Ice dancing vs. pairs figure skating

Ice dancing falls under the umbrella of figure skating. Both pairs figure skating and ice dancing feature a male and female skater performing choreographed programs. They can look similar. But while figure skating rewards aerodynamics, ice dancing is more akin to ballroom competition.

Team USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White won gold in ice dancing at the Sochi Games and helped the sport gain fans. The duo aren’t returning to the games this year, but there are other pairs to root for, including USA’s brother-sister duo Maia and Alex Shibutani, a.k.a. the “Shib Sibs.”

Here are some contrasts between ice dancing and pairs figure skating.

Cover photo: How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency

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Pairs figure skating features lifts like this.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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In ice dancing, women cannot be lifted over the man’s head.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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Pairs figure skating features side-by-side jumps.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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Ice dancing has twizzles, or synchronized turns performed on one foot.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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This is a death spiral, which only happens in pairs figure skating.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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For this competition season, ice dancers must include rumba dance steps in their short programs.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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Pairs in figure skating can be farther apart.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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But ice dancers should be no more than two arms’ lengths apart.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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Pairs figure skaters can do a throw jump.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

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Dancers, however, mainly stay in contact with the ice.

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the difference between ice dancing and pairs figure skating. At the Olympic Games, and in international competition, ice dancing is an event in the figure skating competition.