The Short Dance Debate

Susan D. Russell
Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier

When the International Skating Union (ISU) decided to replace the compulsory dances with a short dance last season, the change provoked endless discussion.

The ISU dance committee worked out several models for a new format, tested them and then put forward a proposal which included compulsory elements in the short dance. Two of the five elements of the short dance last season incorporated the steps of the Golden Waltz at the senior level and those of the Viennese Waltz for the junior ranks.

Dancers at the novice level still perform compulsories, but they are now referred to as pattern dances.

When asked what prompted the change, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta gave two reasons. “Some members of the International Olympic Committee asked me why competitions in singles and pairs skating consist of two parts, but those in ice dancing of three,” he said. “Secondly, the compulsory dances were not very attractive for spectators and television.”

So what are the reactions of the coaches after the first season? The majority seem to have accepted the new format.

“I like this new short dance,” said Natalia Linichuk, a coach with 20 years experience. “On the one hand you have to keep the compulsories somehow, because it shows immediately your skating skills, and the judges should be able to compare. On the other hand, the old compulsory dances became boring.”

German head coach Martin Skotnicky, who has worked with many top dance teams, agreed. “The short dance is a good compromise,” he said. “Especially this past season, because the two waltzes are relatively difficult dances which reveal strong and weak points in every couple.”

Igor Shpilband is skeptical. “I don’t like the short dance very much,” he admitted. “It was a quick solution to save compulsories, but it is very hard to develop a good program. It is technically OK, but not very exciting for the audience. However, we have new rules every year and we have to make the best of them.”

Marina Zoueva is also not a fan. “There is almost no room for creativity, no way for great composition. This dance is a real conflict with art.”

Many observers feel the coaches and choreographers did an excellent job last season. A variety of musical selections were used, from waltz music by Bryan Adams, Édith Piaf and Madonna to techno waltzes of Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Very few skaters used the music of Strauss; others added a Tango, Foxtrot or Quickstep.

For the upcoming season Skotnicky sees some issues. “The Rhumba and the Cha Cha Congelado are too easy,” he said. “The ISU wanted a Latin rhythm, but there is no difficult Latin dance in the rulebook. There is almost no change of posture. Everything is in Kilian (side-by-side) position.”

Zoueva agreed. “The Rhumba was made about 60 years ago; this version is far from a compulsory ballroom Rhumba and very old-fashioned,” she said.

Shpilband, however, sees some advantages. “Latin is a good rhythm; you can make a lot out of a Latin short dance.”

Linichuk is also positive about the selection. “Yes, the Latin dances are often danced straight forward. But the couples have to show a circular parallel non-touching step sequence for the first time,” she explained. “This is a good contrast to the straight forward dancing of the Rhumba and Cha Cha.”

Overall, most believe the new format has given ice dance more appeal. But it is not perfect and there is still more work to be done.

Originally published in August 2011