In singles skating, skaters must complete both a short program (maximum 2 minutes 50 seconds) of required steps, jumps, spins and combinations, and a longer free skating program (4 minutes for ladies, 4 minutes 30 seconds for men), both set to music. The free skate — worth two-thirds of a skater’s final score — allows the athletes to demonstrate their creativity, innovative moves and technical difficulty.
The pairs event follows the same format as the singles, with a compulsory short program and a free skate (4 minutes 30 seconds). In this event, however, one male and one female skater work in unison, incorporating lifts, throws and synchronized jumps, spins and spirals linked harmoniously by steps and other movements.
Ice dance is performed by a couple and is based on their rhythm, interpretation of music and precise steps. Unlike pairs skating, ice dance does not include overhead lifts and jumps. Ice dance is similar to ballroom dancing, as the skaters remain in contact throughout most of the program.
An ice dance competition is made up of three parts: one compulsory dance, an original dance and a free dance. Compulsory dance is the skating of prescribed patterns to music incorporating pre-determined rhythm and tempo. Original dance and free dance are created by each couple to music of their own choice. There are also required elements such as dance lifts, spins, synchronized twizzles (a multi-rotational one-foot turn) and step sequences that must be included in the composition of these programs.