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It Is Far Past Time For Ice Dancing To Recognize The Artistic Beauty of ‘Int’l Players Anthem’

riella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of Team France skate during the Ice Dance Rhythm Dance on day eight of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 12, 2022 in Beijing, China.
Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

What I have come to understand during this cycle of Winter Olympics is that ice dancing is the slightly jazzy, over-eager, theater-kid cousin to pairs figure skating. I have further come to understand that the sport of ice dancing is a sham, and I must protest the continued inclusion of this debacle at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

“Why, Justin,” you may ask? Also: “Shouldn’t you leave the skating coverage to Kalyn?” Now is not the time for your questions. Now is the time for action, because the International Skating Union, the body that governs dancing on ice, is full of hypocrites and people who clap on the 1 and 3. 

Ice dancing and figure skating have the distinction of being sports that merge physical precision and smoldering artistry on one sheet of ice. Whereas singles and pairs figure skating prize physicality in different ways—namely the ability to launch (or be launched) into the air and return safely to earth with your body in the same condition as it left—ice dancing says no to throwing and partner-chucking of any kind. Instead, it focuses on a different kind of physicality, which tells skating partners to never stop touching each other and perform in a heightened state that seems like you’re one errant thought away from full-blown on-ice intercourse.

Saturday saw the opening of the Olympic ice dance competition with the pairs rhythm dance, which as we all know is typically a time of pageantry, drama, and lycra-induced suspense. French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron held the lead after Saturday with a score of 90.83. They took silver in the 2018 games, and were clearly out for vengeance with what looked like a graceful and technically neat routine inspired by waacking—which some might recognize from TikTok, but like many highlights on that platform was appropriated from black and brown queer people, who have been doing it for decades. 

How could this happen? Well, this surely was a factor: This year’s rhythm dance—which all pairs must follow, as determined by the powerful and cowardly ISU—was called “street dance rhythms,” which sounds as aurally amorphous and borderline offensive as “urban adult contemporary.”

So what did our leaders dance to on Saturday? Papadakis and Cizeron, clad in sheer outfits in a daring shade best described as merlot, performed to a medley from John Legend. But is it street? Let’s check the ISU books, which defines street style as “hip hop, disco, swing, krump, popping, funk, etc., jazz, reggae (reggaeton) and blues.” 

What about the rest of the field? The Russian Olympic Committee’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov held on to second place with a score of 88.85, dancing to “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” by Joe Cocker and “Brick House” by The Commodores. Hmm. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue landed in third with an 87.13, backed by a medley of Janet Jackson songs from the Rhythm Nation era. O.K., not bad. Their outfits were appropriately sparkly and militaristic, though “Nasty” doesn’t hit the same way coming off a sheet of ice. 

Checking my notes here, the assembled skating pairs also danced to such notable “street” tracks as Janet’s brother’s hit “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” by Elvis, and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” 

I know all of this sounds fine and reasonable, and perhaps even a little risque for a sport that often calls on siblings to do the forbidden dance with each other for points. But I must insist that we look just a touch closer at the rules. After all, the vaunted ISU determines the rhythm dance for skaters with a method that is absolutely not dissimilar to the way your high school student council would decide that Tuesday is “Funny Hat Day,” or this year’s homecoming theme is “Crippling Fear of Rejection.” I must draw our attention to this little addendum in the ISU’s requirements

“Note: To comply with the ethical values of sports, any music chosen for Ice Dance competitions must not include aggressive and/or offending lyrics.”

For something called “street” style? This is an artistic injustice! Preposterous! A sham! The pinnacle of reactionary thinking from a stodgy institution that I did not know existed prior to yesterday! How can the doddering white beards at the ISU propose “street dance rhythms” for ice dancers while also preventing competitors from using what is clearly the only song that perfectly personifies the artistry, sensuality, and grace that is befitting rhythm dance? I am, of course, talking about the 2007 classic “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You),” by UGK? 

This piece connects with the soul of a competitor. When Andre 3000 says, “Keep your heart, 3 stacks,” he is imploring the audience to stay true to their values and know their worth. “Int’l Players Anthem” is frankly the only song that also speaks to the technical difficulties of ice dance, as Andre 3000 preaches caution and precision when he says, “My partner yellin’ ‘Too soon! Don’t do it! Reconsider!’” More than anything, this is a song about romance and the adventure inherent in relationships, so when Bun B says, “I show you shit you never seen, the seven wonders of the world/And I can make you the eighth if you wanna be my girl,” that is a level of ardor that is absolutely vital to any medal winning routine. 

Ice dancing continues late Sunday night, during the Super Bowl, and though it might be too late to correct this injustice at the Beijing games, I can only hope common sense prevails before 2026 .

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