For many years, ice dancers who were not fortunate enough to find a partner to skate with were left unable to compete in their discipline. However, beginning in 2011, U.S. Figure Skating introduced the National Solo Dance series (NSDS), now known as the Solo Dance Series (SDS) as of the 2019-2020 season. This series allows ice dancers to compete alone, while still being able to ice dance rather than compete in freestyle. Although the series started out quite small, has really grown in recent years and has attracted more and more attention.
There are three sub-disciplines that skaters can choose to compete in for the SDS: Combined Dance, Solo Pattern Dance, and Shadow Dance. Combined Dance most closely mirrors the competition style of partnered ice dance, where skaters compete both a pattern or rhythm dance and then a free dance. As in partnered dance, the Juvenile, Intermediate, and Novice levels compete a pattern dance, which differs each season. Junior and Senior level skaters compete a rhythm dance, in which they are required to skate a pre-determined pattern dance along with a step sequence, edge element, and twizzle series to a specified music genre. All levels then also compete a free dance, where the music style is up to the individual skater. In the free dance, solo dancers perform edge elements, such as spirals, spread eagles and ina bauers; various kinds of step sequences; twizzles; and a dance spin. The scores from these two segments are added together for a total combined score, which determines the placement of the skaters.
Solo Pattern Dance events give skaters at each level the opportunity to compete the compulsory dances at their level, without having to also create a free dance program. At each competition, two dances from each level are selected, which all skaters perform. This event really highlights the classical tradition of ice dance and allows solo dancers to focus on the technical side of their skating.
The final sub-discipline that is included in the SDS is Shadow Dance. Shadow Dance involves two solo ice dancers to compete a pattern dance side-by-side, tracking each other like a skater and his/her “shadow”. In this event just one pattern dance is competed per event. Many solo ice dancers have grown to love this event, as it gives them the opportunity to compete and have fun with a fellow solo ice dancer.
Unlike partnered ice dance, there is no sectional qualifying competition that determines which skaters from each of the three sections, Eastern, Midwestern, and Pacific, can move on to the national final, also called Solo Dance “Nationals”. Instead, skaters are required to compete at various competitions within their section throughout the season, which begins in March and ends in August before the Final in early September. At each competition, points are awarded based on the skaters’ placements in their respective events. For events with more than three competitors, the winner receives nine points, the second place skater receives eight, the third place skater receives seven, and so on. If there are three or fewer skaters, the maximum number of points is seven, and decreases from there according to placement. There is no limit to how many competitions an ice dancer can do, but at the end of the season, each skaters’ top three scores are summed. The skaters with the top six highest scores at each level for each sub-discipline are then invited to the final. Skaters who outright win at least three events, even if there are just two or three skaters, are also given an invitation. At the National Solo Dance Final, the top-scoring solo ice dancers from around the country gather to compete at a national level event, where national champions are determined.