Torvill, Jayne and Christopher Dean
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean
British ice dancers
For followers of sport, the insinuating rhythm of Maurice Ravel's instrumental composition "Bolero" may forever evoke images of the swirling figures of the ice-dancing pair who electrified the 1984 Olympic winter games in Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia. Great Britain's Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are perhaps best remembered as the "Bolero"-skating gold medalists, but in fact the pair have numerous amateur and professional championships to their credit. Following their Olympic gold (and subsequent, controversial 1994 bronze), the two have kept busy in their sport, both as performers and as choreographers.
Sport Or Art?
Ice dancing is a complex endeavor. "Less gymnastic and acrobatic than pairs skating, ice dancing, which bears more than a passing resemblance to ballroom dancing, works its wonders within a smaller compass," explained Time writer Gerald Clarke. The discipline allows moves that emulate traditional dance, precluding such crowd-pleasing stunts as fast spins, high tosses, and extended lifts. Nor was ice dancing's place on the Olympic podium always assured. "For years," Bob Ottum of Sports Illustrated noted, "certain members of the International Olympic Committee opposed accepting dance as an Olympic sport because, they huffed, it was art and not sport." Eventually, ice dancing was invited to the games as an exhibition event. In 1976 ice dancing was accepted as an official medals event.
The discipline was refined as early as the 1960s with such pairs as Britain's Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, and was dominated in the 1970s by pairs representing
the Soviet Union. But it could be argued that ice dancing reached a new peak of maturity with the ascendency of Torvill and Dean. Not only superior stylists, they were innovators in the sport. Indeed, skating authority Dick Button told Clarke in 1986, "all new skaters will in some way look like Torvill and Dean. They are wonderfully creative. Much of what they do is unique to them."
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean both grew up in Nottingham, England. Both began skating at age ten; at fourteen, Torville, with then-partner Michael Hutchinson, became British National Pairs champion. At the same age, Dean was named British Junior Dance champion. Torvill and Dean first teamed up in 1975. By that time, each skater held a "day job," Torvill's in clerking, Dean's as a police recruit. "For a time," remarked Bob Ottum in Sports Illustrated, the duo "tried to combine both worlds—working out while their occupational colleagues slept. At one point they had regular training sessions from 4 to 6 a.m." The grueling schedule paid off when Torvill and Dean gained their first national title in 1978.
Bound for Sarajevo
Recognizing that they had the potential to rise to the top of the international standings, Torvill and Dean committed themselves to full-time training in 1980. (The Nottingham City Council staked the two to a $21,000 grant, freeing them to pursue their craft.) In 1981 the team took the European ice dancing championship, which had been dominated by Soviet skaters for the previous decade. By 1982 Torvill and Dean were the pair to beat, ranking first in the world and netting perfect "6.0" scores.
Skating fans soon noticed a difference in the presentation of the two dancers. They elevated their routines to display a physical and emotional intimacy that led many to believe that the partners were romantically involved off the ice. But the two were quick to refute that belief. "This is constant, unglamorous work," Dean told Ottum. Torvill and Dean eventually married, but not each other.
In 1983, Torvill and Dean scored an unprecedented nine perfect "sixes" in artistic impression at the world championship. Setting their sights on Sarajevo, the ice dancers decided to push the artistic envelope by choosing "Bolero" for their accompaniment. "Bolero" was seen as a contentious piece of music for ice dancing, as it featured a single repetitive tempo instead of changes of rhythm. But as they entered the arena in Zetra, Yugoslavia, Torvill and Dean prepared to show the world a new form of ice dance.
The music began. "Not since the great Soviet pair of the '60s, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov," wrote B. J. Phillips of Time, "has anyone in skating so melded music, blades and bodies into a unified whole. Torvill and Dean performed an extended pas de deux in which difficult athletic feats are made to appear effortless, though the beat is so slow that the skaters can never build momentum. Like the music, the movements are eerily erotic and mesmerizing." Life writer Robert Sullivan saw the performance as groundbreaking: "There were no tempo shifts but rather sustained elegance, cohesion, narrative, drama. This was dancing: a Swan Lake to everyone else's prom night." When the scores were posted, again history was made: the skaters not only scored across-the-board sixes in artistic impression, but also in technical merit.
Torvill and Dean took home the gold medal and left behind a new standard for ice dancing. From then on, many pairs sought to recreate the sensuality of the two Britons. For years, "team after team of T&D wannabes spilled onto the ice in Grand Guignol costuming," wrote Sullivan. "Nostrils perpetually aflare, the new generation of ice dancers—too many of them artless and only modestly talented—acted out their wildest passions and torments, climaxing in death swoon after death swoon."
A Challenge in Lillehamer
As for the originators, Torvill and Dean had to follow their own considerable act. Turning pro, they toured the ice-show circuit for a decade. "They got rich," said Sullivan. "Eventually they got bored." When they heard of a rules change that allowed professional skaters to compete in the Olympics, the pair convinced each other to prepare for the 1994 winter games. When they arrived in Lillehamer, Norway, the now-senior members of icedancing's elite had to share the rink with a new generation of ice dancers. It was a "rude awakening," according to Diane Pucin, in a 1994 Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service wire story. "For the first time in their international careers, Torvill and Dean didn't lead after the compulsories." They were tied for second after enduring a humiliating 5.2 from one judge on the required pasa doble movement. But for the two-minute dance, the partners returned to form, performing a lively rumba that earned them two perfect sixes. They had moved back into first place in time for the free-dance finale, which counted for fifty percent of the total score.
|1975||First teamed as ice dancers|
|1976||First international win, St. Gervais|
|1984||Represented Great Britain at the Olympic winter games, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia|
|1984||Begin touring as professionals|
|1987||Dean begins as choreographer for other skaters|
|1990||Torvill marries Philip Christensen|
|1991||Dean marries Isabelle Duchesnay (divorced, 1993)|
|1994||Dean marries Jill Trenary|
|1994||Represented Great Britain at Olympic winter games, Lillehamer, Norway|
|1994||"Face the Music" farewell tour|
|1998||"Stars on Ice" tour|
|1999||Torvill begins work as choreographer for other skaters|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1976||First international win, St. Gervais|
|1978||First of seven British national championships|
|1981||First of four European championships|
|1981||First of four world championships|
|1981||Named Members of the British Empire (MBE)|
|1983||Win Gold Star Ice Dance test|
|1984||Gold medal, Olympic winter games|
|1984||BBC Sports Personalities of the Year|
|1984||First of five World Professional Ice Dance championships|
|1989||Inducted into World Figure Skating Hall of Fame|
|1993||Honorary Master of Arts, Nottingham Trent University|
|1994||Bronze medal, Olympic winter games|
|1995||Honored by German Federation for contribution to sport|
|2000||Named to Order of the British Empire (OBE)|
But this time, gold eluded Torvill and Dean. They performed a technically challenging Fred Astaire-and-Ginger-Rogers-type routine with characteristic innovation—including backflips, splits, and the woman lifting the man—and the audience responded with a sustained standing ovation. But the cheers changed to boos when Torvill and Dean's technical merit scores—averaging around 5.7—were posted. The Britons finished third to two Russian dance pairs, Oksana Grichtchuk and Yevgeny Platov (gold), and Maya Usova and Aleskandr Zhulin (silver). Not coincidentally, three of the judges who placed the Russians higher represented Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
A Judging Flap
Did dishonest judging take place? Some thought so. "The result did nothing to improve the reputation of ice dancing, which is ridiculed by other skaters for its lack of jumps and rigged scoring," declared Linda Robertson in a Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service article. "Ripped off" was sports columnist Ann Killion's opinion. Writing for Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Killion labeled the judges "Corrupt. Blind. Or both." As for the skaters, "we were a little surprised," Dean said to Robertson, before he amended his comment: "A lot." Torvill told Killion, "I'm glad we came back to perform."
Torvill and Dean's farewell tour, "Face the Music" traveled the world in the mid-1990s. They have appeared in several videos, including a comic turn by Torvill skating with actor Rowan Atkinson's bumbling "Mr. Bean" character in a Comic Relief presentation. She also appeared as a contestant on the British game show They Think It's All Over in June 2001
Between their Olympic appearances, Torville and Dean continued to represent their sport. Dean, in particular, made his mark as a choreographer, mapping out the routine of France's 1992 Olympians Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay (Dean was married to Isabelle from 1991-93). Dean later married 1990 World Champion skater Jill Trenary. The couple and their two sons live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they work as skating coaches. Torville married Philip Christensen, who manages her appearances. Torvill and Dean were honored by their country by being named Members of the British Empire (MBE) in 1981, and to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000. One more unique honor came their way: the Torvill and Dean, a flower of orange, white, and pink hues, was named for them.
Address: c/o Sue Young, P.O. Box 32, Heathfield, East Sussex, TN21 0BW, England.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY TORVILL AND DEAN:
(With Neil Wilson) Torvill and Dean: Fire on Ice. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994.
Hennessey, John. Torvill and Dean. David and Charles, 1993.
Hilton, Christopher. Torvill and Dean: The True Story. Oxford Illustrated Press, 1994.
Shuker-Haines, Franny. Torvill & Dean: Ice Dancing's Perfect Pair. Blackbirch Press, 1995.
Torvill, Jane, with Christopher Dean and Neil Wilson. Torvill and Dean: Fire on Ice. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994.
Caple, Jim. "Torvill and Dean Placed 3rd in Controversial Ice Dancing Judging." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (February 21, 1994).
Clarke, Gerald. "Sensuality and Ice Magic." Time. (November 24, 1986).
Killion, Ann. "Torvill and Dean Were Ripped Off." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (February 21, 1994).
Ottum, Bob. "Just the Perfect Couple." Sports Illustrated. (November 7, 1983).
Phillips, B. J. "A Little Touch of Heaven." Time. (February 27, 1984).
Pucin, Diane. "Torvill and Dean Back with a Vengeance." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (January 20, 1994).
Pucin, Diane. "Torvill and Dean Dance to the Top." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (February 20, 1994).
Robertson, Linda. "Crowd Prefers Torvill and Dean, But Judges Prefer Russians." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (February 21, 1994).
Sullivan, Robert. "Torvill and Dean." Life. (February, 1994).
Ice-Dance.com. http://www.ice-dance.com/profiles/torvill.htm (January 6, 2003).
Six Zero. http://www.jhalle.demon.co.uk/ (January 6, 2003).
Torvill and Dean Web Site. http://members.aol.com/tanddfanp/ (January 6, 2003).
Sketch by Susan Salter