This Week in Loving
Let others snicker: I ♥ ice dancing
UPDATE: Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold medal Monday night. U.S. duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the silver and Russia dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin took the bronze.
I love ice dancing, maybe it's because it's as far away from my modern dance roots as possible, or because it's just thrill a minute to watch. Ice dancing is just like ballroom, except the floor is slippery and instead of spike heels they wear steel blades. The moves, when performed well, are divine and remind me that dance can happen on any surface. Let the pas de ice begin!
Ice dancing, which became an official Olympic sport in 1976, was dominated by Europeans until just recently. Early on, Russians Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov ruled the ice until the British team of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean pushed the sport to new heights of artistry. The stellar team won four consecutive national championships and the 1984 Gold Medal.
Costumes range from understated elegant to Vegas-meets-Animal Planet and largely follows the lead of figure skating couture. There's lots of flesh-colored mesh too, making the costumes seem a bit more skanky than they really are. The sport has weathered a wardrobe malfunction or two as well. But the moves seem way more intricate to me than in traditional figure skating. Ice dancers stay closer to the ice, so there's less of that throwing the woman about, and consequently fewer tragic falls. Ice dancers don't bother with anything called a salchow, triple lutz, or those vertigo-inducing spins. Partnering is inventive, tangled and more about cool choreography and unbridled creativity.
This year two U.S. teams could own the medal platform. Expect serious competition from Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the reigning world champions. The Russian contenders got in a politically incorrect snafu at the European Championships with their recent questionable tribute to Aborigines.
Even so, there's less drama in the sport of ice dancing than figure skating. Not a single ice dancer has attacked another (as in the Tonya Harding- Nancy Kerrigan imbroglio in 1994), nor is there a case of shifty judging as in the brouhaha involving the Canadian team of Jamie Sale and David Pellier, who ended up sharing gold with the Russian team in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Meet the U.S. Olympic ice dancing team:
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto train out of Iceworks Skating Complex in Ashton, Penn., and are coached by Russian legends Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karporosov. Her favorite animal is a tiger, his is a wolf, so expect some animal prints in their ice duds. I would keep a good eye on this team, having silvered in 2006, winning the first American ice dancing Olympic medal in 30 years.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White just won the U.S. Championship, upsetting Tanith and Ben. The upstart team trains out of Arctic Edge Ice Arena, and are coached by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva. She's more of a horses and dogs girl and he claims to love all animals. Both attend the University of Michigan. He's got great hair.
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, are 2009 US National Silver Medalists, 2009 Four Continents Bronze Medalists, and 2008 World Junior Champions. They train out of Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club, and are coached by Yaroslava Netcheva and Louri Tschesnitchenko. They are poodle people and also attend the University of Michigan.
I mention their animal choices because they do. I have no idea what it has to do with ice dancing.
What to look for:
Ice dancers compete in compulsory dances where they are required to use a set pattern of steps and patterns, like foxtrot, waltz and tango, an original dance where they have to move to a given dance rhythm, and the final free dance, where they get to bust loose and show some wildly original choreography. Creativity is encouraged here. Don't miss the free dance tonight on Channel 2.
Snazzy twizzles: A twizzle is a multi-rotational step that travels across the ice, often performed in one direction then another. Ice dancers ae only as good as their twizzles.
Musicality: Ice dancers have more freedom in selecting music than traditional pair skaters, who can only use instrumental music.
Partner chemistry: Expect some spectacular dance lifts, but not above the head (that's pair skating), and several types of hand holds. The two should move as one when they are together.
Outrageous creativity: Ice dancing is about pushing the form of what can be done on ice in a pair of skates. Look for how these artists incorporate the actual ice into their routines. Those who try to do traditional complicated steps on ice end up looking silly. Look for beauty, a splash of daredevil and most of all, excellent dancing.
Before you tune into the free competition tonight, I suggest watching Torvill and Dean's flawless and now historic Bolero that captured gold in 1984. Ice dancers today have more ballet training, more intricate moves, and racier costumes, yet none have approached the elegance of this iconic Brit team. Torvill and Dean ride Ravel's wave of momentum with breathtaking musicality. There's hardly a complicated move in their seamless routine, just two dancers breathing together, effortless flowing in exquisite synchrony on a frozen lake.
See Torvill and Dean's historic Bolero:
This original dance from Davis & White, in second place going into tonight's finals, has gotten nearly 250,000 hits YouTube:
The Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are in the lead going into tonight's finals: