ISU Seeks Urgent Revision of Ice Dancing


In response to the criticism of the ice dance event at the recent Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta tasked the ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee to conduct a review of the format of the ice dance event and to prepare recommendations for its improvement.  The recommendations developed by the committee will be presented  to the June ISU Congress in Stockholm.  Since these proposals were developed long after the deadline for setting the congress agenda, 4/5 (80%) of the member federations must agree to have these proposals brought before the congress for consideration.  The proposals fall into two broad categories:   changes dealing with the judging of the ice dance event, and changes which alter the format of the event.


Despite comments during the Olympic Games and thereafter to the effect that allegations of impropriety or errors in the judging of the ice dance event were unsubstantiated, several of the urgent proposals, nonetheless, address some of the issues raised by critics during the games.

In regard to the question of potential collusion among the judges due to the more than year long period between when judges are selected for the games, and when they actually take place, the technical committee is proposing that each dance of   ice dance events be judged by a different panel of judges drawn at random from the available judges at a competition, and that the judges' draw be held no more than 20 minutes before each dance.  By better mixing up the panels of judges among the available judges and selecting the panels just prior to each dance the goal of these proposals is to limit the opportunity for "block judging" to occur.

Beyond "block Judging", another criticism of ice dance judging is the apparent inconsistency with which errors in the compulsory dances are penalized by the judges, if at all.  To address this issue, it its proposed that a set of mandatory deduction be established for each compulsory dance along the lines of the mandatory deductions for the short programs in singles and pairs.  Each compulsory dance would have its own deduction sheet dealing with specific errors for the various steps and step sequences in the dances, as well as more general errors.

Event Format

The technical committee is proposing sweeping changes in the format of ice dance events.  Future ice dance events would consist of a three dance format, replacing the four dance format now in use (two compulsory dances, the original dance, and the free dance).  In the new format ice dancing would consist of a compulsory combination dance, a technical free dance ( rhythm dance) and an interpretive free dance at the senior level.  At the junior level events would consist of two compulsory dances, a rhythm dance, and an interpretive free dance.

Currently, the two compulsory dances take up most of the first day of competitions at the World Championships and Olympic games.  Because of the time required, the dances are not permitted a practice session the day of the compulsory dances as is permitted the skaters in other events for their competitive programs.  In addition, the compulsory dances are viewed by some as uninteresting and a time drain.   It is proposed therefore to combine the two compulsory dances into a single combination dance.  This combined dance would make up 15% of the final results of the dance event, as opposed to 20% as is currently the case for the two compulsory dances.   Unlike the current format in which the competition organizers pick the music for the compulsory dances, and each couple skates to the same music, in the new combination dance the couples would "cut" their own music from the approved library of dance music available to the skaters on CD's.  For the two dances to be incorporated into the combined dance, the couples could perform the patterns in either order and would be allowed to choose their own introductory steps (8 bars of music max), transition steps (16 bars of music max), and closing steps for the combined dance.  The combined dance would take longer to perform than a single compulsory dance, but less time than the two compulsory dances in the current format.  With the elimination of half the warm up groups and ice cuts required by the current format it is expected that this will significantly reduce the time required for the compulsory dances, make the event more interesting, and permit the couples a practice session on the competition ice the day of the combined dance competition.  The combination dance is only proposed for the senior level.  The junior event would continue to include two compulsory dances making up 20% of the final score.

The current original dance, which is 30% of the final score, would be eliminated in the technical committee proposals and would be replaced by what is described as a rhythm dance or, alternately, as a technical free dance.  This dance would make up 35% of the final score (50% for the juniors) and would have a duration of 3 minutes.

The current original dance has a duration of 2 minutes and is skated to a single prescribed rhythm which is selected each year for the competition season.  The new rhythm dance will be more free-dance-like in nature.  Couples will be allowed to choreograph the dance from a group of five related dance rhythms of which three must be included in the performance.  Along the lines of the well balanced program requirements used in singles and pairs free skating, the rhythm dance would be required to meet certain general requirement in terms of technical content, and be subject to deductions if the requirements are not met.  The goal of these requirements is focus the skaters on the technical aspects of ice dancing and to de-emphasize the artistic/dramatic/over-the-top presentations that have taken hold in the current free dance.  By adding additional rhythms and extending the time of the dance over what is currently the case in the original dance, it is hoped that the rhythm dance will prove more interesting than the original dance and provide a greater technical challenge to the skaters.  Vocal music would be permitted.

The content requirements of the rhythm dance would consist of the following (junior requirements in parenthesis):

The interpretive free dance would basically be a continuation of the free dance as currently exist.  It would make up 50% of the final score for the senior event and 30% for the junior event, with a 4 minute duration for the seniors and 3 minutes for the juniors.  Vocal music would be permitted.

The free dance would have to meet the following requirements and restrictions:

Note that in the technical requirements several changes are proposed that would make the judging of ice dancing less confusing that it currently is.  Dance lifts and assisted jumps are now grouped together, eliminating confusion over what is a lift and what is a jump, as was the case during the free dance program of Torvill and Dean at the 1994 Olympics.  Judges will no longer have to keep track of the number of separations, but will still have to be mindful of their duration.

Will it work?

Based on comments made at an open meeting of the Ice Dance Technical Committee at the World Championships in March, these proposals seemed to be generally well received by the ice dance community.  There appears to be some concern, however, over how well the combined compulsory dance would actually work, and traditionalist abhor at the idea of combining two vastly dissimilar compulsory dances in one combined dance.   The idea of replacing the original dance and free dance with a technical free dance and an interpretive free dance appears to have good support, and this change together with the proposals dealing with the judging of ice dancing look to be a good start at dealing with recent criticisms of the judging of ice dance and its image as an artistic rather than athletic event.  There are some, however, who feel that it does not go far enough, and that more aggressive measures are needed to improve the quality of ice dance judging.  How these issues play out will depend, of course, on whether these proposals ever see the light of day in Stockholm.  In order for them to obtain a hearing at the ISU Congress, 80% of the member federations must agree to add them to the agenda.  That means that a 21% minority can stop these proposals dead in the water   if they are strongly opposed, regardless of how the majority might feel.

In June we will be covering the regularly scheduled issues to come before the ISU Congress and the results of that meeting.


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