In ancient times ice skating mainly was a recreational pastime in periods that wintery circumstances did freeze the economic activities as well. People enjoyed themselves on ponds, lakes and canals by rolling along on ice skates. But always there have been people that could demonstrate special tricks. They could scratch their names while on skates, they could jump over a sledge or so, they could... you name it. Contrary to speed skating these tricks did not require just power but elegance in combination with the ability to perform a sort of act. Later all kinds of acrobatic elements became popular and were added to the repertoire. Thus the international style of figure skating evolved based on an Anglo-Saxon and Vienna heritage.
In the 19th century in England, as in the Netherlands, a modest form of ice skating based on a perfectly controlled body had evolved: skating figures. The purpose was to skate along pre-set figure lines as correct as possibly and without any unnecessary movement. There were seven basic figures that were boosted to hundreds of variations in the course of the ages. It was the Scotchman Robert Jones who in 1772 probably described these figures for the first time in his book Treatise of Skating. The seven basic figures are: eight, change, three, loop, bracket, rocker and counter. This way of figure skating for long has been the basis for the so-called compulsory figures. It was also known as the English style of figure skating.
By the end of the 19th century in Europe a new phenomenon was presented from the USA: artistic skating. It was the legendary American Jackson Haines who as a revue artist amazed the society of that time with a kind of ballet on ice skates. He enjoyed the audience with acts in ballet like decors and costumes on the tones of dancing music. He jumped and waltzed, made pirouettes and amused people with spectacular shows. For never revealed reasons he left the USA in 1864 with the intention to find his fortune in England. But he misjudged the Victorian purism of that time and went through to Scandinavia. From there he won the European continent for his daring way of ice skating. At last he settled in Vienna where ice skating on music was developed further to what became known as the Vienna School.
When the ISU got involved in figure skating a discussion arose about the contents of the contest program. The English thought they had senior rights and they opposed fiercely against adoption of artistic elements in the program. The result was a program that consisted of two parts: compulsory figures at one hand and free figures at the other. As to make looking at figure skating more attractive (and thus earn income to meet the high cost involved with the contests) the compulsory figures were abandoned one after the other and in 1990 they had almost disappeared from the program.
Singles and pairs
for figure skating
Dutch skates with curled-up runner blades were
traditionally used for performing the Dutch roll
for performing figures
full metal club skates
made in Germany
traditional figure skates
with fixed boots
modern figure skates