Monday, February 22, 2010

Thoughts on 2010 Olympic Ice Dancing

I love competitive ice dancing. It's always been my favorite Olympic figure skating event. Maybe because I grew up in the era of the fabulous Torvill & Dean, or perhaps because other types of figure skating had all of the jumps, and therefore all of the falls, and when I was little people crashing onto the ice would stress me out. Ice Dancing always seemed safe. And it has so many rules - and I love rules. Especially as a kid, I loved any sport that had a million things that you had to do precisely right or else you were eliminated. I had to be one of the few people that actually was sad when they removed the compulsory element from pairs and singles figure skating.
Ice Dancing still has compulsories. And as mind-numbing as it can be to hear the same song (often really cheesy and synthesizery) over and over, I love getting the chance to see the competitors having to complete the same pattern. It makes you feel like a real expert because you can easily compare whether one team does something superior. "Oh, the Italian pair did that spin in unison and with more speed than the French." "Oy, look at the knees on the young Canadian couple, they're not bent enough!"
The biggest controversy that happens in ice dancing is usually in the free skate, where the rules tend to be thrown out the window, and there are a lot of lifts and other moves teetering on the edge of being considered "dance" moves. So it was a surprise when several weeks ago at the European Championships leading up to the Olympics that I heard about the top Russian team committing a serious faux pas.

Competitive ice dancing is broken into 3 parts – compulsories, original dance, and the free skate. For the compulsory portion every team is given the same piece of music and assigned the same dance (this year it was the tango) with a specific set of moves and patterns that must be done. Oftentimes the original dance will also have some sort of theme assigned that the pairs can customize and make more their own, i.e. everyone has to do a 3 min waltz, but music choice is open.
This year, the theme for the ice dancing original dance was folk dancing. The dance was supposed to represent the "flavor" of a country or region. Some skating pairs, like the Israelis chose folk dances that represented their own country. Others like the American teams Davis & White and Belbin & Agosto chose to honor other cultures, India and Moldavia respectively.
When the Russian pair of Domnina & Shabalin decided to do an Aboriginal dance at the European Championships in January, they drew criticism from Aboriginal leaders who found the dance and costumes offensive. Domnina and Shabalin toned down their costumes and removed their face paint, but made no changes to the dance itself.

Though they claimed to have done research, the dance they did didn’t really seem Aboriginal. And watching the dance Sunday night, one can understand why Aboriginal leaders were offended. At times, Shabalin led Domnina around by her ponytail. They mugged, stuck out their tongues and mimicked the hand over mouth gesture that was once associated with American Indians. The whole thing made me really uncomfortable. AND cultural insensitivity aside, the dance wasn’t well executed. There were several areas where their footwork seemed off and they weren’t in unison. See it here and you’ll understand what I mean.

After the dance ended, the audience was underwhelmed to say the least. Yet they were still scored higher than Belbin & Agosto who did a lively, and respectful Moldovan folk dance.

My hope for the medal outcomes this evening? I want a North American sweep! I would love to see Meryl Davis & Charlie White from the U.S. take the gold. I find them humble and utterly charming (if a little robotic), and they are totally the future of this sport (also, I love Charlie White's hair!). I wouldn't mind the current leaders, Canadians Virtue & Moir to take the silver, and gorgeous Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto to take home a bronze.

I definitely don't think the Russian team, current world champions or not, deserve to be on the medal stand.

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