Ice Dancing's Royal Pair Proper Revolutionaries
By Jane Leavy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 12, 1984; Page F1
We're talking about royalty. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, the princess and prince of ice dancing.
They are members of the Order of the British Empire. They have the Freedom of the City of Nottingham, which allows them to drive their sheep across the city square without penalty the same square where Dean, then a rookie policeman, once collared a citizen in the process of disrobing.
Their names are inscribed along with those of other historical personages in the city council. But her first name, alas, is spelled without the "y," an unfortunate oversight in as much as the ex-insurance clerk is the first woman to have received the honor.
There is even talk that T & D, as they are affectionately known, have supplanted Prince Charles and Princess Di as Britain's No. 1 couple.
"Well," Dean said, "we can always start a rumor."
They are so blond, so proper, so British in their matching blue pin-striped blazers, red, white and blue argyle sweaters and Olympic ascots. And so quiet that it's hard to make out the words, hard to understand what all the commotion is about.
On the ice, well, that's something else. In the last three years, the years they have reigned as world champions, Torvill and Dean have revolutionized the sport of ice dancing. They may not look like radicals. But they are.
They have taken a sport predicated upon conventions and circumvented them. Ice dancing, which was first included in the Olympics in 1976, is based on limitations. There are no spins, no jumps. Some say there is no sport in it. Lifts are limited to those the male can do without raising his arm above his shoulder.
But when Torvill and Dean skate, they create the illusion that there are no limitations. "We like to take the obvious and try and make it look a differentway," Dean said. "We're not content with doing something the way others have done it. We take what is expected and rearrange it."
Though their refusal to comply with expectation sometimes has been controversial, it usually is endorsed by the judges. At last year's world championships, they received nine 6.0s, perfect scores, for artistic impression.
In January at the European championships, they introduced their new long program, set to Ravel's "Bolero," and raised eyebrows by using only one rhythm when the rules allow four, a practice blindly followed until then. They got three 6.0s for technical merit and eight for artistic impression.
Friday, in the first part of the Olympic dance competition, they received three 6.0s for their compulsory dances. Never before had a 6.0 been awarded for compulsory dance in European, world or Olympic competition.
The second part of the ice dancing competition, the original set pattern, will be performed Sunday. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Britain's sweethearts will win an Olympic gold medal Tuesday, Valentine's Day.
Then, after the world championships in March, they will retire from the amateur ranks. The other day, when Dean was asked if he had given any thought to continuing, he rolled his eyes, patted his heart and said, "I'd have to talk to the doctor about that."
It gets difficult always having to top yourself, always having to be different. That wasn't a conscious choice at first, "but it's conscious now," hesaid.
"We have to fight two battles," she said. "We have to find something they haven't done before and something we haven't done before."
They won the world championship for the first time in 1981, doing it the conventional way, with a four-minute program based on four songs. Then convention went kaput. The next year, they took their freestyle program from afailed broadway musical, "Mack and Mabel," about the love affair between Mack Sennett and Mabel Normande.
Last year, they chose another Broadway musical, "Barnum," after Dean went to the circus in Moscow. They have done rock 'n' roll, complete with greaser outfits. And this year's Paso Doble is done in 6/8 instead of the usual 4/4 time. Take that, Lawrence Welk.
"We're all in the middle of catching up with that," said Michael Seibert, half of the United States' top pair. "The rules have got to open up so we can express ourselves. Otherwise, we're dead. That's what's so good about ice dancing now, everybody is pushing the limits."
Dean is the choreographer, although he can't trace the talent in his geneology. Someone asked if his parents are good dancers. "I don't dare answer," he replied.
"I don't know," he said. "I've never been told. We have a studio where we train. I use it to mess around in."
But most of the work is done on the ice. "When we first started, I had to work things out more in the music," Torvill said. "Now I just sit on the barrier while he skates around by himself, thinking of ideas. I have to remember because it's so instinctive, he forgets."
"Bolero" came to him one day last April. They had been using it as warmup music. They picked the music because it is so hypnotic.
"It's two lovers, destined never to be together," Dean said. "So their ideal is they will climb a volcano, make a love pact and throw themselves into it and that way be eternal."
A romantic sensibility like this begs for leading questions. And they are always asked. John Hennessy of the Times of London, who wrote their best-selling biography, "Torvill & Dean," says they were once in love but grew apart. They still spend more time together than most married couples.
They began skating when they were 10. She went to a skating party. He was given skates for Christmas. They have been a pair since 1975. A grant of 14,000 pounds a year (about $21,000) from the Nottingham City Council allowed them toquit their jobs and train full time with their coach, Betty Calloway, in the Bavarian Alps.
Their closeness is evident in the way they finish each other's sentences and complete each other's gestures. "I think there's a lot that goes into a partnership," he said. "I think we've found the right combination. It's not just a question of taking two good skaters and putting them together."
On ice, if one errs, the other compensates. "You might not repeat the mistake but you react to it so you can carry on," she said.
"You can feel if her head is not quite in the right place, if her eyelid isnot in the right place," he said.
Already people are talking about their place in the sport, whether they have changed it forever. Calloway, who also taught Princess Anne, said, "I think it will be probably be some time before you see their like again."
Ron Ludington, who trains the second American couple, Carol Fox and Richard Dalley, said, "I don't think other people have the same creativity."
Dean addresses the issue with modesty and a touch of arrogance. "Maybe we're just original thinkers," he said. "I think it's always a changing sport. If you look at the flims, you see the progression over the last 10 years. When you look in another 10 years, it might be embarrassing."
In the meantime, Dean continues to say all the right things about this competition not being a foregone conclusion. But you get the feeling that their instinct is to compete with history.
For them, the joy is in being able to transport the audience the way they have transported the sport. "You're living what you're doing," he said. "It's not playacting."
"You're in another world for a short time," she said.
And so is anyone willing to go along with them.
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