Ice dancing is a form of figure skating which draws from the world of ballroom dancing. It was first competed at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952, but did not become a Winter Olympic Games medal sport until 1976.
As in pair skating, dancers compete as a couple consisting of a man and a woman. Ice dance differs from pair skating by having different requirements for lifts, requiring spins to be performed as a team in a dance hold, and by disallowing throws and jumps. Typically, partners are not supposed to separate by more than two arm lengths; originally, partners were supposed to be in a dance hold the entire program, though this restriction has been lifted somewhat in modern ice dancing.
Another distinction between ice dance and other disciplines of skating is the usage of music in the performances; in ice dancing, dancers must always skate to music that has a definite beat or rhythm. Singles and pair skaters more often skate to the melody and phrasing of their music, rather than its beat; this is severely penalized in ice dance.
In some non-ISU competitions, solo dancers can also compete.
There are three components in an ice dance competition: the compulsory dances ("CD"), original dance ("OD"), and the free dance ("FD"). The free dance is the most heavily weighted in the scoring and is used as a tiebreaker. Some competitions, such as the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, do not have a compulsory dance.
Compulsory dances are a part of ice dancing in which all the couples perform the same standard steps and holds to music of a specified tempo. One or more compulsory dances are usually skated as the first phase of competitions in ice dancing, but they are also popular as a form of recreational or social dance among skaters.
The patterns for most dances either cover one-half or one full circuit of the rink. The International Skating Union publishes the step diagrams and descriptions of the dances that are competed internationally, and also provides a set of standard music recordings for each dance with uniform tempo and introductory phrasing for use in competition.
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