Figure skating is the oldest sport in the Winter Olympics. Pair skating and ice dance are its two disciplines that appear similar: Pairs of men and women skating in sync with each other. It can be hard to distinguish them at first glance. So, what’s the difference between pair skating and ice dance?
Pair skating is a figure skating discipline defined by the International Skating Union (ISU) as “the skating of two persons in unison who perform their movements in harmony with each other to give the impression of genuine Pair Skating as compared with independent Single Skating”. The ISU also states that a pairs team must consist of “one Lady and one Man”. Since figure skating, the oldest Winter Olympic sport, was introduced at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, pair skating has been an Olympic discipline.
Ice dance, or so-called ice dancing, is a discipline of figure skating that historically draws from ballroom dancing. Today, it still has a strong connection with this form of dancing. The first international ice dance competition was a special event at the World Championships in 1950 in London. It formally joined the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952 and made its Olympic debut at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. According to the ISU, an ice dance team consists of one woman and one man.
- Competition segments
Pair skating competitions consist of two segments: the short program and the free skating program. Ice dance games consist of rhythm dance and free dance.
Skating in harmony with the music is important for all figure skating disciplines. Skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, and interpretation are five components of the ISU judging system. In ice dance, dancing is an essential part. In pair skating, movements like jumps and lifts are more vital.
- Distance between skaters
The distance between the dancers needs to be very close in ice dance. Partners in this discipline should not skate separately for a long time, and they should be no more than two arms’ lengths apart. However, in pair skating, the two skaters can perform lots of elements at a distance.
Pair skating and ice dance have different requirements for elements. In pair skating, there are lifts, twist lifts, throw jumps, solo jumps, solo spin combinations, death spirals, and step sequences. Among them, jumps is the most significant technique.
But in ice dance, the skaters barely jump. This is the main difference. The rules prohibit ice dancers from making many moves that pairs of figure skaters might perform. Twist lifts and overhead lifts are forbidden as well. Thus, once the audience sees jumps or these kinds of lifts, they can know that it must be pair skating.
To facilitate jumps, the costume dress of the female pair skater is relatively shorter, while the clothing of the female ice dancer can be slightly longer. Of course, there are times when female skaters wear trousers in both disciplines.
The union’s rules govern international competitions sanctioned by the International Skating Union (ISU). Skaters are entered by their respective national skating federations.
- ISU Championships: World, European, Four Continents, and World Junior Championships, as well as the World Synchronized Skating Championships.
- Figure skating at the Olympic Games
- Senior invitational international competitions, such as the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
- ISU Challenger Series, such as Nebelhorn Trophy, Ondrej Nepela Memorial, and Finlandia Trophy, started in the 2014-15 season. ISU decided to support a restricted group of traditional B internationals.
- Other international competitions (“B internationals”) such as Karl Schäfer Memorial and NRW Trophy. Results from these competitions are generally excluded from ISU season’s best (SB) and personal best (PB) scores but may be considered for the ranking.
- Junior international competitions such as the ISU Junior Grand Prix.
- Team events such as the ISU World Team Trophy in Figure Skating
2021–22 ISU World Standings and Season’s World Ranking
Pairs top 5:
Ice dance top 5: