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What is the difference between Olympic pair skating and ice dancing?

Olympic Ice dancing and Olympic pair skating: What is the difference?
Olympic Ice dancing and Olympic pair skating: What is the difference?
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

When ice skating fans watch figure skating at the Winter Olympics, they may wonder what the differences there are between ice dancing and pair skating since both disciplines require very athletic moves, excellent figure skating skills, and both disciplines include a man and a lady skating together.

Main differences between pair skating and ice dancing:

Full revolution jumps, throw jumps, overhead twists, and side by side spins are not allowed in ice dancing. The spins ice dancers do are done together just like the pair spins that are done in pair skating. Both disciplines include lifts, but pair skating lifts are high overhead lifts done above the man's head. Ice dancers are not allowed to do those kind of lifts, but instead do very creative ice dance lifts. Ice dancing is supposed to look like ballroom dancing on ice, so in addition, the costumes worn in ice dancing may include long dresses and tuxedos, and the music and theme of ice dancing programs should give the effect that the skaters are dancing on the ice.

Ice dance short dance versus pairs short program:

The first phase of Olympic ice dancing competition is the short dance phase. The short dance includes steps from a certain pattern dance, but also includes creative free dance elements, and each ice dance team skates to a different piece of music. A dance spin is not included in the short dance, but the short dance requires five elements which also includes a lift, a non-touching step sequence, twizzles, and a certain pattern dance which is decided every competition season by the ISU International Skating Union.

The pairs short program is shorter than the pairs free skate program and there are also required elements in the short program just like the short dance. In 2014, Olympic pair skaters were required to do a twist, a throw, side by jumps, a pair spin, a lift, and footwork.

Ice dance free dance versus pairs free skate:

A pairs free skate is not only longer in length than the pairs short program, but will include more elements. It shows off a pairs's skill and grace, and also, a pair's side by side jumps, side by side spins, pair spins, overhead lifts, throws, and twists.

Free dancing, like the pairs free skate, is also longer than the short dance, and will include more and different elements including synchronized twizzles, dance lifts, dance spins, step sequences, and a variety of ice dance steps and ice dance positions.

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