Back in 2014, nearly 10.65 million individuals over the age of six participated in ice skating. And with all of the excitement that goes along with the Winter Olympic Games, it’s likely that many more will decide to learn how to skate in the near future. But while figure skating gets a lot of the glory, this year’s Olympiads have proven that ice dancing is nothing to be taken lightly.
In general, dance is reportedly just as effective for weight loss as cycling and jogging, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. But of course, these athletes aren’t trying to stay slim; they’re competing for major medals. While some viewers might dismiss ice dancing as a less-impressive version of figure skating, the truth is that the former takes a whole lot of skill — despite the lack of jumps and lifts. This year’s events were especially competitive and showcased a wide variety of styles not usually seen in these events.
The Canadian team comprised of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir triumphed this year, earning the gold medal and their second Olympic title this year (though the pair has earned five Olympic medals altogether). The pair’s incredible precision and athleticism helped them set a new record for the highest overall score ever recorded in the short program event.
They weren’t the only record-setting team this year. French dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron clinched the free skate portion of the event and broke their own record for the highest free dance score, despite Papadakis’s early wardrobe malfunction. And one of the U.S. teams, siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, nabbed the bronze medal — making this their first Olympic medal in their two appearances at the Games. They’re also the first skaters of Asian descent to win medals in the sport.
Equally as impressive as the athletes’ skills may be the sheer diversity now found in this sport. In the past, the formulaic European style was everywhere and made one duo nearly indiscernible from the next. But now, the teams don’t shy away from showcasing their own particular flavor and uniquely expressing themselves while out on the ice.
The Shabutanis, in particular, are excited about how far ice dance has come and how far it may still go.
“It’s so limiting to be labeled as one thing,” Alex told TIME. “It’s almost insulting to the discipline of ice dance where it’s grouped into ‘oh it’s romantic or oh it’s sensual.’ That’s not fair to ice dance, and probably hurting ice dance’s feelings. Ice dance wants to be whatever it can be. We are all put here to hopefully find something we are passionate about and hopefully connect in some way to the people around us.”
Those who have enjoyed tuning in to this year’s Olympic Games may have found it frustrating when their personal preferences didn’t line up with the complicated scoring system observed by the official panel of judges. But then again, the emerging different styles of these ice dancing teams prove that this sport is something that can be enjoyed by everyone — and perhaps, encourage others to follow their own dreams.