, they talk about the videos, how they got their start dancing and more.
NBC Olympics: How did the two of you first get your start together in ice dancing?
Maia Shibutani: Well, I started skating when I was four and Alex was seven. But we both started off in singles.
Alex Shibutani: We would occasionally have fun and skate together. But the first time that we actually attempted to ice dance together was when we were say eight and 11 or nine and 12.
NBC Olympics: But ice dancing, that seems pretty random. How did that happen?
Maia: We actually went to go watch the World Championships in 2001 [in Vancouver]. That was the first time we'd seen ice dancing. We had gotten to see it live and it was so impressive to both of us, just the speed and--
Alex: And then we also had the opportunity to see the World Championships in Washington, D.C. in 2003. Like Maia said, the speed that the ice dancers had when they took to the ice, we were so impressed with the performance and the quality of skating that when we got home we were thinking, "We have a partner right here. Why don't we try, you know, skating? And if it just improves our skating quality, that's great.” It was a very informal start to our career.
NBC Olympics: So as you really got into it, was there a moment where you thought, “Wow, we’ve really arrived. This is it!”
Alex: I don't know if there was a specific “we've made it” moment. If there was, it was definitely the warm up for our first World Championships in 2011. We had gone to the World Championships with the goal of just skating our best and putting out the best performances we could, really soaking up your first Worlds experience because you're never gonna get that first experience again. And to be in the final warm up group was unprecedented and unexpected …
Maia: We were just laughing.
Alex: We were laughing on warm up, just soaking up the moment. There wasn't a single hint of stress or concern about what we were trying to do.
Maia: We just enjoyed every second.
Alex: After watching the Olympics in 2010 on television and then the following year being in a warm up group with those same teams was probably our “we've made it” moment.
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NBC Olympics: So now you’re in a place where you could make the Olympic team for Sochi. What would that be like for you?
Maia: To make the Olympic team would be a dream come true for us. The Olympics is the biggest world stage together would be truly incredible.
Alex: I'd be so pumped. (Laughs) I've been watching the Olympics since I wanna say, 1994? And following the stories beyond what happens athletically at the games is something that's always so exciting for me. Being able to walk in the opening ceremonies, be a part of Team USA, representing our country is just a dream come true. And it would be amazing for it to happen.
NBC Olympics: You two are a couple of the younger athletes in figure skating for the U.S. What’s that like?
Maia: There's no hazing or anything like that. (Laughs) Everyone's pretty close on the team. Luckily I think Alex and I have both really grown up through this sport and also as we've moved up through levels, you accumulate friends. And you start to get to know everyone. But I think being a teenager at the Olympics is such a special experience.
Alex: You know, Maia in particular is so mature. She’s able to hold a conversation with anyone. And even when we were, you know, 13 and 14 talking to skaters, older skaters, it really wasn’t a problem for us.
NBC Olympics: OK so you have this video series on YouTube known as the ShibSibs. How did that get started?
Alex: I think we started the YouTube channel in the summer of last year, 2012. The first video that we posted was on a trip to Idaho. Our flight had gotten cancelled from Salt Lake to Sun Valley and were were just listening to music and goofing around and being creative. There wasn't a set plan, "Let’s make a You Tube video
Maia: It happened very organically.
Alex: We choreographed something to a silly song that, you know, ended up looking okay. And we just sort of looked at each other and, "This might as well be the first thing that we post to YouTube."
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NBC Olympics: And from there the channel has really seem to grow, especially because your videos have given fans an inside glimpse to what goes on off the ice, right?
Alex: I think being able to share [back stage] with fans is kind of fun. And fans being able to see behind the scenes what goes on, that is also a unique part of what we're doing.
Maia: We all have so much fun making the videos and I think that looking back at these events, we have these videos as almost a type of scrapbook. What we're doing, getting to travel and see each other again in these amazing places, it's so much fun. So being able to have a memory that you can watch is really awesome.
NBC Olympics: You’ve been able to round up some pretty big names in the figure skating world too, and that’s only grown the channel’s popularity, right?
Alex: Yeah. I mean, after the first video I think we got maybe 20,000 views in the first…
Maia: Few days.
Alex: We weren't expecting that. And, you know, I think amongst skaters and probably amongst athletes we were one of the first to start utilizing YouTube as another branch of social media in a way to connect to fans and sort of share the athlete experience.
At first, [fellow skaters] were a little bit cautious, "Why is Alex holding a camera to my face? What is he telling me to do?" There was a language barrier to deal with. It was so unknown. It was new. They didn't know how the video was gonna be edited, what was gonna be edited, how it would turn out. But as people, you know, looked over my shoulder as I was editing on my computer and they were seeing the result and they were laughing and getting excited to see the final product.
And, you know, it's a great way to meet new people. It really breaks the ice when you're with a group of people that you aren’t familiar with. Like Maia said, there's a scrapbook quality to the videos that's sort of nice for us. And it's nice for people to see what goes on behind the scenes.
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