ISU 20logo 20colby Jacquelyn Thayer

From June 11-15, the International Skating Union’s 54th Ordinary Congress will convene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Union and member federations will finalize the new rules for the 2012-13 season and, in some cases, beyond. As customary, the ISU has issued a preliminary communication detailing the proposals under consideration. Here is a breakdown of those most pertinent to ice dance.

1. Tighter Age and Level Limits

With Proposal 67, the ISU Council has recommended that the maximum age for junior men in both dance and pairs be lowered from 21 to 20, beginning in the 2014-15 post-Olympic season. This proposal, if passed, could certainly have negative ramifications for new partnerships or still-developing teams. The ISU is already acknowledging its theoretical impact with the two-year grace period included in the proposal, a consideration that was not given when lowered age limits were proposed at previous Congresses. Interestingly, Russia has proposed an even stricter limit, lowering the maximum junior age for dance and pairs ladies to 18 from 19, and men to 19. Germany, on the other hand, has taken the opposite approach in its proposal for novice age limits, suggesting that the maximum age for novice dance and pairs men be raised from 15 to 17. The ISU, however, has already indicated its dismissal of both of the suggestions from Russia and Germany.

The issue of competing on the junior and senior levels simultaneously is more common in pairs and singles than in dance recently, but a rule change will affect dance teams from smaller federations, if passed. Proposal 67 also endorses stricter rules preventing skaters from continuing to compete internationally as juniors in the same season in which they participate in a senior international event. While these skaters, if still age-eligible, can resume competing at junior events the following season, participation in second senior international event will then permanently move those skaters to senior status internationally.

2. Restrictions, Requirements and Revolutions in Music

The ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee has proposed that certain music deductions currently in place for the free dance be extended to the short dance as well. Proposal 259 states that short dance music, like that in the free dance, may now be without an audible beat for the program’s first 10 seconds. However, music that violates the rhythm and/or theme requirements for the season’s short dance will receive a two-point deduction, akin to the penalty issued against free dance music which violates general music restrictions. The technical committee has also proposed a one-point deduction for short dance music not in accordance with a designated tempo. Besides creating consistency across both competition segments, this proposal is likely also another effort to enforce stricter adherence to the year’s chosen pattern and rhythm, as well as to ensure more rhythmically- and thematically-cohesive short dances. The new proposals also stress that the pattern must fit the music’s phrasing, and that a couple must skate primarily to the music’s rhythm. These rules have been present in dance guidelines before, but have not been universally followed.

Supplementing the proposed new tempo deduction is Proposal 179, which would require the second timekeeper, currently responsible for timing lifts, to check also the tempo of music selected for pattern dances or patterns within the short dance, when a required tempo has been specified.

Novice dancers competing pattern dances will also be impacted musically, though in a rather more appealing way. Proposal 279 provides for the possibility of teams providing their own (rhythmically-appropriate) music selections, versus being required to skate to that season’s series of ISU Dance Music. The ISU, in a pleasantly blunt and perhaps not-untrue statement, supports the proposal with the claim that it will “make Pattern Dances more attractive,” especially for those required to compete them. The United States gave its novice dancers this option last year and will presumably support the proposal.

3. Technical Matters

Dance may see a major shift with the possible introduction of elements carrying a fixed base value. Proposal 265 amends the existing rule establishing levels of difficulty for required elements, now including an exception for “elements designated with a fixed Base Value in the list of elements announced annually,” which the ISU subsequently defines as “Choreographic Required Elements.“

Newly-introduced is the term “Pattern Dance Element,” comprising a sequence or section of a pattern dance, or a combination of steps or turns from multiple pattern dances, for use in the short dance. The Pattern Dance Element replaces both Pattern Dance Sequences and Partial Step Sequences as required elements for the junior short dance. The definition of a Partial Step Sequence, meanwhile, has been expanded to include more general “movements” in addition to the established “steps and/or turns,” with a subsequent proposal adding that a Partial Step Sequence can be performed “as prescribed by the Ice Dance Technical Committee,” introducing the possibility of its becoming a more standardized element.

At the novice level, Proposal 255 states that pattern dances will be divided into sections, with each section to receive a Level between 1 through 4. This measure is intended to bring pattern dance scoring into closer alignment with the key point approach by which the pattern elements of the short dance are currently scored.

4. A Smaller Field in Sochi

While the Olympics are the ultimate goal for many competitive skaters, fewer teams may now have the opportunity to compete a full event at Sochi and subsequent Games. To bring the requirements at the Olympic Games more in line with those of the World Championships, Proposal 176 states that of the maximum 24 couples competing in the short dance, only the top 20 may qualify for the free dance. The ISU asserts that a shorter, more concentrated event will provide the viewing audience with “the best possible impression.” Given the broadcast restrictions already placed on much Olympic figure skating coverage, however, it is reasonable to wonder if this measure will necessarily have a greater impact on the worldwide viewing audience than it will on the teams who miss that cut-off.

The final decisions of the ISU Congress will be published to the ISU website ( shortly after the event’s conclusion.