Moir, Weaver advocates of gender-expansive ice dance and pairs figure skating teams

By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver says, as an LGBTQ person, her sport has never fully reflected her lived experience.

Skate Canada has rewritten its policy that specifies ice dance and pairs team must comprise a man and a woman, a rule change that has Weaver and two-time Olympic ice dance champion Scott Moir as its biggest advocates – and could revolutionize the stuffy figure skating world.

Canada, which is the first country in the world to make such a move, plans to push for an international rule change at the next ISU congress in 2024.

“There’s so many different ways that it can impact young people,” Weaver said. “But as an ice dancer, and especially as a queer person growing up that didn’t know she was queer, seeing different stories represented and different partnering, different types of identities on the ice, would have been very liberating for me.”

As of next season, pairs and ice dance skaters – up to the Canadian championships, but not beyond – need only be two skaters.

“This is meant to be gender inclusive, so it doesn’t matter how you identify yourself, if you’re a skater, you’re welcome,” said Skate Canada president Karen Butcher.

“We’d like to be leaders in the sport no matter what, and we believe that this change is the right thing for more skaters in Canada, and by extension around the world to be able to enjoy skating and have more opportunities,” she added. “Why not examine it and see what changes can be made?

“If we’re not constantly looking at how do we make our sport better, we’re going to die.”

Weaver, a two-time Olympian with partner Andrew Poje, said Canada’s rule change has been the “talk of the figure skating world,” and she was pleasantly surprised to see Russian Maxim Trankov, who won Olympic pairs gold in 2014 with Tatiana Volosozhar, support the move.

“Max said, ‘Why not? A skater is a skater, and if you can do the elements, then who’s to say that it’s any different?’ and I think that, coming out of Russia, that’s a big statement,” Weaver said.

Moir and partner Tessa Virtue became the most decorated ice dancers in history when they won Olympic gold in 2018. The 35-year-old Moir now coaches the Ice Academy of Montreal’s satellite program in London, Ont., and said, because there are far more female skaters than male, removing the gender stipulation could have a huge impact on keeping girls and women in the sport.

“Seeing so many women that want to ice dance, and not having the opportunity because that partner doesn’t come along or what have you,” Moir said.

He added that he and Virtue had a true 50/50 partnership on the ice, where the strength of their elements came from the two of them equally.

“We have a really unique opportunity in skating where you have the balance of grace and athleticism, where the body type or the body build, the pure science of what the traditionalists would call an advantage, I don’t really see that,” Moir said. “I see the fact that we have an opportunity to tell a new story and to have a new look.

“And what is the advantage? If traditionalists think that two women can’t do lifts, I’m eager to prove them wrong. Or two men together can’t be graceful in this era, I’m eager to prove them wrong. Because I don’t believe that. I see an even playing field and a fantastic opportunity to get more people involved in figure skating. And that’s always something I’m passionate about.”

Moir believes that with the advancement in women’s sport, and specifically skating, that the best skaters in the world right now are female. Women are reeling off triple axels. Kamila Valieva of Russia became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics last year, at age 15.

“That female-female team is going to be hard to compete against,” Moir said. “I just keep going back to: I’m happy I didn’t have to compete against a Tessa Virtue and Tessa Virtue team.”

Moir realizes there could be a backlash against the policy change, and hopes that skaters don’t pay a price or face bullying.

News that artistic (formerly synchronized) swimming would now permit two male swimmers per team in the team event caused an uproar recently.

“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s small-minded, right?” he said. “In this next generation, hopefully we’re starting to let people identify how they want to people. That’s all it has to be. And whatever your background is, or however you identify, you should be able to participate in sport and that get the lessons that (sport) offers.”

While the teams at this week’s Canadian championships in Oshawa, Ont., will see only traditional male/female duos, both Moir and Weaver hope to see the rule change, which received a unanimous vote from Skate Canada’s board of directors, reflected in next year’s fields.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the stories we’re telling, (but) I think there’s room for so much more,” said Weaver, a three-time world senior medallist. “My queerness has a big part in why I felt especially motivated to help push this forward. We don’t see young people in our sport that are not heteronormative … and I think that that’s a problem.

“Canadians belong on the ice. And if there’s a group of people that don’t feel like that, it’s our job to make sure that becomes a reality. And a visual reality. Kids can’t be what they can’t see. And if we can make space for everyone, I think that our sport and our country will be much richer for it.”

Weaver has worked with American pair team Anna Kellar, a nonbinary trans athlete, and Erica Rand, who hoped to compete at the American national championships, but U.S. rules still stipulate a team must comprise a male and female.

Canada was also one of the world’s first countries to drop the term “ladies” in figure skating, switching to “women’s singles” over a decade ago. The ISU only recently dropped the relic. Women were called “women” at the Olympics for the first time in 2022.