25ºF

Brother-sister ice dancing duo competing in world championships

'Shib Sibs' say being siblings helps them stand out from competition


CANTON, Mich. – Maia and Alex Shibutani are hoping to find themselves on the podium again when they complete in the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston later this month.

The Shibutanis won a gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.  It was their first national win.

The brother-sister duo, who is often referred to as the "Shib Sibs," train at Arctic Edge of Canton. The two began ice dancing together in 2004.

"As a sibling team, it's allowed us to be really unique with our program choice," Maia Shibutani said. "Our choices have changed over the years because we've been trying to show good variety in what we can perform but now as we're coming into our own it allows us to stand out."

The Shibutanis say there are not many sibling ice dance team, especially at the top level.

"I think in previous years, previous generations, sibling teams were kind of discouraged whether it be by results or just the perception that, 'Oh you can't do what the other teams are doing.' And I feel like, you know, the day in age that we live in, there are so many ways to express yourself and there are so many ways to interpret and minds are so much more open, why can't there be you know a great sibling team and why can't there be a team you know that skates to different music?" Alex Shibutani said.

For their free dance this year, the Shib Sibs chose the song Fix You by Coldplay.  Maia Shibutani said this free dance is the most personal they have ever been with a performance.

"I think what's so special about Fix You is that every audience member can connect with the song in their own special way," Maia Shibutani said.

Fix You tells a story of ups and downs and the lyrics spoke to Maia and Alex. They say the song is about their journey so far. They chose it for this competitive year in December 2014. 

"The beginning of the song starts in a dark place, you know, the lyrics are, 'When you try your best, but you don't succeed. When you get what you want, but not what you need,' and those were the lyrics that initially hit us the hardest because we're at a point in our career where those words really rang true for us as far as we weren't accomplishing what we thought that we were capable of accomplishing yet," said Alex Shibutani. "And so those were kind of inspiration words that kind of pushed us forward in the beginning of the season but the song really takes a very optimistic upswing from the half way point and there is a fight, there is an energy, there is a courage that kind of builds in the song and we want to show the build in our skating and in our movement."

Telling a story with their skating, Maia, 21, and Alex, 24, said their program shows the song's sadness and misfortune then its success and triumph.  It was a standing ovation when they performed at US Nationals in St. Paul, Minn.

The Shibutanis have competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Their gold-medal win at nationals this year follows the three silver and two bronze medals they have for previous national competitions. They also earned a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships.

Both Maia and Alex said they are getting better with age.  They are focused on competing at the Olympic level again during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

"We have so much trust this has really been quite the journey. Not every day is going to be easy, but we know that we have the same goal. While we might not always agree, we're both going to work so hard going into the next Olympics," Maia Shibutani said.

The brother-sister duo work hard and play hard too. The two see themselves as storytellers both on and office the ice. They often document their travels with figure skating with vlogs or video blogs.  

"We like telling stories and so whether it's our own stories or coming up with funny sketches," Alex Shibutani said.

"We have a huge focus on social media. What's been exciting for us is that as we continue to grow as a team we've gathered more fans and we can share our experiences that are really unique," said Maia Shibutani.

"I think what keeps us connected to figure skating even though you know making videos and Instagram and social media are seemingly different it is still telling a story and on the ice we are trying to tell a story share something and the people that have followed us over the years  really appreciate that and I think it helps grow the sport," Alex Shibutani said.

The Shib Sibs enjoy making the videos, connecting with fans and interested others in the sport of ice dancing.

"The world is changing as far as how people are able to connect to each other and reach out and viral moments and things like that, I think that you know it's really a new age and so if we can try and figure out a way to draw you know younger eyes to the sport new people that's our goal

If you would like to check out the Shib Sibs, visit their channel on YouTube.