Frothy, Fabulous Fun or a Frustrating, Financial Flop?

By Sandra Stevenson in Helsinki at the Hartwall Areena

Alexandra Stevenson comments on the controversial compulsory dance for the European and Four Continents Championships, which is expected to shine briefly and then dissolve in the trash.

Since the International Olympic Committee told the International Skating Union that ice dance must be formatted with just two sections, as are the singles and pairs events, for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, compulsories have been expecting their pink slips, at least from top class competition. (Being investigated is the possibility of combining the compulsory with the original but that would be very complicated.)

There is a good probability that this new compulsory, refreshing though it is, will be seen only in the Europeans here and the Four Continents championships in Vancouver next month. The draw for the compulsory at Worlds at the Staples Center in Los Angeles will be between the Viennese Waltz and the Paso Doble, both of which were invented in Britain in the 1930s. The Finnstep will not be in the draw for next season.

There is a lot more interest in the compulsory than is normal because the Finnstep was devised by Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko, who are from Helsinki, along with their coach, Martin Skotnicky. With it as their Original Dance, they won the European title and were world championship runners-up in 1995. When Helsinki bid for these European Championships, the Finnish Association explained to the ISU, they wanted the Finnstep to be the compulsory.

Compulsories, in which all the competitors execute identical steps with strict timing, to set pieces of music chosen by the ISU, leave very little room for individual interpretation. They are the least public-appealing of the skating divisions. Very few tickets are normally sold for this event. On Tuesday, we will see if this new exercise has changed that and breathed some new life into this division.

Rahkamo is the President of the Finnish Skating Federation. She and Kokko, who are married with two children (Max, who is 7 and Camilla, 4), are national heroes here. In addition to her skating responsibilities, Rahkamo lectures about management. Kokko works for Google.

The Finnstep is an upbeat compulsory with lots of toe steps. However, some of the vivaciousness of the pieces of music the ISU has chosen, has been muted to make sure the beat is constant. It is essential that skaters get the timing right from the start since it is so fast, it is nearly impossible to regroup once it gets underway. If a couple misses the correct beat to start, which is approximately four seconds into the dance, they have to wait until the phrasing repeats, which is approximately 23 seconds after the music starts.

It is also longer than the other compulsories (1.16 minutes). "It must be done very crisply with clean timing," a smiling Rahkamo explains. "It is a light hearted dance and should be executed with joy as if the skaters are sipping sparkling champagne on a happy occasion." Rahkamo and Kokko worked extremely hard with Germans, Kati Winkler and René Lohse, to make the instructional DVD in 2007.

The ISU directions come with the following edict: "Dance is a means of expression. If the execution of this dance does not evoke feelings in the audience, even if it were technically correct and clean, it would not be a successful performance. The dance must be as much fun to watch as it is to dance. Otherwise the performers should not be rewarded with good marks."

The draw for which compulsory was to be skated both in Helsinki and in Vancouver was made at the Grand Prix Final in South Korea. Skeptics wondered who was overseeing this draw, since Helsinki initially had bid with the understanding the Finnstep would be skated. Well, it was pulled out of the bag by the Russian team leader at the team leaders’ meeting, and that person had no wish for it be drawn, so it appears to have been a perfectly legitimate situation.

Originally, the Finnstep was expected to be part of the Grand Prix events but the mechanics of getting all the information out forestalled that plan.

Most top competitors, including U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, said a long time ago, that they would hold off learning this new exercise until it definitely got picked. The US and Canadian Associations said they would definitely NOT use the compul sory for their nationals since there was not enough time for distribution of learning materials and for coaches to become proficient on teaching the exercise.

Most European nations, however, including Russia, France, Britain, Finland and Italy chose to go with the Finnstep. In a novel move, the German Association decided, because of the newness and unknown possibilities of the Finnstep, that they would have the competitors in their nationals do both this and a second compulsory. That lessened the impact of a bad performance in the Finnstep in the overall result of what is a very important event for the competitors.

Rakhamo, who watched the Finnish championships, said that she felt that the couples were "showing the rhythm too much with their free leg instead of doing that with the skating leg." But there is no doubt she was pleased that her and her husband’s original was translated into a compulsory, even if the dance will shortly slide into oblivion.

Return to title page

Copyright 2009 by ISIO