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Skating on thin ice, the dancing couple in Aborigine routine row

russian ice dancing champions have been accused of "cultural theft" over a new skating routine.

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin danced with ancient symbols and eucalyptus leaves on their bodies, and Aboriginal Australians say the skaters have copied their cultural dances.

Native Australian groups accused the Russian pair yesterday of "cultural theft" and called on them to apologise for insulting their traditions.

Bev Manton, an indigenous leader, called the performance offensive, adding: "Our dance, our ceremony, our image -- and, importantly, how they are depicted -- are sacred to Aboriginal Australians."

Domnina (25) and Shabalin (27) are favourites to win gold at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month. They won the Russian championships last month with the new routine, and came first with it at the European Championships in Estonia yesterday.

They expressed surprise at the complaints. Domnina said that they had done the same as any other performers in incorporating ideas from other cultures, adding: "Every country should be writing to complain in that case."

Shabalin said that they never intended to give an authentic representation of Aboriginal dance, but had interpreted something "from many thousands of years ago".

The dance is certainly a world away from Torvill and Dean, who won gold for Britain at the 1984 Winter Games. Domnina and Shabalin, their faces and dark costumes daubed in white painted symbols, take jagged ceremonial steps across the ice to a haunting soundtrack of Aboriginal voices and instruments, including a didgeridoo.

Risking further injury to Aboriginal feelings, Domnina said that her dog, a Yorkshire terrier named Topi, had chosen the music as they listened to different selections. She told Goldenskate.com: "When we switched on the music for the original dance, my dog started to race around the room like crazy, and we understood that maybe this music is what we need."

Sol Bellear, of the New South Wales state Aboriginal Land Council, said that he would be writing a letter of protest to the Russian Ambassador to Australia.

"We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture."