figure skating

What is Ice Dancing and is It Different From Figure Skating? Here's What to Know

There's one thing you'll see in pairs figure skating that you won't see in ice dancing

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Up next in the figure skating competition is ice dancing, but for those who aren't familiar with the sport there might be some confusion between ice dancing and pairs skating.

On the surface, the two might appear similar. Two men and two women skating, oftentimes in sync with each other.

But there's one thing you'll see in pairs figure skating that you won't see in ice dancing.

Here's a breakdown of the two.

What Is Ice Dancing?

Ice dancers perform their routine in the rhythm dance and free dance events. The rules prohibit them from doing any throw jumps, twist lifts, overhead lifts and other moves that skaters like Nathan Chen would do. Think ballroom dancing, but on ice. Skating partners are also not expected to separate for too long during their "no touch step sequence" as the rule states they shouldn't be more than two arms’ length apart.

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What Are the Ice Dancing Moves to Watch for?

Belbin White, who was part of the first-ever U.S. ice dancing team to win a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics, told TODAY that the biggest moves in ice dancing are the twizzle, a pattern dance, lift, spin, step sequence and choreography.

“The ice dance event features two skaters working as a team to perform intricate maneuvers, steps, and acrobatics, all while staying in close contact throughout the program and with an emphasis on musicality and interpretation. Think ballroom dancing mixed with Cirque du Soleil, and you might get an idea of what to expect!” White told TODAY. 

Twizzles, are considered "one of the most easily identifiable moves in ice dancing," according to NBC Olympics. They are a series of turns on one foot, in which skaters perform rotations quickly, side by side, preferably close to each other on the ice, though not touching. The weight remains on the skating foot, with the free foot in any position during the turn.

According to U.S. Skating, for all singles and pairs events and the free dance, judges award two marks: one for technical merit and one for program presentation.

"The technical merit mark expresses a judge’s evaluation of the quality of the required elements skated," the group states. "The presentation mark reflects a judge’s assessment of the program as a whole — its composition, originality, use of ice, skater’s style and expression of the music."

In addition to the technical score, each "program" is judged on five components: skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of music.

The description of each component is as follows:

Skating Skills - Overall skating quality, including edge control and flow over the ice surface (edges, steps, turns, speed, etc.), clarity of technique and use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed.

Transitions - The varied and/or intricate footwork, positions, movement and holds that link all elements.

Performance - The involvement of the skater physically, emotionally and intellectually in translating the music and choreography.

Composition - An intentional, developed and/or original arrangement of all types of movements according to the principles of proportion, unity, space, pattern, structure and phrasing.

Interpretation of Music - The personal and creative translation of the music to the movement on the ice.

How Is it Different From Pairs Skating?

Athletes in the pairs discipline compete in the same two events as individual skaters: short and free programs. They perform the moves that aren't allowed in ice dancing. The main elements include difficult moves like the twist lift, in which the male athlete lifts his partner over his head, tosses her in the air as she rotates and he catches her.

Throw jumps are also extremely common. It's the maneuver in which the male skater throws his partner in the air, and she lands unassisted on a backward outside edge.

Who Are the Ice Dancing Duos to Watch for?

Coming up will be ice dancing's rhythm dance event, which Team USA scored big in during the team event earlier in the Games.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue placed first in the rhythm dance for Team USA during the team competition. The duo earned a 86.56 score while skating to a medley of Janet Jackson songs.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates were also among the headlines of the U.S.' team performance, skating in the ice dance free dance for a winning score of 129.07. The win gave the U.S. 10 additional points, securing their spot for a silver medal.

Making their Beijing debut in the individual event will be Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. The duo earned the final ice dance berth for the U.S. by four-peating for third place at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 

What About Pairs Skaters?

Team USA's Brandon Frazier and Alexa Knierim, a Chicago-area native, placed third in their team short program while scoring a personal best but unfortunately came in last during the free program. The 2022 Winter Olympics mark their first as a pair.

They'll look to top their short program performance and redeem their free skate in the coming days.

When Can You Watch and Where?

Figure skating began on Feb. 3 and runs through Feb. 19.

The first week of programming was entirely team events, while the second week features individual competition. Next up on the schedule is ice dancing's rhythm dance, which will see notable U.S. duos returning to the ice for what they hope will be another figure skating medal.

One of the final events of the Winter Olympics will be the Exhibition Gala, during which fans will get to enjoy more personality-centric performances featuring some of the Games’ most popular skaters. 

Below is the full event and streaming information for each day of competition for figure skating. 

NBC Olympics 2022 Winter Olympics Figure Skating Coverage Schedule*

Date/Time (ET)



Thurs | Feb 3 | 8.55 p.m.

Team Event - Men's & Pairs SP, Rhythm Dance 

NBC | Peacock,

Sat | Feb 5 | 8:30 p.m.

🏅 Team Event - Women's SP, Pairs FS


Sun | Feb 6 | 8:15 p.m.

🏅 Team Event - M/W FS, Free Dance


Mon | Feb 7 | 8:15 p.m.

Men's Singles Short Program


Wed | Feb 9 | 8:30 p.m.

🏅 Men's Singles Free Skate


Sat | Feb 12 | 6:00 a.m.

Ice Dance Rhythm Dance


Sun | Feb 13 | 8:15 p.m.

🏅 Ice Dance Free Dance


Tue | Feb 15 | 5:00 a.m.

Women's Singles Short Program


Thurs | Feb 17 | 5:00 a.m.

🏅 Women’s Singles Free Skate


Fri | Feb 18 | 5:30 a.m.

Pairs Short Program


Sat | Feb 19 | 6:00 a.m.

🏅 Pairs Free Skate


Sat | Feb 19 | 11:00 p.m.

Exhibition Gala


* TV networks reflect live events, times may differ for replays; check full schedule for detailed information.

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