Christopher Dean: Online Interview
- Published: July 17, 2003
Christopher Dean has had more impact on the sport of ice dancing in the last 20 years than any other individual. Skating with his partner, Jayne Torvill, Dean revolutionized ice dancing in the early 1980s with his innovative choreography, culminating with the couple’s gold medal winning performance of Bolero in the 1984 Olympics. Their free dance, which received twelve 6.0s, including all nine for artistic expression, is the most famous ice dance of all time and what many consider the greatest performance in Olympic figure-skating history. That victory remains the only Olympic ice dancing victory in which both partners were not from Russia. Torvill and Dean were unbeaten between 1981 and 1984, after which they went on to a sterling pro career touring worldwide and winning several professional competitions.
Dean began skating when he was ten after receiving skates as a Christmas present and began ice dancing after breaking his leg. An avid sportsman, Dean captained his school’s football team and won numerous sprint races at school sports days. His favorite sports were gymnastics, football, swimming and running. But he left school at 16 to join the police department and worked as a police officer for several years while training with Torvill. He still enjoys adventurous activities, such as motor racing, flying, white water rafting, and bobsledding.
In 1981, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Torvill and Dean with the distinction of MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) after they won European and world ice-dancing titles. In 2000, Prince Charles presented Torvill and Dean with the added distinction of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). He is married to former World and 3-time U. S. champion, Jill Trenary. The two wed on Octobter 15, 1994 and have two children – Jack Robert Dean (5) and Sam Colin Dean (2). Since retiring from skating, Dean has continued to choreograph ice shows like Stars on Ice, ballets, individual skaters programs as well as conducting seminars and workshops.
Becky: The way you and Jane skate together–so much passion, creativeness, and power over the ice is really untouchable. Your skating is so great and that Olympic Gold was well deserved! How did you feel when the queen had acknowledged your special efforts?
Christopher: It was a defining moment for Jayne and I to receive an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire). It was for services to the country and is held in high regard, so we were very honored. Last year we were asked to produce a show for the Queen, during her Silver Jubilee and held in our own town of Nottingham. That was a wonderful experience combining local skaters with Olympic Champions, in the presence of Her Majesty.
Anonymous: What is the story behind Bolero? Why did you and Jayne decide to use that piece of music?
Christopher: Bolero came about because we used the music for our early morning. The new season was upon us and we were looking for a new direction, musically and style wise. This became an obvious choice for us. It was one piece of music, that started slow and built to a crescendo, It was intimate and strong, it carried the audience along with us on the journey. The story for us in our heads was of a Romeo Juliet theme. It was about two lovers, who couldn’t be together, so they would be together in death. It was a journey up a volcano where they would fling themselves over the edge, and finally be together. A little tragic but it helped with our thought process.
Ben C.: I’ve always wondered why your Paso Doble OSP from 1984 was never made into a compulsory dance. My guess has been that to this day it’s just too difficult for many if not most of the teams to handle it. Have you ever been asked to take out some of the harder steps so it could become a CD?
Christopher: I do not know why. It certainly is a very identifiable number that most people remember. Actually, I don’t think it was too hard, but it certainly needs character to perform it well.
Stephanie: Whose idea was it to transform your Rhumba OD into a compulsory dance? Did you find it difficult to transform, and when do you think it will be used in competition? What were your reasons for choosing Belbin & Agosto to demonstrate it?
Christopher: Courtney Jones of the ISU first suggested the idea and Jayne and I were obviously delighted. We went through the process of adapting it, but as we did, we realized it was loosing something, it’s character. So we sat down with the ISU, and as a result, it remained the same dance that we performed in the 1994 Olympics. Ben and Tanith became an obvious choice because of their abilities. They were wonderful to work with and “Got” the essence of the dance. They are great ambassadors for the Rhumba.
Rachel: Out of all the routines you and Jayne performed, which one was your favorite to do?
Christopher: Each number we’ve performed has significance to us, from our early days of Mack and Mabel, Barnum and Bolero, to Revolution, Encounters and Still Crazy. Each has meaning and a reason. Something we were very proud of was our collaboration with Yo Yo Ma. It was a labor of love, but at the end, of it there was a piece of work that we thought was truly artistic and a joy to work on. Bolero has to be our defining moment on the World Stage. After the 1984 Olympics, we were known around the world and that enabled us to go on and produce our own shows and tour the world.
Helen: What is your relationship with Jayne like now – how often do you see her or talk to her?
Christopher: Jayne and I talk almost every day, if not every other, although she lives in the UK and I’m in the USA. Fortunately, there are projects that we still work together on, like last year’s Gala for the Queen of England’s Jubilee celebrations. This year is the 50 years of the BBC Sports Person of The Year. We have been asked to appear together on that. Each year since we have been apart, we have seen each other at least once if not more. We will always be the closest of friends.
Sharon: Hi Chris, I have been a fan of you & Jayne since 1981 and so miss seeing you skate and congratulate you on all your brilliant tour productions. Do you miss skating with Jayne?
Christopher: Yes, but now life has changed for us as it does for everyone. There is always a right time for changes, and we now enjoy those changes. What we did we are incredibly thankful for all in addition to all the opportunities we had. I don’t think we didn’t wasted any of them. We wouldn’t change a thing.
Emma: How many partners had you had before Jayne?
Christopher: Just one, Sandra Elson, for about two years. We had some success but we just weren’t compatible. Jayne had one too, but she was a pair skater, and won our senior Nationals.
Anonymous: Are there any plans for the two of you to perform in a special appearance?
Christopher: No, when we stopped doing what we did, that required so much practice and attention to detail, we just wouldn’t be able to do that now. We prefer for people to remember us when we were as good as we could be, not a shadow of our former selves. We do work together on projects, so that fulfills us now.
Audrey and Helga: How old were you when you started skating? Have you ever practiced single skating?
Christopher: I was a late starter compared with today’s starting age. I was ten. I did do singles for two weeks, but I almost killed myself, I just threw myself into the air with no thought to landing. My parents encouraged me to do dance from the beginning and that stuck.
Anonymous: What was the worst and the best memory from your great career?
Christopher: Sarajevo for both. Winning the Olympics and remembering that wonderful time, then returning some 13 years later to see a city destroyed by war and all its realities of death and destruction. The people there are truly remarkable and have survived this senseless war, and will rebuild their country and grow strong again.
Emma: What was the biggest obstacle you had to get past in your skating career?
Christopher: There has always been little things that you could call obstacles, however, I think of them as challenges. Perhaps a judge, scheduling, or money. All have been challenges, but you have to find a way around them and do the best you can. In the end, I feel we were able to navigate our way around all the obstacles.
Anonymous: Which skaters/dancers inspired you in your career?
Christopher: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, Irina Moseeva and Andrei Minenkov, and Christopher Bruce. They have all influenced me and my skating and choreography.
Anonymous: Do you and Jayne have any plans to coach/choreograph together? What are Jayne’s plans?
Christopher: We have over the past few years worked together coaching and choreographing. We choreographed for Stars on Ice, Bourne and Kraatz, Anissina and Peizerat, Drobiazko and Vanagas. We do a yearly seminar in our home town of Nottingham in the UK. Jayne is very involved with charity work in the UK, and she also has a child. So she has a very full life right now.
Anonymous: Who has been your favorite performer to work with?
Christopher: Every skater that I have worked with have all given something back, and I have enjoyed the process of working with many different skaters. Kurt Browning is an amazing individual who can do anything, so to work with him was truly wonderful and he can do anything you ask of him. David Pelletier and Jamie Sale were also an uplifting experience because of their energy and enthusiasm for what they do.
Tamayo K.: What is the most difficult thing in creating a skating program?
Christopher: For me it’s originality – to try and do something different for each person or show. Coming up with concepts and ideas is a constant process that I think about all the time. I then try to then relate an idea to movement and skating. It’s a constant love-hate relationship with myself.
Linda F.: I have admired your work on and off the ice for many years. I am interested to know what you think of the future for American ice dancers? Why can’t they seem to crack the top tier? I think Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are wonderful. Is there any hope for them to medal on the world level in the near future?
Christopher: I think with Ben and Tanith and Peter and Naomi, the US has an incredibly strong presence on the World scene. I think the future is bright and other dancers will follow in their footsteps.
Bronagh M.: After the utter triumph of your work for the English National Ballet, when can we expect to see another ballet from you? Graeme Murphy is still commissioning great work for the Sydney Dance Company – I can’t believe he hasn’t asked you to display your genius on dry land again. We’ve waited too long already!
Christopher: Hello Bronagh, I hope the journalism is still going well. The Ballet world was a great experience for me, but I do think you have to live in that world and be visible. After my ENB time I went on to more skating and eventually living in the US. I didn’t keep my ties so strong to that other world. Should an opportunity arise again, I would be very please to visit that place again.
Paula: Until the recent victory by Bourne and Kraatz at the 2003 Worlds, the Russians have dominated the sport. What do you think skaters from the US, UK, Canada, etc. should do to better compete with the Russians? Also, what can be done in other countries to increase the popularity of ice dancing?
Christopher: Success breads success. Figure skating in the US has had a tremendous legacy of success with ladies and men’s skating. I think should there be a future dance champion, we would see more enthusiasm for dance, and then to keep following that up with more success like the Russians.
Janet: How difficult is it to come up with new ideas for choreography for Stars on Ice and other projects?
Christopher: It’s like trying to write a hit song or movie every time. That’s the challenge and the motivation. There are good years and not so good years, but it’s not for the lack of trying.
Anonymous: What is the best program you have choreographed for another skater?
Christopher: I find it hard to look at something I have done and say, “I like that”, because I’m always critical of my own work. I love other peoples work, so to try and say I really like one person’s piece I have done would be hard to judge.
Kristya: Your choreography for Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze was magnificent. If they do come back to eligible competition would you consider choreographing for them again?
Christopher: I only worked on their short program for the Olympics. They are very very talented and beautiful skaters. Anytime you have an opportunity to work with people of their caliber, you do.
Thomas: How did you feel after Michelle Kwan decided to drop the short program that you choreographed for her in favor of one that was less “risky”?
Christopher: Michelle is a very smart lady, and she understands what she needs to do. When you are as popular as she is, everyone has an expectation of her. She changed to another program that fitted her better, that made her feel more comfortable, she made the right decision.
Nancy: Are you inspired or challenged by watching dance/movement innovators (I’m thinking of Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld, Cirque du Soleil, etc.) or do your explorations into new movement on the ice just bubble up from inside?
Christopher: Both. I am like a sponge with all the other forms of entertainment and I’m inspired by all of those people you mentioned and many more. Seeing everything and digesting it comes out in hopefully a different form, but sometimes inspired by other events. I love to sit in airports and train stations watching people and life go by, that also gives me a lot of material.
Annette: In your “Ice-Dance Seminar” video you gave some wonderful ballet exercises. Since off-ice training is time/money consuming, how important do you feel good ballet training is for a skater as opposed to say a Pilates or a strength training class? How would the average coach know what to look for in a “good” ballet trainer for his/her skaters?
Christopher: I think both have their benefits. I think both make you aware of your body and what it looks like, and how it moves. Understanding that releases it to do as much as you can , both physically and mentally. It gives you confidence about what you are doing and how it looks. A good trainer is one that can teach you to think and see for yourself.
Clare: How do you base your music selection for other skaters (i.e. skating styles)?
Christopher: It depends on the skater. Sometimes they come with very definite ideas, and sometimes they want me to create something for them. I think sometimes by talking and listening to the individuals I get to know, I can get a feeling of what they are comfortable with and something I’m comfortable with. Its an evolution of this process.
Joann: What are your some of your favorite programs other skaters have skated to in all 4 disciplines?
Christopher: There are so many, Moseeva and Minenkov’s Romeo and Juliet, anything by Kurt Browning, John Curry, and Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaytsev, to name a few.
Mary: Do you think that there’s too much importance placed on the quad in the men’s competition? Also, which of the eligible skaters do you feel have the “complete package”?
Christopher: Any sport is about pushing the boundaries further and further. So the quad is an important part of that, but not the sole part of a performance. It must be a rounded performance and that comes down to the judging. Lets hope the new system benefits the complete skater. If that happens I think we will all applaud the changes. Fingers crossed.
Jennifer: I heard you did some choreography for Lang and Tchernyshev a couple of years ago. What was it like to work with them? How does your ice dance experience translate into your work with ice dancers now?
Christopher: Peter and Naomi are talented strong skaters. They have helped push the standard up for US skaters and the world. They have great strength and presence on the ice. Obviously, everything I have done in my career comes out in some way, but working with someone else, it becomes a collaboration and together you create new translations of your ideas.
Andy: This is a two-part question. First, what is your opinion of the current state that ice dance is in? In what direction do you believe it must go in the future?
Christopher: I think everything moves forward and gets better. Ice dance has become very physical, fast, and furious too. I would like to see more line pictures that your eye can take in and see the beauty of the line and an emotional feeling that isn’t over exaggerated. Quality rather than quantity, better phrasing of music, listening to what the music is saying rather than skating through it. I feel that, combined with the speed and strength, enhance ice dance.
Andy: Are there any current ice dance teams that impress you? If so, which ones and why?
Christopher: Anyone that has risen to compete at worlds and is in the top 12 are all talented skaters. Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski have caught my eye for their originality. They always try to reinvent themselves having learned from the previous season. I’m also impressed with Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov for their clear lines and good phrasing.
JAK: What programs/skaters are you working on or with now?
Christopher: Stars on Ice is my main focus right now, preparing for the new show and it’s overall look and concept. It is a full-time affair for me.
Mira: When you were a competitor, your choreography took ice dancing to a new level. What innovations in choreography do you foresee will now take ice dancing to the next plateau?
Christopher: I think I answered that in my reply to Andy, clarity and phrasing.
Doris: Chris, First I want to thank you (and Jayne) for your wonderful programs, particularly your ’84 OSP Paso Doble. Are you happy with this last year’s ice dance judging? Thanks again for many happy memories!
Christopher: I believe the result was correct, but at that level everyone has a preference and with any given panel of judges, the result could have been different. Thank you for watching us over the years.
Stephanie P.: Do you believe that ice dancing has deteriorated or gotten better since the 1994 Olympics and, if so, what can be done to bring it back to its original excitement and beauty?
Christopher: I feel I may have answered part of this question in an earlier answer. I do think that the excitement will come back when we see different winners at different competitions. If a skater can have a good day they win. If not, someone else should. If we see that happen, we will all be the better for it. I hope the new judging system will help that with it being broken down to specific criteria of the programs and with different panels. I do think that skaters should have two or three programs throughout the season and use the most successful one they have to carry to the Grand prix final and Worlds. Just a thought.
Baerbel: Is it more interesting to choreograph for pros than for amateurs – or are there other reasons why you didn’t choreograph much for amateur skaters in the last years?
Christopher: Its different criteria. Both are challenging in their own right. Most skaters now have established themselves with a coach or choreographer. It can take some time to establish rapport and trust. I’m not in those circles as much these days, but I’m always open to suggestions.
Baerbel: What are you doing at the moment as a coach in Colorado Springs?
Christopher: I work with a few local skaters that keeps me on the ice day to day, but my main focus is with Stars on Ice.
Magda: Did you see the ice dance competition during Jr World Championships in Ostrava? If so, who do you think is the most talented/promising couple of all competing in that event?
Christopher: I’m sorry I didn’t so I can’t comment on Jr. Worlds.
Anonymous: What do you feel are the most important elements in good choreography?
Christopher: It’s many things. Originality, composition, and line. It’s emotion and integrity, to name a few. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Anonymous: What do you think of the new judging system?
Christopher: I’m waiting and hoping. The new system is complex but if it is seen to be getting the right result, and it can be shown in detail why, I think it will be wonderful. I’m just sorry that the 6.0 brand will be gone.
Jim: I heard that the The Haydenettes (synchronized team) used some of your program music a couple of years ago. With the new rules opening up more lifts and ice dance and pairs elements have you ever thought about trying your hand at Synchro Choreography? It is amazing what you can do for two–imagine the potential and creativity with 20 on ice?
Christopher: I’m not familiar with all the requirements, but when it is done well it is very entertaining. Who knows what the future holds?
Paula: Of all your programs, January Stars (by George Winston), known as your “Encounters” program, was the one that mesmerized me the most. Can you elaborate on what prompted you to use the music and what inspired you to interpret it the way you did?
Christopher: We first heard the music in Australia. We were visiting a winery and this music was playing in the background, and it caught my ear. It’s about two people that meet, and instantly they are connected on an emotional level. It could be fleeting or over a longer period of time. It’s about an intensity between them, but ultimately they know they can never be together because of there lives and the people they are. They become ships in the night. Think of Bridges of Madison County.
Anonymous: Do you still go back to England and visit family and friends?
Christopher: I do when I have a chance, but it is getting less at the moment. Telephones and emails keep me in touch.
Cathy: Do Jack and Sam do much ice skating? How is Jill’s health these days?
Christopher: We have taken them, but I would say they are future stars of ice-skating. Jill is in good health.
Nancy: If you were choosing an evening’s entertainment to attend for yourself and it couldn’t be skating, what would it be? (i.e. a movie, classical ballet, modern dance, the circus, the opera, the theatre?)
Christopher: Any one of those would be fine for me as long as it is good and entertaining and I haven’t wasted my time and money. Sadly, that can’t always be the case.
Paula: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer questions! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Christopher: I would like to thank everyone for their questions, and for remembering someone from a different era. I’m still thankful today for being able to make a living out of something I love to do. I think that everyone should try to find their niche and persue what makes them happy. Fortunately my niche is my work too, and that is the best of all worlds. My final thought is to say thank you to my beautiful wife for supporting me in everything I do and for giving us two miracles, Jack and Sam.