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Sarah D. Morris: An appreciation for ice dancing

February 23, 2010 |  7:45 am

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Monday night Olympic history was made. For the first time since Olympic ice dancing debuted in 1976, a pair of dancers from North America won the gold medal. On home ice, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skated with grace and elegance, were clearly above other pairs. The American pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White showed power and speed as they earned the silver. For one of the few times since ice dancing has become an Olympic sport, the Russians didn't earn the gold but Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin captured the bronze.

Ice dancing doesn't have jumps and spins. Its lifts must be unique because the men can't lift the ladies over their head. Lifts shouldn't stop the flow of the dance. Everyone agreed who won a well skated competition. 

Since ice dancing doesn't have eye-catching moves like most figure skating, many people don't have an appreciation for the sport. Footwork sequences are crucial. Ice dancing has a close correlation to ballroom dancing and ballet. Russia has a rich ballet background, so it is understandable Russians have dominated ice dancing.  Great pairs make the audience feel what they want us to feel. The ice dancers need to be dramatic and need to relate to their chosen music. Although ice dancing is an art form, it is a sport. The ice dancers might not wow us with their breathtaking triple and quadruple jumps, but they must be accomplished skaters, arguably the best pure skaters in the Olympic figure skating competition.

In most Olympic skating competitions, flaws mar the beauty of the performances. However, on Monday no one made a noticeable mistake, and it was nice to see. Mostly in the past, I have found ice dancing boring because I didn't understand the specific difficult elements. However, this Olympic Games I have a better understanding, so I found the top ice dancers incredible. With their unbelievable grace and understanding of the music, I developed a new appreciation for the endurance-demanding sport. 

The compulsory dance was the tango, a dance that takes much dramatic interpretation and speed.  Although the compulsory dance was a little boring to watch with every pair doing the same steps to the same music, it set the tone of the competition. Although the Russians led the competition, the Canadians and Americans showed they needed to be taken seriously. 

The Russians had a limited amount of time to practice because Shabalin has battled a knee injury. I feel their outrageous and controversial costumes hurt how the judges viewed them although Domnina and Shabalin didn't perform at the same level as the Canadians and Americans. It was the time for the Russian dynasty to end. 

The young Americans, sophomores at the University of Michigan, have skated together for thirteen years.  Despite their young ages, their experience was evident. During their original dance, their preparation was clearly obvious as they performed an Indian dance. Their free skate displayed their passion and raw power. Skating to the Phantom of the Opera in the free dance, Davis and White made every move match their music, which frequently changed tempo. They skated their best, but it wasn't good enough. 

Virtue and Moir didn't disappoint their home audience at all. Trained with Davis and White, Virtue and Moir took every phrase of the competition as a challenge and they showed that they were ready for all of them. Their elegance and grace were unmatched. Although I always want to see my countrymen perform their best, while the Canadians skated, I knew they deserved the gold.  They captured my imagination, and I didn't want to take my eyes off them. Their performance exhibited the power of ice dancing. 

All of the Olympic figure skating competitions are marquee events. Since figure skating has subjective elements, usually people criticize how figure skating is judged. Ice dancing is the least clear cut, but the new scoring system appears to be working to eliminate questionable judging. I know ice dancing will still have scoring disputes in the future. The Vancouver Olympic Games produced one of the most memorable ice dancing competitions ever.

-- Sarah D. Morris

Morris has  been writing for the Dodgers website since August 2001. Since early in her childhood, she has watched and enjoyed the Winter Olympics and Dodgers baseball. She dreamed of being a sportswriter after completing junior college though she has cerebral palsy. Her articles can be found here.

Photo: Ice dance figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, pose with their gold medals alongside silver medal winners Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States. Credit: Scott Halleran, Getty Images. 

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