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Compulsory Dance Program Guide

The Golden Waltz at the 2010 World Championships

By Jocelyn Jane Cox

On Tuesday March 23, the world’s best ice dancers will perform the Golden Waltz at the 100th ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Torino, Italy. Since the ISU plans to discontinue the compulsory dance segment of competition, this may very well be the last time we see one competed at this level, in this current format. And what a fitting finale: the Golden Waltz is widely considered to be the most challenging of the compulsories and also the most beautiful.

The Golden was invented by Natalia Dubova, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, and first performed in Moscow in 1987. It is a "Viennese-style" waltz, which is the oldest type of waltz and is faster than more modern versions, with a music tempo of 186 beats per minute (bpm). In ice dance, only the Ravensburger and American Waltzes are faster, at 198 bpm. Compare this to the lower level Dutch and Willow Waltzes, of the U.S. roster, at 138 bpm.

The Golden is distinguished by its intricacy of turns and steps but mostly by its "highlights," which are arguably the most athletic of the compulsories. The fact that it incorporates a dip, a shoot-the-duck, and even a spread eagle makes it almost resemble a free dance. Despite the complexity, you will see an ease of movement and elegant carriage. When this dance is done well, there is a rhythmic "lilt" to the skating; in other words, a smooth up-and-down action of the knees. This slight spring in their step contributes to a sense of lightness and joy. This one definitely harkens another era, a time when ballrooms were filled with flowing gowns, and real men wore powdered wigs. These days, on ice, expect to see lots of chiffon, and tuxedos, some with tails.

Skaters will perform two identical patterns of the dance, or at least this is the goal – the second pattern is weighted more heavily than the first, so competitors work to maintain the quality of the skating to the very end. It is a challenge to keep patterns from shifting on the ice. This is an "optional pattern" dance, meaning that the couples have some freedom to shape the dance as they choose, provided they perform the correct edges. Wherever they skate that first pattern, though, the second pattern should be in the same place; the judges will be taking note of this.

Starting on the side opposite from the judge’s stand, the couple will perform "walk-around" three turns facing one another. These are commonly called the ballroom turns. Each partner has a wide stance with their skates right next to each other’s, as if connected. These turns should not be whipped or hopped and it’s important to secure a close and consistent partner position. Further down on that side, the partners will perform series of left touch-down three turns into forward double threes.

For the purposes of judging, the Golden pattern is broken into three sections, and the point value differs according to difficulty. The section weighted most heavily commences with the first end pattern. It includes the shoot-the-duck motion where the lady "shoots" her free leg daintily out in front of her and leans back until she is almost parallel to the ice. The way the man supports her here proves that chivalry is not dead. Next, the lady skates a triple three all the way around the man with her leg bent in an attitude position. With their right arms stabilized above their heads, here, he is kind of like the May pole and she is the ribbon. Correct partnering is critical to balance: too close and they’ll crash, too far apart and they’ll pull the other off his or her feet.

After this, you’ll see some strong, and perhaps extra-high leg extensions, and a fast but smooth inside spread eagle on the man’s part. The dance, thus far, is extremely pretty, but it’s really all just a prelude to the main event, which will occur directly in front of the judge’s stand on the second side: the Cascade and Dip.

Consider the Cascade and Dip the "Quad" of the compulsories. The woman is on the right foot for a remarkable 15 beats. She will perform a three turn, a twizzle, then swoop down into back dip which is also a three turn, and finish with another quick twizzle. Meanwhile, the man does a brief lunge, has his own turns to execute, then catches her while doing a two foot three turn, low in his knees and gallant. It is almost as if she has swooned (lovestruck, no doubt) and he is saying, "I’ve got you!" The whole thing is a blurry yet dreamy swirl. Of course the timing is critical, both in relationship to the music, and in relationship to each other. One off-beat and the "dip" can easily become a drop.

The second end pattern consists of three tight lobes (half circles) and quick footwork featuring chocktaw turns. A big inside three turn near the corner provides a brief breather, allowing both parties to pull themselves together and prepare to repeat the whole thing again. Kim Navarro, USA team member with partner Brent Bommentre, says that they have worked a lot on this second end pattern. "One thing that is really hard is fitting in those corners."

Indeed, there are lots of steps to squeeze in and the more momentum and power a couple achieves, the more this dance wants to burst at the seams. Crashing into the barriers would certainly detract from the fairy tale, and deduct some points.

Navarro says that while skating this dance, she thinks a lot about the timing and the flow. With her characteristic charm, she confirms that she does consider this the "Big Mama" of the compulsory dances. No doubt, she, Bommentre, and their competitors will make it look gorgeous.

On behalf of all the compulsory dances, the Golden Waltz will wave goodbye from Torino, satin-gloved, and dignified. In response, we fans, skaters and coaches around the world bid it Farewell and Grazie!

Copyright 2010 by ISIO