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Skating: Ice dancing

Tatiana Navka & Roman Kostomarov

Ice dancing is often described as ballroom dancing on ice.

Unlike in pairs skating, the emphasis is less on spectacular jumps and lifts and more on how gracefully the skaters make their way around the ice.

The skaters are in contact almost all the time, and they are marked on how well they move to the music and the quality of the steps they execute.

Figure skating has been on the official Olympic programme since 1924, but ice dancing was only introduced at the Innsbruck Games in 1976.


Competitors skate three programmes:

The compulsory dance requires all skaters to perform the same routine, with a series of specific steps done in a set way. This accounts for 20% of the total score.

The original dance gives all skaters a set rhythm, like the tango, but they can create their own routine. The programme has a time limit of two minutes and counts for 30% of the total score.

The free dance is the finale to the competition, and it accounts for half the total score.

Ice temperature affects skating speed - the colder the ice, the slower the skates will run

It allows them to give free rein to their skills as they select the music and moves, using changes of position, holds, small lifts and fancy footwork to earn marks.

The time limit for the routine is four minutes, and the marks from the three programmes are all added together to obtain a final total.


Turin in 2006 saw the Olympic debut of a new system designed to eliminate the risk of biased judging.

A row blew up when Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were awarded silver behind Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze
The Canadians had skated a seemingly flawless program, while their rivals had appeared to make some technical errors
A French judge claimed she had been pressured into favouring the Russians
It was eventually decided that the two pairs should share the gold medal

This was prompted by events in the pairs competition at the last Winter Games in Salt Lake City, when the gold medals had to be shared after a judging scandal marred the event.

In the past, judges gave one mark for technical merit and one for artistic impression, with 6.0 the maximum that could be awarded in each case.

Under the new, more complicated system, there is now a technical score and a score for 'programme components'.

Technical score

Each jump, spin, lift or step sequence is given a 'base value' before the competition begins. A triple axel, for example, is worth 7.5.

It is the job of a 'technical specialist' to decide during a skater's routine which move has been executed - whether it is a double or a triple axel, for example. Two assistants are on hand to correct any errors.

As that happens, the nine judges - drawn randomly from a panel of 12 - each decide how well the element has been executed.

They use a scale ranging from -3 to +3. The highest and lowest of these nine marks are taken away, and the average of the remaining marks taken.

This average is then added to the 'base value' to obtain a mark for each element, which goes towards the final score.

Program components

The old artistic impression mark has been replaced by a set of five judging criteria, each with a scoring scale ranging from 0.25 to a maximum of 10.

Skating skills reflects the general quality of skating and the balance between the skills of the two partners.

Transitions covers how well the skater has executed the steps which link each element.

Performance/execution assesses style, posture and changes in speed. For pairs and ice dancing, it covers the balance between the performance of the two partners and the distance between them.

Choreography marks how well the movements, steps and music work together as a whole.

Interpretation/timing reflects how well the skater works in time with the music. For pairs it is the unison, and for dance the relationship between the two partners in interpreting and skating in time with the music.

In the compulsory programme for ice dance, where all competitors must do the same routine, Transitions and Choreography are replaced by a Timing category, which judges how well they have skated in time with the music.

Skating guide

Apart from the skates, all that is required in ice dancing is a costume - but choosing the right outfit is a complicated business.

Costumes must complement the music and moves for maximum dramatic effect, and they are custom made at great expense.

The more eye-catching, the better.

Women must wear a skirt and their clothing "must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport".

Men must wear full-length trousers and their costume may not be sleeveless.


There are a number of ice rinks across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where you can learn to skate.

Beginners are advised to sign up to one of the National Ice Skating Association's Skate UK courses, which are open to both adults and children and are delivered by professional coaches.

Details can be found on the NISA website.

Anyone who can already skate and wants to learn more advanced skills should speak to a registered NCCP coach when they visit a rink.

And for more news and information on the skating world, visit the International Skating Union's website.


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