Olympics figure skating preview: ice dance

Ice dance has become one of my favorite disciplines to watch because of the top teams’ diverse styles. Want ethereal programs? Check out Papadakis and Cizeron. Have a flair for the dramatic? Virtue and Moir are your team. If the skating doesn’t appeal to you, ice dance also has the most beautiful competitors in figure skating. This isn’t opinion: it’s fact.

Even for serious skating fans, the technical parts of ice dance can be difficult to understand. Only current and former ice dancers seem to know the intricacies. I admit that I’m not well versed in what distinguishes the fantastic teams from the merely good teams; I just go with my gut feeling. Here is a kindergartner’s guide to ice dance, based on my limited knowledge:

  • There are no jumps, although there are lifts (the man can’t extend his arms above his head) and spins.
  • The short dance is set to a particular theme each season, and teams can choose what songs they want to skate to. Latin is the theme for this season.
  • Edges (remember, the bottom of a skate blade is concave, so it has two edges) and holds are crucial. Ice dancers are known to have the deepest and best edge work out of all the disciplines. When dancers are in hold, take a look at how close they are to each other.

Two teams are the main contenders for the gold, while a few other teams are expected to battle for the bronze.

For the other disciplines, check out posts about men, pairs, and women.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (France)

I’ve never seen a team as smooth as Papadakis and Cizeron in over 20 years of watching skating. In ice dance, your eyes tend to focus on the woman, but with this team, I’m always watching him. Cizeron is so effortless…and he’s very easy on the eyes. Together, they’re fluid and captivating. They’re my favorites for the gold, no question.

If Papadakis and Cizeron have a weakness, it would be their short dance, which is set to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Frankly, I don’t like it. Clubby music doesn’t suit them. However, their “Moonlight Sonata” free dance is breathtaking and has broken world records multiple times this season.

I’ll never forget watching Papadakis and Cizeron live at the 2016 World Championships. I was already a fan of theirs, but their free dance cemented their legendary status for me. Set to The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home,” their free dance was about seeking comfort in each other as they moved from France to Montreal to train. The theme was universal and was a refreshing change from the “we’re a couple in love” show in ice dance. But, even if you didn’t know anything about the theme, this mesmerizing program will still suck you in. This is a program that I constantly rewatch.

Watch the video if you like: gorgeous people, gorgeous skating, gorgeous music. Also, in a discipline full of attractive people, Papadakis/Cizeron and their coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Romain Haguenauer take the cake (check out 7:30 of the video). It’s almost unfair.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)

No dance team is as sharp as Virtue and Moir. They won the 2010 Olympics with stunning programs. Their free dance to Mahler was magical, and it brought the house down in Vancouver. Virtue and Moir took time off after a disappointing silver at the 2014 Olympics but returned to competitive skating last season. They were unstoppable during their comeback year, winning everything including the world championship.

Before their break from competitive skating, Virtue and Moir were well known for their free dances. Since their comeback, they’ve had killer short dances. This season’s short dance is set to a Rolling Stones, Eagles, and Carlos Santana medley, and it’s awesome. I greatly prefer it to Papadakis/Cizeron’s short dance. However, I don’t love Virtue and Moir’s free dance to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Part of this is due to fatigue from seeing countless programs to “Tango de Roxanne”: I don’t get why so many skaters like this growly song.

I respect Virtue and Moir for returning to competitive skating, but I don’t see them winning another Olympic gold. Even if they do win, they already had their perfect moment at the 2010 Olympics, where they had three (there was a third, compulsory dance at that time) flawless performances on home ice. No matter what happens in PyeongChang, I don’t think they can have another moment that comes close to their experience in Vancouver. But, what do I know? They could prove me wrong, and I’d be OK with that.

Virtue and Moir have had so many stellar programs, but one standout is last season’s short dance to a Prince medley. It’s intricate but still cool and effortless; in other words, genius.

Watch the video if you like: hip hop on ice, fun and spirited dancing, Prince tributes

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (USA)

I’ve been a fan of the Shibs for so long, it’s hard to believe they’re still just 23 (Maia) and 26 (Alex). They won the bronze at the 2011 World Championships but then were off the Worlds podium for a few years. They had a well deserved breakthrough during the 2015 to 2016 season, where they skated to a medley of Coldplay’s “Fix You” and “The Scientist.” The music and familial bond between the Shibs made the free dance an instant hit. They won the silver at the 2016 World Championships with this free dance and eked out with the bronze at last year’s Worlds.

I would be ecstatic if the Shibs won the Olympics, but that’s not going to happen. However, the American ice dance teams are (arguably) the U.S.’s best chance at a figure skating medal, and the Shibs (arguably) lead the pack for the battle for bronze.

I’ve seen the Shibs live a couple of times, and I literally yelled, “Go, go, go!” during their twizzle (turns in ice dance lingo) sequence at the 2016 World Championships. It was a treat to see them skate “Fix You” at Worlds, but I actually preferred their performance at Nationals. They skated with more abandon at that competition, while they seemed slightly more cautious at Worlds. Regardless, “Fix You” is a masterpiece.

Watch the video if you like: an underdog story, twizzles timed perfectly to the music, early 2000s throwbacks

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA)

Holy chemistry. I can’t take my eyes off Hubbell and Donohue when they take the ice. The electricity between them is incredible. They were so close to winning the bronze at last year’s World Championships, but a last-minute fall by Donohue during the free dance eliminated their chances of getting onto the podium. It was heartbreaking.

Luckily, Hubbell and Donohue haven’t let their disappointment from last year’s Worlds distract them. They captured their first national title last month in a tight race with the Shibs and Chock/Bates (discussed below). Momentum is on their side. I’m a diehard Shibs fan, but I’ll still be very happy if Hubbell and Donohue get the bronze at the Olympics.

For lack of a better description, Hubbell and Donohue’s free dance to the bluesy “Across the Sky” and “Caught Out in the Rain” is hot. It might be my favorite free dance this season. We’re blessed with diverse free dances this season, and I hope Hubbell and Donohue capitalize on the adrenaline at the Olympics to make this free dance truly memorable.

Watch the video if you like: sexy skating, sizzling chemistry, emotional performances

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA)

Chock and Bates were the top American ice dance team immediately the 2014 Olympics, winning the National Championships and getting the silver at Worlds in 2015. Then the Shibs and Hubbell/Donohue had their breakthroughs, causing Chock/Bates to fall in the ranks. In recent seasons, Chock/Bates have also struggled to come up with programs that work for them.

Chock and Bates have gotten some of their stride back this season with their free dance set to “Imagine.” The music is a little cheesy, but I like it better than their free dances from the past couple of seasons. Although the ended up with the bronze at Nationals last month, they actually won the free dance portion. Their interpretation to the music is genuine, so even the most cynical person can enjoy this dance.

Also, if you like romance, you might be interested to know that Chock and Bates are a couple off the ice. You can check out their Instagram accounts for cute photos. It even melts my cold heart.

Watch the video if you like: inspired performances, hopeful messages, romantic intrigue

Other teams to look out for:

  • Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (Italy)
    • They won the 2014 World Championships but haven’t been able to get back on the podium since then. They’re well known for their character-driven free dances.
  • Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada)
    • In the 2014 to 2015 season, it looked like Weaver and Poje were going to be the next frontrunners for the Olympic title. However, they’ve been off the podium at the past couple of world championships.
  • Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (Canada)
    • This team is always quirky and entertaining. They’ve tended to play second (third?) fiddle to Virtue/Moir and Weaver/Poje, but they won the silver medal at this year’s Canadian Nationals. I’ve had a soft spot for this team for a while, so I hope they have clean performances at the Olympics.
  • Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (Russia)
    • Bobrova’s slumped posture is really distracting to me, so this couple isn’t one of my favorites. I give them props for their innovative programs though.

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