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Dancing on ice skates
Ice dancing is a form of figure skating which draws from the world of ballroom dancing. It was first competed at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952, but did not become a Winter Olympic Games medal sport until 1976. As in pair skating, dancers compete as a couple consisting of a man and a woman. Ice dance differs from pair skating by severely limiting lifts, requiring spins to be performed as a team in a dance hold, and by disallowing throws and jumps. Typically, partners are not supposed to separate by more than two arm lengths; originally, partners were supposed to be in a dance hold the entire program. This restriction has been lifted somewhat in modern ice dancing.
Another distinction between ice dance and other disciplines of skating is that dancers must always skate to music that has a definite beat or rhythm. Singles and pair skaters more often skate to the melody and phrasing of their music, rather than its beat, but this is severely penalized in ice dance.
There are three main components in an ice dance competition. The compulsory dances ("CD"), worth 10% of the total score; the original dance ("OD"), worth 40% of the overall score; and the free dance ("FD") which is worth 50% of the total score and used as a tiebreaker.
Compulsory dances, with fixed patterns and steps, draw most strongly from the ballroom tradition. These dances are divided into skill-levels such as pre-gold, gold, and international. Each compulsory dance is skated to standard music that is played at a specific tempo for each dance. Strong unison and technical ability is important for compulsories. These dances are rarely televised in the United States because, although technically challenging, they often contain few elements the average viewer would find entertaining. The dances are skated in standard dance holds such as Kilian position in which both partners skate side by side; waltz position in which the skaters skate facing each other, and foxtrot position where the skaters skate side-by-side but are slightly angled towards each other with their upper bodies. Examples of compulsory dances include the Rhumba, Yankee Polka, Golden Waltz, and the recently introduced, Midnight Blues.
For the original dance, the International Skating Union designates a rhythm or set of rhythms each year that all dancers must perform to, but unlike the compulsory dances, the competitors choose their own music (within a specified tempo range) and choreography. The original dance could be compared to the short-program in freestyle. The length of the program is shorter than the free dance, and the skaters have more rules they must adhere to. The dance must be chorographed so that the steps do not cross the midline of the rink. There are certain exceptions for this rule that take into account required step sequences such as the diagonal footwork sequence. Closed partnering positions and close skating is also important for the original dance.
In the free dance, teams are free to choose their own rhythms, program themes, and therefore music. Creativity is also strongly encouraged. Since 1998, dancers have been required to include certain elements in their free dances, including step sequences, lifts, dance spins, and multi-rotation turns called "twizzles". Senior level free dances are four minutes long and usually but not always contain a slow section that helps bring variety to the routine and allows the dancers to catch their breath. The hand holds and positions are much more open and free than in the compulsory and original dance categories. Often teams strive to skate in difficult or unusual positions to gain difficulty points. There are more lifts in the free dance than in the original dance. These lifts differ from pair skating because the man may not extend his hands above his head and acrobatic lifts are generally frowned upon. The more change of direction, flexibility, and height in the lift increases the amount of points a team can earn from the judges under the new code of points scale.
Ice dance history
Ice dance has a strong tradition in the United Kingdom. Many of the compulsory dances which are still competed today were developed by British dancers in the 1930's, and 12 of the first 16 World Championships in ice dance were won by British couples. The British team of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean famously won the Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo in 1984 with a dramatic free skate to Ravel's "Bolero" which earned unanimous 6.0s for presentation.
Beginning in the 1970's, dance began to be dominated more by teams from the Soviet Union and Russia. The Russian style of ice dance typically emphasizes speed and power at the expense of precision. For example, in the compulsory dances, the skaters have been known to make slight alterations in the pattern and timing of the steps that are not strictly correct according to the rulebook, but which make the dance flow better or have more speed over the ice, and hence appear more impressive. Russian ice dancers are also known for theatrical and sometimes bizarre costuming and expression in their dances.
In the 1990's, the International Skating Union began to try to restrain the excessive theatricality in ice dancing, first by attempting to return it to its ballroom roots by adding more restrictions on music and dance holds. Later, amid complaints that ice dance had become too boring, these restrictions were removed and replaced with requirements that dancers include specified technical elements in the original dance and free dance. The effect is that there is now more emphasis on technique and athleticism in the judging, and less on dramatics. While the requirement that dancers skate to music with a definite beat remains, ice dancing is currently the only discipline of figure skating which allows vocal music with lyrics in competition.
Today, ice dance remains more popular in Europe than in North America, where it has the reputation among many skating fans of being plagued by judging that is at least incomprehensible and at most completely corrupt. The Code of Points system that recently replaced the old 6.0 scoring system is alleged by some to eliminate much of the corruption that has plagued the sport in the past, as judges now must score based upon more specific guidelines and categories, while others believe that the anonymity of the system simply further encourages judges to manipulate the results and that the restrictiveness of the new rules have additionally reduced creativity in dance.
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