This afternoon, I watched the ice dancing original dance from last night, and I’ve once again decided that ice dancing is my favorite of the four disciplines to watch. I decide this pretty much every Olympics, but then I forget and think I like pairs the best. But I only like pairs second best. And here’s why: the best pair skaters are the ones who can do all the big tricks and everything, but also are able to connect them together with innovative and artistic choreography, and really interpret the music they’re using. Unfortunately, many pairs skaters get away with having amazing tricks and connect-the-tricks choreography, and can still win the competition, because the focus is on the tricks. Which means, for the viewer, that you have perhaps three or five points in the program where you go “oh my gosh, they’re going to fall and kill themselves”, which is exciting and creates feelings of relief and euphoria when they don’t fall and kill themselves. The rest of the time, however, you’re stuck going “when are they going to jump/lift/throw/death spiral again?” (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the very best pairs teams…the Russians continue to be the best largely because they do NOT rely entirely on the tricks, but put just as much effort into the artistry and choreography as landing the next biggest jump. The Chinese skaters, though–very strong on all the technical elements, but give the impression that the program would be exactly the same done to any other piece of music or no music at all…the choreography is only there to rest between technical elements.)
With ice dancing, on the other hand, although they do have required elements which are now more important than ever due to the new scoring system, the emphasis is on the choreography, the innovation, and the flow all the way through the program, not just for the few seconds of spins and lifts. Therefore, in most cases, the entire program is much more fun to watch, much more expressive, and much more interesting, because if ice dancers ever simply connect-the-required-elements, they do not make it to the Olympic level of competition.
Tracy made a good point last night about the new scoring forcing the dancers to up the ante on athleticism, and you could definitely tell in the programs…the number of falls was incredible for ice dancing. But the point is, the difficulty is in the footwork, the closeness of the partners to each other when they’re skating, the intricacy of the lifts, and the sheer speed with which they’re doing most of this…the difficulty is in actual skating, not aerial tricks. Belbin and Agosto were simply breathtaking. Notice how the commentaters didn’t hardly even speak during their program? I couldn’t even breathe. So solid, so fast, so many steps, and everything so perfect. My fingers are crossed for them in the free dance tonight. They’re so good, and they were so nearly not here at all. Plus, Tanith is like the best name ever. It sounds both classic and new, very soft and yet strong. The only downside is the “th” at the end could come across as a lisp, but at the same time, it’s such an unusual ending that it’s attractive. It’s going on my baby name list.
I wrote the above earlier today, and then read this article in Slate Magazine, which just made me mad. Sometimes I wonder why I continue to look at Slate articles, because they usually make me mad, but then I remember that it’s because they make me mad and force me to respond to them (at least in my head) and sort out my thoughts about WHY they make me mad, which makes me think. Anyway. Article starts of with groaning at the fact of ice dancing, continues on to ridicule and enjoyment of Marie-France Dubreuil’s fall which sent her to the hospital and kept the team out of the free dance tonight (although the author sort of apologizes for that), and goes on the lampoon the entire discipline as being silly, non-athletic, and unriveting. Why is it, then, that after three or four of the men skated in the men’s singles competition, I only half-watched the rest, except for the Americans and Victor Plashenko, and yet I haven’t been able to take my eyes off the dancers? Last time I checked, that would fall within the definiton of “riveted.” Am I weird? Do I lack some taken-for-granted ability to become easily bored by pure artistry that is less adulterated by showy tricks than the other disciplines? It certainly isn’t that I hope to see some good falls.
(Please don’t get me wrong and think that I don’t like the other disciplines…I do, greatly. I love seeing skaters do amazing jumps and I love pairs pushing the envelope on throw quads, and I love the huge, flying lifts. I love it all. I just feel like ice dancing gets unjustly ignored and maligned, and I had to step in and defend the most artistic, least plagued by the bad side of competition, sport still being performed at the Olympics. Especially since I think these dancers have shown that it does require athletic ability, and it is difficult and demanding…requiring much more than “basic coordination, mediocre rhythm, a terrible outfit, and a cheerleader grin,” as stated in the article above.)
However, I have to grant Slate credit for this article, which highlights a lot of the problems I have with the new scoring system. I’m not willing to say it’s a bad thing altogether, because after all, if we’re going to keep treating figure skating as a sport, there has to be at least an attempt at less subjective scoring (and I have a vested interest in keeping it a sport, because it’s the only reason I watch the Olympics, and I like watching the Olympics). But when the system rewards failed attempts at harder elements and penalizes flawless executions of easier elements, there’s still tweaking to be done. Hopefully the skating association will figure this out and hammer at it some more.
Okay, now back to the Free Dance.