In the late 1980's as TV was pursuing its agenda to eliminate compulsory figures from the ladies' and men's events there was corresponding talk of eliminating compulsory dance from the ice dancing event. TV achieved its goal at the 1990 ISU congress and since then singles events have consisted of the current short program and long program format. Compulsory dance, however, survived.
In compulsory dance the couples skate dances which consist of defined sequences of steps in a predetermined pattern on the ice. Of the dances used in competition the oldest ones were created in the late 1800's and the most recent in the 1980's. The majority, however, were created in the first part of the 20th century. In major championships ice dance events currently consists of two compulsory dances, an original dance, and a free dance. In other competitions only one compulsory dance is skated. Regardless of whether one or two compulsory dances are skated, that portion of the ice dance event accounts for 20% of the final placements.
Since the first discussions of eliminating compulsory dance over ten years ago, the subject has come up again from time to time and at the Grand Prix Final this year compulsory dance will not be a part of the ice dance event. This is the second of the two "experiments" the ISU is conducting at the Final this year (the first being the two-free-skate and two-free-dance format). Its purpose is to lay the groundwork for the elimination of compulsory dance which will be considered at the 2000 ISU Congress. An ISU source predicts that this change will come to pass, if not in 2000, then by 2002. If successful on the first try, the ice dance event at the 2000 World Championships - for purists, the last championship of the 20th century - will be the last which incorporates compulsory dance.
The purpose of the compulsory dances in the ice dance competition is to compare each of the couples skating the same steps to the same rhythms. They form the fundamental test of the couples basic dancing ability. No lifting. No spinning. No slithering. No posing. No gestures. No faces. Just dancing. Many ice dance enthusiasts feel the compulsory dances are an essential and irreplaceable part of evaluating the dancers. Of course, the defenders of figures had similar thoughts ten years ago - and to little effect. The difference here is that dancers and coaches today remain more supportive of compulsory dance than skaters and coaches were supportive of figures when they were eliminated In addition, compulsory dance remains an effective method for teaching the elements of ice dancing while figures were displaced from their role as an effective method of teaching free skating long before they were eliminated from competition.
While traditionalists may abhor the idea of tampering with the competition format, there is also another point of view, however.
Ice dancers must now train four compulsory dances, an original dance, and a free dance each season; a total of six programs. Singles and pairs skaters train only two - a short program and a long program. Overall, ice dancers carry a burden of programs, costumes, and other training expenses two to three times greater than their singles and pairs counterparts. For what purpose? Despite attempts in recent years to change things, it remains true that there is virtually no movement in the placements from one part of an ice dance event to another. If couples are judged according to basically the same criteria in each dance of the event (they are) and the results stay the same from dance to dance (they do), what competitive purpose do the compulsory dances really serve? The compulsory dances make up only 20% of the final placements and except on extremely rare occasions they have not changed the medal results of competitions. So why bother with them? Recently the original dance, with its required elements and increased length, is becoming more like a singles and pairs short program, while the free dance with its more general program requirements remains analogous to the well-balanced singles and pairs long program. Perhaps a competition format with an ice dance short program and long program is good enough to sort out the competitors. Certainly a strong case for that can be made. If opponents of compulsory dance have their way at the 2000 Congress we may see ice dancing begin to skate down that road at the 2001 championships, with compulsory dance relegated to the history of the 20th century skating; like their already retired counterparts compulsory figures.
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