Why Do So Many Figure Skaters Choose the Same Music?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For the first time in Olympic history, single and pairs figure skaters have been freed from their tinkly piano music prisons, and are now allowed to perform to music with lyrics. It took only one steamy performance this past Sunday evening to underline just how significant this rule change was to the sport. When Canadian champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated a sultry number to “El Tango de Roxanne” and “Come What May,” two essential highlights from the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack, the message was clear: this was a performance about sexual chemistry. Judging from the internet’s immediate instinct to ship the platonic pair, it was an extremely well executed plan.

Despite the fact this rule change has opened the door for more spirited—and in the aforementioned case, hornier—creative expression, there’s a shocking amount of overlap among figure skaters’ music choices at Pyeongchang 2018. In addition to Virtue and Moir’s Moulin Rouge! combo platter, Yahoo Entertainment reports that four other skating programs will be set to music from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical. On top of that, there are other confounding patterns: three pieces set to Luis Fonsi’s ultra-popular earworm “Despacito,” three set to Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from the 1983 musical Yentl, and three set to the soundtrack of the little-known 2013 remake of Romeo and Juliet.

For the average armchair observer, it’s natural to pity any skater who dares follow Virtue and Moir’s performance with the same Moulin Rouge! soundtrack. (After all, it would be virtually impossible to top whatever polite-but-hot Canadian-grade sexual tension they’ve developed.) But it turns out that choosing the same music as your elite competitors can also hurt a figure skater’s score with Olympic judges. Rosanna Tovi, a coach and former figure skater who was a member of the U.S. international figure skating team and world professional team in the 1980s and 1990s, compares soundtrack overlap to when stars show up to an awards show wearing the same dress. “There’s that instant comparison of who looks better,” she said. “Let’s say it’s an ice dance team and three couples had the same music. If there’s a very high quality team against a team that’s of a lower level, it’s really going to enhance the difference there because you’re seeing the same music. You’re seeing it one time skated really great and maybe one time skated really not so great.”

Continue @ The Ringer (blog)