Ice Skating Disciplines

There are five separate disciplines in competitive figure skating: men's singles, women's singles, pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating. Each discipline offers multiple levels for competition and testing, with each level building on similar techniques and adhering to level-specific rules and guidelines. Skaters are not limited to one discipline and may choose to test and compete in multiple disciplines.


Form, style, technique, concentration and the ability to perform under pressure are the key requirements in women's and men’s singles events. At the higher levels, competition is divided into two segments: the short program, which is skated first, and the free skate. Both programs display the elegance, athleticism and talent synonymous with the sport of figure skating and receive a technical score and a program component score from a panel of judges.

The short program features required elements which include jump elements, spin elements and a step sequence. With fewer elements to perform, the short program leaves less room for error, and skaters rely on clean performances and high component scores to earn points heading into the free skate.

The free skate, the second and longer segment of competition, features a broader set of requirements and a maximum number of elements a skater may perform. If a skater performs more than the number of well-balanced program elements permitted, there are no deductions, but the skater will not receive credit for these additional elements. After a skater completes his or her free skate and receives a free skate score, that score is added to the short program score to determine overall standings.


The pairs event combines the athleticism of singles skating with the challenge of unison and the acrobatics of overhead lifts and throws. Each movement is performed in unison, requiring a significant amount of timing and trust between partners. Like singles skating, pairs competitions include a short program and a free skate, with each segment receiving a technical score and a component score, and the team with the most points overall is named the winner.

The pairs short program consists of several required elements including lifts, side-by-side solo jumps done in unison, throw jumps, a step sequence and a death spiral. The free skate consists of technical skills and choreography that show off the strengths of the team. Shadow skating (in which partners perform identical maneuvers some distance apart) and mirror skating (in which the pair’s moves are in opposite directions and mirror each other) are aspects of pairs skating and contribute to the overall effect of a program.

Ice Dance

Like pairs skating, ice dance features a male and female skating in unison, but instead of performing jump and spin elements, the team completes difficult dance patterns, step sequences and maneuvers while showcasing exceptional interpretation of music and precise steps. With roots in ballroom dancing, ice dance requires strong technical skating skills and excellent musicality. 

The ice dance competition consists of two segments: a rhythm dance and a free dance. The rhythm dance features required elements, including lifts, step sequences and pre-determined dance patterns performed to a specific rhythm of music within a required tempo range. Each team will show off their technical skating ability and style as they try to earn the most points heading into the free dance. 

The free dance, like the rhythm dance, features step sequences, lifts and a broad selection of difficult skating skills, but the team skates to a music and tempo of their choosing, with a goal of pulling off an entertaining, moving and inspiring performance that looks effortless despite its difficulty. Innovative choreography, timing and rhythm are paramount. After the second segment of competition, the scores from the rhythm dance and free dance are added together to determine overall placement. 

Synchronized Skating

Synchronized skating is a team sport in which eight to 20 skaters perform a program together in unison. It uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and ice dance, and is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences. As with the other disciplines, competition at the higher levels include two competition segments: a short program with required elements and a free skate.

Elements in synchronized skating include blocks, circles, wheels, lines, intersections, move elements, creative elements, no holds elements, spins and pairs maneuvers. The variety and difficulty of elements require that each team member is a highly skilled individual skater. The typical senior-level athlete has passed a senior or gold test in at least two disciplines.

While synchronized skating has yet to become an Olympic sport, it is very popular in the United States and around the world, and is the fastest-growing figure skating discipline in the country.

Learn more about Synchronized Skating