Ruth Bass: Ice dancing no longer to be snubbed


RICHMOND - Once upon a time, housewives carefully hid the fact that they were virtually addicted to a particular soap opera - or that one soap had led to another and pretty soon the entire afternoon was whiled away in the depths of the personal disasters and crises on the screen.

Somehow, the stigma attached to following a soap evaporated when teenagers discovered these beguiling humans whose stories were loaded with intrigue, romance, conspiracy, suspense and the exchange of dozens of meaningful glances.

It was a bit the same way with ice dancing. Those who worshiped the figure skating grace of Sonja Henie and the artists who came after her were likely to scoff at ice dancing and its followers. It was a non-sport, they said, frivolous and meaningless.

Times have changed. Things ground to a halt in our kitchen last week when Charlie White and Meryl Davis performed the free dance that put them on the podium for a Gold Medal in ice dancing at the Olympics. This was sport, it was dance, it was challenging, it was enchanting.

It took Davis and White 16 years to reach the pinnacle at the Winter Games, the first Americans to win in ice dancing. But those who once looked down their noses at the event would be quite right to point out that the Davis/White approach is nothing like the original concept of ice dancing.

Many of the changes that made ice dancing more compelling are quite new. Where once dancers on skates were more like "Dancing With the Stars," they now have elements of the Bolshoi, plus jumps and lifts and twizzles that are far more athletic. Much of the format changed within the past four years and allows the male to lift a partner high as long as his arms aren't raised over his head. As a result, an ice dancer stood on her partner and leaned far forward, as lovely as the sculpted figurehead on a ship.

Some of the differences between the dancing and pairs skaters includes that ice dancing men are prohibited from wearing tights - they must wear trousers - dance school, not ballet. The women have particular rules about their body suits and clothing to avoid an impression of "excessive nudity." The skaters make up for that by wearing low-cut, spangled dresses that from a distance look pretty sexy. But up close, a flesh-colored body suit makes the outfits quite demure.

Ratings for NBC zoomed on the Sunday evening when ice dancing was the featured event at the Games. Certainly "Downton Abbey" must have suffered an unusually large night on the DVR, and "The Good Wife" didn't even bother to offer a defense.

Away from the ice, however, some of the best fun at this year's Winter Games has been watching the snowboarders go. Whether they are flying off those ridiculously high jumps singly or in groups, they are incredible. And it's warming to see them hug at the bottom, obviously friends who compete fiercely against each other, but with losers holding no grudges. They are just plain fun, breath-catching where the skaters are breathtaking, especially when six at a time plunge down the snowboard cross.

These daredevils are a welcome addition to the Games, bringing with them costume oddities like baggie pants, plus a vocabulary that includes terms like backside rodeo, air dog, hospital air (too much?) and eggbeater. We'd barely learned loop, axel and lutz.

Speaking of language, winter sports moves sometimes get named for their originators. A favorite in the United States was the Hamill camel, named for Dorothy Hamill who added a new spin to the traditional look (and whose wedge haircut had to be learned at salons across the nation in 1976).

Yep, the Olympics are expensive. They're political. They thrill and they crush. And they're incredible, even in a year when Bode Miller couldn't pull off a gold.

Ruth Bass treasures memories of attending the Olympics in Barcelona and Atlanta. Her web site is


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