|Maia and Alex Shibutani compete in the free dance during the
2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at
CenturyLink Center on Jan. 26, 2013 in Omaha, Neb.
If you were to pose the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” many people would answer “Olympic athlete.” But for ice dance partners, 18-year-old Maia and 21-year-old Alex Shibutani—who are on their way to realizing that dream—they have a different answer. “After the skating career is over, which hopefully won’t be for a while, we’re looking forward to continuing whatever is going to make us the most happy,” Alex said.
Right now what’s making them both happy is making YouTube videos. The brother and sister team—who have perfected the craft of working together on the ice—have a great relationship off the ice as well. One result of their close relationship is the YouTube channel the “Shib Sibs” started together, named after their famous moniker.
“When we were younger,” Maia said, “we used to blog a lot for the Ice Network, so last summer we decided we wanted to start a YouTube channel and focus a bit more of our energy on that. So that’s really where it started.”
Alex remembers how their “first impromptu video” came about. Last July on their way to Sun Valley, Idaho, for “Sun Valley On Ice,” the pair was told their flight to the ice show had been canceled. So what do you do when you have five hours in a car and you’re bored? The siblings—and fellow figure skater Adam Rippon—“came up with some impromptu dance choreography in our seats—with our seatbelts on, of course—and lip-synched to the popular song, “Friday” by Rebecca Black. And the rest of the videos have gone from there,” he said.
So far the duo have a total of six videos on their channel, featuring everyone from gymnasts Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber to Japanese figure skater Mao Asada and Canadian figure skater Jeffrey Buttle in the video Alex calls their most “notable”—a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” The video got “a great response,” said Alex and has been viewed almost 285,000 times. All of their videos—which Maia classifies as “a team project for Alex and myself”—have been the same formula. Alex explains it as: “We’ve taken a popular song, something that’s been viral, and added any amount of lip-synching and dancing.” If you were one of the 3.5 million people who saw USA Swimming’s rendition, this might sound familiar.
Alex said “we’d seen the U.S. Olympic swim team’s version when we were on tour in Japan, and they did a great job of driving a lot of attention to the London Games. We were inspired by their video because I think people really enjoy seeing athletes just having fun and being themselves. People normally see swimmers swimming races. So to get a glimpse of who the person is behind the goggles, or when they don’t have their skates on is a different perspective I think people enjoy.”
And despite “the two being very typical brothers and sisters,” Alex said, “We enjoy doing things together. Yes, we have our quarrels, but Maia is going to be my sister for the rest of my life—not just my skating partner. So I’ve got to remember that when were disagreeing or arguing.”
Alex and his sister/skating partner—who are fresh off last month’s World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont., where the pair placed eighth—are about to enjoy some much deserved free time. Because of it, Alex said, “People can look forward to us posting a new video.”
Then it’s back to skating business, says Maia. “We’re very excited about Sochi. The Olympics has always been a dream of ours and the fact that we’re less than a year away is inspiring. We’re just going to take it step-by-step, but we’re really looking forward to the next few months.”
Later this month, on the 14th, NBC is going to re-air the Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular, which Alex and Maia took part in and actually helped with promotion for the event when they were asked to put together a video featuring the show’s cast. “It was really fun to be able to come up with something with our skating friends as well as the gymnasts that we had just met,” Alex said. “I think the video was a really neat way for everyone to bond over the course of the week. And then being able to look back—it was kind of like a movie scrapbook.” Maia adds, “the video made us realize that even if you’re in a different sport, you really have so much in common—whether it’s training, traveling, sacrifices.” And the bonus of the whole thing was that “some clips from our video were included in the broadcast,” Maia said. “So that was really cool.”
Going forward, Alex said the two University of Michigan students who “are both interested in the business side of things, as well as the social media and video aspect” are “looking to expand what we’ve done so far with our videos—maybe venture out of the exclusive realm of just songs and lip-synching. It’s been a really great start for us and we’re excited to continue to share our experience as we continue our careers.”