In a world where MTV gives Madonna and Britney Spears the kind of exposure once limited to doctors' offices, what exactly constitutes "undignified"? Veteran ice-dancing judge Charlie Cyr says, "It's discretionary, but I know it when I see it." The whole issue came to a head, says Cyr, 46, at a Grand Prix event last year when a European team—he won't identify which one—finally went too far, with the woman being carried upside down in a split position. Said one senior judge: "If I want a young man waving his partner's assets in my face, I can rent a porn movie."
It's not like folks who skate for gold and glory haven't raised eyebrows before. In the 1980s, figure-skating champ Katarina Witt sported a décolletage that made grown men weep. And the sight of male skaters in bulging leotards led to a 1994 ban on guys wearing that garment.
Barred by the rules from performing flashy jumps and overhead lifts, the ice-dancers have instead resorted to spicing up their routines. Although many skating officials point the finger at the Europeans for eroticizing the sport, Americans too have run afoul of the new primness. At the U.S. Nationals in Los Angeles last month, fourth-place finishers Charles Sinek and Beata Handra, who are married, were upbraided by officials because of a routine danced to Camille Saint-Saens's Samson et Dalila. "Beata falls into my arms and I skate a little circle backwards, and my left hand rides over her left breast," says Sinek. "I thought it was somewhat discreet, but the judges went to several practices and apparently they caught it." They have dropped it.
The skaters seem resigned to the new regulations—and somewhat bemused. When the new rules were announced last May, "everyone at the I rink just laughed," says Olympic I U.S. pairs skater Kyoko Ina, 29. "We're not really sure what's indecent and what isn't." Pointing out that other sports such as women's tennis have their share of racy outfits, she adds, "I don't think it's fair to just single out figure skating."
TV commentator Dick Button, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, understands why the skating union is clamping down: "They don't want it to turn into a dance that you'd see at a pole bar."
Lorenzo Benet and Cynthia Wang in Los Angeles, Dietlind Lerner in London and Rachel Felder in New York City