The generation of ice dancers (the group who went for it in 2010) immediately previous to the cluster of meh currently competing, seemed to be having a good time when they competed, at least most of the time. There was adrenalin on the ice and in the audience. There was enthusiasm among the skaters skating their programs, warming up, or in practice. There was a rush when stakes were high, even more when everything clicked, that made it easy to understand why so many figure skaters are addicted to the sport.
Since - and with the majority help of the North American officials in both the USA and Canada - it was agreed in the last Olympic cycle that neither skating nor dance should be important in competitive ice dance, all vitality is gone from what was once almost a sport. Sport goes when the measurable, defined athletic and technical skills that make it sport (in this instance, the skating and dancing parts of ice dance) are no longer relevant. But, in ice dance, sport wasn't replaced with anything. It's not like the having legit wrestling supplanted by the circus of the WWW. Nothing's come through the grapevine telling the skaters/coaches to develop performance value or build particular entertainment attributes in their programs. There's been no edict to pump ice dance full of romance, drama, personality, musicality - nothing. The sport part's been supplanted by a void. We've got futility on ice, and unsurprisingly, it's turned ice dance into a big swamp of meh. Many skaters execute like they're pumped full of benzodiazepines.* Forget excitement. The skaters are missing affect.
Even if you decide accept that it's all fixed, and set out to enjoy the skating in ice dance for its own sake, regardless of outcome, that option has gone to crap as well. The stasis in ice dance has made the pre-determined winners overly deliberate, executing programs built around a caution and self-protection that's masquerading as choreography. It’s created anxiety among those who deserve to improve their placement. It’s had an overall adverse impact on speed, glide, power, and ice coverage, and its accompanying momentum, and so everything is dull, on camera and in person. Teams appear to be watching themselves skate, to be outside themselves, and from my perspective, it's also suppressing any organic connection the skaters have with the music, their choreography, and each other. Skaters are skating as if they’re oppressed; they're skating with the wrong kind of tension.
I think even for those at the top, the futility of ice dance has had a quelling effect. It’s about getting their hardware, their placement, that the organization is already planning to give them, and not fucking it up. For those lower down, it’s about hoping whatever they achieve in performance on the ice isn’t futile, but worrying it is.
I don’t think it’s a whole lot of fun for skating fans either. With one or two exceptions, none of whom made the world podium or appear likely to do so this season, the field is populated by the mediocre – mediocre skaters, mediocre dancers, mediocre partnerships. For these, the proscribed work around is to put something together that can be executed cleanly, meaning without a perceptible fall or obvious stumble, right out of the gate at the start of the season, skate at a pedestrian pace with unexceptional ice coverage, and signal the importance of a moment and the security of your skills with your face and arms. It’s about posing your skills, instead of actually having them, and we can all see there's an obvious aversion to actually skating out there. Too risky, too much exposure. The season starts like that and remains a flatline through Worlds. The ISU is rewarding stasis. Ice dance has all the joy of a Stalinist era military exercise.
This is just from watching ice dance at Nebelhorn. That was depressing. I like Paul and Islam’s free dance, and their skating, and they did stumble (as did Madison Chock), but even when a team like that skates their very considerable best, there’s a sense that they can’t permit themselves to show conviction that they are skating their best, or maybe it’s that they can’t muster up any conviction that it matters, or would matter if they did. Of course it's even more so when there are any glitches.
Chock and Bates are skating to maintain where they are, maintain all the way to the top of the World Podium, what with Papadakis and Cizeran, and possibly Weaver Poje, out right now. Their prospects for a gold medal at the Grand Prix Final and another at worlds are bright - with the absence of the other two teams, a certainty even. Look how excited they are, how much fun they're having, just as it should be at a low pressure Senior B without terribly much at stake.Just enjoying themselves.
It’s almost as as much fun as watching Davis White’s glacial, strained, gasp across the finish line effort in Sochi, which was an exercise in not falling down and nothing else, and it showed. Now the whole sport looks like that, even among the real skaters. I wonder if the Shibs were so demoralized last season it will affect them as well.
*Class of tranquilizers.