I'm confused by ice dancing. I love watching it and especially love the costumes, but have no idea how it's judged and what I should be looking for. Along comes ice-dance.com to the rescue! Not familiar with the site? It's my "go to" site for anything and everything ice dance. In addition to hosting the official websites of many of the ice dance teams out there, the site offers in-depth coverage and analysis of the major ice dance competitions (including great photography), has a partner search page, a discussion board, a section for ISU announcements, and so much more. So when I had my myriad of questions regarding ice dancing, I turned to Daphne Backman, Editor-in-Chief, and Melanie Hoyt, Writer and Editor, of ice-dance.com for enlightenment.
Question: Ice dance used to have three parts -- the compulsory, original and free dance. Now starting this season there are only two -- the short dance and the free dance. Why did the ISU change the rule?
ice-dance.com: Simply put, the ISU changed the format of the ice dancing competition to a two-dance format because they were under pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to shorten their schedule by the next Winter Olympic Games. Some dancers and coaches have supported the change but probably would not have brought up the proposal on their own to change the competition structure without the prompt from the IOC.
The new Short Dance:
The ISU has attempted to blend the old compulsory dance with the old original dance, and this hybrid should last 2:50 +/- 10 seconds. Each year, a different compulsory (now called "pattern") dance will be prescribed. The team must select music within the beat range for that dance and then incorporate either one or two sequences (determined by ISU, depends on the dance) of the pattern dance into their short dance choreography. (We've heard some interesting music editing this season where a song has been significantly sped up to meet the required beat range -- like somewhere between Billy Joel and Alvin & the Chipmunks.) In addition, required elements also include a lift, a twizzle sequence, and a non-touching midline step sequence. This year, juniors have been given the Viennese Waltz (two sequences), and seniors are doing the Golden Waltz (one sequence, since it's a more complex pattern and takes more time to complete). Teams can choose to perform a program that is all done in the waltz rhythm, or they can pair the waltz segment with a companion rhythm, like foxtrot, quickstep, or tango.
Each pattern dance has been analyzed for its toughest steps, identified as key "bullet points" by the ISU. Each sequence, as it appears on the protocol, has 4 bullet points, each worth one level. The team must do each bullet point exactly how it has been prescribed, sometimes even down to the angles the extended legs create against the ice, in order to earn a level for that bullet point. So if a junior team does two of the bullet points correctly on the first pattern of their Viennese Waltz, they'll get a level 2 for that segment. If they miss all four bullet points, they get no credit for that pattern of the dance, and it's a very costly mistake. This, like levels on other elements, is determined by the Technical Specialist and Assistant Technical Specialist. Judges will assign a Grade of Execution (GoE), as they do on other elements, based on how the sequence looked as a whole.
In addition to these five required elements (two "CD"/pattern dance sections, one set of twizzles, one midline step sequence, and one lift), teams may opt to perform a second short lift that will be counted toward the choreography score. On the protocols, you may see a sixth element called "Li+TRANS" with 0.00 base value and no GoE given. Li+TRANS may be performed at any point during the short dance as long as it comes after the required (scored) lift.
The pattern dance section of the short dance is worth up to 14 base points (if both sections receive level 4) and would receive an additional 3 points if both level 4 sections received +3 GoE. The first section/sequence is worth less than the second (6 base points max for a level 4 first section vs. 8 base points for the second). For seniors, they may choose to start their Golden Waltz at the halfway point (step #23) rather than the beginning. What matters is that they complete a full pattern uninterrupted.
In juniors, it looks like the benchmark for a great short dance is 50+ points. In seniors, it's hard to say, since we've only completed two of the Grand Prix events. But from the NHK Trophy and Skate Canada, it looks like a great short dance will score in the 60s: Meryl Davis and Charlie White scored 66.97 at NHK and Sinead and John Kerr scored 62.96 at Skate Canada. (photo above by Melanie Hoyt for ice-dance.com, Sinead and John Kerr at 2010 Skate Canada)
In seniors, required elements include 4 lifts (or 3, if one is a combination lift), 2 step sequences, a spin, and a twizzle sequence. Juniors only have 3 required lifts, since their program is 30 seconds shorter. Teams can choose to perform additional, unscored lifts or spins after their requirements are completed in their dances. These contribute to choreography marks, not to the technical elements score.
Overall, very few changes have been made to the free dance this year—teams have enough of a learning curve on the short dance! Touching the ice with your hand and lying, kneeling, or sliding on your knees on the ice have been outlawed, though.
In terms of weight given to each program, it's hard to say right now. Tiny mistakes can mean a big point loss in pattern dance levels in the short dance, so it's perhaps a bit more common than it used to be to have a low-scoring short dance and a high-scoring free dance.
Coming up next...Daphne and Melanie explain the top three things to look for in the short dance and free dance!