'Undignified' Skating Moves on Thin Ice

Most parents probably don't think they need a V-chip device to monitor the figure skating their kids watch on TV.

But come to think of it, some of those skirts are pretty skimpy. And while today's on-ice acrobatics are certainly less provocative than the average Britney Spears video, might the sport be offending some of its audience?

That's what the International Skating Union — the organization that governs figure skating from the Olympics on down — suggested when it decreed that "undignified" moves such as "upside-down splits" and "backward spread eagles" will be penalized starting next season.

The rule came after "many complaints about the choice of lifts and movements in Pair Skating and Ice Dancing," the ISU said last month in a statement.

The ISU said it was concerned about the display to television and live audiences of certain risqué poses and positions being performed "mainly by the ladies." According to the new rule, referees and judges should deduct 0.1 for the moves mentioned above or any movement they consider to be "undignified."

"Especially on TV it looked quite bad — the cameras zooming in on a woman with her legs open for prolonged exposure. Some people in the audience were calling certain moves 'x-rated,'" said Ann Shaw, an ISU member whose opinion went into creating the penalty.

Skaters were divided on the decision.

"If a rule was written, somebody must have crossed the line," said Patti Feeney, a skater and managing director of the Dallas-based Ice Skating Institute.

Feeney also said that after the last World Figure Skating Championship, her organization, which is not affiliated with the championships, received several angry letters decrying the skaters as "lewd and suggestive."

"There was a big brouhaha … some were offended by the exhibitions," Feeney said. "We got scathing letters over that."

But Feeney, who describes herself as "pretty liberal," said 99 percent of what audiences see on TV is in good taste.

"The Europeans go further than Americans," she said. "But it's all for the sake of art. The best skating wins regardless of the window-dressing."

Another skater called the new rule "ridiculous."

"They can't do sustained upside-down splits, but they can wear completely sheer dresses — it's arbitrary," said former professional precision skater Amy Kaufmann. "It's probably just meant to appease all the concerned moms out there — to say 'it's not our fault if the skating is too sexy, it's the skaters' fault.'"

Kaufmann also said skaters are given mixed messages with regard to expressing their sexuality.

"It's a paradox: You're supposed to be sexy and beautiful — but not too much," she said. "When I was a skater, they told us to flirt with judges and bat our eyelashes."

But Kaufmann also saw a logical explanation for the rule change.

'These days, the mean age of skaters is much younger. At the top level they are 13, 14, 15; 10 years ago they were 18, 19, 20. It's considered okay if you're a little older."

John Giles, president of the Alabama Christian Coalition, considered the ruling a move in the right direction.

"We as a society need to preserve chastity and virginity until marriage … as parents we are all on guard not just for living room skating but for other (suggestive) TV, cable, the magazines on our table," Giles said.

But Giles' colleague, Christian Coalition media director Jason Campbell, found it more difficult to censure what seems to him a relatively innocent art.

"Any time they want to clean up sports to make them more family-oriented we're for it," Campbell said. "But with the XFL advertising itself with half-dressed dancers …" he trailed off.

"Let's pick on some other stuff first," he said.