Ice Network

Who framed the Finnstep? Rahkamo and Kokko

Creators of Olympic-year pattern dance continue creating
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Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko have left their mark on the world of ice dance. -Getty Images

Every ice dance team competing at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi will be touched by one of the sport's most unique couples: Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko. The Finnish champions, two-time Olympians and two-time world medalists are considered one of the most creative duos to ever have competed.

This season, all senior teams are performing a pattern of the Finnstep as part of their short dance. It was created by Rahkamo and Kokko for their final year in competition, when the theme of the original dance was the quickstep.

"We experimented a lot with just the basic steps in order to find the character," Kokko, 47, said. "In those days, the character of the dance in the original dance was the key for success. Only after we found the way to skate the rhythm and the character did we actually set the steps. The very beginning of the dance was also created as a spoof for ballroom dancing."

Amazingly, they didn't work too much with ballroom instructors on the dance because there were simply none available at their training base in Oberstdorf, Germany. They did, however, view whatever ballroom dancing videos they could get their hands on. (Remember, this was before YouTube.)

Rahkamo, 48, got to see reigning Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform their short dance in person at the Finlandia Trophy early in the season.

"We talked quite a bit afterward about the idea of the dance," Rahkamo said. "Their program, overall, was quite nice. ... However, I think that not many of the couples really have captured the quickstep mood.   

"I can't blame the couples; I think it's more how it is judged," she added. "The idea of the dance is very much in the rhythm. It's very playful how we did it, not taking it too seriously. Now it seems quite serious. It could be a bit more cartoon-like, over the top."

Early in the season, she could see a decided shift in most couples when they went from their original choreography into the Finnstep, which was ratified as a compulsory dance in 2008. As the season has progressed, couples appear more at ease with the transitions.

Rahkamo and Kokko have been married for 18 years and have two children: Camila, 10, who figure skates, and Max, 12, a speed skater and soccer player.

Both Rahkamo and Kokko have careers decidedly away from skating, although Rahkamo stays connected to the sport as president of the Finnish Figure Skating Association and vice president of the Finnish Olympic Committee. She is a business consultant and is working on her doctoral dissertation on the process of creativity. Kokko has worked for Google for more than seven years and is a director in Germany. Prior to his current position, he spent two years at Google headquarters in California managing a global function.

Both are pleased that they've left such a decisive mark on the sport, not only in their own performances but in a more permanent fashion.

"Of course, we're proud of it," Rahkamo said. "Also, this year, I think it's pretty cool that Olympics are decided -- partly, of course -- with our choreography being part of it. That's pretty neat."

Rahkamo is honest in saying she finds the international judging system inhibits creativity, especially in ice dance.

"It doesn't take into account what music you're doing, what you're trying to tell as a story," she said. "You take your elements and put them in the program like the singles are doing. That was never before a thing to do. You started with an idea or what you want to express. Of course, you put in difficult things and you want show what you can do and create, but it was more getting the rhythms and showing the character of the music."

Rahkamo will be in Sochi and see firsthand how ice dancers from around the world interpret the Finnstep.

"The choreography didn't come so quickly," Rahkamo recalled of their dance. "We spent a lot of time thinking of how we can create that image of ballroom dancing on ice. That took a lot of effort to find the way of making the movement so that it would give that impression.

"I'm really looking forward to what these teams will present."

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