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Let's choose the music, and ice dance

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Ollie Williams | 10:35 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

You Bolero if you want to. These ladies are not for Boleroing.

Nor are the men. Choices of music in figure skating are becoming increasingly varied and unlikely, as witnessed on Monday at the final night of the ice dance inside Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.

The musical accompaniments chosen by the 23 pairs battling for gold ranged from Edith Piaf to Schindler's List, and from Myleene Klass to Linkin Park. My personal favourites, however, were the Estonian duo skating to Nothing Else Matters by Metallica, and the Hungarians who brought what they called a "hip-hop medley" to the Olympics.

"We both love to dance off the ice. We figured it would be a challenge, and a lot of fun, to do what we love off the ice and carry that on to the ice," said Hungary's Maxim Zavozin, whose routine alongside Nora Hoffmann included Janet Jackson's So Excited and the Pussycat Dolls' Hush Hush, with an emphatic burst of Bob Sinclar's Rock This Party to finish.

"It gave us so much confidence in the first couple of seconds when we started to move, the crowd started going and we heard them yelling for us and clapping."

That's what the competitors want - music that gets everybody going, from the judges to spectators at their first figure skating event. But how do you decide Metallica are the band for you? And if that's such a good idea, why isn't everybody doing it? What makes the music work?

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For starters, don't assume the rule is: the crazier, the better. The final group on Monday, which included comfortable victors Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, stuck to the kind of music you might normally associate with figure skating - to great effect. Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White chose Phantom of the Opera, while Virtue and Moir selected music from the film The Double Life of Véronique.

"The music is a very big deal," Britain's Nick Buckland, who finished 20th with partner Penny Coomes, told me.

"You definitely can pick the wrong music if you're rushed into it or you don't have enough choices. Everything has to be right, down to the costumes, the music and the choreography. Everything has to work for the audience at the competition and more importantly, it has to click for you. If it clicks for you, then it should work for the audience and the judges.

"That's the most important thing," added Coomes. "You're the one who has to listen to it and skate to it every day. You do need to pick something universal because of the age range, not just of the audience but also the judges, your coach and yourselves, but you personally need to feel that music and portray something through it."

The pair, both 20, performed their free dance to a Myleene Klass version of Pavane, which you may remember as the theme to the BBC's World Cup '98 coverage, having gone for a Riverdance-inspired routine earlier in the competition. But, they explained, picking their music took time, effort, and hundreds of CDs littered around the house.

"It's surprising how long it can take to make the decision," said Buckland. "You've got to get it absolutely right and you get into a panic if it isn't. You have two or three months to choose, but it's surprising how quickly that time goes, when you go from one week to the next and you still haven't chosen the music yet."

"We picked our music at the beginning of the year and started our programmes, but then we sat some judges down for their opinion and they didn't like either piece," said Coomes. "We had picked Hungarian folk music, but they recommended we skate to something from our own country. In the end we went for an Irish dance - we didn't quite fancy Morris dancing or My Old Man's a Dustman.

"Then for the free dance, we decided on Myleene Klass because she does things that are very classical, but with a modern take. The tunes are familiar but it's not something that everybody has heard before, it's more up-to-date and modern.

"It's important you don't have a nondescript piece of music that nobody's ever heard of. You want a tune that everybody knows. If the audience know the music they can feel it with you and go along with you: they know the rises and falls the same way you do."

Not everybody picks their music the Coomes and Buckland way, though. Sinead and John Kerr, the leading British ice dance performers, finished eighth in Vancouver having treated the crowd to Linkin Park's Krwlng, a remix of the band's debut album track Crawling. Their choice of music is well-documented, and they are not the only British competitors with a taste for Linkin Park (pairs skaters David King and Stacey Kemp used Numb for one routine here), but I asked them whether they felt it had worked on the night.

Sinead and John KerrBritain's Kerrs give Linkin Park another Olympic outing in the free dance. Photo: Getty Images

"It's hard to tell if the judges are ready for a Linkin Park-themed free dance but it's something we wanted to do," Sinead told me, moments after they had left the ice.

"It depends what kind of team you are," added John. "Some teams suit the more modern style, some suit the more traditional style; and that's fine because you're going to get more variety that way. If everyone did modern music that'd be boring, but a few teams trying it makes it more fun."

The Kerrs differ from Coomes and Buckland in that they had no intention of letting any judges near their music choice until the entire routine was ready. Nobody had the chance to veto their selection. It was presented as a fait accompli.

"For better or for worse we've always stuck with what we've chosen," said Sinead. "You have to listen to what people say, but we steer clear of sending music to judges because we know whatever we choose, they'll probably say no. Once they see us skating to it, though, it's a different story. They have to see what you do to it.

"Sticking to your guns is the main thing. I don't think we would feel right doing the same things we've done before. We pride ourselves on pushing the sport forward and trying to introduce new ways of dancing to different pieces of music. Maybe in a few years' time everyone will be doing it and we'll be seen as the founders."

Coomes and Buckland are here at the Winter Olympics by virtue of the Kerrs' impressive performances in the months and years leading up to the Games. The latter duo's success unlocked an extra berth for British ice dance competitors in Vancouver, for which the Olympic debutants are profoundly grateful.

Nick Buckland and Penny CoomesCoomes and Buckland - 'medal contenders one day'. Photo: PA

"They've done so much for the sport in Britain," said Coomes. "They've been the most successful duo our country has had in a long time - they've really brought everybody in ice dance along, and now we're all fighting for those second spots, so the whole team has progressed because of what they've opened up for us. As a result, you'll see some really good ice dance teams coming up in the future."

"We want to be medal contenders one day, absolutely," said Buckland with an eager nod when I asked if they saw themselves as the successors to the Kerrs, while Coomes spoke of her desire to appear in at least three more Olympic competitions. "You only get better with maturity and experience and we're looking towards Sochi 2014, that's a real goal for us," she said.

Scottish siblings Sinead and John, now 31 and 29 respectively, are far from committed to appearing in Sochi and say they will take their careers one year at a time. But they believe their young team-mates can deliver.

"For us it's great to be in the position of mentors, because we see a lot of potential in them. We would definitely be willing to help them into the future, to get to where we are and beyond," said Sinead.

"We will only have left a legacy if we're the start of a bunch of British teams doing well internationally," concluded John. "If it's just us now, and then nothing again for another 10 or 15 years, then obviously we haven't been able to do that. Hopefully we've shown them that you can have some success as a British team."


  • Comment number 1.

    Your blog is great and a very interesting read. I think maybe if you enjoyed the ice dancing at the Winter Olympics maybe a sport you are likely to be interested in at the Summer Olympics is Synchronised Swimming. It is very technical and I think maybe you should have a look into the sport.

    Keep the blogs coming.

  • Comment number 2.

    Very interesting interviews - thanks Ollie.

    I've just been checking the Component scores on the official site, and Penny & Nick got only one Level 2 element (the curve lift) and Level 3 and 4 for all other elements in the Freedance. Well done in their debut Senior season!
    Next time the ISU picks Folk/Country for the OD, maybe they'll choose "Greensleeves"? ;-)
    Credit goes to Phillip Askew, their Coach & Choreographer here (he didn't seem to get much of a mention in the commentary, whilst Platov's name was). They're both at University in Notts, so aren't planning to move to America to train full time are they? (Maybe you could ask).

    The nerveless Skating Skills, Choreography and Performance levels of the Top 2 stood out for me. Absolutely Amazing!! I also enjoyed the 3rd ranked Americans in 11th place. Overall I found many of the music choices overpowering - too much dramatic Opera - with a couple of pieces used by several couples, it became samey and a bit boring. The excitement of the Gold & Silver medalists made up for it, and astonishingly, this is their first Olympics. Both couples have just progressed out of sight of everyone else in the space of a couple of years.

  • Comment number 3.

    Lilly - Nick and Penny are intending to move to America, I believe, yes. Here's a quote from Penny after their free dance: "We want to move up the rankings and now we're really keen to go back to America, work hard, improve, and show what we can do next season."

    I didn't ask them outright about that but the impression I had was that they'd be US-based in future.

  • Comment number 4.

    It was the orginal dance that raised my eyebrows a few times. Hungary chose a Hungarian folk dance, Russia chose a Russian folk dance, Britain chose Johnny Cash???. Is there something internationally offensive about Morris Dancing. Welsh Male Voice Choirs, Scottish Bagpipes and Irish clog dancing???

  • Comment number 5.

    Great blog!
    The best ice dancing deserves the best music - whatever style it is.. A few of my personal favourites (completely different genres) that I would love to hear, and to see what the couples would make of them are: 'Pavane for a Dead Princess' - Ravel, 'Bluesology' - Monty Alexander Trio, 'Aja' - Steely Dan and 'Fragile' - Sting. .. Yeh, I know: all over the place.. But I love them and can picture world-class ice dancers creating wonderful moves to their rhythms.. Linkin Park? No problem.. Metallica? Fantastic.. So I don't think my favourites would be too way out..

  • Comment number 6.

    Nice article, Ollie.As an iceskating fan I always enjoy it when the couples use more 'non-traditional' music - but I do sometimes worry whether the judges will judge them down because of it. Nice to see people trying new things, though. Loved the Linkin Park routine.

  • Comment number 7.

    How do skaters go about getting permission to use the music?

    And what do the musicians think? I'd like to have seen the look on the Linkin Park band members when they learnt that a couple of ice skaters wanted to use their music at the Olympics... hell, the musicians should be the ones paying royalties for advertising! :-)

  • Comment number 8.

    Really interesting Blog!

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for your reply Ollie. :-) I only hope Penny & Nick don't become *generic Russian* in style and keep their perky British character that has been so enjoyable to watch. Platov is not known for his choreography, so presumambly he'll be getting someone else in to do that, whilst working on improving their technique. They may not get a chance to choose their own music in the future though! ;-)

    Harry - the Folk/Country theme was first used a couple of seasons ago when the Kerrs did a beautiful and thrilling Scottish reel with John wearing a kilt. Sadly they were underscored, especially for choreography, which annoyed me greatly, as if the Judges don't like it or know about the Scottish culture, they could at least appreciate the authenticity of their dance. This season they chose American Country, as they didn't want to repeat.
    Personally I enjoy this theme for the Original Dance and hope the ISU repeats it again in a couple of seasons. We saw some lovely icedancing, and great variety, from Bollywood to Flamenco and all stops in between!

    buymespresso - As far as I know the ISU (International Skating Union) has an arrangement with the Performing Rights people to pay a nominal fee for use of music, as it's done for a sporting event, and as you say, gives publicity to the artists. Ofcourse occasionally a composer will create something especially for skaters, eg. Mike Batt's beautiful "Dragon Dance" for Barber & Slater (the DOI Judges) in the 1984/5 season. Sadly they didn't medal and promptly split up, but it was gorgeous music. BTW the Emmanuels (Princess Diana's wedding dress)designed their costumes.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great blog! I liked the one using Schindler's List, maybe because I love that music in general. I am such a big fan of the Olympics that my friend knowing it sent me this awesome filmcard, where you can upload 5 of your own pics. Anyways, I was passing it to all my friends. Here is the link, it's great for the Olympics season. Enjoy!


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