Figure Skating Dance is a very healthy, exciting and wholesome form of exercise that requires you to be Powerfully Conscious at every step.
Strong with passing my first 8 figure skating tests last week, I felt confident yesterday morning about making a first attempt at recording our first 5 ice figure skating dances.
We use these dances as a warm-up before practicing more advanced dances. In this article, I will give you an introduction to figure skating dance and to the first 5 standard ice dances.
First, let me present you Lynn, my wonderful girlfriend and coach:
Getting Started with Ice Dance Figure Skating
Ice dance is a good cardiovascular exercise: We have to push hard with the blade on the ice at each step we take in order to cover the whole skating rink, on a fixed pattern in time with the music.
Here, I’m assuming you are curious to find out more about these beginner’s figure skating dances. So I’m writing with a broad audience in mind.
For example, maybe you don’t skate but are curious to know more about the important elements and difficulties, the history and the music.
Or perhaps you are a beginner skater, and you’ve watched several ice figure skating dance videos before, but are interested in a different perspective.
Indeed, equipped with a sturdy music stand, onto which our iPad magnetically snaps, and in a secure way so it cannot fall, we recorded from an unusual vantage point: This fixed tripod located at one end of the rink covered nearly all of the ice rink symmetrically.
We were lucky yesterday morning to have the Desmarais Westmount Leisure Center rink nearly just for ourselves. We thank them, and the sole other skater, for kindly letting us carry on with our filming.
An Introduction to Ice Dance Figure Skating
Canada and the US have very similar figure skating programs, and the standard dances are nearly all the same. Focusing on Canada, we note that the nomenclature for the levels has changed in the last couple of years.
Previously, skaters were ranked as Preliminary, Junior Bronze, Senior Bronze, Junior Silver, Senior Silver and Gold. To that, in Dance, was added a Diamond level.
There were also categories related to the age of the skaters, like pre-juvenile, juvenile, novice, junior and seniors.
Perhaps in an effort at simplifying the system, at present, the various levels have been replaced with a Star rating from 1 to 10, with Gold equal to Star 10.
You can find a lot more information on the Skate Canada website here. Here is an overview of the Star 1 to 3 levels in ice dancing.
Star 1: Dance Steps
Focusing on ice dancing, there is a definite progression in the level of difficulty with each successive dance.
Star 1 in Dance consists of being able to execute separate simple sequences of forward steps, starting with the basic left or right outside edges, Chassés and Slide Chassés, and including the Progressive, the Swing Roll and the Cross Roll.
Star 3b consists of roughly all these steps, but going backwards.
Key points to note about the style are:
- The steps must be done in perfect timing with the music
- Free legs must be extended straight with toes pointed
- The two feet must come back together at the end of every step
For the first three dances, the two skaters execute exactly the same steps, and always going forward. In the fifth, they also execute the same steps, but a few steps are done going backwards.
In the fourth dance, Swing, the two skaters execute the same steps, but not at the same time! One is going backward while the other is going forward, and vice-versa.
Star 2a: Dutch Waltz
This is a slow dance in 3/4 signature, making it a slow waltz.
Most steps are done on the first beat, lasting 3 beats, or 6 beats for the swing rolls.
The progressive steps are different, with the first step lasting 2 beats and the second step being quick, lasting only one beat.
You can see the slow evolution of the dance, covering the whole ice rink.
Note also how are movements are synchronized to each other, and to the downbeats of the music.
The dance starts on the left, and a complete dance pattern takes half of the rink.
Two complete patterns are shown in our video, after the 4 introductory steps on a straight line.
You can find the steps pattern here.
The pattern can be easily described in words: progressive, two swing rolls, progressive, left outer and right inner edges, progressive, right swing roll, left outer and right inner edges, and repeat.
Most dances have an actual inventor from not too long ago: the Dutch Waltz was invented by George Mueller and performed for the first time in 1948 in Colorado Springs.
On the YouTube channel of Skate Canada, you can see children doing skills and dances.
Adults face different challenges however, and we feel our videos offer a different perspective, showing what can be achieved by an adult student.
Here is a Skate Canada example by a child awarded a top mark (gold).
At this level, children are not required to dance with someone to get the top mark, they can simply follow their coach along.
A quick note on grading so that you don’t get confused exploring the Skate Canada channel: Marks for children are given comforting names: gold is a pass with honors, silver is a pass, and bronze is actually a fail…
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the best instructional figure skating videos on YouTube are by the high level US competitors Oleg and Kseniya.
Here is their version of the Dutch Waltz.
Our version is exactly the same dance, but to a different music and from a different vantage point.
Their version is undoubtedly better, with legs swinging higher on the swing rolls.
Star 2b: Canasta Tango
The Canasta Tango ice dance was invented in 1951 by James B Francis and performed first in Toronto.
In the previous dance, the two partners started and held a side-to-side position known as the Killian, after an ice dance of that name, where the leader is on the left.
In the tangos, the partners are in the same side-to-side position, but with the leader on the right. This position is called the reverse Killian.
There is much detail on the holds that goes unnoticed by the casual observer, but that are critical for doing the dances well. It’s difficult to describe in words, one needs to develop the feel for keeping the same distance to the partner. No matter what the legs are doing, the upper trunk has to work independently and stay erect.
All tangos are in 4/4 signature, and the steps pattern is more complex than for the Dutch Waltz.
A progressive-chassé will make you do 4 steps, one at every beat of one measure. Next is a right swing roll for a full measure, and a left slide-chassé for the next.
Then the opposite: a left swing roll, and a right slide-chassé. Then a progressive, a right swing roll, and repeat.
It is danced on a smaller pattern than the Dutch waltz, shown here. Each pattern takes half of the ice rink.
We show 4 complete patterns in the video.
Here is a child’s successfully passed test.
Here is Oleg and Kseniya’s version.
Star 3a: Baby Blues
Like the Dutch Waltz, the Baby Blues covers the whole ice rink and uses the Killian hold.
The new difficulties include inside edges, and a change of edge, from outside to inside. There is also one cross roll.
The pattern consists of a left swing roll, several inside or outside edges in an order for which one needs to get the feel of, the change of edge, and eventually the cross roll.
It is critical to do the inside or outside edges in the correct order, or of course one will not stay on the pattern.
It is a somewhat more recent dance, less standard, of unknown precise origins, and Oleg and Kseniya don’t have a video.
Here is one from Skate Canada, on some modern music.
Star 4a: Swing
The Swing ice dance, by Hubert Sprott, is another 4/4 dance.
It introduces the inside mohawks, where you go from a right forward inside edge to skating backward on a left inside edge. There is also the reverse, the easier backward-to-forward mohawk, where you will return to skating forward.
The music is faster, and you have to execute the backward steps just as well, with the same power, as the forward steps.
But you’re given a big piece of help: While you are skating backward, your partner is doing the same steps forward, and can help you by pushing harder. That’s considered cheating a bit, and a well-trained judge will notice the difference!
Another set of difficulties is that the hold is not static, at least comparing the the first three dances: The partners begin holding hands, the follower does a 3-turn to start skating backwards, and the pair continue skating in a closed, face-to-face hold.
During the mohawk turns, the hold will become open for a few steps. These steps require a good deal of practice and feel for the desired result.
We show one complete pattern, which takes one around the full rink. The original sound was good enough that I could keep it. This lets you hear the sound of the blades.
For example, my first mohawk is quite loud (not good, but my others are a bit better), while Lyne’s is quiet.
Here is the pattern.
Here is an example from Skate Canada.
And here is Oleg and Kseniya’s.
Star 4b: Fiesta Tango
Finally for today, the Fiesta tango is similar to the Canasta by being on a smaller pattern, but it is faster than the Canasta.
Like the Dutch Waltz, it was invented by George Mueller and performed for the first time in 1948 in Colorado Springs.
It has a mohawk similar to the Swing, with the difference that the free leg swings in the swing dance, but stays next to the skating foot in the Fiesta, which requires better control.
There is a change of edge also, which is slower than in the Baby Blues, but that is followed soon after by the above mohawk. This requires a precisely orchestrated change of hold.
And now that the two are both skating backwards at the same time, they cannot help each other but must both be strong with their backward skating.
Again, here is the pattern.
Here is an example from Skate Canada (unfortunately, the first mohawk is off-camera).
And here is Oleg and Kseniya’s.
Here we tried to convey an impression that skating on ice is something accessible to adults. The ice dances show a clear and definite difficulty progression.
Performing to a good level the first 5 dances could be a reasonable objective to aspire to after 1 or 2 years, for a beginner adult skater taking regular lessons from a professional coach.
We are working on several more dances, which are, in order of difficulty: the Willow Waltz, the Ten-Fox, the Fourteen Step, the European Waltz, the Foxtrot, the Harris Tango and the American Waltz.
Hopefully we will continue with videos of these in some time, and perhaps of my freestyle skating program soon.
We’re looking forward to hearing from you with questions, suggestions and comments below!
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