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Monday, July 22, 2013

Has the IJS improved ice dance?


That's the short answer to this bit of conventional wisdom. While discussing this with my (currently MIA) SFT co-bloggers, we wondered if it might have become conventional wisdom because the adoption of the IJS has coincided with the rise of North American ice dance, which constitutes proof, for some, that it is a wonderful invention. But is it really? As I see it, ice dance has been hurt the most by the current system - yes, worse than pairs.

First, a disclaimer: I hereby acknowledge that ice dance judging was in need of some objectivity, that it's great that teams no longer have to wait their turn before they can achieve good results, and that it's very good that there is some movement in the standings between the different segments. Of course, said movement only goes up to 3rd place, because it has been decreed that the Canton teams, Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, are so vastly superior that everything they do must be showered with PCS and GOEs that even Patrick Chan would envy. If those teams are not your cup of tea, well, there's always the European Championships, I suppose?

So, Scott, what do you want to do tonight?-
--The same thing we do every night, Tessa—try to take over the world!
The Canton teams were greatly aided in their rise by the coaching team of Zoueva and Shpilband. Since their split, Zoueva has kept things going in Canton, while Shpilband has built up quite a collection of talent in nearby Novi; look for some of his teams to achieve considerable success post-Sochi. As in other disciplines, the IJS lays out clear and relatively (theoretically?) objective criteria for ice dancers to follow in order to receive good marks, and Shpilband and Zoueva trained their teams in a way that perfectly suited the system. But dance might be the one discipline that would benefit from less clear-cut requirements and somewhat more subjective judging, as it is arguably the one in which the differences between the competitors are a more subtle and harder to quantify. By emphasizing objective, measurable criteria to the extent that it has, the ISU has fallen for one of the classic blunders.

And so, generally speaking, dance has become more technical than dancey. I agree with Maurizio Margaglio's take on this subject: "I would like to see... the interpretation of a dance, particularly rewarded, and not only the edges perfection because in my opinion who wins in this discipline must be able to dance... otherwise it would have been called 'Ice Technique'”. Margaglio may not have been the best male dancer the world has seen, but he's knowledgeable and has years of experience as a competitor and a coach, and he has a good point here.

In addition, the ISU, pressured by the International Olympic Committee, also did away with the segment of the competition that best allowed for a direct comparison between competitors and the evaluation of their ability as dancers: the compulsory dance. When I attended my first live event, I was struck by the obvious differences in quality when it came to the CD (which was the notoriously tricky Golden Waltz); how is it better to mash up a pattern with some completely unrelated dance and judge that?

On the short list of short dances both artistically coherent and visually appealing

Although the short dance attempts to integrate aspects of the CD and judge them more objectively, it cannot provide the same opportunity for comparison that the identical compulsories did, since the patterns are but part of the short dances, whose style and composition varies widely. Once again, Margaglio is on target: "With the compulsory dances, it was important to perform the steps perfectly but at the same time portray the spirit of the dance, showing that we were dancing a waltz rather than a tango. I think we are losing part of this ability in ice dance."

The spirit of the dance is what has often been lacking amidst the race for faster twizzles, keypoint-friendly patterns, more contorted difficult lifts, and other requirements. It doesn't have to be this way, and there are teams and choreographers doing interesting work. They're not always rewarded for it, and they're not necessarily the best ones technically, but they're fun to watch.

I realize that for many fans, the current version of competitive ice dance is the best one. But what will happen once Virtue/Moir and Davis/White retire? Without the excitement of two top teams in close competition, will the more technical ice dance still hold the same appeal? And if not, how can it be made more enjoyable?

Perhaps going against the trendy view, I feel that the ladies discipline, which was rife with bad technique and cheated jumps, has benefited the most - perhaps, as I have noted before, because the ladies are not at a point where they are constantly having to up the ante technically, and can focus on developing their style and skills.

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