What’s The Difference Between Ice Dancing & Figure Skating? There's One Important Distinction

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Since there is so much going on during the 2018 PyeongChang Games, it can be be tough to know what, exactly, each sport entails. Some athletes are sliding down hills, others are swirling around on the ice, and then there's that thing called curling? But it's especially tricky when it comes to the knowing the difference between ice dancing and figure skating.

We've seen the likes of Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon skating their hearts out on the ice. We've witnessed Mirai Nagasu landing her inspiring triple axel. And we've watched in amazement as sibling pair, Alex and Maia Shibutani, skate together in perfect harmony. And yet, even though they're all wearing great costumes and they're all on the ice, they're actually competing in different events — albeit ones that fall under the umbrella of "ice skating."

Figure skating is the much-loved Winter Olympics event that everyone's been obsessed with since it first came on the scene at the 1908 London Games. And through the years we've seen figure skaters like Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, and Scott Hamilton scoop up medals.

Figure skating — which is what Chen, Rippon, and Nagasu are doing — focuses on jumps and lifts. As Alanna Nuñez noted in Shape, "Figure skating focuses more on jumps, lifts, death spirals (in pairs skating), and spins, and 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."

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And there in lies a key difference between figure skating and ice dancing, which is the sport the Shibutanis are competing in. According to Nuñez, "... ice dancing is thought of as ballroom dancing on ice, so the emphasis is on a graceful and entertaining routine that could easily be done on the ground. Ice dancers must dance to music that has a steady beat or rhythm, it is the only discipline in which competitors can use music with vocals, and they are scored."

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Both events are equally captivating to watch. And if you're like me, you've probably been glued to your screen since the Olympic Games began. While all the sports are fun to watch, there's something about the grace and elegance of ice skating that really seems to capture the world's attention.

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When Nagasu landed a triple axel during one of her figure skating events, she nailed herself a spot in the history books, becoming the first female American figure skater to do so at the Olympics. As Madison Park noted on CNN, "The axel is considered so difficult because it is the only jump in which the skater takes to the air while facing forward. A triple axel requires three-and-a-half rotations before landing." And in landing one, Nagasu became everyone's fave.

This feat was followed by Nathan Chen's history-making quadruple jumps. "Quadruple or quad jumps are figure skating jumps that involve at least four full revolutions," wrote Mahita Gajanan on Time. "Successful quad jumps occur when the figure skater takes off backwards, does at least four full revolutions and lands with one foot on a backward outside edge of their skate." It's tough, and Chen does them multiple times during his routines. See what I mean about jumps and fancy footwork?

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In ice dancing competitions, skaters also do spins and impressive jumps. But again, it's more about the dance, the music, the grace, and the routine. The experience of watching ice dancing feels a lot like watching a ballet. And skaters are given points for having a connection with their partner.

That connection also matters in pairs figure skating. (Because yes, figure skaters can be done in pairs, too.) Take Alexa Scimeca Knierim and her husband Chris Knierim, for example. This figure skating pair — who adorably skated together on Valentine's Day — are being judged on their foot work just like the solo skaters. But also their lifts and timing, and that all-important emotional connection.

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Figure skating and ice dancing may have different rules, and different qualities the judges are looking for. But I think we can all agree both events are incredibly entertaining to watch.