Five-ring Circus

The Thrill of the Spill

My new preoccupation with ice dancing.

Marie-France Dubrueil and Patrice Lauzon

Last night after Grey’s Anatomy, my TV-watching companions and I clicked over to NBC to check on the Olympics. A Fabio-esque male skater rumbaed across the screen, his perky partner rhythmically convulsing at his side. Ice dancing. We all groaned.

We decided to linger for a minute, though—just long enough to ridicule the bare-chested men and showgirly women. Sure enough, Canada’s Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil elicited the requisite snigger. Then, in the midst of a lift, Dubreuil lost her grip on Lauzon. She hurtled down, bouncing on her hip as she slammed into the ice. After an initial gasp, we let out a sadistic roar. This was fantastic.

The entertainment kept coming. While we felt some guilt from laughing at poor Dubreuil’s expense, we practiced little restraint when Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali tumbled to the ice in an innocuous yet awkward tangle. After a clean skate by a pair of Russians, Italy’s Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio had a similarly bumbling spill, definitely safe for a snicker.

By the end of the night, five ice-dancing pairs had fallen on their faces. Watching Olympians fall down is nothing new for Winter Games viewers, of course. Many, like Slate’sSeth Stevenson, break the spell of Olympics boredom by watching skiers like Lindsey Kildow crash and burn. As someone who doesn’t have a taste for blood, though, I find it hard to partake in the joys of “ski-disaster porn.” But because most of these falls were harmless, last night’s ice-dancing competition offered a new form of sporting entertainment: slapstick comedy.

By thrusting the prospect of egregious error into the competition, Sunday’s ice dancers unknowingly (and, I’m sure, unintentionally) found a way to make their sport compelling. Ballroom dancing on ice, or ice dancing, is an inherently silly concept, lagging behind pairs and singles figure skating in terms of acrobatics, athleticism, and gravitas. The outlandish, skimpy costumes and the goofy grins all add to the spectacle. What’s more, the “sport” is riddled with limitations—only two lifts are permitted in the original dance, and according to the rules, none can demonstrate “obvious feats of strength” (skaters may not lift over the head or sit on the back or shoulder). Moves like “twizzles” and “Choctaws” can only be so riveting.

Given that ice dancing seems to require little more than basic coordination, mediocre rhythm, a terrible outfit, and a cheerleader grin, these falls border on the surreal. You would expect such a performance from Will Ferrell. You expect more from your Olympians. Thank goodness these wobbly ballerinas defied my expectations. Tonight, for the first time, I’ll turn on the Olympics with the express purpose of watching the ice-dancing finals. I don’t care who wins, but I’ll be hoping that someone falls.