The music of figure skating: How a routine gets its soundtrack, from the classical to the ‘intergalactic love story’

Levi Weaver Feb 9, 2022 6
For a moment, there was silence. Nathan Chen stood still on the ice, looking down over his bent right elbow, right hand at his left shoulder. Then came the first flicker of piano from Charles Aznavour’s “La Bohème.” For the first few measures, Chen’s only movement was the push and pull of his chest, breathing deeply as the music began to push the energy from potential to kinetic. Then Chen’s body dramatically swooped, and his routine began in earnest.

Nearly three minutes of elegance and mastery later, the skater came to a standstill, having set a new world record with a score of 113.97 in his short program — nearly six points ahead of the second-place finisher.

As the U.S. skaters continue to take the ice this month at the 2022 Olympics, they’ll perform routines to a broad variety of music, from classical to electropop. But how are these routines built? And what about when skaters perform to a medley — who edits the music? Further, how do skaters decide what style is going to work best for this particular competition and these particular judges? There’s much more to it than just putting on a song and hitting the ice.

The process generally starts at the beginning of the skating season. Leading up to the Beijing Games, that has been a longer than usual period: with the loss of most of the 2020-21 season to COVID-19, many of this year’s competitors began putting their routines together in early 2020. The first step is usually selecting a style, which can be influenced by a number of factors, including a skater’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Everybody has a natural movement style,” says choreographer Drew Meekins.