by Emily Chang

My name is Emily Chang and I competed in the 2018 National Solo Dance Finals.

On September 14th, skaters from all over the country traveled to Barnstable, Massachusetts to compete in the most anticipated ice dance event of the season: the 2018 National Solo Dance Finals. The Yarmouth Ice Club hosted the event held at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center which drew over 220 athletes from around the country.

Special thanks to my coach, Kenneth Foster for his unwavering dedication and sacrifice, and to my choreographer, Sinead Kerr, for her creative and artistic talent.

I have been a competitive figure skater since I was six years old and started ice dancing a few years after. This year, I was ecstatic to be returning to my seventh National Solo Dance Finals; however, my past experience did little to ease my anxiety and nerves. I qualified for two events, Pre-Gold Pattern Dance and Junior Combined Free Dance, and my goal was to medal in at least one of them. I felt enormous pressure weighing down on me as I was determined to make this dream a reality. One of the most challenging obstacles I had to overcome was an ankle injury halfway through the season which forced me to take several weeks off from practice and competition. My ankle sprain woes added to my already heightened stress and anxiety. However, I learned to move forward and cope with this setback and stay positive to help restore my confidence to face the fierce competition.

This year’s National Solo Dance Finals was different than prior years. The International Judging System (IJS) was introduced and replaced the old 6.0 judging system which was mainly used in lower level non-qualifying competitions. Since June 2004, IJS has been used in all other qualifying competitions and many argued that solo dance should be no exception. At first, the introduction of the IJS system was met with mixed reactions from the ice dance community.  While IJS was viewed to be fairer and more objective, many dance coaches were reluctant to learn a new system and had little confidence in mastering all the new rules. Dance judges also endured a steep learning curve as many were using IJS for the first time. Some viewed the new system as too detailed and time consuming because it required them to analyze and score each specific element of a skater’s program which took away from the overall performance.

Personally, I was very happy and excited to have IJS implemented as the official scoring system for solo dance. I believe the old 6.0 judging system was extremely subjective and difficult for judges to properly evaluate skaters, especially those competing in a large group. Judges simply had to rank each skater relative to others in order of who they thought was the best overall performer without giving credit for those who executed certain difficult elements well. Many times, judges were unable to distinguish the best skater after watching 10+ performances in one group. There were also many competitions where a skater would come in first place overall, yet have one judge that voted him/her tenth and another who voted him/her fourth. This wide range of scores just didn’t make sense, resulting in anger and confusion among the competitors. Fortunately, IJS helped cleared these discrepancies because each element is now given a certain numerical value where judges reward or deduct points depending on the grade of execution.

I strongly support IJS because it also provides useful feedback on each skater’s performance. After each competition event, skaters now receive a protocol which details their program content and scores obtained for each executed element, including the base value and grade of execution points. It also details the skater’s program components which include skating skills/execution, performance/carriage, and interpretation/timing. These component scores along with the technical element scores produce a total segment score which is then used to rank each skater and produce his/her final placement.  While competing, I found the protocol to be extremely informative and beneficial because it allowed me to clearly understand how I was judged and what I needed to improve on in order to obtain a higher score at my next competition.

The new IJS judging system also allows a skater to gauge his/her performance compared to other competitors. If a skater’s final score is well below those of his/her competitors’, then the skater knows to step it up and practice more to master certain elements. Contrary, if a skater’s final score is within close proximity of others, then the skater should be happy that he/she skated a competitive program and was only off by a couple of points due to judges’ differing viewpoints. When my final Pre-Gold Pattern score was announced, I discovered that I was only three hundredths of a point away from the skater above me. While it’s helpful to know the range of your competitors’ scores, at the time it was frustrating for me to realize how close I was to getting the silver medal at Finals.

In my opinion, change is a good thing and IJS is a positive change for solo dance.  The new judging system has allowed such a subjective sport to be fairer for all participants as it required more accurate scoring factors. During Nationals this year, I was pleasantly surprised to not experience nor witness any major judging disparities and/or miscalculations. Of course, there were a few scores which skaters may not agree with, but this is always the case of biased judgement and therefore unavoidable.

Overall, I came away from this year’s competition having more confidence in the judging system and a much better understanding and awareness of the rationale for the judges’ scores compared to previous years. At Finals, I still had much difficulty combating and controlling my nerves and while I didn’t achieve my season’s best scores, I did come home with a bronze medal in the Pre-Gold Pattern Dance event and a pewter medal in the Junior Combined Free Dance event. To be ranked third and fourth in the nation is more than I expected, and I am so grateful that all my hard work has allowed me to exceed my goals.