Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean are ice-dancers*. They have won medals in national and international competitions, competed in the Winter Olympics, performed professionally for ten years, been awarded OBE's1, and are probably the most famous thing to come out of Nottingham since Robin Hood.
Learning to Skate
Torvill began to learn skating in 1965, aged eight, after a school trip introduced her to the activity. She became the British National Pairs Champion in 1971 with Michael Hutchenson.
Dean began to skate in 1968, aged ten. His first competition was a short three years later, in partnership with Sandra Elson.
In 1975 neither skater had a competition partner. Janet Sawbridge, their coach, paired them up and they first competed together in 1976.
It was clear that they worked well together. Over the years, they earned a string of medals in various high-level competitions:
- 1978 - 4th in their first European Championships.
- 1978 - 11th in their first World Championships.
- 1979 - 6th in the European Championships.
- 1979 - 8th in the World Championships.
- 1980 - British National Dance Champions for the first time.
- 1980 - 4th in the European Championships.
- 1980 - 5th in the Winter Olympics.
By this point they had become unstoppable. Leaving their jobs in order to skate full-time was not an easy decision, as it meant adding to the two million unemployed in the UK. They applied for funding to, among others, Nottingham City Council, who granted them £14,000 per year until the next Olympics.2 Over the next five years they placed first in the European Championships three times and the World Championships four times - consecutively. It was in these competitions that their style changed from traditional dance to more narrative performances.
The next challenge was the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. The money from the Council allowed them to train in Germany with their new coach, Betty Calloway.
Bolero, by the composer Ravel, is probably the most famous ice dance ever.
Torvill and Dean had been using the piece as a warm-up. When they decided to use it in for their 'free dance' piece, it needed shortening from the original seventeen minutes to no more than 4 minutes 10 seconds.
Unfortunately, the shortest it could be reduced to was 4 minutes 28 seconds.
This posed a problem, and the iconic beginning to the dance is the solution to it. The pair start on their knees, and the first blade does not touch the ice until 18 seconds after the music begins, when Torvill is lifted over Dean's shoulder. The clock only starts once this first blade has made contact - neatly side-stepping the rules and allowing the music to be used.3
Bolero received twelve 6.0's from a possible 18, including nine for artistic impression - a perfect score.
Unsurprisingly, Torvill and Dean won the gold.
After the Olympics
When you've achieved perfect marks in the Olympics, what do you follow it with?
If you're Torvill and Dean, you turn professional. The next ten years held a sequence of international tours, some as part of existing companies, others independently. Bolero almost always featured, somewhat to the dismay of the skaters, who would have liked a litle more variety. Christopher Dean particularly wanted to be more experimental in his choreography, but "the audience base wouldn't support it."
Face the Music
In 1994 the pair decided to return to competitions, entering the Lillehammer Olympics. Their free dance was a return to the traditions they had been instrumental in changing. It had no narrative or theme, but was simply a spectacular display of skill. The legality of one move, an assisted lift, was challenged, which contributed to a disappointing bronze medal.
For several years after Lillehammer Torvill and Dean continued to perform professionally and choreograph other couples for competitions. In 1999, they announced their retirement and the end of their partnership. Both worked as coaches; Dean also choreographed.
For the ITV show Dancing on Ice in 2006, they were persuaded to work together once more, depite having doubts that the show would be successful. The second series began in early 2007, again with Torvill and Dean coaching and choreographing the celebrity participants, and the show will be touring the UK with celebrities from both series taking part.