How Is Ice Dancing Scored? The ISU Judging System Can Be Tricky To Understand

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

It's easy to assume that figure skating and ice dancing are one in the same. After all, ice dancing is under the category of figure skating, making it seem like just another name for the sport. Both take place on the ice with similar movements, lots of twists and turns, and plenty of sparkly outfits. But there is a difference between the two, which makes you wonder how ice dancing is scored in the 2018 Olympics.

The biggest difference between the two is that ice dancing is more like ballroom dancing on ice. While figure skating focuses heavily on jumps, lifts, and spins, ice dancers are literally dancing with ice skates on. They're judged more on the grace of their routine rather than the technical aspects (although of course that matters too). Ice dancers also have to use different music: usually something that has a steady beat or rhythm, something that would be better for dancing. Shape says "while figure skaters are scored on the connecting footwork between all of those elements, ice dancers are judged more on the precision of their footwork."

Still, the scoring process for the two isn't very different. Both use the ISU Judging System, which can be confusing and frustrating to try to understand, for viewers and even experts. The rules themselves are simple enough: The ice dance short dance (which airs February 18th) lasts between 2:40 and 3 minutes and must use music with a Rhumba rhythm any of the following Latin American dance rhythms: samba, mambo, meringue, salsa, bachata and any closely related Latin American or Caribbean rhythms.

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The ISU Judging System uses two sets of marks for each program. The short explanation goes like this: There's the technical element score (TES) and the program component score (PCS). The TES focuses on the difficulty and execution of the technical elements, like the jumps and spins. The PCS is more about the artistry of the routine, as well as presentation and interpretation (like how well the choreography goes with the music choice). At the end, both scores are combined for the total score.

The details are where things get a little more confusing. The TES is determined by two sets of people: a nine-person judging panel and a three-person technical panel. The technical panel looks at each element being done and verifies if the jumps were fully rotated or not. Each element gets assigned a number, one through four, with four being the highest. More difficult moves get higher numbers, and skaters can make the elements even more difficult by, say, lifting their arms.

The nine-person panel, on the other hand, evaluates each element on how well it was done and then assigns a grade of execution (GOE) that can be between -3 and +3. So while the technical panel gives points based on how difficult the element is (regardless of how it was performed), the nine-person judging panel grades based on how well it was performed. Got it? The scores can often make you feel a little something like this:

Anyway. Things get a little more confusing from there. In the GOE scores, the highest and lowest scores get dropped and the remaining seven are averaged. At the end, the judging panel adds the base values with the GOEs to get the TES.

And that's only one part of the judging process! The PCS still needs to be determined. This is based on the judges' thoughts on the overall program, not just each individual element. There are five program components that need to be marked: skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, and interpretation. They get marked on a scale from 0.25 to 10, with 10 being the highest. The scores are averaged to form the score out of 10 for each component. Then that total is multiplied by a factor that varies.

Finally, the TES and PCS are added together, and the final score is the TSS minus any deductions. So, yes: ice dancing is not an easy event to score.