It happened in, of all unlikely places, Hartford, Conn. She was committed to another man, he to another woman. A clandestine rendezvous was arranged nonetheless. The attraction was inescapable, the chemistry unmistakable.
This may sound like the beginning of a tawdry love affair, yet it was actually the start of a very successful partnership. Michael Seibert, 24, and Judy Blumberg, 26, are three-time national champions in the graceful sport of ice dancing. Last year they took the Bronze Medal at the Helsinki World Championships, and next month they will dip and glide to the music of Scheherazade at the Sarajevo Winter Games in Yugoslavia. “The Silver Medal is really there for us,” claims Seibert, conceding that the Gold will probably go to Britain’s three-time world champions, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
It was in pair skating that Americans Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner won, if not a medal, at least hearts, four years ago at Lake Placid. Ice dancing is more refined than pair skating; it’s the elegant turn versus the acrobatic spin. “We don’t have the tricks, the jumps that pair skaters have,” says Blumberg. “They do the throws, the spins. We have to maintain contact.” Adds Seibert, “We are athletes, but what we do is art.”
Graded in Sarajevo by nine judges (one American, eight foreign), ice dancers will compete in three events. The compulsory dances, a series of set steps done by all competitors to the same music, comprise 30 percent of a team’s total point score. Another 20 percent comes from the “original set pattern,” in which the couple chooses a tune and creates steps to go with a predetermined dance form (this year’s is the paso doble, a Spanish march). The final event is four minutes of “free dance” and makes up the remaining 50 percent of the score.
On ice, Seibert and Blumberg strive to embody the essence of romantic oneness. Yet out of their $515 skates, the petite (5’3″, 108 pounds) Blumberg and the lanky (5’10”, 160 pounds) Seibert are inseparable friends, not lovers. For the past five years they have spent eight or more hours a day with one another—skating, choreographing, touring, talking. They live about a mile apart in New York City. “We both will know what marriage is like without having been married,” says Blumberg. “When it’s all over, we’ll have to have a divorce.” They swear, however, that they have never had a major fight.
Growing up in Tarzana, Calif., Blumberg, the daughter of a clothing manufacturer, attended a skating party at age 11 and has hardly taken her skates off since. She reached the Ladies’ Senior Division at 18 and recognized that the required jumps created an unbearable strain. So the following year she switched to ice dancing. She also enrolled at Cal-State Northridge, majoring in special education. Her current academic status? “I’m a junior on a long leave of absence,” she confesses.
The hometown hero of Washington, Pa., where his father is a retired high school principal, Seibert has been skating since he was in the first grade. Because he didn’t take his first formal lesson until he was 13, he was deemed too old for individual competition and so began ice dancing. In search of sharp coaches and good partners, Seibert moved with his mother to Ohio, Connecticut, Indiana and finally to California during his high school years. When he met Blumberg at the National Figure Skating Championships in Hartford in 1977, they both had other partners (neither of whom knew of the secret tryst). They teamed up a year and a half later. After placing seventh at the 1980 Olympics, they went on the following year to win the first of their three national titles.
Blumberg and Seibert are undecided on their next move after the Olympics. Turning pro would allow them to replenish coffers all but depleted by a sport that costs them more than $50,000 a year. (Until last year their families footed the bill; now, in addition to some funding from the United States Olympic Committee and the United States Figure Skating Association, the duo has one corporate and several private sponsors.) On the other hand, if they remain amateurs and compete in 1985, they could provide America with its first world champion ice dancers, since Torvill and Dean intend to retire after Sarajevo.
Untempted by the touring ice-show life, Blumberg and Seibert dream of a more creative career: a one-shot Broadway ice show, perhaps a television special, commercials and endorsements. And they plan, at least for a while, to stay together. “It’s not what Michael can do and what Judy can do,” says Seibert, “it’s what we can do as a team. Without each other, we’re lost.”