Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chances good compulsories out after 2010 Games

If you like the Tango, you got to watch it quite a bit in the Pacific Coliseum today.

Twenty-three times to be exact.

In the ice dancing event, there are three portions of the competition, and the compulsory dance is the one in which all of the skating teams do the same dance to the same music. At these Olympics, the dance was the Tango Romantica.

And if this was it for the compulsories, Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin will have no problem with the decision.

"If this is the last time we perform the compulsory dance, awesome,'' Belbin said. "Good riddance, I say.''

And if we think we've heard this music a lot, imagine how many times have some of the skaters heard this music.

"So many times I can't even count,'' American ice dancer Emily Samuelson said.

But Samuelson might not have to listen to the same music over and over anymore. At the International Skating Union's Congress, which meets in June in Barcelona, a decision is expected to be made about the future of compulsories. The general prediction is that the ice dancing competition will be trimmed from three segments to two and the compulsory dance might be merged with the original dance.

Chances are good that these Games will be the last with compulsories, which features the basics of ice dancing skating skills. Just as school figures were eliminated from singles skating in international competition at the 1990 World Championships in Halifax, many see the demise of the compulsory dance as part of the evolution of the sport.

In the minds of some, it is a move for the better. But there are many others who believe it will lead to the demise of overall skating in ice dancing.

"Maybe I'll tell the youngsters that back in my day we did the compulsory dance at the Olympics,'' said Evan Bates, who performed the Tango Romantica with Samuelson tonight.

Compulsory dance generally is not the most exciting portion of the competition. Often, it is not even televised. But it is usually where skaters with classic technique shine.

According to Skate Canada High Performance Director Michael Slipchuk, there has been some consideration toward keeping the compulsory dance in the lower levels but eliminating at the junior and senior levels. The idea would be to help teach younger skaters good technique. When school figures were eliminated, they were swept out of the competition in one fell swoop and many established coaches and judges have lamented the impact it has had on the generation of skaters competing today.

As tedious as the compulsory dances can be, many of the skaters at these Games expressed some sadness about the possible elimination of the dance.

"Not too many people get so excited about seeing so many Tango Romanticas in a row, but it's also sad,'' said Cathy Reed, an ice dancer who represents Japan. "I think compulsories are the essence of ice dancing.''

Then again, the sport might not be too bad off without them.

"It's too early to say how this would impact the sport,'' said Igor Shpilband, a longtime ice dancing coach who currently works with U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. "I think the skill level has really improved and everybody is doing more rockers, counters and compulsory moves because of the new system.''

The Tango Romantica would be a special way for the compulsories to close at the Games. Created by Elena Tchiakovskaya in 1974, the dance was used by the first Olympic ice dancing champions: Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov.

Tchiakovskaya later coached a skater named Marina Zoueva, now a coach and choreographer herself. Zoueva teaches skating with Shpilband and shortly before these Games in Vancouver they had Tchiakovskaya visit the rink. Davis and White and Virtue and Moir got lessons on the dance from the master.

"It was so wonderful,'' Zoueva said. "What a great experience.''

Sasha Zhulin, an Olympic silver medalist in ice dancing who now is a coach, said the elimination of the compulsory dance would not be a good thing for skaters from his homeland in Russia. Classically trained, Russian skaters tend to focus a great deal on the compulsory and the basics of ice dancing.

"For the Russians, this would not be great,'' Zhulin said.

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