Olympics come and go, but local ice dancers are in the sport for the long haul

Outsiders see ice dancing as a fringe sport of suspect merit. But those who do it know the joy of achieving perfect twizzling togetherness.

Over their lunch hours, Jim Kamin and Josephine Lee lace up their figure skates and glide into an alternate universe.

Precisely executing moves such as Choctaws, three-turns and twizzles in two-part harmony, they leave their work lives behind for a bit of fantasy on ice.

“This world is as far as you can get from writing appellate briefs,” said Kamin, who in his other life works as a public defender for Hennepin County.

“I love to exercise, but I hate to get all sweaty. I also love the creative side of it,” said Lee, who normally would be lecturing and grading papers as an English professor at the University of Minnesota.

Kamin and Lee are ice-dancing partners. For them, the sport is a pastime, but one they take seriously enough to compete in around the country. Over the past few years the two have ascended from pre-bronze to gold status, and in April will vie for a championship title in Hyannis, Mass.

Since Charlie White and Meryl Davis won the gold medal in ice dancing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the first Americans to do so since the sport was added to the games in 1976, there’s been a spike in interest from the general public. But Kamin, Lee and other members of the Starlight Ice Dance Club at Parade Ice Arena have long been passionate about what others see as a rarefied pursuit.

“Every four years a lot of people pay attention to ice dancing,” said Daphne Backman, editor of the website Ice-dance.com. “They like to watch it during the Olympics, and don’t realize it continues to go on in-between.”

The image of this half-sport/half-spectacle is full of dichotomies. It’s beloved, yet ridiculed. It’s flamboyantly elegant, yet perceived as geekier than pairs freestyle skating. Its rules regarding precision and timing rival those of ballet. It’s an official Olympic sport requiring a high degree of skill, but looks more like “Dancing With the Stars” on skates. It is figure skating’s counterpart to ballroom dance — many enthusiasts do both — but it’s more daunting, because your shoes have blades, and your dancing surface is slicker than a banana peel.

It keeps you young

The 30-some active members of the Starlight Ice Dance Club range in age from their late 20s to their 80s, and in their attitudes from casual to seriously competitive. Every Thursday night from February through April, the club reserves a rink at Parade for a 75-minute social skate.

At one recent social, a rowdy hockey crowd could be heard roaring next door, but the scene at the south rink was serene, the ice dancers exuding a fluid grace. As the music changed, they freely switched partners, with the more experienced skaters helping the novices to gain confidence.

Every member on the ice that night looked 10 to 20 years younger than they are, especially Genny Burdette, 76, and Caroline Gilbert, 80.

“I used to do jumps,” said Burdette, who showed up dressed as Beetlejuice for the club’s Halloween skate last October. “Not anymore. But I still spin.”

Both women learned how to ice dance from the late Vivi-Anne Hultén, an Olympic figure-skating bronze medalist for Sweden who later ran a skating school in St. Paul with her skating partner and husband, Gene Theslof (the ex-partner of her professional rival, Norwegian skater Sonja Henie).

“It was quite a while ago that Vivi-Anne won,” Gilbert said. “Hitler gave her one of her medals.”

Harder than hockey

Towering, silver-haired David Evans is clearly at ease on the ice, guiding his wife, Becky, around the rink with courtly deference. His moves are a lot more elegant than those he uses in the other ice sport he’s played for 40 years, hockey.

“This is way harder,” he said. “It’s also more romantic.”

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