Skating 101: Ice Dance

Welcome to Skating 101, a series of posts dedicated to creating more informed viewers on skating. Hopefully, these posts will help you be a better judge when watching figure skating in Sochi! Now, the topic for this post is… ice dance! Ice Dance is quite unique among the disciplines in figure skating in that its focus is not on big jumps but rather on the complicated footwork, edges (look how close Tessa and Scott’s skating blades are to the ice below) and the interpretation of music.

Tessa Virtue Scott Moir Finlandia 2011 SD

To start off, here are a few things unique to ice dancing:

  • Ice Dance is supposed to be somewhat like ballroom dancing on ice.
  • Until the end of the 2009/2010 season, skaters had to skate to set dance patterns in the compulsory dance (CD) segment of the competition. (For more information on the CD, check out my Throwback Thursday post on it.) This segment has since been eliminated but skaters still have to incorporate these patterns in their short dance.
  • Ice Dance is the only discipline that allows vocal music with lyrics in competition programs. However, with ISU Communication no. 1741, the rules have been changed and starting in the 2014/2015 season, other skaters in all other disciplines will be allowed to use vocal music with lyrics.
  • There are no jumps in ice dance. In fact, a jump with more than a half rotation is illegal, even as part as a lift or other element.
  • As I mentioned in my Skating 101 post on Pairs Skating (see link below), overhead lifts are illegal in ice dance. The highest a partner can be lifted is on the other partner’s shoulder.
  • The blades on ice dancers’ skaters are slightly shorter in the back to allow for the partnering and footwork sequences.

Unique Elements in Ice Dance

Side-by-Side Twizzles

For some reason, commentators call the twizzles the “quad of ice dance” which I don’t really get. Maybe they are that difficult in terms of comparing them as elements, it’s like comparing apples and oranges seeing that quads aren’t mandatory (though highly, highly recommended for top echelon skaters in this Olympic cycle) while side-by-side twizzles are. In any case, for those of you who haven’t watched the video, a twizzle is a one foot turn that travels across the ice. In ice dance, partners need to do this side by side. With the Code of Points system, twizzles are given a level from 1 to 4 and a grade of execution score ranging from 1 to 3. (For more information, check out the Skating 101 Code of Points post.)

As a casual viewer, you can look for the following when ice dance teams do side by side twizzles:

  • Partners should be in perfect unison. Being even 1/4 of a rotation (or less) off from your partner ruins the effect.
  • Twizzles should be fast and cover a lot of ice.
  • Partners should be close together during the twizzle sequence.
  • Teams should enter into and exit out of twizzles smoothly.
  • Teams can increase the difficulty by holding onto the blade of their free foot, changing arm positions, change of edge, rotating in different directions or do a mirror twizzle (see them starting at 0:55).
  • Transitions between the different twizzle positions should be seamless and smooth.
  • Partners should do the same number of rotations.
  • The rotations should be done without any bobbles, stumbles or falls.

I have to say, the montage above should be entitled, “The Saddest Twizzle Montage Ever” since these are supposed to be top teams and yet a lot of these twizzles are out of sync, too far apart or full of bobbles.

Ice Dance Lifts

As I mentioned before, ice dance lifts cannot be done over the head. There are also two major categories of ice dance lifts: short lifts (consisting of 6 seconds) and long lifts (consisting of 12 seconds). Skaters who have overly long lifts get penalized with a deduction. Ice dance lifts are also categorized by their trajectory across the ice:

Short Lifts

  • Curve lift – The lifting partner moves in a curved trajectory across the ice either on one or two feet. (Watch at 3:35 here.)
  • Rotational lift – The lifting partner rotates across the ice in one direction only. (See 2:31 on this video.)
  • Stationary lift – A lift in which the lifting partner stays in one spot on the ice, often rotating. (Watch at 2:10.)
  • Straight line lift – The lifting partner moves in a straight line across the ice either on one or two feet. (See 3:48 on this video.)

Long Lifts

  • Reverse rotational lift – The lifting partner rotates across the ice in one direction, and then the other. (I don’t really recall any so if anyone has an example, link me in the comments!)
  • Serpentine lift – The lifting partner moves in an “S” or serpentine pattern across the ice. (Watch at 4:05 here.)
  • Combination lift – A lift that combines two of the short lifts together. (At 1:05, you see a curve lift that then transitions into a rotational lift.)

Most of the time, the man lifts the lady but it is perfectly legal in the rules for the lady to lift the man! At 1:18, you see Marina Anissina lift Gwendal Pezerat.

The lifting and lifted partner must also be in specific positions, which are listed nicely on this wikipedia page.

In general, ice dance lifts should:

  • Look effortless, despite being otherwise.
  • Transitions between positions should be seamless and smooth.
  • The type of lift should be clear as well as the positions of each lift.
  • They should be aesthetically pleasing and suit the theme of the program.

Dance Spins

For information on dance spins, check out my Skating 101 post on spins.

Footwork Sequences

The footwork sequences, though maybe not the most exciting to watch for most viewers, is actually one of the most important part of ice dance. Footwork sequences differ by whether or not the partners are touching and the general trajectory of the footwork sequence (circular, diagonal, straight line or mid-line).

In general, footwork sequences should:

  • Have speed and power. These two are pretty much the most important aspects of ice dance. The footwork should cover as much ice as possible and the skaters should not lose speed despite skating on one foot for extended periods of time. It should also look as if partners are working together (or not working hard at all!), you shouldn’t get the impression that one partner is “dragging” the other around the ice.
  • The free leg (the leg not on the ice) should create beautiful lines and should be in unison when the choreography demands it. In other words, the free leg shouldn’t look like a dead piece of wood hanging off a person.
  • Skaters should create deep edges when the skate that is on the ice.
  • And as always, stumbles, bobbles and falls are not acceptable.

For more information on ice dance in general and its guidelines, look fir the ice dance handbook on the ISU website.

The Short Dance – The Finnstep

As mentioned earlier, ice dance went through a major overhaul after the 2009/2010 season with the elimination of the compulsory dances (CD) and original dances (OD). These two segments were in a way, combined to create the Short Dance (SD). The short dance has a theme and specified rhythm for the music like in the OD as well as a dance pattern that used to be a CD. The dance pattern used this season is the Finnstep. By itself/as a compulsory dance, the Finnstep looks like this:

In the short dance, skaters have to incorporate two sequences of the Finnstep into the program, along with a step sequence, side-by-side twizzles and a short lift.

Someone has written a blog post and made video to serve as a guide to the Finnstep pattern: has also created an easy guide to the Finnstep, which may be a little easier to digest. This guide shows you the three distinct sections of the Finnstep.

Musicality is perhaps even more important in ice dance in that the required dance pattern tests the skaters ability to recognize the beat in the music and time the set movements in the dance to the music. The Finnstep should have a tempo of 104 beats per minute and the music for the sequence should be in 2/4 time. The accent in movement should occur at the beginning of the beat.

So, now that we know that the Finnstep is divided into 3 sections and that skaters need to keep the beat, let’s take a look at this particular skating protocol to understand mistakes that skaters can make:

Shibutani SD Protocol

Here, we have Maia and Alex Shibutani’s protocol for their SD at Skate America this season. We see can identify the two Finnstep sequences by their codes:


With the 2 after the “FS,” we know that Maia and Alex didn’t do very well since they were graded a level 2 on each Finnstep sequence and the end of the code gives us a clue as to why without having to watch the program. The Y, N and T mean yes, no and timing respectively and it indicates whether or not the team has done the pattern correctly and with the right timing.

Y = elements in the dance pattern done correctly, with the right timing
N = elements in the dance pattern done incorrectly, either with or without the right timing
T = elements in the dance pattern done correctly but without the right timing

So in the end, what on earth are ice dancers supposed to do while doing the short dance?

  • Skaters should skate the dance pattern correctly, with the right timing.
  • Skaters should have speed and power throughout the dance.
  • When skaters skate the dance pattern, they should attempt to fill up the rink as much as possible with their pattern.
  • The choreography, music and costumes should reflect the mood of the dance pattern. In the case of the Finnstep, the dance should be light, fun, like sparkling champagne. The Finnstep sequence should also be skated crisply and cleanly.
  • In the Finnstep, edges should be deep when the steps are long to contrast with the sections with light hops and toe steps. Skating posture should be upright.

So now that you know all about the Finnstep, and you’ve seen Tessa and Scott do the Finnstep as a CD, try to identify the two Finnstep sections in their SD this season!

Enjoy the Finnstep while you can this season because the ISU sets a new pattern for the SD each season!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Other Skating 101 Posts:

History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System

The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System

Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics

Figure Skating Jumps

Figure Skating Spins

Pairs Skating Elements

Ice Dance

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Skating 101: Figure Skating Spins | The Rinkside Cafe
  2. Trackback: Skating 101: Pairs Skating Elements | The Rinkside Cafe
  3. Trackback: Skating 101: The Jumps | The Rinkside Cafe
  4. Trackback: Skating 101: Olympic Berths | The Rinkside Cafe
  5. Trackback: Skating 101: Code of Points Basics | The Rinkside Cafe
  6. Trackback: Skating 101: History of the Code of Points Judging System | The Rinkside Cafe
  7. Trackback: Olympic Figure Skating Starts in Less than 24 Hours! | The Rinkside Cafe
  8. Trackback: The Best Two Ice Dance Teams to Have Ever Graced the Ice | The Rinkside Cafe

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