Russian ice dancers changing controversial costuming

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In the face of intense international criticism, Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the reigning world champions, are changing the costuming that has offended leaders of the Australian aboriginal community, the Tribune has learned.

Russian Figure Skating Federation President Valentin Piseev confirmed via telephone Friday that changes were being made before the Olympics. ‘I am aware of this [controversy],’’ he said.

Piseev said the team will keep the supposedly aboriginal music, which has been called inauthentic by aboriginal leaders. ‘The music is OK,’’ he said.
Asked about the changes a couple minutes into a telephone conversation, Natalia Linichuk, the team’s coach, abruptly replied she could not talk until after practice Friday.
The Russians train in Aston, Pa., where Linichuk also coaches Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists.

Because Shabalin has been battling a knee injury that kept the couple from competing on the Grand Prix circuit last fall, they did not debut the program internationally until last month’s European Championships. [Updated 3:20 p.m. Friday The previous sentence originally did not include the word ‘internationally.’] They performed it wearing brown face, tribal paint and costumes with clumps of faux foliage.

In a recent interview published on their website, Domnina said, ‘It was never our intent to insult or mock anybody’s culture. Our intentions in creating this dance were honest and fair from the very beginning.’’ -- Philip Hersh