Saturday, February 20, 2010

At the Olympics: Dancing on Thin Ice

Inconceivable that NBC should hold back the men's figure finals until around 10 PM or after out here on the coast, and yet give prime time coverage to compulsory dance. I am now convinced beyond a shadow of Jay Leno that NBC is run by idiots.

Because of this inane scheduling, I missed watching Evgeni Plushenko and Evan Lysacek battle it out.

The old compulsory dance event is simply too redundant and too similar to the original set patterns, either of which would be a sufficient lead in to free dance finals.

Athletically speaking, dance has little credibility at the Olympics. And it's easy to see why the ballroom crowd has been clamoring for years for a place at the summer games, just as have roller dancers, who -- in the compulsory division, bring far great technique and team unity to the compulsory set-pattern dances than do their famously-established counterparts on ice.

I'll let this issue alone, other than to note that Sonja Heine helped turn ice skating into an Olympic staple and entertainment industry. The rest is a colorful and skillfully exploited history that keeps on giving..

For the schooled skater on any surface who values baselines and lobes, three turns and partner alignment, there is -- or was -- nothing so technically satisfying to watch as a crack American roller dance team, before American rollers began mimicking the comparatively wild and free ice "dancing" style. For those of you in the dark, imagine the more conservative champion ballrooms dancers you see today on PBS, only performing with the same flawless execution on roller skates.

Of course, the public would likely find them boring, as they tend to the ice teams in compulsories. In the beginning, the icers in tandem placed rigorous if clumsy emphasis on edges, edges, edges, at the expense of partner unity and flow. Remember the school figures? From those, emerged teams "dancing." At their worst (even in the Ice Follies), partners cut deep edges while holding onto each other as music played.

The American roller dancers during the forties and fifties broke free of edge-centric styles and achieved matchless levels of breathless perfection in symmetry, upright posture, partner unison, smooth creamy movement of skates. Roller dance champion Bob Labriola and his partners, then those teams he taught, epitomized an idyllic form of roller dance that has virtually vanished as the roller crowd, pathetically bent on doing it the ice way, believing that is the only road to Olympic glory, laboriously and slavishly imitates ice dance styles -- to a point of grotesque exaggeration and overkill.

I'm waiting for the free dance, in which icers excel, for here the partners can widen and liberate the space between themselves that, on blades, never came natural but always looked forced. At this break-away point, dancing on ice comes very close to pairs skating, minus the lifts. The French team years ago were a revelation in creative artistry.

A sheet of ice invites the body to soar.

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