Friday, February 24, 2012

Style points in ice dance

One of the idiosyncrasies about skating is that when you take up serious skating--I'm not talking about competition, but about serious recreational skating--you'll find your relationship with your coach becomes an apprenticeship. No matter how many books you read, or videos you look at, there's stuff that never gets taught there. You have to learn it from a coach.

Ice dance is full of that. Let's call it 'style points'.

Style Points

First off, what's with all the ice dance hand holding? When I started, Dance Coach would extend his hand and I was supposed to take it and hold it while we skated around the rink. Where does this stuff come from? Is it part of the Ordo Sanctus Taberna? Yeah, I saw it in the Olympic warmups,  but never really thought about it until Dance Coach took me by the hand. And, I've seen other male dance coaches do it. Once I saw a dance coach in his 30s skating around hand in hand with a woman a lot older than me.  As near as I can figure it out, it's a way for the male coach to keep the lady in position while he gets ready to sweep her in position for the dance. Or maybe he wants to make sure she doesn't escape without paying the bill.

 I didn't like it when I started dance, and I don't like it now. It looks silly on public, because the public doesn't know what's going on. I sort of compromise by resting my hand on Dance Coach's arm instead of taking his hand.  However, sometimes it amuses me to imagine Dance Coach as a young skater getting an initiation into ice dance from an older male coach: "Take the lady's hand and skate around with her." the older coach says.  Dance Coach asks, "Even if she's old and wrinkly?" Older Coach, "Especially if she's old and wrinkly. They're the ones with money,"
After I had been doing ice dance for a while and was getting ready for my first test, Dance Coach taught me my presentation glide. This is the little 'bit' at the end of a test where the gentlemen presents the lady to the judges. This is pure style, and I've seen two ways; The legs in the shape of a 4 (the free foot at the heel of the skating foot), and the one with the free foot extended ahead of the skating foot.  Oh, the competitive skaters have little twirls and elaborate holds at the end, but I'm talking about recreational skaters.

I don't know if there's anything other than style points for this. Some coaches do it one way, other coaches do it another. I've asked other recreational ice dancers and there doesn't seem to be any rational reason for a preference. I'd like to know if one way is the Russian way and the other the American way, or if one way is for beginners and the other for silver and above. Just curious.
Now that I'm learning the Swing Dance I've learned the 'proper' entry into the hold.  One day I was waiting for him to step up to me, and he just stood there silently, making significant eyebrow twitches. So, I can take a hint, I stepped into the hold and he smiled. Now see here, I know this from my dog training days. You just ignore the behavior you don't want and give a reward when the dog does the behavior you do want. Maybe I'd learn faster if Dance Coach kept a pocket full of kibble.

Anyway,  the bit where I'm supposed to step into hold, must be a remnant of ballroom dancing.  The lady is supposed to be the weaker of the pairs, and the gentleman is supposed to sweep her off her feet. I'll do the step into hold as long as I don't have to swoon.

What is a progressive?  It's not a crossover.  Unfortunately, the progressive (or run) is poorly defined by the ISU: "A step or sequence of steps in which the free foot passes the skating foot before it is placed on the ice, thereby bringing the new free foot off the ice trailing the new skating foot."  Someone has to teach you how to do this.  Unlike a crossover where you step over the foot,  instead you slide the free foot directly ahead of the skating foot. Then in a mystical miracle of ice, the old skating foot does an underpush and the free foot becomes the new skating foot. The operative word here is "smooth". With my old knees, it's harder than it looks. There's some technique I don't have yet.

Then I was reading Mer's blog Ice Pact. Her coach Dmitri Ilin says "that forward progressives are really just crossovers. Apparently everyone calls them crossovers except dancers, so there's your figure skating semantics lesson for the day."  Funnily enough, Dance Coach also says "progressives are crossovers but smoother." I don't think I'm going to take this as literal truth. I prefer to think it's something to tell beginners. Or maybe, here in the US, progressives just aren't that important.

Do you see many progressives in ice dance at the Olympics or the Grand Prix? I haven't. Maybe they're just reserved for test situations, and will become a style point that's only done by amateur skaters.  Although I understand that the UK dance coaches are strict about maintaining the correct form, progressives may eventually become a relic as the pattern dances fade away into a memory along with the circle dances.

So that summarizes some bits and pieces of ice dance style points that I've observed. I'm hardly authoritative, and if you want to chime in, have at it.


  1. I love the presentation glide at the end of a test (or for the program entrance). Carefully practiced, very exact, down to the angle of the wrist (my coach hates my wrist), with a beautiful T-stop to end. Except every test I've done (these are MITF, not dance) I do a lovely, glide, begin my T-stop, realize my legs are shaking and quickly revert to a snowplow... Guess I lost my presentation points.

    I kind of agree with the progressives = crossover thing. There are elite Russian freeskaters who do (nice) steppy crossovers, but most other elite freeskaters do the slidey ones. It's a progressive. I actually prefer progressives to crossovers. Picking up my foot makes me feel uneasy.

    Another random fact- tracking side by side dances is apparently different from how pairs track. A coach at our rink, who competed pairs on the senior grand prix and medaled at junior worlds, took the first 3 dances with a high level teen freestyle skater. He got a lot of criticism from the judges for always trying to push his partner in front of him. Apparently, that's where the girl goes in pairs...

    I enjoy reading about your dance experience. I am a failed dancer. When I realized Silver MITF were out of my reach, and my knees still wouldn't let me jump (they do now) I tried to dance. I had a fantastic Dutch Waltz and Canasta Tango, but the step behinds in the RB killed my dance career. I'm not willing to take that fall again...

    1. I didn't have wrist problems, instead I got endless lectures about uneven shoulders and the showmanship smile--I have a natural glower.

    2. See, the smile I've got.

      My program is Memoirs of a Geisha, and at one point during my footwork my coach set me off into giggles (try preparing for a toe loop with that!) by saying to me "Geisha don't smile!" I told him if I can't smile, the music would need to be changed...

      "Shoulders down" is a constant refrain for me.

  2. My coach used to do the hand hold thing with me when we were warming up for a test, it really helped to control my nerves and keep in sync with him. The presentation thing at the end we never did, because basically at that point, no one is watching you any more. The judges are all busy writing things down and most spectators are either other skaters who are focusing on their test or parents of the skaters who are focusing on their kid.

    1. I've also been told that the judges never look at the presentation glide. But Dance Coach is really insistent on it. I think it's a matter of professional pride or showmanship

  3. Interesting to hear how things are done in ice... In roller we definitely don't have the presentation issue with dance tests (well, maybe for gold medal, but I haven't ever seen anyone take a gold medal team dance test... a serious indication of how quickly our sport is dying). The presentation is always seen in competition, but our tests tend to be much more casual.

    As for the whole progressives vs. crossovers - they are most decidedly NOT the same thing in roller skating. For cross overs the free foot crosses over the the skating foot and then (the good skaters) often stretch the new free foot to get a toe point and extra power. For progressives (we actually have 2 types of progressive steps) the free foot must take the skating surface alongside the current skating foot. Crossing it over before it takes to the surface is very, very wrong. In International style progressives (these are like ice skating) the new free foot then extends behind the skating foot into a point. This usually happens so fast it looks like a cross, but it isn't really. In American style progressive steps (these are unique to roller skating) after the original free foot takes the floor, the new free foot extends behind in a flexed and non-crossed position. When that foot re-takes the floor the heel wheels are supposed to hit the floor first. These sorts of progressive steps would be disastrous on ice, hence their being unique to roller. In either case, progressive running steps are the basis for many dances, and even many of the high level dances have at least one set (maybe not the dances the ISU has been picking lately, but many of the classics like the Paso Doble, The Quickstep, and the Viennese Waltz do). I have been skating for over a decade and my coach still spends time in my lessons critiquing my progressive technique. I sort of wonder if there is a different emphasis on the techniques in ice and roller skating, or perhaps the technique really is supposed to be different? In either case, something interesting to ponder...

    Anyway, sorry for the long ramble... progressive steps are something I think about a lot. I even started using my left foot to power my sewing machines in the hopes that I might gain more ankle control...

    1. Hmmm- I wonder if I can figure out a way to convince myself the left foot sewing helps my skating. I'm trying to learn to left foot sew because I use my right leg on my presser foot knee lift- and half the time I do that, I manage to press the pedal down too...

      Oops, not skating related.

  4. Tomato, tomahto, progressive, crossover...let's call the whole thing off. :-)

  5. One of your funniest posts yet. Especially loved the young coach's initiation to the old and wrinkly skater wisdom and the kibbles bit!