Dawn of the Midnight Blues

by Alexandra Stevenson

The top 13 ice dance couples in the United States, swirling through the intricacies of the sportís newest compulsory, the Midnight Blues, scheduled on Tuesday, donít give a hoot about the protracted journey this exercise has taken in its struggle to gain a place in the spotlight.

They are concerned about marks and how much time they have had to spend mastering the basics of its 26 steps. Like most sports people, they accept whatever officials throw at them because they have to if they want to gain gold medals.

Most long-time competitors voice support for compulsories. At least, all three current Olympic medalists did in Salt Lake. They said, among other things, that without compulsories the sport would deteriorate into a choreography contest.

Administrators would love to see compulsories vanish, as school figures did after the 1990 season. They are costly to stage and have no revenue creating possibilities because spectators, and therefore television rights buyers, show little interest.

They have almost got their wish, having reduced this section to the minimum of one at both junior and senior international events.

Desperately trying to resuscitate this dying division, the International Skating Unionís Ice Dance Technical Committee has expended a lot of effort and some expense trying to replace the most archaic of the compulsories with new exercises they hope will stem the tide.

Fat chance!

They had hoped to get a version of Torvill and Deanís Rhumba DíAmour (for which the famed duo received 6.0s in their comeback at the 1994 Olympics) into the schedule in time for the 2006 Games (as a replacement for the half sequence "Gregory" Rhumba) but ran out of time. Hope is still flickering that it will be brought in eventually.

The Midnight Blues is being seen in Nationals for the first time and certainly has novel steps including an Ina Bauer, a near death spiral position and unique holds. But it is hardly sufficient to create a stampede for tickets (unless the trend of ladies coming out of their costumes escalates).

The compulsory was performed in last yearís world championship and possibly will be used again in the Moscow Worlds. The decision between it and the Rhumba will be made at a draw at the European championships in Turin this month.

The hatching of a more demanding replacement for the half sequence "Dench" Blues, which was created by an Englishman, Bob Dench, and his wife in the 1930s, was initiated in the spring of 1998, by the International Skating Unionís Technical Committee for Ice Dance.

Courtney Jones, British former four time world ice dance champion who, with partner Peri Horne, devised the Starlight Waltz, contacted Margaret Brooks, a member of the CIPA and CEPA which are the World and European Technical committees of the Federation Internationale de Roller Skating (FIRS), to see if that sport had any interesting ideas.

Brooks provided a video which included a roller senior-level compulsory called the Iceland tango. This was forwarded to Ann Shaw in Toronto who gave it to husband and wife coaching team, Roy and Sue Bradshaw (who are former British champions).

Their son, Mark, and his then partner Christine Fuller were filmed doing the first ice version of this dance which was shown during the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in 1999.

Mark Bradshaw and a new partner, Julie MacDonald, proceeded to experiment and finalize the new steps and the result was shown in June 2000 in Toronto to the ISU Ice Dance Committee which included the Chairman, Alexander Gorshkov, Jones and Shaw. Gorshkov came up with the name Midnight Blues.

It was first performed for the general skating world at the dance meeting following the 2001 World Championships in Vancouver. It was accepted into the international schedule at the ISU Congress in Nagano in June 2002.

There was much confusion in Dortmund, at the 2004 Worlds, where it was seen for the first time in a major contest. Up until then, it had been used in some national championships, including the British, and in a couple of very minor internationals.

In Germany, the top skaters had very different "takes" on what was needed, and there was even some misunderstanding of the rules.

Tanith Belbin said, "It was interesting that you got to show your own interpretation. The other dances have been skated for years and you saw how others had done them. You could see what interpretation Olympic and world champions had, and that gave you a standard to aspire to. This time you were on your own."

According to Roy Bradshaw, there are only about six steps remaining from the original Iceland tango. Last year the music for the original Blues was used. This season, new, more suitable, music is being used.

Portland provided the American debut and a chance for those present to predict whether it will endure and become a beloved classic Ė or not!