January 21, 2010 / 6:06 PM / in 8 years

Figure skating-Russians surprised after dance offends Aborigines

TALLINN (Reuters) - Ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin were hoping to provoke a reaction when they wore loin cloths and leaves for a routine but were surprised to hear on Thursday they had offended Australian Aboriginal elders.

The Russian world champions, who lead at the European figure skating championships, had no idea elders had accused them of stealing an Aboriginal dance idea and causing serious cultural offence.

"We didn't know anything about it," a wide-eyed Domnina told reporters after the program featuring ceremonial dance steps extended their lead in Tallinn with Friday's free dance still to come.

Shabalin said they had done their homework but had never intended it to be an authentic Australian Aboriginal dance.

"We researched a lot of information on the Internet. It's just from many thousands of years ago... Our dance is not specifically an Australian Aboriginal dance, it is an aboriginal dance.

"It is a risk, but we wanted to be different."

Sol Bellear of the New South Wales state Aboriginal Land Council told Reuters earlier in the day: "It's very offensive. We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal people of Australia being exploited."

The theme for the original dance was folk/country dance and Domnina said their routine was just like all the other skaters, drawing inspiration from other countries or cultures.

"Every country should be writing to complain in that case!" she said after being told Bellear would be writing to Russia's ambassador in Canberra to protest about the dance.

"It's a competition, the theme for the original dance is folk dance.

"The most important thing is that people are not left indifferent by the dance. There are reactions and that is already a plus. It is impossible to please everyone."

Wearing dark bodysuits with white patterns designed to look like body paint, red loin cloths and bunches of green leaves, the Russians drew no complaints from flag-waving fans who cheered or the judges who made no deductions.

"I think the costumes were spot on right away," said Domnina. "We have unusual costumes and an unusual dance."

Editing by Alison Wildey

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