The speed, rhythm, and fluency of skating are all qualities associated with dance, and dancing on ice, either solo or in couples, has a long social history (Samuel Pepys is recorded as dancing with Nell Gwyn on the Thames during the Great Frost of 1683). The modern form of ice dance, i.e. skating based on ballroom dances, was introduced in Vienna in 1868 by the US skater Jackson Haines, and for decades vied for prominence with the figure-based skating popular in Britain. Since the Second World War ice dance has been established world-wide as a professional sport and performance art, with the first World Championships being held in 1952. Competitions include compulsory dances, in which specific ballroom dances are performed with the dancers also tracing a set pattern on the ice, and original dances. These have incorporated an increasing range of elements from ballroom dance, disco, and classical dance. Ice dancers are judged on the same qualities of grace, line, co-ordination, and invention that are expected from floor-bound dancers, although in some competition events there can be a tension between the aesthetic content of the work and the need to display the appropriate range of skating techniques. It has been individual dancers rather than choreographers who have tended to advance the form most radically, for example the Russians Oleg and Lyudmila Protopopov who took the World Championships by storm in 1962 with their (then) startling use of classical adage and big Soviet-style lifts. In 1976 John Curry won the European, World, and Olympic titles with performances heavily based on the idiom of classical ballet. His choreography was a serious interpretation of the music and within the limits imposed by ice and skating boots he introduced a range of classical jumps, turns, batterie, and ports de bras. He was equally successful in the theatre. Tharp choreographed the performances he gave at Madison Square Garden, New York (Nov. 1976), and Darrell and MacMillan both choreographed solos for his Theatre of Skating which was premiered on 27 Dec. 1976 at Cambridge Theatre, London. In 1984 Torvill and Dean's Olympic-winning duet Bolero (mus. Ravel) took ice dance to new levels of dramatic expression, although some of Dean's innovations, such as guiding his partner by her leg or skate were deemed illegal in subsequent amateur competitions. Professional competitions which became popular during the 1980s allowed for much freer styles of choreography. During the 1990s ice dance versions of films and musicals became very successful, for example The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast, while from 2000 classical ballets like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake became popular material for adaptation.
While ice dancing has been influenced by the theatre, choreographers have in turn exploited the poetry of ice dance for the stage, as in Ashton's Les Patineurs (1937), which mimics the swooping flight of skaters and their fluent turns as well as mining the comic potential for falls. In 1996 Christopher Dean choreographed Encounters for English National Ballet, a work which did not take skating as its subject, but which did draw choreographically on Dean's own ice dance style.