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Lake Placid's Heritage Lives On

U.S. Ice Dancers Want to Keep Compulsories in Competition

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates both believe that compulsory dance should remain part of the ice dancing competition.
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates both believe that compulsory dance should remain part of the ice dancing competition. (Daphne Backman)

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By Sandra Stevenson / Special to icenetwork.com
(08/30/2007) - Joyful vibrations from memorabilia of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games permeated the Olympic Museum in Lake Placid, N.Y., the site of the Opening Ceremony for the ISU Junior Grand Prix on Thursday evening.

Seventy-two skaters from 24 countries, ranging from Russia to Korea, and their associated officials and coaches were present.

In this complex, Sonja Henie won the second of her three Olympic golds. Spectators 75 years ago were thrilled by what was then a state-of-the-art, extremely rare indoor rink.

The skaters in this Junior Grand Prix are competing in the 1980 Arena Herb Brooks Rink, on the surface where the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. hockey team scored its upset victory over the U.S.S.R. in the 1980 Olympics.

Public tours still are very popular, and if that isn't enough to impress this parade of high-level youngsters, almost every inch of the maze of connecting corridors is covered with photographs and paintings of famous skaters...and of those whose names have long been forgotten.

Fans are predicting more gold and fame will result from the talented U.S. skaters competing here in the first Junior Grand Prix to be held in the U.S. since Long Beach, Calif., played host Sept. 9-12, 2004. Some say the U.S. will win all four gold medals over the three days of competition.

The most excitement surrounds U.S. junior champion Mirai Nagasu, who is expected to make as big a splash as did Japanese phenom Mao Asada. Asada burst into this level of competition in Long Beach, beating Kimmie Meissner only 2 1/2 years before Meissner won the World title.

Asada is now the World silver medalist.

The men and pairs begin Friday with their short programs while the ladies start on Saturday.

But before those exciting competitions commence, the event opens with an archaic ice dance exercise, the Viennese Waltz. The couples do 24 basic steps invented in 1934 by long-dead Britons Eric van der Weyden and Eva Keats.

Those exact steps are repeated twice. This is accompanied by a few recycled pieces with a strictly timed beat, and they appeal only to very well-informed spectators.

One singles official said, "They're as exciting as watching mushrooms grow in a damp cellar."

The official went on to point out that concert pianists do not bore their audiences with scales, although these are an essential part of learning their technique.

A Canadian coach, Carol Long, said, "The marks for compulsories now tend to be very close together. Everyone is within two points of everyone else, so they have less effect on the overall results. The judges need to spread their marks more to reward good showings in the compulsories."

A few years ago, Skate Canada, the governing body of the sport north of the border, put a proposal to the ISU Congress - unsuccessfully - that compulsory dance be eliminated from competition.

Figures, which at least proceeded in silence, disappeared from singles skating following the 1990 World Championships because they were not spectator friendly, so why has that not happened to compulsory dance?

Apparently, it is because the competitors believe it is still valuable.

All three U.S. couples at this event are adamantly against the suggestion that they be dropped.

Emily Samuelson, 17, and Evan Bates, 18, are the current U.S. junior champions.

"Even if the spectators find it boring, it's still a vital part of ice dancing," Bates said. "Compulsories should be kept in competition because they are a chance for skaters to show their skating abilities, their technique and their pattern execution. "Everyone's doing exactly the same steps, which makes for a very good comparison. In the free dance and OD, everybody's going different things, so it's less easy to compare abilities."

Samuelson concurred.

"As your ability advances, you can add more presentation to the compulsory and get more in depth into the character of the dance," she said. "You should be able to make it more entertaining even though the steps are the same for every couple."

Their teammates Pilar Bosley and John Corona, both of whom are 18, are the U.S.'s sixth-ranked juniors.

"I particularly didn't like the Hickory Hoedown (a basic compulsory) - that was so corny," Corona said. "But the compulsories lend a base and set a simple standard. They force you to work on the basic skills. They are essential."

Bosley said, "It's not just because that's what we're good at. I've always had good timing. You're allowed to do whatever you want in the free dance and OD, but you have to have ability to do edges in the compulsories."

Bosley and Corona's coach, Robbie Kaine, agrees with his pupils.

"Compulsories show what sort of physical shape a skater is in," Kaine said. "It's very hard to stay consistent with patterns, your edge technique and quality of turns. It's been proved that the dancers are some of the best athletes in figure skating.

"The Viennese might be an old dance, but the teams that stand out are those that make it look refreshing. All the officials know the steps and the timing. They did them in their day. So they can really appreciate what the skaters are doing. It's hard to hide any mistakes from them. While Sara Bailey, 17, and Kyle Herring, 18, runners-up in novice at last year's State Farm U.S. Championships, feel the compulsories are very important, Herring was the only member of the U.S. ice dancing team in Lake Placid to confess his dislike of them.

"I have to admit, I hated them at first," Herring said. "But as you develop, you realize the basics of compulsories really seep into your free dance and OD. As much as they are not fun, they are important, and they shouldn't be dropped.

"The free dance and OD are getting so technical and are based on so many new rules. Compulsories bring us back to the basis of skating. They are one of the last few things that make the skater learn the fundamentals of skating. It's up to that skater to take it up to that next level. It's still something we need."