Watching sports on TV and wondering what the differences are between ice dancing and figure skating?
Or looking for a club for your kid and wondering what is better: ice dancing vs figure skating?
Jumps, dances, costumes, skates... below is the comparison between the 2 sports.
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Differences between ice dancing and figure skating - Summary
While, ice dancing is officially a discipline within Figure skating, it is quite different.
If you want to explain briefly the difference between the 2 sports:
- Figure skating is gymnastics on ice - it is all about jumps, spins and dramatic lifts
- Whilst ice dance is dance on ice - it is about musical interpretation, footwork and rhythm
What you will notice the most is that there are no jumps in ice dancing.
But I will go into more detailed differences in this article.
What they have in common
- Both disciplines are on ice - LOL
- Overall shape of the skate is similar
- Some technical elements with the footwork and spins are common
- Both are Olympic sports - although figure skating has been part of it since the first official Winter Games in 1924, whilst ice dancing started only in 1976. Learn more about figure skating at the Olympics.
Let's dive into the major differences.
1. At high level, ice dancers compete only as pairs
For traditional figure skating, you can see international competition for single women, single men and pairs.
However at high level, ice dancers only compete in pairs, not as individuals.
At National level, you can train and compete as a solo ice dancer. There are a few international meets, but nothing like World championships or the Olympics.
2. Ice dancing vs figure skating - no jumps
This second difference is the most obvious.
In single-women, single-men and Pairs figure skating they keep doing jumps (axel, lutz...)
Whereas the ice dancers don't jump.
Ice dancing is far less acrobatic. Partners don't jump or toss the other one in the air or lift above the head.
Jumps are not even allowed.
So, if you see a pair on the ice, the way to recognize ice dancing is to see if they are jumping or being thrown.
3. Balance between partners
You may also notice that figure skating pairs do not look like ice dancing couples.
Being more acrobatic, a figure skating pair is less balanced: the man is tall and large whilst the woman is tiny to fly in the air (most of the time).
Whereas for ice dancing (like for ballroom dancing) harmony is essential and the size is way more balanced (normally not more than one head of height difference).
4. Differences in the competition events & use of themes
Ice dancing used to be even closer to ballroom dancing with mandatory dances. But it has evolved, to be more appealing to novice watchers.
Here are the events for figure skating vs ice dancing (at senior level):
- Figure skating events
It starts with a short program that lasts 2min40 - theme and music are free
And there is a long program for 4 minutes - theme and music are free
Mandatory elements include lifts, jumps and spins.
- Ice dancing events
The short dance last about 3 minutes. There is a mandatory theme each year such as Foxtrot, Tango or cha-cha. Each pair must interpret the theme.
The free dance is for about 4 minutes. For this one, the choice of theme is free, but there must be a story being told by the dance.
Mandatory elements include footwork such as twizzles, lifts and now also a few spins.
- Below is a video of an example.
- Similarly test and levels are slightly different. Learn more here
Due to its acrobatic nature, figure skating includes a lot of falls during its events.
However, in ice dance, falls are rare (and if they happen, they are disastrous for the final score).
And it is the same during practice.
If your kid chooses figure skating, he/she will spend a lot of time falling on the ice. Whilst in ice dancing, once you know the basics, falls are not common.
6. Figure skates vs ice dancing skates
Non initiated viewers will not notice the difference.
But there are actual differences between Figure skating skates and ice dancing skates, which is logical since the figures are different.
- for ice dance, the blades are shorter at the end (the tail). It is no longer than the boot as opposed to figure skates - learn more about blades.
- at high level, ice dancers often have special boots that are cut at the back to allow for better lines when pointing toes
7. The skating dresses have different shapes
Finally, as a general rule, ice dancing dresses are often longer than figure skating.
Here again it is logical since figure skaters need aerodynamic outfits to jump and spin. If the dress is too long, it will limit their movements.
Which sport to choose for children - ice dancing or figure skating?
That is an excellent question.
First of all, as a beginner they can start in either club. The basic steps are the same. To learn to skate both sports are fine.
You can switch later.
In some counties, ice dancing is part of the figure skating clubs. In others you have separate ice dancing clubs.
Check out what is available at the rink close to you.
When it is time to decide:
- if your kid is jumping everywhere, always climbing on furniture... then figure skating is the best choice
- if your kid is always dancing when music is playing (like I was, even in the middle of a shop...) then ice dancing may be a better choice.