How to Learn Ice Dance

A guide to getting started at ice dancing.

If you are reading this article, then I can tell that you are definitely interested in ice dance. Ice dance is one of the most expressive and elegant winter sports in the world. It is a combination of ballet and ball roomdances on ice. I started learning the basics of ice-skating skills as part of a group lesson at the local ice rink. Then I realised this will take longer than I thought, because I needed to be able to do more than just start and stop on ice with confidence.

I also realised this is a sport where I will need a good coach in order to be able to progress and learn the technical part and pattern dance steps.

How do I learn the basic skills of skating for ice dance?

Well, I hope this guideline will save you a great deal of time in long term. Starting ice skating from scratch would feel a difficult target, however I have done these steps to fast rack my progress (with the level of enthusiasm of course):

  1. Start with learn to skate UK at your local rink (there are various options available)
  2. You will be instructed by a qualified coach
  3. You will be assigned to a group suitable for your skating level
  4. This is one of the most cost-effective way of getting professional coach time
  5. It’s a great way of socialising and meeting new people
  6. You can start with exercises suitable to your progression
  7. You can get access, after completing group lessons to training ice / ice patch sessions
  8. You will learn to adopt different styles from different coaches
  9. You will learn ice skating from basics to intermediate level
  10. The coaches get to know you as a familiar face and how serious of a student you are

How important are the basics?

The ice-skating basics are essential. It determines how good of an ice dancer you are going to become. The more you practice the more of a confident skater you will be.

Its all about practising to master your skills which are essential to go through all the steps and turns at every practise session. Taking the time at the beginning will definitely pay back.

When to get an ice dance coach?

If there are no group classes or learn to skate courses at your rink then, you may want to get a coach earlier rather than later. You will learn more in ten minutes with a professional coach than you can work out on your own in a week of hit and miss trying to figure it out.

If, however you are fortunate enough to have a learn to skate program at your rink and you have attended the program, there will be a natural point where the course is finished. If not, then there will be a point where skaters will begin to progress to private coaches.

If you are not sure when you should move to your own coach, then have a chat with one, or a few. Get some advice on when the best time for you is to move to a private coach.

How do I choose the right coach for ice dance?

Well firstly, they have to choose you as much as you choose them, this a two-way street. Also, you should know that having an ice-skating coach is not a right. You shouldn’t just expect to get one because you have finished the group classes. You should approach a coach respectfully and ask if they would be willing to take you on as a student. Remember, that this is as much a commitment for them as for you. Be prepared to answer questions on where you would like to take your skating, whether it is to tests, competitions or just to increase your current skill level.

It is important that you choose a coach that has a teaching style that suits you. Some people do well when they are really pushed, with a verbal soundtrack Other people do not appreciate being so harshly pushed and a appreciate a softer approach.

Different coaches also teach technical aspects differently. Some are great at reducing tasks down to smaller and smaller components until you can understand what they are trying to achieve. Some coaches teach more by the way it should feel and can identify errors by just looking at your position or skating it with you.

Essentially for ice dance, you ideally need a coach that specializes in ice dance. Even a non-specialist coach will be able to help with edge work and the different elements. Once you have had a chat with a coach and they are as happy to take you on as you are with their teaching style then you will be looking for a regular weekly slot. Again, these come with time. Expect to have to fit in around the coaches existing schedule for the first few months.

When all is considered, receiving lessons from a coach will make a huge difference to your skating and is essential for competitions and tests. You can learn more with a coach in a few minutes, than you can figure out on you own in weeks.

Is it a good idea to join a skating club?

Yes definitely, skating clubs have great ice and you tend to get a better quality of ice on private club ice. Rinks normally resurface the ice just before the club go on. There are not normally as many skaters in the club as there is on public ice, so the condition of the ice stays better for longer.

Those that are on the ice, generally know what a dance pattern looks like, so they can predict where you are going.

Another great thing about skating club time, is that many of the rules that apply during a public session, do not apply during club time.

So, in many ways club ice is like patch ice, in terms of freedom. Although most clubs do have rules and etiquette, they are normally in favour of the skater.

Skating clubs, particularly ice dance clubs, are a great source of information and learning. You are surrounded by skaters and coaches with a similar interest. You will have the opportunity to learn a great deal.

There is also the often the opportunity to have lessons on club time, which can be quieter and more enjoyable than if your patch ice time is at a busy time of the week.

At what point am I good enough to join an ice dance club?

Probably sooner than you think. It’s a common misconception that you have to be really good to join an ice dance club.

Once you have got about six to eight months of practice in with the group classes or courses, you normally about ready to join an ice dance club. By this time, you can probably skate progressively forward, do outside 3 turns, mohawks and have some basic backward skating, though it might not be too fast.

Remember that ice dance, like all other areas of skating has levels. When you start to dance you can start with the first couple of junior ice dances. These involve forward skating only and there are no turns to worry about.

Clubs are generally really friendly to new members, trying to make them feel as welcome as possible.

Remember, that they have to pay for the ice they are using, if they don’t get enough members, the club will struggle.

Also consider that you may not be the most inexperienced person at the club, even if you are new. If you are the least experienced, remember, that most of the people in the club, joined when they were skating just like you.

Can I learn to ice dance whilst I am still learning to skate?

Yes definitely. If you were to wait until you were a perfect ice skater, then you could be waiting forever. Although, I have stressed the importance of good basic skating skills, they don’t have to be perfect before you start learning to ice dance. Once you have gained some reasonable basic skills, you are ready to start learning to ice dance. This is actually a great way to learn.

The great thing about learning to ice dance whilst you are perfecting your skating skills, is that you get to do the thing you love sooner, dancing on ice. This gives you loads of incentive to keep learning, keep practicing and increasing your skills.

With high motivation, you will be skating more often and generally trying more than if you are just learning to skate for the sake of it. Learning to ice dance whilst learning to skate will give you the benefit of learning the right way to do things the first-time round. Your coach will appreciate this too, that your’re learning the right way, from the start.

As you progress through the first dances, your skills will be improving all the time.

Your edges will be getting better as well as your core stability and speed. As the dances progress, so will your knowledge andskills. Most of all, you will be enjoying yourself and there is no substitute for loving what you do, in terms of learning.

Do you have to learn the compulsory dances?

Not really, you’re a free person and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.

However, the compulsory dances are sort of woven into the fabric of ice dance. They provide a good solid point to learn from and at some point, you will come across them. Most ice dancers usually start off in ice dance by learning the first few compulsory dances.

Some skaters go right through the list, one after the other.

Some skaters do a compulsory dance test then do a field moves test, then go back to the next dance test. Maybe they throw in a free dance test between as well. It is a personal choice and up to you to decide.

What do I have to gain by learning the compulsory dances?

You have lots to gain. The compulsory dances will introduce you to dance moves in a precise way and in the order that it is best to learn them (more or less).

It was when I was learning the preliminary foxtrot that I had to learn leg swings, the canasta tango, when I learned how to do slip chasse etc, so there is merit in learning these dances, if only from a moves point of view.

There are more than new moves to the compulsory dances though. Learning them, you very quickly learn that you are skating with someone else. If that someone is your coach, you could well be traveling rather quickly. That speed is exhilarating. The compulsory dances are great for helping with positioning, hold and even where you look, you will find, can make a great difference to the way you skate.

There is a good chance however, that you will be skating a dance on your own for a while. You don’t want to be leaning on your coach to get through the dance.

The dances are in the order of difficulty, so don’t worry. You start off basic, then the difficulty increases as the dances progress. You will often find that what you learn in the first dance will follow on in the second dance and so on. Similarly, the dances will grow, with the next dance, taking what you learned from the previous one and building on it. There are leaps in learning when you have to take on something new, but that’s exciting and keeps you interested.

There is more to it than that though, being able to dance the compulsory dances opens more categories in competitions. It also means, you can dance with a stranger if you both know the dance steps.

You will probably recognise the styles of the dances, even if you have a limited knowledge of ice dance. The familiar styles of tango, waltz, rumba, samba and foxtrot etc. are all there. So, even though the dance itself might be new, you may already know kind of what is might look or feel like.

Compulsory dances are lovely when they are skated properly, or when you are trying to get them to test standard at least. If you are just stepping them through with a friend or as part of a weekly routine at a dance club, they will feel totally different to when they are done properly.

Then there is free dance. I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that everyone that ice dances, secretly wants to do a free dance. OK maybe not everyone, but most.

What is free dance?

Well it’s a section of dance that allows you to choose your own music. The music doesn’t have to be instrumental, so you can have music you more readily recognise. You can even have your favourite song, if it has enough of a beat to be danced to.

Free dance is so much fun. You will learn loads too. You will be introduced to steps and holds that you have probably never done in compulsory dance before. If you have been doing compulsory dance for a while, then free dance will feel exciting and well, free.

The skills that you have learned in your compulsory ice dance will not be wasted here. Your skills will be used in edges, moves and holds. Free dance can be a real showpiece and you can take it to competition of course.

How do I get to ice dance in a competition?

Well, the first point of call will be to speak to your coach. Firstly, let them know that you would like to compete. If possible, tell them as early as you can, or a soon as you have decided that competition is something you are interested in. This will give both yourself and the coach something to aim towards and may well affect the way you are taught, in terms of what may be needed for a particular competition. Most ice dance clubs are participating RIDL (Recreational Ice Dance League) in the UK which has regular events.

Do you need an ice dance partner to ice dance?

You don’t have to have a partner. In fact, there is a school of thought that says you are better off dancing on your own whilst you are learning the basics. There isn’t really a limit to how far you can go on your own either. Not only can you progress up the ranks in the field moves, but you can progress through the compulsory ice dance and free dance levels to great heights on your own.

You can also compete in ice dance on your own, there are plenty, (in fact most) of competitions where there are solo ice dance categories in both compulsory and free.

If, however in your travels through the ice dance world, you do meet someone you would like to skate with, then of course you can progress as ice dance partners.