No one knows ice dancing better than Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were the first U.S. couple to earn gold in the event in Sochi in 2014.
In a conversation with TIME, the skaters shared how viewers can get the most out of watching ice dancing during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, with details on what makes the sport different from pairs figure skating and what major parts of an ice dancing performance to look forward to.
Once you’re an expert, you can tune in on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 (Feb. 19 and Feb. 20 local time in PyeongChang) to watch the U.S.’s three talented ice dancing teams: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Maia and Alex Shibutani, each of whom has a chance at grabbing a medal.
Here’s what Davis and White shared with TIME.
There are no lifts over the head or jumps in ice dancing
One of the biggest differences between pairs figure skating and ice dancing involves lifts. In ice dancing, one skater cannot lift the other over his or her head, as they do in pairs figure skating.
Instead, ice dancers rely on lifts that Davis describes as “quite acrobatic.” Some require the female skater to stand on the leg of the male skater, which, White admits, can be painful.
There aren’t any jumps, either, so you won’t see ice dancers doing a double or triple axel at the Olympics.
You’ll see a lot more theatrical work in ice dancing
“Ice dancing is a little bit more theatrical,” says Davis. “As per the name, it’s more dance-based.”
In an ice dancing routine, partners spend quite a bit of their routine dancing closely together, face-to-face, much like what you would see in ballroom dancing. “When we’re skating around, you want to see that we’re moving together, that we’re facing each other, so that is a level of difficulty,” says White.
Additionally, a good performance shows personality with choreography framed around music.
There are many required parts of a four-minute program
A four-minute program ice dancing in the Olympics has a number of requirements, including the use of spins, lifts, twizzles (a spin used to move across the ice) and dance steps.
While skating around the ice, the partners are still spinning and dancing together — and not just skating side-by-side.
White and Davis said one of their favorite moves is the twizzle, which White said is difficult because of the blades ice dancers wear that are more curved, rather than flat. “It’s really easy to start rocking back and forth on your blade while you’re turning,” he said.
What’s more difficult, they said, is incorporating all of those moves into an integrated piece that flows well. And, White says, “at the same time you want the audience and the judges to feel like they’re a part of the story that you’re telling.”
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