Ice Skating: Torvill and Dean head for ballroom: Sheffield witnesses a rink of confidence as Britain's former Olympic champions follow Irving Berlin's music in pursuit of new glory. Mark Burton reports

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The Independent Online
THEIR CHOICE of music says it all: 'Let's Face The Music And Dance'. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean put their reputation as the best ice dancers ever on the line when they decided last year to take up the newly available option open to professional skaters and attempt to replicate the Olympic success they achieved with their awe-inspiring routine, Bolero, 10 years ago in Sarajevo.

Match the mastery but not mimic the method. The world has moved on and the International Skating Union has adjusted the rules to encourage a return to a purer form of ice dancing. This is precisely what Torvill and Dean have done.

They will test their new free programme in the British Ice Dance Championships, which open here today. In it they hark back to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers interpretation of the Irving Berlin song from the film, Follow The Fleet.

Follow their feet. This is no floating, sensual Bolero-like experience, not a contest for supremacy between art and sport. This routine is the product of masters' technique, dance embellished by, rather than subordinate to, the panache of showbusiness.

It quickly becomes clear that Dean's assertion at a press conference yesterday that 'all the Bolero steps would fit into the first minute' of their most difficult routine yet is no exaggeration. During practice even those forlornly competing against them at the Sheffield Arena broke into spontaneous applause after one breathtaking step sequence.

Ironically, the stricter regime on the rink, where dancers are limited on lifts and on the uncoupling of couples, is effectively the fault of Torvill and Dean. Especially Dean. 'I think we went a certain way in 1984,' he said of their Bolero routine with its kiss and final sprawl on the ice. 'Then certain people took up the gauntlet from there.' One of the couples who carried that style forward were Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay, who constantly stretched the rules almost to breaking point dancing to Dean's choreography until they finally gained acceptance among the judges and took the world title.

Eventually enough was enough for the ISU. Betty Callaway, coach to Torvill and Dean pre-Sarajevo and back again now in tandem with Bobby Thompson, backed the ISU's thinking when she said: 'Free dance began to get boring, everyone was dying on the ice in high drama. This is real dancing.'

The former Olympic champions' ability to wring emotion from a routine has been confined to the original dance, which this season is to be a rumba. Their routine is tried and tested, having been well received in exhibitions as long ago as 1982. That routine will follow the compulsory dances today. They committed plenty of their practice time - totalling four hours a day, six days a week - to four dances from which the 'Starlight Waltz' and the 'Blues' were chosen by the organisers yesterday.

The hard work that went into the other two, therefore, goes to waste for the moment but in the greater scheme of Torvill and Dean's remarkable return to the 'amateur', or sporting, ranks in their mid-thirties that hardly matters. The whole project, at a cost Dean estimates to be about pounds 100,000, has been a painstaking and precise process typical of perfectionists.

Once Torvill had agreed to Dean's suggestion that they revive Olympic memories, the first step was the music. Dean immediately suggested the Irving Berlin number and they engaged Cy Payne to arrange it note by note. 'Having the right music is the key to success in ice dance,' Dean explained.

'What we tried to do was get back to social dancing,' Dean said. 'We tried to incorporate all the rhythms that you would probably see in the ballroom.' He listed them. 'We go through the foxtrot, waltz, tango - there's a little bit of a surprise in there - and then into a swingtime quickstep.' Slickly ballroom.

The British championships will hardly be 'competition'. The real test will come later. Will they bear comparison with the best? Why not? As Dean pointed out, 'It is a mistake to call this a return. We've never stopped dancing together.'

Nancy Kerrigan, 24, the American figure skater who won bronze at the 1992 Winter Olympics, was attacked by a man who struck her on the leg with a metal bar during practice for today's US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Her assailant escaped. Kerrigan received hospital treatment but was later released.

(Photograph omitted)