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Jo Ann Schneider Farris

How Olympic Figure Skating Ice Dance Events Are Judged

By February 23, 2010

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2010 Olympic Ice Dance Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir Do an Ice Dance Lift at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games

As I sat in the Pacific Coliseum watching all the phases of the Olympic ice dancing events, I thought to myself, "How can the average viewer understand how ice dancing is judged?" I also wondered if people with only a mild interest in figure skating, who bought expensive Olympic tickets, wished they had bought tickets to a jumping and spinning event instead. Were they bored?

Olympic figure skating ice dancing events have three phases: the compulsory dance phase, the original dance, and the free dance.

In the compulsory dance phase, skaters do set steps and patterns on the ice. They skate to a prescribed rhythm and tempo of music.

For me, attending the Olympic compulsory ice dance was fun to watch, because I actually know all the steps in the Tango Romantica, which was the compulsory dance skated at this Olympics.

Even for those who know the steps, it's hard to figure out what to look for in the compulsory dance phase. Speed and depth of edges win. Expression, style, and unison also make a difference. Those who were in the arena were able to see the dance patterns on a full ice sheet. Bigger patterns that don't pass the middle of the arena, but almost touch the boards, stand out.

In the original dance and free dance phases, ice dancers do certain required elements. Just like in singles and in pairs, each element has a point value. Synchronized twizzles, for example, will get extra points if the figure skaters do the twizzles with arms behind their backs, or if legs are in certain positions. When a dance team does a spin in multiple positions, more points are awarded. In a lift, if the girl grabs her leg and touches it to her head or goes into a complete split, a higher score is awarded. The list goes on and on.

In addition, costumes, theme, and choreography count.

I especially enjoyed Meryl Davis' and Charlie White's "Phantom of the Opera" free dance. I also loved the program that was done by the British brother-sister ice dance champions, Sinead and John Kerr. Most of the free dances were skated to slow and beautiful music, but I found the programs that were upbeat and entertaining more interesting to watch.

What was your favorite part of the 2010 Olympic ice dance competition? Did you enjoy a certain couple or program? Was there a certain lift or spin you especially remember? Share your thoughts!


2010 Olympic Ice Dance Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir Do an Ice Dance Lift at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games - Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images

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