What is the Difference Between Figure Skating and Ice Dancing?

Written By: Riedell | June 30, 2023

When you first enter the exciting world of ice skating, it will take some time to get up to speed with all the different terms used in this sport. From technical terms like “scratch spin” to specific disciplines of figure skating, there is a lot to learn! Figure skating and ice dancing are two terms you’ll hear frequently during lessons and while talking to other skaters. Both can play a huge role in your life as an ice skater, so it’s helpful to learn the difference between them.

What Is Figure Skating?

Figure skating, at its core, is about performing movements and showcasing certain elements on the ice. This sport is competitive, intense, and complex. Skaters are required to perform technical elements by themselves, in pairs, or in groups. 

There are four disciplines of figure skating, and each is slightly different from the rest. Underneath the umbrella of figure skating are singles, pairs, synchronized skating, and ice dance. Ice dance is one of the most unique of these categories because it requires a different type of performance than the others. 

What Is Ice Dance?

Ice dance is one of the four disciplines of figure skating, but it’s a unique category. With its roots in ballroom dancing, ice dance replicates movements of dance while combining them with specific skating steps. Skaters perform complex step sequences, dance patterns, and maneuvers while maintaining a rhythm consistent with the music being played. 

Ice dance features complicated footwork and lifts that you would expect to see in ballroom dancing. Essentially, the goal is to make these very complex and synchronized movements look flawless and easy. It’s tricky to perform a complicated dance on the ice, and skaters are expected to perform these sequences in sync with their partner.

Figure Skating vs. Ice Dance: A Breakdown

Now that we’ve established what figure skating and ice dance are, let’s discuss what makes them different. Both terms involve skaters performing complicated and intricate movements and footwork on the ice while maintaining seamless transitions between techniques. 

However, there are some key differences. Figure skating is a broad term that can refer to any of the four main disciplines, including singles, pairs, synchronized skating, and ice dance. 

Ice dance is a specific discipline that deals with elements not seen in the other categories and is only done in pairs. While the other disciplines involve music to an extent, it’s not always the driving force behind the skater’s movements as it is in ice dance.

Another major difference is the types of movements you’ll see. In singles and pairs skating, you’ll see the skaters performing complex jumps and throws throughout the show. These jumps and throws are an essential part of their performance and what allows them to earn a higher score. In synchronized skating, large groups of skaters perform in unison and do elements such as circles, wheels, and intersections.

There are no jumps or throws in ice dance. Skaters are trying to mimic ballroom dancing, so aside from lifts, their feet stay on the ground. This helps combine the art of dance with the sport of skating.

Team Ridell athletes Piper and Paul show the skill needed of a pair for ice dance. They have an impressive list of skating achievements, including being two-time World bronze medalists and Grand Prix Final champions. They are also Canadian National Champions and Olympians.

What’s the Difference?

While the emphasis on music and skating rhythmically is one noticeable difference between ice dance and the other disciplines, it’s not the main element that separates this discipline from the others. The biggest element that sets ice dance apart is its lack of jumps and throws. 

Without those key moves, ice dance becomes an entirely different sport where the focus is more on skating quality, expression of the theme, and musicality. Learning to skate can be a lengthy process, especially when you’re attempting to learn all the techniques required in all figure skating disciplines. Ice dance provides skaters who love dancing and music an opportunity to merge their passions and showcase their talent on the ice. 

Live Your Dream On The Ice With Riedell

Whether you need general skating advice or need in-depth information on finding the best ice skates, we’re here to help. We have products that are suitable for every skater, from the very first time you head out on the ice to your performance at the Olympics! We can even help you create a set of custom ice skates to find your ideal fit and style with our ColorLab®.