Ice dance

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Ice dance
Minenkov and Moiseeva 1976.jpg
Ice dance in 1976, its first year as an official Olympic sport (Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov)
Highest governing body International Skating Union
Team members Duos
Mixed gender Yes
Equipment Figure skates
Olympic Part of the Winter Olympics from 1976
(demonstration event in 1968)

Ice dance (sometimes referred to as ice dancing[1]) is a discipline of figure skating that draws from ballroom dancing. It joined the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952, and became a Winter Olympic Games medal sport in 1976.

As in pair skating, dancers compete as a couple consisting of a man and a woman. Ice dance differs from pair skating by having different requirements for lifts. Couples must perform spins as a team in a dance hold, and throws and jumps are disallowed. 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, though modern ice dance has lifted this restriction somewhat.

Another distinction between ice dance and other skating disciplines is the use of music in the performances. In ice dance, dancers must always skate to music with a definite beat or rhythm. Singles and pair skaters more often skate to the melody and phrasing of their music, rather than its beat. This is severely penalized in ice dance.

In some non-ISU competitions, solo dancers may also compete.

Competition segments[edit]

Before the 2010–11 figure skating season, there were three segments in ice dance competitions: the Compulsory Dance (CD), the Original Dance (OD), and the Free Dance (FD). In 2010, after many years of pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to restructure competitive ice dance to follow the other figure skating disciplines, the International Skating Union (ISU) voted to change the competition format by eliminating the CD and the OD altogether and adding the new Short Dance (SD) segment to the competition schedule.[2] According to the then-president of the ISU, Ottavio Cinquanta, the changes were also made because "the compulsory dances were not very attractive for spectators and television".[3] The new ice dance competition format, incorporating just two segments (SD and FD), was first included in the 2010–11 season. In 2018, the SD was renamed the rhythm dance (RD); the ice dance competition format now incorporates two segments, the RD and the FD.

Short/rhythm dance[edit]

The SD is the first segment performed in all junior and senior ice dance competitions.[4][5]:p. 218 It combines many of the elements of the CD and the OD, retaining the characteristic set patterns of the CD, a compulsory element in which each dance team must perform the same two patterns of a set "pattern dance", providing "an essential comparison of the dancers' technical skills".[2] The ice dance team is judged on how well the pattern dance is integrated into the entire SD routine.[6] The SD must also include a short, 6-second lift, a set of twizzles, and a step sequence.[2][7]

The rhythms and themes of the SD are determined by the ISU prior to the start of the new season.[2][7][note 1] Designed and choreographed by the competitors (and their coaches), the SD must "reflect the character of the selected dance rhythm(s) or theme(s) and be translated to the ice by demonstrating technical skill with steps and movements along with flow and the use of edges."[4] The music and choreography, provided that they reflect the specified pattern dance, are also developed by the ice dancers. The SD must have a duration of 2 minutes and 50 seconds.[4]

The first SD in international competitions was performed by U.S. junior ice dancers Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, at the 2010 Junior Grand Prix Courchevel.[9] French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hold the highest SD score of 83.73 points, which they achieved at the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships.[10][note 2] In the 2018-19 season, the SD came to be known as the "rhythm dance", but the structure and rules for this competition segment remained essentially the same.[12]

Free dance[edit]

2011 World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform a dance lift during their free dance at 2011 Worlds.

The FD is the second segment performed in all junior and senior ice dance competitions.[5]:p. 247 The 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Rulebook defines it as "the skating by the couple of a creative dance program blending dance steps and movements expressing the character/rhythm(s) of the dance music chosen by the couple".[5]:p. 247[5]:p. 207 The program must "utilize the full ice surface,"[5]:p. 247 and be well-balanced. It must contain required combinations of elements (spins, lifts, steps, and movements), and choreography that express both the characters of the competitors and the music chosen by them. It must also display the skaters' "excellent skating technique"[5]:p. 247 and creativity in expression, concept, and arrangement.[6] The FD's choreography must reflect the music's accents, nuances, and dance character, and the ice dancers must "skate primarily in time to the rhythmic beat of the music and not to the melody alone."[5]:p. 248 For senior ice dancers, the FD must have a duration of 4 minutes; for juniors, 3.5 minutes.[6]

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hold the highest FD score of 123.47 points, which they achieved at the 2018 Winter Olympics.[13]

Discontinued segments[edit]

Compulsory dance[edit]

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski on an outside edge during a compulsory dance.

Before 2010, the CD was the first segment performed in ice dance competitions. The teams took it in turns to skate the same pattern around two circuits of the rink, using the same step sequences and the same standardized tempo, chosen by the ISU before the beginning of each season.[14][15] The CD has been compared with compulsory figures; competitors were "judged for their mastery of fundamental elements".[14]

Many of the first CDs were developed during the 1930s by teams from Great Britain, which dominated ice dance internationally throughout the 1950s, during the period before it became an Olympic sport in 1972.[16] Early in ice dance history, the CD contributed 60% of the total score.[17]

The 2010 World Championships was the last event to include a CD (the Golden Waltz); Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali from Italy were the last ice dance team to perform a CD in competition.[18] In 2010, as part of the decision to re-vamp competition segments, the ISU voted to change the term "compulsory dance" to "pattern dance",[4] and it was preserved as a mandatory element in the SD.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform a Flamenco folk dance for their original dance at the 2010 World Championships.

Original dance[edit]

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali perform an Italian folk dance.

The OD was first added to ice dance competitions in 1967 as a replacement for the second CD. It was called the "original set pattern dance"[19] until 1990, when it became known simply as the "original dance". The OD remained the second competition segment (sandwiched between the CD and the FD) until the end of the 2009–10 season.[17] Ice dancers were able to create their own routines, but they had to use a set rhythm and type of music which, like the compulsory dances, changed every season and was selected by the ISU in advance. The timing and interpretation of the rhythm were considered to be the most important aspects of the routine, and were worth the highest proportion of the OD score. The routine had a two minute time limit and the OD accounted for 30% of the overall competition score.[20][21]

Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir hold the highest OD score of 70.27 points, achieved at the 2010 World Championships.[22]

Competition elements[edit]

Elena Ilinykh / Nikita Katsalapov perform a rotational dance lift.

Ice dance has required elements that ice dancers must perform during a competition and that make up a well-balanced skating program. They include: the Dance Lift, the Dance Spin, the Step Sequence, Twizzles, and Choreographic Elements. They must be performed in specific ways, as described by published communications by the ISU, unless otherwise specified.

The ISU defines Dance lifts as "a movement in which one of the partners is elevated with active and/or passive assistance of the other partner to any permitted height, sustained there and set down on the ice".[23]:p. 123 The ISU allows for variations or combinations of Dance lifts.[23]:p. 125 After the judging system changed from the 6.0 system to the ISU Judging System (IJS), Dance lifts became more "athletic, dramatic and exciting".[24] The ISU defines a Dance spin as "a spin skated by the Couple together in any hold".[23]:p. 123 There are two types of Dance spins: the Spin and the Combination Spin. The ISU defines a Step Sequence as "a series of prescribed or un-prescribed steps, turns and movements".[23]:p. 117 Step Sequences have three divisions: Types, Groups, and Styles.[23]:p. 117 The ISU defines a Twizzle as "a traveling turn on one foot with one or more rotations which is quickly rotated with a continuous (uninterrupted) action".[23]:p. 122 It has also been defined as "a multirotational, one-foot turn that moves across the ice".[25] "The U.S. Figure Skating 2018-2019 Rulebook" defines Choreographic Elements in Ice dance as "a listed or unlisted movement or series of movement(s) as specified".[5]:p. 253 These elements are not scored in the same way as the other elements, but are "confirmed if the minimum requirements defining the element are met".[5]:p. 228


Many of the compulsory dances were developed by dancers from Great Britain in the 1930s.[26] Ice dance joined the World Championships in 1952. 12 of the first 16 World Championships in ice dance were won by British teams. The British style of ice dance originally emphasized upright carriage and strong edges achieved by deep knee bend. Beginning in the 1960s, Eastern European skaters started a trend to dance in more open positions, which allowed for greater speed over the ice, more upper-body involvement, and greater projection towards the audience.[27]

Ice dance, then known as rhythmic skating, was a demonstration event at the 1968 Winter Olympics at Grenoble, won by the team of Diane Towler and Bernard Ford of Great Britain.[28] It became an official medal event eight years later in 1976 at Innsbruck, with the first title won by Lyudmila Pakhomova / Aleksandr Gorshkov.[29]

In the 1970s, top Soviet dancers began to develop a more theatrical style of ice dance incorporating elements of ballet and often based on narrative program themes.[30] The Russian style of dance emphasized extended line and speed, rather than difficult rhythmic footwork.[31] In some cases, elaborate choreography for the upper body was used to camouflage fundamental deficiencies of skating technique.[32]

Torvill and Dean performing in 2011

At the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics, Great Britain's Jayne Torvill / Christopher Dean won the Olympic gold medal with a free dance to Ravel's Bolero.[33] The pair became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time (for a single programme) receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s which included artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge.[33][34]

By the early 1990s, all the top dance teams were performing dances in the theatrical, rather than ballroom, style.[35][36] Deciding to attempt to restrain theatricality, the International Skating Union pushed ice dance to return to its ballroom roots by adding more restrictions on music and dance holds. In June 1993, the ISU decreed that free dance music must have a rhythmic beat and a melody and be arranged and orchestrated for use on the dance floor.[1] 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. Step sequences in face-to-face holds, no-touching step sequences, dance lifts, dance spins, and twizzles became required elements.[37]

In 1990, the original set pattern (OSP) was replaced by the original dance (OD). For many years, competitions included two compulsory dances (CD) but this was reduced to one by 2003.

Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated figure skaters in olympic history.

Skaters from the Four Continents have become more competitive since the 2000s. Tanith Belbin / Ben Agosto took silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics.[38] At the 2010 Winter Olympics, Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir of Canada took gold, ending Europe's 34 year streak.[39] They were the youngest skaters (aged 20 and 22 years of age, respectively) to win the Olympic ice dance title and the first former World Junior champions to do so.

After the 2009–10 season, the ISU reduced the number of competition segments from three to two by merging the compulsory and original dances into the short dance (SD). Compulsory dances were renamed pattern dances.

Since the Winter Olympics typically takes place in February, it is customary for ice dance to be held on Valentine's Day.


Ice dancers' blades are about an inch shorter in the rear than those used by skaters in other disciplines, to accommodate the intricate footwork and close partnering in dance. However, this is not always the case. They also possess a smaller pick to allow for better edge-work. The most common colors for boots are black for men and white for women.

Rules and regulations[edit]

Partnerships composed of skaters of different nationalities are not allowed to compete under two flags; they are required to choose one country and obtain the other country's permission.

Ice dancers are required to skate to music with a definite beat. Prior to the 2014–15 season, ice dance was the only figure skating discipline that allowed music with words in competition.

Skaters are generally free to select their own attire, with a few restrictions. Partners are not required to have matching costumes.[40] In competition, females may wear a dress, typically with matching attached briefs, and since 2004, they may also choose trousers. They may wear opaque flesh-colored leggings or tights under dresses and skirts, which may extend to cover their skates. Men must wear trousers – they are not allowed to wear tights. Skaters and family members may design their own costumes or turn to professional designers.[40][41] According to current ISU regulations, costumes in competition "must be modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic competition – not garish or theatrical in design. Clothing may, however, reflect the character of the music chosen."[42] Although the use of flesh-colored fabric means the costumes are often less revealing than they may appear, there have been repeated attempts to ban clothing that gives the impression of "excessive nudity" or that is otherwise inappropriate for athletic competition.[43] In general, accessories or props are not permitted in competition.[42] The ISU allowed an exception for the original dance in the 2007–08 season but never since.


Recreational ice dancers perform pattern dances (or set pattern dances). The pattern, steps, tempo, and hold are defined, and the style described. The dances are graded in order of difficulty, with the simplest being the Pre-Preliminary Dutch Waltz. In the 1970s there were only two 'introductory' dances, then known as the 'Foxtrot Movement' (now the Preliminary Foxtrot), and the 'Preliminary Waltz' (now known as the British Waltz). About ten new dances were later introduced, most drawing on the steps of the established dances, and these provide a graduated progression towards the established dances.[44]

The ice surface may be used by up to a dozen recreational duos at the same time, unlike competitive ice dance, where it is used by one duo at a time.

Historical results[edit]



  1. ^ The set pattern dance for the 2019–2020 season, for example, will be Quickstep, Blues, March, Polka, or Foxtrot for senior teams.[8]
  2. ^ FD scores prior to the 2010–11 season are published separately by the ISU, due to the competition format change in 2010.[11]


  1. ^ a b Reiter, Susan (1995-03-01). "Ice dancing: a dance form frozen in place by hostile rules". Dance Magazine. The Free Library.  (FindArticles)
  2. ^ a b c d "Partnered Ice Dancing Events". Ice Skating Information & Resources. San Diego Figure Skating Communications. Retrieved 11 July 2018. 
  3. ^ Kany, Klaus-Reinhold (9 July 2011). "The Short Dance Debate". International Figure Skating Magazine (August 2011). Retrieved 13 July 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Communication No. 1621: Ice Dance" (PDF). Lausanne, Switzerland: International Skating Union. 24 June 2010. p. 2. Retrieved 11 July 2018. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The 2019 Official U.S. Figure Skating Rulebook" (PDF). U.S. Figure Skating. June 2018. p. 89. Retrieved 11 July 2018. 
  6. ^ a b c "Dance Format 2011" (PDF). Havířov, Czech Republic: Kraso Club of Havířov. Retrieved 14 July 2018. 
  7. ^ a b Zuckerman, Esther (14 February 2014). "A Quick GIF Guide to Ice Dance". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 13 July 2018. 
  8. ^ "Communication No. 2164 Ice Dance". International Skating Union. 18 May 2018. p. 28. Retrieved 13 July 2018. 
  9. ^ Brown, Mickey (28 August 2010). "Team USA scores four medals at JGP opener". Retrieved 13 July 2018. 
  10. ^ "Progression of Highest Score: Ice Dance Short Dance Score". International Skating Union. Retrieved 14 July 2018. 
  11. ^ "Statistics Personal & Season's Best". International Skating Union. Retrieved 14 July 2018. 
  12. ^ "ISU passes series of technical reforms for figure skating". Yahoo News. Associated Press. 8 June 2018. Retrieved 13 August 2018. 
  13. ^ "Progression of Highest Score: Ice Dance Free Dance Score". International Skating Union. Retrieved 14 July 2018. 
  14. ^ a b "Skate America: Tanith Belbin, Ben Agosto second after compulsory dance". The Seattle TImes. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  15. ^ Dimanno, Rosie (24 March 2010). "Virtue and Moir happy to say ciao to compulsory dance". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  16. ^ Elton, Cheryl. "A Brief History of Ice Dancing" (PDF). Ice p. 2. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  17. ^ a b Hines, p. 12
  18. ^ "ISU Congress News". Ice 20 June 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2018. 
  19. ^ Hines, p. 91
  20. ^ "Skating: Ice dancing". 11 November 2009. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  21. ^ Wehrli-McLaughlin, Susi (2009). "Figure Skating". In Hanlon, Thomas W. The Sports Rules Book (3rd ed.). Champlaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7360-7632-6. 
  22. ^ "Progression of Highest Score, Ice Dance, Original Dance Score". International Skating Union. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f "Special Regulations & Technical Rules Single & Pair Skating and Ice Dance 2016". International Skating Union. June 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2018. 
  24. ^ Brannen, Sarah S. (13 July 2012). "Dangerous drama: Dance lifts becoming 'scary'". Retrieved 8 August 2018. 
  25. ^ Springer, Shira (30 March 2016). "For ice dancers, it's hard to beat a good twizzle". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 9 August 2018. 
  26. ^ James R. Hines (2011). Historical Dictionary of Figure Skating". p. 102. Scarecrow Press
  27. ^ Smith, Beverley. Figure Skating: A Celebration. pp. 185–186. 
  28. ^ "Rapport Officiel Xes Jeux Olympiques D'Hiver 1968 Grenoble" (PDF). Comité d'organisation des Xemes jeux olympiques d'hiver. LA84 Foundation. 1968. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  29. ^ Russell, Susan D. (January 5, 2013). "Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov". IFS Magazine. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. 
  30. ^ Kestnbaum, Ellyn. Culture On Ice. p. 228. 
  31. ^ Kestnbaum, Ellyn. Culture On Ice. p. 246. 
  32. ^ Smith, Beverley. Figure Skating: A Celebration. pp. 192–196. 
  33. ^ a b "1984: Torvill and Dean's perfection". BBC. 15 March 2017. 
  34. ^ "1984: British ice couple score Olympic gold". BBC On the Day, 14 February 1984. 14 February 1984. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  35. ^ Kestnbaum, Ellyn. Culture On Ice, Chapter 11. 
  36. ^ Smith, Beverley. Figure Skating: A Celebration. p. 197. 
  37. ^ Loosemore, Sandra (1999-12-01). "Technique, not judges, keeping Canadian tandem from top". CBS Sportsline. Archived from the original on 2000-10-06. 
  38. ^ "Canada, U.S. make N. America 1-2". ESPN. 2010-02-23. 
  39. ^ "Canada's Virtue-Moir Win Ice Dance Gold". New York Times. Associated Press. February 23, 2010. 
  40. ^ a b Golinsky, Reut (2012-08-18). "Costumes on Ice, Part I: Ice dance". Absolute Skating. 
  41. ^ Brannen, Sarah S. (2012-08-20). "Fashion forward: Designers, skaters on costumes". Icenetwork. 
  42. ^ a b "Special Regulations & Technical Rules: Single & Pair Skating and Ice Dance 2012" (PDF). International Skating Union. June 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2013. 
  43. ^ The 1999 Official USFSA Rulebook. SSR 19.00, U.S. Figure Skating, 1998 
  44. ^ NISA Ice dance manual


  • Hines, James R. (2011). Historical Dictionary of Figure Skating. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6859-5.

External links[edit]