With competition season well underway, most skaters already have chosen their programs for the year, but new skaters can sometimes be confused by the different types of programs that can be performed. Some categories are similar enough that there can be overlap and a program may occasionally fit into more than one. At the same time a USFS program will be very different than an ISI program for the same skater because of differences in the rules and how the levels are calculated.
Compulsories have a list of elements to be performed, are sometimes skated on only half the ice surface, and often have two skaters sharing the ice at the same time. In many ways this event is similar to taking a moves in the field test, and my daughter’s coach sometimes has her students compete in the compulsory event to prepare them for testing. The major difference between compulsories and tests is that in compulsories, as long as you completes the elements it doesn’t matter the order. Tests require the elements be skated in a specific order. The required elements for a compulsory event are usually published in the announcement for the competition, so USFS vs ISI isn’t really an issue.
Well Balanced Program
The Well Balanced Program (WBP) is your freeskate. It’s your main competition program in which you have required elements you must complete for each level. It is vital that your coach and/ or choreographer be very familiar with the rules (which change frequently) because not only does the WBP have required elements, there are excluded elements which may NOT be performed at your skater’s level. A USFS technical program will not be appropriate for ISI, and vice versa, without being significantly rechoreographed. With minor changes (and sometimes none at all) a WBP for one CAN be skated as an artistic or showcase in the other.
A showcase (sometimes called a “spotlight”) is a program in which the theatrical elements of the program are the main focus rather than having the highest level jumps and spins. Props and theatrical costumes are encouraged, as long as the contribute to the program. Showcase/spotlight events can also be skated with two people as a “couples showcase.” Local competitions often offer a “Family Spotlight” event as well; this event may have two or more people and usually sees siblings or parent/children groups. My daughter once skated a Family Spotlight with one of her cousins to “Parent Trap.”
The showcase/spotlight event has three main subcategories: light entertainment (meant to be fun or comedic), character (in which you portray a recognizable character, for example: Pink Panther, Phantom of the Opera, or Annie), or dramatic (typically a more serious piece.) Dramatic spotlights do happen and absolutely are allowed, but since they don’t really lend themselves to props, it’s not a common sight. As of July 2014 you may see more Dramatic spotlights as the Artistic event in USFS competitions has been combined with the Dramatic spotlight event.
Ribbon, ball, and hoop routines fall into this category, as do group numbers. Production Team and Theatre on Ice are showcase events with 8 or more skaters. While there are significant differences between Production and TOI, both use music, sets, and costuming to entertain and tell a story. There should be costume changes and interaction between the skaters and the props. Teams with 3-7 skaters are considered “Ensembles,” but otherwise are very similar to Production Team.
Synchronized skating does NOT fall under this catagory, although sometimes you will see small synchro teams add in small props (one team I saw had a small table and plastic plates with which they skated around) and skate in the Ensemble event. This is not supposed to happen, but it does on occasion. It is up to the officials to call the coaches of the team on the violation, but rarely do they bother.
Similar to the showcase event is the artistic event. Like the showcase, artistic is about interpreting the music and developing the character of the music. A major difference is that props are NOT permitted in artistic programs. The skater must use his or her costuming (no detachable pieces, like a hat, which are considered props), choreography, facial expressions, etc, to communicate the theme of the program. Most artistic programs are also more serious than spotlight programs, but are not required to be. Artistic programs can be performed as showcase/spotlight programs, but spotlight programs cannot be done as artistic because of the props. Many skaters who primarily skate USFS will use their technical program as an artistic in an ISI competition (or vice versa) because while the artistic does have excluded elements (typically limiting the level of the jumps performed) there are no required elements.
Interpretive is a totally different event altogether. Some skaters love it (it’s my daughter’s favorite) and some hate it. In an interpretive event, an entire flight of skaters all skate to exactly the same music without knowing what the music chosen by the competition organizers will be. Coaches may not assist their skaters for interpretive events at the competition (and are not permitted in the staging area), but may suggest strategies in advance.
The way it (usually) works is that each flight of skaters hears the music for the first time during their warm up. They may hear it up to two or three times before they skate to it, but they are not permitted to see what the skaters going before them are doing when it is the other skaters’ turn to skate, nor adjust their costuming (no switching dresses!) which waiting. Some organizers try hard to pick really unusual pieces, and some put little thought into the choices, so you never know what you’ll get. The goal is to see which skater interprets the music the best. This is another event that is not about having the best jumps and spins, but about artistry and quick thinking.
Skaters who enjoy choreographing usually like the event. Skaters who prefer to perfect every little movement in advance usually don’t enjoy it as much. When doing interpretive (especially for the first time) skaters need to be aware that while they may get a song they love, they’re just as likely to get a song they absolutely can’t stand, or that they’ve never heard before in their lives. It’s easy to skate to a song you like, not so much when a song is completely unfamiliar to you.
Jump & Spin
While showcase, artistic, and interpretive events are all about artistry, jump and spin events are about who has the best jumps and spins. Often Jump & Spin events are team events, with two to four skaters on each team. These can be a lot of fun as well, especially for skaters who really do not enjoy footwork and moves but love jumping and spinning.
Exhibition programs are not judged, although they are occasionally performed in competition. These are usually artistic or showcase type programs, but may exceed time or element limits for competition, so are reserved for shows and skating exhibitions. They can be an opportunity for a skater to show off a new jump that cannot yet be performed in competition due to level limits, or one that isn’t yet consistent enough to risk doing when being judged. Because there are no rules for exhibition programs, the skater(s) can do almost anything they can imagine, which can be a great opportunity.
Choosing What Type of Program to Perform and When…
The process of deciding which program(s) to perform each season needs to be a collaboration between the coach(es), skater, and whomever is paying the skater’s expenses. Most skaters will have a technical (WBP) program. Many will also have at least one other, usually a showcase or artistic. It is completely possible that a skater can have four or five different programs. One year my daughter had a technical program, individual showcase, couples’ spotlight, AND family spotlight. This year she is competing with her technical program, an artistic, a couples’ spotlight and Production Team, although not all at the same competition. A skater may have just one program, or six, but there is no rule that says one must skate every program at a competition. Many skaters will skate one program at competition A, but another at competition B. Discuss your choices with your coach. Make sure to understand that some competitions may not offer all of the categories. You may decide that lugging props to an out of town competition is a hassle you’d rather avoid.
Whatever your choices are, remember that your skater must learn each and every program, and must have sufficient ice time to practice them. Good luck!
Light Entertainment Spotlight
Commonwealth Games of Virginia, 2013
Photography by JPhotography, Lynchburg, VA
Costume by Wolff Fording, Richmond, VA