Figure skating

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.

English style
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.

Vienna School
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.

International style
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
From 1990 the program consists of two elements: a technical part of maximum 4 minutes and a free part of 4 minutes for the ladies and 4.5 minutes for the men, both on self chosen music. The parts are traditionally called 'kür'. The technical kür contains maximum eight yearly prescribed elements (not figures but jumps and such). The skater is free in his or her choice for the free kür and will try to gain points by executing difficult elements. For pairs the same conditions count as for singles but harmony is an additional element.

Ice dancing
At first instance ice dancing looks like pair riding but the rules are stricter. Partners may e.g. not be lifted or thrown and it is not permitted to dance separately for more than five seconds.

Synchronised skating
In the last decade of the 20th century a new way of figure skating has emerged: precision or synchronized skating. This involves a kür by a group of 12-32 riders performing various figures at the same time. The purpose is to move synchronously as a unity. This is still a demonstration sport but its popularity is growing and it is expected that it will not take long before it will evolve to a completely new discipline of figure skating.

Men and women
The first international figure skating contests took place as early as 1891 but they were for men only. The first woman that took part in these contests was the English Madge Seyers but in the beginning she had to compete against men. Only in 1906 women got their own contests. From 1908 pair riding came in but ice dancing had to wait until 1953 to become international and even until 1978 to get the Olympic status.

The Netherlands
Skating figures has never been a popular pastime in the Netherlands. It has always been overwhelmed by speed skating. Probably due to the lack of indoor ice rinks as a result of the abundant presence of useful natural ice. But the presence of indoor rinks is a mayor condition for the development of a figure skating culture as it requires many many hours of patiently training. Though Sjoukje Dijkstra and Joan Haanappel formed the top in the sixties of the 20th century the Dutch never developed warm feelings for it.

Figure skates
For the evolution of figure skating it was necessary that the skates could be fastened to the shoes or boots immovably. Ancient English ice skates therefore have heel screws (which required high heels and at the same time ruined them). Old patents show that there have been many experiments in the 19th century to achieve better contact between boots and ice skates. In 1848 it was the American E.V. Bushnell who introduced the first full metal ice skates. These skates were provided with a variety of screwing and clamping mechanisms that could secure the fixation. At first instance for the heel only but later on for both heel and forefoot, sometimes still aided by straps to give extra security. Since these provisions ruined the sides of the shoe soles and still did not give the desired stability when jumping the skates were screwed to the soles at last. This opened a world of new possibilities for the artistic skater and resulted in spectacular and adventurous figures. From then on artistic skating made remarkable progress. 

English handbook
for figure skating



Dutch skates with curled-up runner blades were
traditionally used for performing the Dutch roll



ancient English
club skates
for performing figures



'modern' English
club skates



full metal club skates
made in Germany



traditional figure skates
with fixed boots



modern figure skates


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