Dancing on Ice

Truckee Elementary School teacher Jane Miller and skating coach Kent Gustafson glide together in the foxtrot position. | Sean McAlindin

Although humans have been sliding on frozen surfaces in creative ways since keeping themselves amused during the early ice ages, ice dancing as a sport first officially began in mid-1800’s Vienna when skaters began emulating ballroom waltz techniques on skates.

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Popularity of the activity skyrocketed in 1930’s Great Britain and led to the establishment of the current sport. It was included as an official event in the 1952 World Championship in Paris and became an Olympic sport at the 1976 games in Montreal.

Ice dancing is a fantastic way to get outside during the cold days of winter and learn an enjoyable activity amidst the warm companionship of others.

Over time, the common style of ice dancing has become increasing fluid, artistic, speedy and theatrical. Brits Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s interpretation of Ravel’s “Bolero” earned perfect scores at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics and has since been viewed as the iconic representation of modern ice dancing.

Joe Reeley and Susan Duffy Smith ice dance in seamless unison. | Sean McAlindin

As I stepped onto the Truckee ice rink on a crisp mid-January morning, it took me a moment to find my footing. The ice was smooth and clean in the cool winter air and gentle sunshine. As I slowly worked some laps around the rink, I noticed other skaters pairing up and moving seamlessly together as if one beautifully inspired creature.

We all soon gathered together with coach Kent Gustafson who led us through the first three moves. The swing involves a 180-degree sweeping circular turn on one skate. The chassé requires one to make timed foot lifts look effortless. Then there’s the mohawk, a half-turn to face your partner while continuing your dance skating backwards.

I attempted each step with mixed success and a beaming smile on my face. This would certainly take some work to perfect, but just being out on the ice brought out my inner child as my wife, Charlotte, and I drifted around the ice trying our best to look coordinated. Fortunately, as a former figure skater she made me look good, or at least I thought so.

Nowadays, ice dancing is a fantastic way to get outside during the cold days of winter and learn an enjoyable activity amidst the warm companionship of others.

Jane Miller and coach Kent Gustafson work on their Paso Doble. | Sean McAlindin

‘The first time I stepped on the ice with a young ice dancer who’d just finished his career, we got out there and it felt like flying,” says Susan Duffy Smith.

It’s an especially amusing treat during times of low snow when ice may be perfect.

“What color’s that grass?” asks Jane Miller, pointing toward the regional park. “We live in the mountains and never know if it’s going to snow or not. If you live here, you should be able to do all the winter sports. We have so much water that freezes and lots of winter rinks. The more you get into community and learn the more you know. Soon, you may find yourself skating with an Olympian.”

In Tahoe, the tight-knit community of ice dancers gathers at the rinks in Truckee, Northstar, Olympic Valley and South Lake, as well as outdoor spots such as Boca Reservoir, Prosser Reservoir, Coldstream Creek and Glenshire Pond.

Karen Viel is a former Ice Capades star who teaches a dancing camp each May in South Lake Tahoe with a host of well-known skaters including Charlie Tickner, Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre.

“It’s a very good outlet because you have to concentrate to stay upright and let go of everything else in your head,” says Viel. “There is freedom in the movement and partnership. It’s a nice feeling to be out there floating. It’s not just jumps and spins; it’s the feeling you get and the camaraderie that goes with it.”

Because of the glide of the movement, ice dancing is an activity people can continue to participate in even after other action sports become too rough on the body.

“You can do it for a life long,” say Viel. “As a kid, I could jump and spin, but my body doesn’t like that anymore. We have 90-year-olds that skate with us. It’s a good way to plan a trip and be social.”

Ice dancing lessons for ages 13 and older are offered in Truckee on Feb. 3, 10 and 17. For more information, visit tdrpd.org.