Ice dance - General Information



Ice dance (sometimes referred to as ice dancing) is a discipline of figure skating that historically draws from ballroom dancing. It joined the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952, and became a Winter Olympic Games medal sport in 1976. According to the International Skating Union (ISU), an ice dance team consists of "one Lady and one Man".[1]:p. 9[note 1]

Before the 2010–11 figure skating season, there were three segments in ice dance competitions: the compulsory dance (CD), the original dance (OD), and the free dance (FD). In 2010, the ISU voted to change the competition format by eliminating the CD and the OD and adding the new short dance (SD) segment to the competition schedule. In 2018, the ISU voted to re-name the SD to the rhythm dance (RD). Ice dance has required elements that ice dancers must perform during a competition and that make up a well-balanced skating program. They include: the dance lift, the dance spin, the step sequence, twizzles, and choreographic elements. They must be performed in specific ways, as described in published communications by the ISU, unless otherwise specified.

In the early 1900s, ice dancing was primarily a recreational sport in England, Europe, and the United States. British ice dance teams dominated the sport throughout the 1950s and 1960s, then Soviet teams up until the 1990s. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an attempt by ice dancers, their coaches, and choreographers to move ice dance away from its ballroom origins to more theatrical performances, but the ISU pushed back by tightening rules and definitions of ice dance to emphasize its connection to ballroom dancing. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ice dance lost much of its integrity as a sport after a series of judging scandals. There were calls to suspend the sport for a year to deal with the dispute, which seemed to impact ice dance teams from North America the most. Teams from North America began to dominate the sport starting in the early 2000s.

The ISU publishes violations and their points values yearly. Deductions in ice dance include falls and interruptions, and violations in time, music, and clothing.


  • 1 Competition segments
    • 1.1 Short/rhythm dance
    • 1.2 Free dance
    • 1.3 Discontinued segments
      • 1.3.1 Compulsory dance
      • 1.3.2 Original dance
  • 2 Competition elements
  • 3 History
    • 3.1 Beginnings
    • 3.2 Early years
    • 3.3 1970s to 1990s
    • 3.4 21st century
  • 4 Rules and regulations
    • 4.1 Falls and interruptions
    • 4.2 Time
    • 4.3 Music
    • 4.4 Clothing
  • 5 Footnotes
  • 6 References



Ice dance
Minenkov and Moiseeva 1976.jpg
Ice dance in 1976, its first year as an official Olympic sport (Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov)
Highest governing body International Skating Union
Team members Duos
Mixed gender Yes
Equipment Figure skates
Olympic Part of the Winter Olympics from 1976



Competition segments

Before the 2010–11 figure skating season, there were three segments in ice dance competitions: the compulsory dance (CD), the original dance (OD), and the free dance (FD). In 2010, after many years of pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to restructure competitive ice dance to follow the other figure skating disciplines, the International Skating Union (ISU) voted to change the competition format by eliminating the CD and the OD and adding the new short dance (SD) segment to the competition schedule.[2] According to the then-president of the ISU, Ottavio Cinquanta, the changes were also made because "the compulsory dances were not very attractive for spectators and television".[3] The new ice dance competition format, incorporating just two segments (SD and FD), was first included in the 2010–11 season. In 2018, the SD was renamed the rhythm dance (RD); ice dance competition format now incorporates two segments, the RD and the FD.[note 2]

Short/rhythm dance

Justyna Plutowska and Jérémie Flemin perform their short dance at the 2018 European Championships.

The SD is the first segment performed in all junior and senior ice dance competitions.[5][6]:p. 218 It combines many of the elements of the CD and the OD, retaining the characteristic set patterns of the CD, a compulsory element in which each dance team must perform the same two patterns of a set "pattern dance", providing "an essential comparison of the dancers' technical skills".[2] The ice dance team is judged on how well the pattern dance is integrated into the entire SD routine.[7] The SD must also include a short, 6-second lift, a set of twizzles, and a step sequence.[2][8]

The rhythms and themes of the SD are determined by the ISU prior to the start of the new season.[2][8][note 3] Designed and choreographed by the competitors (and their coaches), the SD must "reflect the character of the selected dance rhythm(s) or theme(s) and be translated to the ice by demonstrating technical skill with steps and movements along with flow and the use of edges."[5] The music and choreography, provided that they reflect the specified pattern dance, are also developed by the ice dancers. The SD must have a duration of 2 minutes and 50 seconds.[5]

The first SD in international competitions was performed by U.S. junior ice dancers Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, at the 2010 Junior Grand Prix Courchevel.[10] French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hold the highest SD/RD score of 88.42 points, which they achieved at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.[11] In the 2018–19 season, the SD came to be known as the rhythm dance (RD) because according to the ISU, the new term "is better aligned with what the competition is all about".[4] The structure and rules for the RD, however, remained essentially the same.[12]

Free dance

2011 World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform a dance lift during their free dance at 2011 Worlds.

The FD is the second segment performed in all junior and senior ice dance competitions.[6]:p. 247 The 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Rulebook defines it as "the skating by the couple of a creative dance program blending dance steps and movements expressing the character/rhythm(s) of the dance music chosen by the couple".[6]:p. 247 The program must be skated on the entire surface of the ice and be well-balanced. It must contain required combinations of elements (spins, lifts, steps, and movements), and choreography that express both the characters of the competitors and the music chosen by them.[6]:p. 247 It must also display the skaters' "excellent skating technique"[6]:p. 247 and creativity in expression, concept, and arrangement.[7] The FD's choreography must reflect the music's accents, nuances, and dance character, and the ice dancers must "skate primarily in time to the rhythmic beat of the music and not to the melody alone".[6]:p. 248 For senior ice dancers, the FD must have a duration of 4 minutes; for juniors, 3.5 minutes.[7]

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hold the highest FD score of 134.23 points, which they achieved at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.[note 4][14]

Discontinued segments

Compulsory dance

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski on an outside edge during a compulsory dance.

Before 2010, the CD was the first segment performed in ice dance competitions. The teams performed the same pattern around two circuits of the rink, one team after another, using the same step sequences and the same standardized tempo chosen by the ISU before the beginning of each season.[15][16] The CD has been compared with compulsory figures; competitors were "judged for their mastery of fundamental elements".[15]

Many of the first CDs were developed during the 1930s by teams from Great Britain, which dominated ice dance internationally throughout the 1950s, during the period before it became an Olympic sport in 1972.[17]:p. 2 Early in ice dance history, the CD contributed 60% of the total score.[18]:p. 12

The 2010 World Championships was the last event to include a CD (the Golden Waltz); Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali from Italy were the last ice dance team to perform a CD in competition.[19] In 2010, as part of the decision to re-vamp competition segments, the ISU voted to change the term "compulsory dance" to "pattern dance",[5] and it was preserved as a mandatory element in the SD.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform a Flamenco folk dance for their original dance at the 2010 World Championships.

Original dance

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali perform an Italian folk dance.

The original dance (OD) was first added to ice dance competitions in 1967. It was called the "original set pattern dance"[18]:p. 91 until 1990, when it became known simply as the "original dance". The OD remained the second competition segment (sandwiched between the CD and the FD) until the end of the 2009–10 season.[18]:p. 12 Ice dancers were able to create their own routines, but they had to use a set rhythm and type of music which, like the compulsory dances, changed every season and was selected by the ISU in advance. The timing and interpretation of the rhythm were considered to be the most important aspects of the routine, and were worth the highest proportion of the OD score. The routine had a two minute time limit and the OD accounted for 30% of the overall competition score.[20][21]

Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir hold the highest OD score of 70.27 points, achieved at the 2010 World Championships.[22]

Competition elements

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov perform a rotational dance lift.

Ice dance has required elements that ice dancers must perform during a competition and that make up a well-balanced skating program. They include: the dance lift, the dance spin, the step sequence, twizzles, and choreographic elements. They must be performed in specific ways, as described in published communications by the ISU, unless otherwise specified.

The ISU defines the dance lift as "a movement in which one of the partners is elevated with active and/or passive assistance of the other partner to any permitted height, sustained there and set down on the ice".[1]:p. 127 The ISU permits any rotation, position, and changes of position during a dance lift. [1]:p. 127 After the judging system changed from the 6.0 system to the ISU Judging System (IJS), dance lifts became more "athletic, dramatic and exciting".[23] The ISU defines a dance spin as "a spin skated by the Couple together in any hold".[1]:p. 126 There are two types of dance spins: the spin and the combination spin, which is multiple spins in succession. The ISU defines a step sequence as "a series of prescribed or un-prescribed steps, turns and movements".[1]:p. 120 Step sequences have three divisions: Types, Groups, and Styles.[1]:p. 120 The ISU defines a twizzle as "a traveling turn on one foot with one or more rotations which is quickly rotated with a continuous (uninterrupted) action".[1]:p. 125 It has also been defined as "a multirotational, one-foot turn that moves across the ice".[24] "The U.S. Figure Skating 2018–19 Rulebook" defines choreographic elements in ice dance as "a listed or unlisted movement or series of movement(s) as specified".[6]:p. 253 These elements are not scored in the same way as the other elements, but are "confirmed if the minimum requirements defining the element are met".[6]:p. 228



Jackson Haines, the "father of figure skating"

The roots of ice dance, like pairs skating, is in the "combined skating" developed in the 19th century by skating clubs and organizations and by recreational social skating between couples and friends, who would skate waltzes, marches, and other social dances together.[25]:p. xiv:p. 102 According to writer Ellyn Kestnbaum, "Ice dancing derives from the turn-of-the-century Viennese and English attempts to translate the waltz and other ballroom dances to the ice and to devise ballroom-style performances suitable for skates".[25]:p. 221

In the late 1800s, American Jackson Haines, known as "the Father of Figure Skating",[26] brought his style of skating to Europe, and taught people in Vienna, where he capitalized on their "obsession with waltzing",[26] how to dance on the ice, both singly and with partners. In the 1890s, people in Paris skated a three-step waltz called the English Waltz, which ice dance historian Cheryl Elton called "the direct predecessor of modern ice dancing, featuring the speed and flowing edges that we see today".[17]:p. 1 The English Waltz became the standard for waltz skating competitions and was at first popular with inexperienced skaters, although skilled skaters made it more challenging by introducing more difficult steps such as Mohawks and 3 turns. Other early ice dances included the European Waltz, inventor unknown, before the turn of the 20th century, and the Ten-Step, a precursor of the Fourteenstep, both of which are still used in ice dance competitions today.[17]:pp. 1-2

Early years

By the early 1900s, ice dancing was popular around the world and was primarily a recreational sport, although local clubs in Britain and the U.S. conducted informal dance contests in waltzes and in marches such as the Ten-Step and the Killian. Recreational skating became more popular during the 1930s in England, and new and more difficult set-pattern dances, which later were used in compulsory dances during competitions, were developed. Beginning in the mid-1930s, national organizations began to introduce skating proficiency tests in set-pattern dances, improve judging dance tests, and oversee competitions. The first national competitions occurred in England in 1934, Canada in 1935, the U.S. in 1936, and Austria in 1937. These competitions included one or more compulsory dances, the original dance, and the free dance.[17]:p. 2[25]:pp. 221-223 [18]:p. 102

The ISU began to develop rules, standards, and international tests for ice dance in the 1950s. Ice dance, with the CD and FD segments, was formally added to the World Championships in 1952.[25]:p. 223 Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy of Great Britain won the first championship.[18]:p. 102 British teams dominated ice dance throughout the 1950s and the 1960s; they won 12 out of the first 16 championships,[17]:p. 2 although in 1962, Eva Romanova and Pavel Roman of Czechoslovakia were the first non-British ice dancers to win a world title.[18]:p.xxxi

1970s to 1990s

Ice dance became an Olympic sport in 1976; Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexandr Gorshkov from the Soviet Union were the first gold medalists.[25]:p. 223[18]:p. xxvi[27] In 1984, British dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean briefly interrupted Soviet domination of ice dance by "famously winning the Olympic gold medal"[17]:p. 2 at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo, with their free dance to Ravel's Boléro,[17]:p. 2 [28] which has been called "probably the most well known single program in the history of ice dance".[25]:p. 228

Torvill and Dean performing in 2011

Throughout the 1970s, there was a movement in ice dance away from its ballroom roots to a more theatrical style. As Kestnbaum stated, "The top Soviet teams pioneered an emphasis on the dramatic qualities of ice dancing, choreographing programs around a single ballroom theme and incorporating elements of ballet and theatrical performances into their performances".[25]:p. 228 Dance teams from all over the world were influenced by ballet techniques, especially "the classic ballet pas de deux of the high-art instance of a man and woman dancing together".[25]:p. 228 They began to move ice dance away from its social dance origins, towards art dance, by performing as predictable characters, choreographing into their routines body positions that were no longer rooted in traditional ballroom holds, and using music with less predictable rhythms.[25]:p. 228 [27]

The ISU pushed back during the 1980s and 1990s by tightening rules and definitions of ice dance to emphasize its connection to ballroom dancing, especially in the FD. The restrictions introduced during this period, especially jumps, spins, and the number and type of lifts, were designed to emphasize skating skills rather than the theatrical and dramatic aspects of ice dance.[25]:pp. 239-240 [29] Kestnbaum stated, "The issue again in the dance community was once again that of social versus theatrical dance, this time falling more clearly along historic cultural lines".[25]:p. 244 According to Kestnbaum, the British, the Canadians, and the Americans represented the traditional social dance school, while the Russians have represented the theatrical.[25]:p. 244

There was also a series of judging scandals that affected most figure skating disciplines in the late '90s and early 2000s, which culminated at the 2002 Olympics. At the 1998 Olympics, while ice dance was struggling to retain its integrity and legitimacy as a sport, there was allegations of "bloc voting"[30] that favored European dance teams. There were even calls to suspend the sport for a year to deal with the dispute, which seemed to impact ice dance teams from North America the most.[31]

21st century

Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history.

The European dominance of ice dance was interrupted at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when Canadian ice dance team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold medal, marking the first time a team from North America won a gold medal at the Olympics, and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the silver. Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin won bronze, but it was the first time Europeans had not won a gold medal in the history of ice dance at the Olympics.[32] The U.S. began to dominate international competitions in ice dance at the turn of the 21st century; at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Davis and White won the Olympics gold medal.[33] In 2018, at the Olympics in PyeongChang, Virtue and Moir became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history after winning the gold medal there.[34]

According to Caroline Silby, a consultant with U.S. Figure Skating, ice dance teams, as well as pair skaters, have the added challenge of strengthening partnerships and ensuring that teams stay together for several years. Silby states, "Conflict between partners that is consistent and unresolved can often lead to the early demise or break-up of a team".[35]:p. 92 Challenges for both dancers and pairs, which can make conflict resolution and communication difficult, include: the fewer number of available boys for girls to find partnerships; different priorities regarding commitment and scheduling; differences in partners' ages and developmental stages; differences in family situations; the common necessity of one or both partners moving to train at a new facility; and different skill levels when the partnership is formed.[35]:pp. 92-93 Silby estimates that due to the lack of effective communication, there is a "six-fold increase in the risk of national-level figure skating teams splitting".[35]:p. 93 Teams with strong skills in communication and conflict resolution, however, tend to produce "highest-placing finishers at national championship events".[35]:p. 93

Rules and regulations

Skaters must only execute the prescribed elements; if they do not, the extra or unprescribed elements will not be counted in their score. Only the first attempt of an element will be included.[1]:p. 16 The ISU published a judges' handbook describing what judges needed to look for during ice dance competitions in 1974.[18]:p. xxvi Violations in ice dance include falls and interruptions, time, music, and clothing.

Falls and interruptions

According to ice dancer and commentator Tanith White, unlike in other disciplines wherein skaters can make up for their falls in other elements, falls in ice dance usually means that the team will not win. White states that falls are rare in ice dance, and since falls constitute interruptions, they tend to have large deductions because "the whole mirage of whatever they’re trying to create in terms of a theme is shattered".[36] According to the ISU, a fall is defined as the "loss of control by a Skater with the result that the majority of his/her own body weight is on the ice supported by any other part of the body other than the blades; e.g. hand(s), knee(s), back, buttock(s) or any part of the arm".[1]:pp. 79-80 The ISU defines an interruption as "the period of time starting immediately when the Competitor stops performing the program or is ordered to do so by the Referee, whichever is earlier, and ending when the Competitor resumes the performance".[1]:p. 90 Injuries to the lower body (the knee, ankle, and back) are the most common for both ice dancers and single skaters. Ice dancers experience 1.32 injuries per athlete.[37]

In ice dance, teams can lose one point for every fall by one partner, and two points if both partners fall. If there is an interruption while performing their program, ice dancers can lose one point if it lasts more than 10 seconds but not over 20 seconds. They can lose two points if the interruption lasts 20 seconds but not over 30 seconds, and three points if it lasts 30 seconds but not more than 40 seconds. They can lose five points if the interruption lasts three or more minutes.[1]:p. 18


Judges penalize ice dancers one point up to every five seconds for ending their pattern dances too early or too late. Dancers can also be penalized one point for up to every five seconds "in excess of [the] permitted time after the last prescribed step" (their final movement and/or pose) in their pattern dances.[1]:p. 17 If they start their programs between one and 30 seconds late, they can lose one point.[1]:p. 18 Restrictions for finishing the rhythm and free dance are similar to the requirements of the other disciplines in figure skating. They can complete these programs within plus or minus 10 seconds of the required times; if they cannot, judges can deduct points for finishing their program up to five seconds too early or too late. If they begin skating any element after their required time (plus the required 10 seconds they have to begin), they earn no points for those elements. If the program's duration is "thirty (30) seconds or more under the required time range, no marks will be awarded".[1]:p. 79

If a team performs a dance lift that exceeds the permitted duration, judges can deduct one point.[1]:p. 19 White states that deductions in ice dance, in the absence of a fall or interruption, are most often due to "extended lifts",[36] or lifts that last too long.


The ISU defines interpretation of the music and timing in ice dance as "the personal, creative, and genuine translation of the rhythm, character and content of music to movement on ice".[1]:p. 83 Judges take the following things into account when scoring ice dances: timing (steps and movement in time to the music); the expression of the character and/or feeling and rhythm of the music, when they can be identified clearly; the use of finesse;[note 5]; the relationship between the dancers' ability to reflect the rhythm and character of the music; if the dancers skate primarily to the rhythmic beat during their rhythm dance; and if they can keep a "good balance" between skating to the melody and beat during their free dance.[1]:p. 83

Violations against the music requirements have a two-point deduction, and violations against the dance tempo requirements have a one-point deduction.[1]:p. 19 Judges can deduct one point per program if the ice dancers break choreography restrictions.[1]:p. 18 The ISU has allowed vocals in the music used in ice dance since the 1997–98 season,[38] most likely because "coaches found it difficult to find suitable music without words for certain genres".[39][note 6]


As for the other disciplines of figure skating, the clothing worn by ice dancers at ISU Championships, the Olympics, and international competitions must be "modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic competition—not garish or theatrical in design".[1]:p. 78 Rules about clothing tend to be more strict in ice dance; Juliet Newcomer from U.S. Figure Skating has speculated limits in the kind of costumes ice dancers chose were pushed farther during the 1990s and early 2000s than in the other disciplines, resulting in stricter rules.[40] Clothing can, however, reflect the character of ice dancers' chosen music. Their costumes must not "give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for the discipline".[1]:p. 78

All men must wear trousers. Female ice dancers must wear skirts. Accessories and props on the costumes of both dancers are not allowed. The decorations on costumes must be "non-detachable";[1]:p. 78 judges can deduct one point per program if part of the competitors' costumes or decorations fall on the ice.[1]:p. 18 If there is a costume or prop violation, the judges can deduct one point per program. If competitors do not adhere to these guidelines, the judges can deduct points from their total score, if most of the panel, including the referee, thinks a team's outfit is inappropriate or non-compliant.[1]:p. 78[40] However, costume deductions are rare. Newcomer stated that by the time skaters get to a national or world championship, they have received enough feedback about their costumes and are no longer willing to take any more risks of losing points.[40]


  1. ^ Women are referred to as ladies in ISU regulations and communications.
  2. ^ After the 2018–19 season, due to the change in grade of execution scores from -3 to +3 to -5 to +5, all statistics were reset from zero and all previous scores were listed as "historical".[4]
  3. ^ The set pattern dance for the 2019–2020 season, for example, will be Quickstep, Blues, March, Polka, or Foxtrot for senior teams.[9]
  4. ^ FD scores prior to the 2010–11 season are published separately by the ISU, due to the competition format change in 2010.[13]
  5. ^ "Finesse" is defined as "the Skater's refined, artful manipulation of music details and nuances through movement".[1]:p. 83 Each team has a unique finesse and demonstrates their inner feelings for the composition and the music.[1]:p. 83 "Nuances" are "the personal ways of bringing subtle variations to the intensity, tempo, and dynamics of the music made by the composer and/or musicians".[1]:p. 83
  6. ^ The use of vocals was expanded to all disciplines starting in 2014.[38]


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