With a new season on the horizon, U.S. figure skating champion Kimmie Meissner is channeling her inner Michelle Kwan.
Her short program music, "The Feeling Begins," is what Kwan used on her way to national and world titles. The footwork, spins and spirals that interpret the music are the work of Lori Nichol, who choreographed Kwan's moves for six years. And Meissner spent two weeks in July under the tutelage of Frank Carroll, perhaps the most famous U.S. coach and Kwan's mentor for a number of years.
For Meissner, 17, who won the Michelle Kwan Trophy last year as Skating magazine's Skater of the Year, the comparisons are expected. But she's quick to note that she's not morphing into Kwan, her idol and the country's most decorated figure skater.
"When Michelle skated to it, I remember being in awe of it. But I can't think about who's done it in the past," she said between recent practice sessions at the University of Delaware rink. "Now I view it as, 'OK, this program is my program now. I'm going to make it mine.' "
Meissner also is putting her personal stamp on another part of figure skating. Tomorrow, she'll headline her first ice show, Kimmie's Angels on Ice, a fundraiser for the Belanger-Federico Foundation and her Cool Kids Campaign, which helps children being treated for cancer.
For the Bel Air teen, the show at 1st Mariner Arena is a chance to be the boss, choosing the opening number ("Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves) and closing routine (Rascal Flatts' "My Wish"), and using some of the lessons she learned skating on the Champions on Ice and Stars on Ice tours.
Meissner said she put together a wish list of participants, and to her surprise, they all said yes, including the reigning U.S. champions: Evan Lysacek, ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, and the pairs team of Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski.
Also on the program are three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir, former world champion Yuka Sato, Canadian champion Joannie Rochette, eight-time British champion Steven Cousins, former U.S. champion Michael Weiss and Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle.
"Some who wanted to do it, we couldn't fit in," said Sharon Perfetti, Belanger-Federico spokeswoman. "I think it shows how much they like and respect Kimmie."
Perfetti said she has gotten ticket requests from a Japanese fan and Meissner admirers in Georgia.
Lea Ann Miller, a pairs skater at the 1984 Olympics and a TV skating commentator, is choreographing the show. The lighting is being done by David Finley Associates, the New York-based production company that has worked with everyone from Michael Buble to Mikhail Baryshnikov.
About 120 young cancer patients and their families will watch the show for free and attend a party with cast members.
"This is for them," Meissner said. "It's their day."
After the show, the skater will resume preparation for her third full season on the senior international circuit.
Two seasons ago, Meissner chose an Egyptian theme for her long program that was good for sixth place at her first Olympics and a world title. Last season, she went with a Spanish flamenco program that was part of her gold-medal performance at nationals.
This time, Meissner called on Canadian choreographer David Wilson, who has designed routines for 2007 world bronze medalist Yu Na Kim and Americans Alissa Czisny and Sasha Cohen.
"I've always liked my programs best, but last season I looked at what other skaters were doing and saw stuff I liked," Meissner said. "I'm looking for more flow across the ice, and he seemed like a good choice.
"David was fun to work with," she said. "He had a vision of what he wanted, but he took the time to figure out my style and my personality. He didn't rush into throwing a program together. We tried different things, and he said, 'I think this could be you.'"
Wilson suggested "Ever After," a song from the 1998 movie of the same name that starred Drew Barrymore as a real-life Cinderella.
"I used to love the movie when I was little, but I never considered the music," Meissner said. "When David played it, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, why didn't I ever think of that?' "
Coupled with Peter Gabriel's "The Feeling Begins" from The Last Temptation of Christ, Meissner thinks she can demonstrate a new maturity in her two programs.
"I'm not sure I could have skated to those two songs last year. I like to do things when I'm prepared, and I don't think I was ready for it, especially 'The Feeling Begins,' " Meissner said. "I idolize Michelle so much and I still do. But everything has changed, and my program is completely different than hers."
For example, she noted, Kwan's routine was choreographed by Nicholai Morozov, not Nichol. And Kwan performed the routine for two seasons under the old 6.0 scoring system, which required a different artistic and athletic approach.
Working with Carroll, Kwan's old coach, is just another example of Meissner looking for a competitive edge.
"Pam [Gregory] is still my coach. I just wanted another set of eyes, another opinion, a different dynamic. I'm looking for new ways to improve," Meissner said.
She's working on triple flip-triple loop combinations, a step up in complexity from last season.
Even with all the changes, Meissner's new season will mirror the last one in one respect. She'll begin the Grand Prix circuit in October at Skate America, in Reading, Pa. After a short lull, she'll go to Paris for the Trophee Eric Bompard competition.