Friday, 28 August 2015

Return To Open Pro Competitions (Part 5: The IPSA British/World Professional Championships)

Like the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating ChampionshipsWorld Pro Championships in Jaca, SpainAmerican Open Professional Figure Skating Championships and Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships featured in parts one through four of this series, the early roots of open professional competitions in Great Britain are perhaps the least documented aspect of all professional figure skating competition history, so believe me, piecing together this fifth installment of this series was by no means a cake walk. That said, much of it is incredibly fascinating and complex. Grab yourself a cup of tea and get ready to learn!

As I explained in the Jaca article, the first professional competition in Great Britain was actually established by Britain's National Skating Association as a contest between male skating instructors. This sparked a series of sporadic professional competitions organized by the NSA. In April 1933, an ice dance competition open to both amateurs and professionals was held at the Westminster Ice Rink in London. Married couple Eva Keats of Great Britain and Erik Van Der Weyden of Belgium took home the gold. Two months later, a competition for professional ice dancers only was held at the Queens Ice Club in London. Perhaps controversially dancing with a woman other than his wife, Van Der Weyden and Elsie Heathcote won this particular competition.

Things got much more organized in 1936. The British Ice Teachers Association was founded that year as the Ice Teachers Guild. It was one of the first coaching associations formed in the world and played an important role in organizing competitions for professionals both pre-World War II and after, under the name the Imperial Professional Skaters Association. That year, before Great Britain even had an amateur ice dance competition, a professional competition for ice dancers called the British Pro Waltz Championships was won by Lesley Turner and Robert Dench. Annual professional competitions for singles and pairs skaters popped up around this time too, with skaters like Barbara Wright Sawyer, Pamela Prior and pairs team Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders taking home titles. In April 1939, ice dance was officially added to the roster of the Open Professional Championships (which we'll learn went by many names) and Muriel Roberts and Walter Gregory, inventors of the compulsory dance the Rhumba took home honors. Mostly show skaters competed in these events from early on but many bigger names like Cecilia Colledge, Jennifer Nicks, Swiss brothers Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler and Sonja Henie's coach Howard Nicholson dipped their foot in the water. Also competing were Herbert Aylward, Marilyn Hoskins, Ronald Baker, Len Liggett and Pamela Murray.

These events came to a halt during World War II. Some rinks remained open, others were taken over, damaged or closed and the ones that were opened served double duty as bomb shelters with gas masks in the cloakrooms. Incredibly, as quickly as amateur competition returned in 1947, by the following year professional competitions in England were back in full swing.

In her formidable textbook of ice dance history, Lynn Copley-Graves explained how the free dance, part of a May 1949 proposal by Reginald Wilkie and Bill Hickok to the International Skating Union, got its trial start in professional and not amateur competition, under their auspices: "Great Britain held a yearly Open Professional Ice Dance Championship. On December 9, 1949, two professional couples tried out the new ISU rules in England, the first reported use of the rules in a major competition. The free dancing of Gladys Hogg and Bernard Spencer won both acclaim and the title. Gladys and Bern, already two of the finest British dance trainers of the era, set a standard for what free dancing could be." Finishing second behind Hogg and Spencer but also noteworthy in their contribution to skating history by performing one of the first two ISU free dances in the world were another British couple, Violet Thomson and Kenneth Vickers.

In 1953, Australia's Reg Park won the men's title and two years later, another Australian - Jack Lee - took home the crown. In 1955 and 1956, Britons John and Joan Slater won the ice dance title for two consecutive years. A hugely important development for the competition came on May 31, 1958, when the BBC televised all four disciplines of the event held at Nottingham Ice Stadium, allowing television audiences in England their first glimpse at professional competition. With Alan Weeks and Max Robertson as commentators, this television coverage continued well into the sixties.

Martin Minshull of Brighton took home the men's crown in both 1959 and 1960 before narrowly edging out Michael Carrington of Leeds (the 1952 European Bronze Medallist) for a third win in May of 1964. As expected for a competition held in England and comprised mostly of British skaters, the gold medals often went to the home team. John and Diane Hulme, Jacqui Harbord, Anne Palmer and Roy Lee, Heather Hibbert and C. Robin Jones, Marjorie McCoy and Ian Phillips, Betty Loach and Howard Richardson and Iris Lloyd-Webb and Michael Webster all won the event in the swinging sixties... but the pendulum often swung in favour of international skaters as well. Italy's Anna Galmarini and Japan's Miwa Fukuhara managed to claim international titles that had eluded them as amateurs, where four time World Champions Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman of Czechoslovakia showed they were every bit as talented as pros when they took the title in 1968 at the Empire Pool in Wembley in 1968.

The following year, another pair of four time World Champions, Diane Towler-Green and Bernard Ford, claimed the World Professional Championship - now billed as the W.D. and H.O. Wills Championships at Wembley - defeating Yvonne Suddick and Malcolm Cannon and Vivienne Dean and John Phillips for the win. Perhaps the most compelling winner that came out of this event was 1965 ladies winner Marianne Althammer of West Germany, who tours later would spend eighteen days in jail in Poland after getting into a fight with Warsaw police while touring with Holiday On Ice.

In 1970, the event was again held at Wembley and with Towler-Green and Ford not returning to defend their title, Yvonne Suddick teamed up with her competition from the previous year, John Phillips, to take the ice dance crown. In the men's event, World Champion Donald Jackson of Canada managed to hold off some strong competition from American Paul McGrath for the win. Jackson also won the Embassy Trophy and British Professional Championship that year, receiving first place marks from every judge and the only three perfect marks of the entire competition. In my interview with Lorna Brown, who won her World Professional title in Jaca, she recalled finishing second in Wembley: "I then competed in the World Championships in Wembley the first time and came second to a European Champion who was also an Olympic and world bronze medallist by 0.2 and the pro marks were out of ten. I skated to 'On The Waterfront' and I remember the ice was liquid blue so I was in my element."

By 1974, the competition had moved to Jaca, Spain and rebranded itself as the Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional sobre Hielo or in English, the World Professional Championships. Its rich heritage and back story is full of - in the words of one of my favourite Britons, Edina Monsoon - "names, names, names, sweetie" and although many of the performances and stories of this event (much like the other four) have not been preserved, I think the surface level understanding of the true scope of these competitions that went on for FOUR decades shows us that the history of open professional competitions goes back a lot further than we think. With the successful return of the U.S. Open in 2015, perhaps the future will hold many, many more. I certainly hope so, because the alternative isn't always - as the nineties talk show host guests used to say - all that and a bag of chips.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Return To Open Pro Competitions (Part 4: The Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships)

Like the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships, World Pro Championships in Jaca, Spain and American Open Professional Figure Skating Championships featured in parts one, two and three of this article back in 2013, the early eighties series of Canadian Professional Championships were yet another open professional competition that afforded skaters of all backgrounds and resumes the chance to artistically express themselves in a competitive setting and gain more exposure, some prize money and polish up their competitive resumes. Let's take a trip down memory lane and look at the importance, impact and relevance of the Canadian Pro event:


With eighteen entries in the ladies event alone at the 1979 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada (which was then basically Canada's answer to the PSA), decided to organize the first of two competitions called the Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships. We looked at the Candid Productions nineties event in the 2013 blog linked earlier, but today we're going to go old school.

It all began in 1980 when the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada booked the Scarborough Centennial Centre for a weekend in January to hold the very first Canadian Pro Championships as part of a selection process for the Jaca World Pro. Then-chairman Gordon Crossland told reporter Sidney Shapira that "we had to hold a national championship. We had so many girls who wanted to go to the worlds. We're the first country to hold a national championship." He was incorrect as England had actually held its own national professional competition many times previously, but Canada did beat the U.S. to the punch in this respect by a year. Competitors in singles and pairs performed both a technical program similar to the short program with required elements and an artistic program and interestingly, ice dancers performed traditional COMPULSORY dances in addition to their artistic program. School figures were not included and judging was on a 10.0 scale. In the inaugural event, the medal winners were Weston's Ken Polk, Ste. Foy, Quebec's Raymond Naismith and Scarborough's Jack Frizelle in the men's event and Toronto's Carol Farmer Wright, Scarborough's Elizabeth Purtle and Toronto's Diane Hunt. All were offered spots at the Jaca event that April. The following year, medallists included Ron Shaver, Lynn Nightingale, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee and Judie Jeffcott and Keith Swindlehurst.

Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee's jacket from the 1981 event, which her daughters use to skate in today!

When the Labatt's ProSkate series gained popularity, it complicated matters with regards to using the Canadian Pro event to decide on skaters for the Jaca World Pro. In fact, two time Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran's win at the 1982 event at the North York Centennial Arena opened the door for OTHERS to compete in Jaca. Michael Cosgrove's March 22 article in The Globe And Mail explained that "usually, the winners would advance to the world professional championships in Jaca, Spain, in early April. But, because Kemkaran, pairs champions Shelly Winters and Keith Davis and dance champs Susan Carscallen and Marty Fulkerth are involved in the Labatts' ProSkate circuit, which starts a four-city Canadian tour in Montreal at the end of the month, none will be competing in Spain." With Kemkaran out, the representatives in Jaca that year among the ladies were silver medallist Carol-Ann Simon, bronze medallist Susan Wilson and fourth place finisher Shelly-Lynn Owen. In the men's event, British Columbia's Henri April edged Ottawa's Jean-Pierre Martin by a mere .15 for the gold.

The competition continued until March 1984, although no prize money was offered to skaters in the fifth and final edition of this incarnation of the Canadian Professional Championships held at Toronto's Varsity Arena. Men's medallists that year were Mitch Giffin, Jack Frizelle and John Knight. In the ladies event, Susan Smith became Canadian Professional Competition in what was her first competition since competing at the 1981 Eastern Divisionals in Ottawa. She bested Gia Guddat, future skating partner of Gary Beacom, and Suzanne Dionne for the title. Ice dance medallists were Karen Taylor and Robert Burk, Marie McNeil-Bowness and Hans Peter Ponikau and Lenore Kay and Danny Sorley. Although they didn't compete in the Toronto event, reigning World Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini were added to the Jaca roster that year, where they won along with other well known Canadian skaters who did not qualify through the event like Brian Pockar, Candy Jones and Don Fraser and Daniel Beland. Even just reading about the confusing process of how skaters "got selected based on the results of the qualifying round" but other skaters were added or removed reminded me instantly of the equally confusing Challenge/Masters Cup problem at the U.S. Open that reached a head in 1997 when skaters who won the Challenge Cup like France's Axel Médéric were ultimately excluded from the Masters Cup round "due to their scores". Even open professional competitions appear to have had their own politics.

In 1985 and 1986, the Jaca World Professional Championships were not held. As a result, this qualifying competition was essentially redundant and closed its doors. The Jaca event returned in full force in 1987 and Canadian skaters Daniel Beland, Shaun McGill, Julie Brault, Kelly Johnson, Jonathan Thomas, Micheline Sally and John Coyne all finished in the top three in their respective disciplines. Whether or not an open professional competition in Canada lasted long, it was a thing that indeed happened and I'd personally love to see happen again. I'm looking at you, Gary Beacom who killed it this year at Adult Nationals!

Very special thanks to PJ Kwong, Scott Williams, Doug Mattis, Carole Shulman, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Lorna Brown, Anita Hartshorn, Debi Gold, Craig Heath, Georgene Troseth, Pedro Lamelas from Hielo Español, Peter Morrissey from British Ice Teachers Association, Naya Zamborain Mason, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee, Halifax Public Libraries and others who made this series of articles and research possible! Stay tuned for yet another installment in this series... which will look at the IPSA British/World Professional Championships in Great Britain.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Jackson Haines: The Definitive Biography

"I always walk alone." - Jackson Haines, quoted in "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung
des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines" (1881)

Ready to turn figure skating's history on its head? I sure am. For well over a century, authors, coaches, skating fans and skating historians alike have painted a largely inaccurate picture of American skating pioneer Jackson Haines and using primary sources, I think it's high time the record was set straight. Grab yourself a cocktail, settle in and enjoy perhaps the most challenging research that I've tackled to date on the blog.


Although no known birth records exist for Haines, the 1860 New York State Census tells us that at twenty one years of age, he resided in the E.D. 1, Ward 15 of New York City, which would indicate his date of birth was most likely 1839. He was the son of Alexander Frazee Haines and Elizabeth Terhune Earl. The article, "The Father Of Figure Skating" by Winfield A. Hird, published in both "Skating" magazine and the January 24, 1941 edition of the Amsterdam, N.Y. Evening Recorder, offers first hand information gleaned from extensive genealogical research provided by Haines' niece Mrs. Mary Davis Haines Waldron and nephew Louis Flamming: "His mother was a descendant of the Westervelt family, early Dutch settlers of New Jersey. His father's family came from England in 1635 and settled on Long Island. His grandfather, Jackson Haines (for whom he was named) was a hat manufacturer of New York City, living at 34 Dye Street. His father, Alexander Haines, was employed by Park & Tilford. The family at one time was located at Cottage Row in New York City. Jackson was one of five children, having three sisters and one brother. The entire family was educated in select schools and by tutors, studying French, music and dancing." We can add from The New York Census records that his sister Sarah was older than he by a year and his brother Eugene, an organ builder, six years older. His other sisters, Hanah and Elizabeth, were younger. Although their seventy five hundred dollar brick home would have been considered quite luxurious for that time, the family took in boarders so a young Haines would have been exposed to diversity from his youth, living alongside a musician from Russia, a bookseller from Holland and a merchant from Belgium.

Haines skated for fun on the ponds on the Beekman Estates but first learned formally how to skate at age nine at Mr. Disbrow's Skating Academy at The Winter Garden which predated The Skating Club Of New York. The January 9, 1919 edition of the Troy, New York Daily Times noted that 'Jersey John' Engler, another top skater of Haines' era, taught him "how to cut all sorts of fancy figures". Haines Waldron and Flamming explained that "Jackson Haines was of medium stature, had curly chestnut hair and blue eyes and was considered a dapper young man... Not only was Jackson an accomplished skater but his sister, Elizabeth, was also proficient. The entire family was interested in the theatre and as part of its early education it attended all that New York offered in the way of drama and music."


After receiving an early education in skating, Haines was engaged at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York and was actually very well received in an Albany park in 1862. Returning from Albany to New York City, he was recruited by renowned showman P.T. Barnum to roller skate at the Old Bowery Theatre for eighty nine nights alongside Carrie Augusta Moore (who we'll get to know more in an upcoming Skate Guard blog), performing in G.L. Fox's pantomime "Jack And The Beanstalk".  In his book "Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century", Steven A. Riess notes that it was both skater's popularity on rollers that prompted "Australian promoter George Coppin to recruit [William] Fuller for a world tour of Asia, Australia and Europe from 1865 to 1869." It was also during this period that the talented Haines got married to Alma Bogart, the daughter of Judge Abram Bogart of New York City. The young couple had three children - Clara Louise, Abram and Eugene. Sadly, Clara Louise died in early childhood.

Haines only spent one winter in America devoting his time solely to skating. In late 1863 and early 1864, he toured the United States and Canada, performing in New York City, Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit in the States and in Montreal and Quebec City in Canada. He received his first medal as a skater from Chicago's Board Of Trade on January 30, 1864 and his second from the managers of Detroit's Old Skating Park on February 8, 1864. After performing in Montreal (in front of a three year old Louis Rubenstein) Haines travelled to Quebec City and was presented with a large gold medal by that city's skating club on March 18, 1864. Keeping in mind that with no governing body existing to 'rule the roost' at that time, any city could claim that the best skater in whatever they decided to call their competition was the American, Canadian or World Champion, Haines may very well have been named as 'the champion skater of America', but primary sources don't back up the traditional story of him winning a 'Championships Of America' in 1864 in Albany, New York City or Troy, New York, as varying biographies over the years have claimed.

After giving his last performance in Quebec on April 14, 1864, Haines returned to America. The June 16, 1864 edition of the Sacramento Daily Union notes that "Jackson Haines, the champion skater, has been engaged by the popular Boston Minstrels, Morris Brothers, Pell and Trowbridge." From pantomime actor to champion skater to minstrel show performer... that's quite a jump now, isn't it?
Historian Nigel Brown noted that "during the Civil War, he appears to have varied his accomplishments as opportune. Sometimes he was on stage in a juggling act, swinging Indian clubs, sometimes an exhibition-skater, a teacher of physical culture and finally a ballet master. But as the Civil War lingered on, such occupations were destined to suffer."


Several authors have suggested that no concrete proof that Haines first visited England when he
decided to leave America and spread the 'skating gospel' overseas in Europe, but this simply isn't true. The August 27, 1864 edition of The Baltimore Sun noted Haines' plan to move to move to England and try to make a living performing in Europe and British newspaper accounts note that he made his first skating performance at Cremorne Gardens in London later that year. He left by way of Boston on August 17, 1864. The December 8, 1864 edition of The London Evening Standard places him as performing in Weston's Music Hall in Holborn and the Birmingham Daily Gazette indicates that he entertained audiences at The Prince Of Wales Theatre in October of the next year. Several authors, both esteemed and dubious at best, have claimed that Haines' artistic style was met with great opposition in England. And you know what? Considering that the English Style at the time would have been the complete opposite to what Haines was doing on the ice, they were probably right. However, primary sources don't offer any true indication as to what the Britons really thought of Haines. We do know from Haines Waldron and Flamming that while in England, Haines sent for his sister Elizabeth and she joined him there as his skating partner, but after one year, she became homesick and returned to America. Wondering where Haines' wife and sons were in all of this? While in Europe, Haines' two sons were drowned in the Hudson River while visiting their grandparents who had moved from New York City to Lansingburgh. Tragically, Haines' wife Alma, left behind in America, died in 1890.


From England to Mother Russia... The Marysville Daily Appeal, on August 17, 1865, informs us that "Jackson Haines, the American skater, is still in Russia. The Emperor has given him a diamond ring valued at 100 pounds and the Navy Club of Cronstadt have presented him with a gold and diamond medal. He is to visit Moscow soon, and from thence returns to London." The next evidence of where Haines actually popped up and wowed audiences comes from Scandinavia. We know that he came to Stockholm, Sweden in March 1866 and remained there until the beginning of 1867, performing roller skating shows at the Manege Theatre and the Great Theatre and ice shows during that winter in Stockholm. This evidence comes from the Swedish newspaper Söndags-Nisse, which notes that his roller skating shows began in June and continued through the summer. The January 29, 1867 issue of the newspaper "Jönköpingsbladet" confirms that his performances in the winter were not on rollers but instead on ice. A C.G. Hessler testified that "Jackson Haines' behaviour on the ice won't possess me sooner."


The January 17, 1868 edition of "Die Presse" recalls the first performance of Haines in Vienna, Austria, where he in fact did make quite an impression in late 1867. Skating at the Wiener Eislaufverein in sixteen degree Celsius weather, three thousand spectators gathered for Haines' big debut. George Browne's book "Figure Skating" describes Haines' 1867 performance in Vienna thusly: "[He] shot in on a long outside roll (spiral) which took in the whole circumference of the area, and gradually narrowed down until he came to the centre, where he performed a pirouette and took off his hat to a Grand Duke who was present, continuing with a series of evolutions on both feet, something in the style of a Philadelphia twist or grape-vine; and when the band turned from the overture to the waltz-tune, he broke into a double cross-roll backwards... Haines' advent caused a great sensation, and I have no doubt that this was the beginning of the modern art in Vienna." He was indeed idolized by the Austria people for his graceful style, which became known as the Viennese Style and later the International Style. With numerous rinks (outdoor and later indoor) in Austria, many people who otherwise had no inclination or knowledge of the sport were inspired to take up the craft. Haines taught the Viennese to waltz on the frozen Danube to the music of Strauss.

Austria, as a result, has been a country who has had remarkable success in international competition. One hundred and seventeen world medals have been won by that country alone. Surely successful Austrian skaters like Willy Böckl, Trixi Schuba and Karl Schäfer wouldn't have had the foundation or opportunity to succeed had their predecessors not learned from Haines or someone who learned from him and helped develop the country's skating program. The October 30, 1987 edition of the Montreal Gazette aptly noted that "members of the Vienna Skating Club made notes of Haines' movements and incorporated them into a formal series of figure-eight practice movements which, since the ISU was formed in 1892, have formed the basis of all figure skating competitions." The reverence towards Haines as 'the king of skating' is noted in numerous Austrian sources, including the February 19, 1912 edition of Wiener Sonn-und Montags-Zeitung. Josef Fellner, president of Austria's Skating Federation, echoed this sentiment by saying "the seed [that] Jackson Haines planted on Viennese ground bore rich fruit very soon, so that he, when he appeared again in Vienna in 1870, not enough words of praise and surprise at the level of art and arrived at the large number could find the good skater." The 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", written by Demeter Diamantidi, Carl von Korper, Max Wirth, both praised Haines highly and offered instructional information based on several of Haines' figures and dances on ice.


On March 11, 1869, Haines performed both solo performances to the overture from "Zamba" and Verdi's "Ernani" as well as duets with Leopoldine Adacker at the Maskinisten Bergsten i Teaterhuset in Sweden, according to the Swedish newspaper "Jönköpingsbladet" of the same date. It was around this time in Scandinavia that he developed a comic program depicting Lord Dundreary (a character from the British play "Our American Cousin"). This act became a trademark program for Haines that he used repeatedly in many of his shows over the coming years. The October 17, 1869 edition of The Era notes his return to England and the following May, "Blekingsposten" noted that Haines would return due to Sweden by popular demand. After returning to Vienna in 1870 and debuting his "Jackson Haines Schlitt-Schuh" mazurka, Haines visited Hungary the following year and was exceptionally well received there as well. The Hungarian newspaper "Tiszavidék" in January 1871 enthusiastically wrote of Haines' 'korcsolya polka mazurka'.


From Austria and Hungary, Haines made yet another trip to Scandinavia. Archives of the nineteenth century Finnish newspaper "Åbo Underrättelser" prove that Haines performed his polka-mazurka and ice ballet (with live orchestral accompaniment) for at very least three weeks in April 1872 in Finland. The October 9, 1872 edition of Swedish newspaper "Wermlands läns tidning" advertises the same "Stort Potpourri" show he performed earlier that year in Finland in conjunction with a performance of "En Episod fran Revolutionen 1789" at the Christinehamns Teater. The June 6, 1873 issue of "Bergens Adressecontoirs Efterretninger" in Norway notes that Haines offered a 'Nyt Program' for members of working class society to learn the art of skating.

While in Norway in 1873, Haines met Axel Paulsen, whom he encouraged to adapt his 'Axel' jump to figure skates. Axel had a toe-pick welded on a pair of his skates and did just that. This meeting would prove incredibly important years later, when British skate maker Henry Bosworth would take this adaptation from Paulsen's skates (that came from Haines) back to England and start adding toe picks to British skates. Remaining in Scandinavia, Haines performed his comedic ice ballet "NEJ!" in Finland in 1875, with a full cast of charismatic skaters in lavish costumes.


Returning to the Continent, it was during this time period that Haines worked with Leopold Frey and Franz Belazzi... and Belazzi joined Haines on the ice for some same-sex ice dancing, which we explored in a Skate Guard blog earlier this month. I personally find it quite intriguing that Haines, a graceful skater who left his wife and children behind in America, obviously found great freedom on both stage on ice in Europe, performing in women's dress and on the ice with a male partner. You can (like I did) make of that what you will.


Haines returned to Russia, performing in St. Petersburg, the home of the Kirov Ballet, which was founded in 1738. After performing in a celebration of the Balagani at the Winter Festival, he planned a return to America. In January of 1876 (not 1875 as many sources erroneously suggest) Haines planned his return to America, but traveling by sled from St. Petersburg en route to Stockholm, he was overtaken by a severe snowstorm, contracted pneumonia and died in Finland. He was buried in the small village of Gamla-Karleby.


Perhaps, perhaps not. He won three medals in both Canada and the United States, however the 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", written by Haines' disciples, claimed that Haines was "denied by all the Americans who only find beauty in the practical." An article from the March 2, 1866 edition of the Marysville Daily Appeal gives the impression that Haines was celebrated but just wasn't the best skater out there. After praising 'skatorial queen' Carrie Augusta Moore, the writer said that "if your ideas on the subject are only those acquired by your boyhood experience, it may have been on the Mohawk or the Erie Canal, why then you know nothing about modern skating. The best skaters in America, or in the world, are the Meagher brothers, now performing in various parks here, with great profit to themselves and pleasure to our people. Beside these the celebrated Jackson Haines is a bungler." This two points made, absolutely nothing in historical evidence even remotely suggests that an unruly mob of skating fans with pitchforks and torches ever stood rinkside or drove Haines 'outta town'. If anything, most American newspapers from his era were nothing but complimentary.


I think it's important to point out that while Haines' disciples praise him highly in "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", the contributions of fellow Americans Callie Curtis and E.T. Goodrich to Viennese skating are also noted with regard.

In the January 7, 1912 edition of The New York Herald, James A. Cruikshank wrote that "while Jackson Haines received scant recognition from the social leaders of his day, the present revival of the new international style of skating has the advantage of exponents and advocates of the highest social prominence, here and abroad. Then, too, Haines was a professional, while those who are at the front of this new movement have the additional prestige of amateurs, giving their services as a labor of love." He made a very valid point. Haines' appreciation in America didn't take the decades and decades some historians suggest. His rounded toe, two stanchion skates were already popular in America by 1910 and in 1918 at the Crystal Carnival Ice Rink on Broadway and 95th Street in New York City, the Jackson Haines Skating Club was formed. For many years in England, the winners of the BITA World Professional Championships were awarded a 'Jackson Haines Cup'. Haines was of course, later in the century, inducted into both the U.S. and World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame.

The winner of the bronze medal at the 1906 World Figure Skating Championships (the first official World Championships to include a ladies event) was aristocrat Lily Kronberger of Austria. Inspired by Haines, she brought her own orchestra to the 1911 World Championships, insisting that she "felt the music and interpreted it", rather than have it play a supporting role in the background. Said Kronberger, "it is necessary to first hear the music internally and then interpret". Over the years, Haines' courageous and artistic journey has either consciously or subconsciously affected many other revolutionaries of the sport. Without free skating being created and popularized, it never would have been again transformed by artistic geniuses like John Curry, Toller Cranston, Robin Cousins, Janet Lynn, Torvill and Dean and their contemporaries of today. Robin Cousins once said "you cannot differentiate between the sport and the art because the idea is to make the sport like an art". I'm sure Jackson Haines was smiling somewhere when Robin said that, wearing a fur hat and pälsbrämad jacket with medals on his chest, performing a gorgeous arabesque spiral and perfectly centered
spin in his finery.


One important factor to consider with regards to Haines were the quality of his skates as compared to many of his contemporaries. The Southeast Missourian, on March 7, 1966, noted that in 1850 "when crucible steel was brought to ice in Philadelphia, [it] was rare then and was used sparingly where it was needed most, for example in tools, knives and surgical instruments. At least one skate of that year still exists - the drill holes and saw marks testifying to laborious handicraft." These skates were expensive, selling for fifty dollars at the time and Haines, coming from a family of some means, would have been one of few that could afford the cream of the crop. Haines probably owned an early pair of these Philadelphia skates but it was the alterations in length to the skate's platform and introduction of two small plates which screwed into special boots that gave Haines the edge. In making these adjustments, he eliminated the need for straps and for special shoe-heel sockets which accommodated the studs in the conventional skates of that area. His two stanchion, all metal blades with the toe pick variation of the old Dutch toe made toe-pick jumps possible and would have changed the way figures were skated entirely, adding a world of possibilities.

Legend goes that the 'Jackson Haines spin' (described by sources during his time as a one-foot ringlet spin on the left foot) took its inventor nine years to perfect, but again - you ready for it? - primary sources don't confirm this! We do know from William H. Bishop and Marvin R. Clark, contemporaries of Haines who would have seen him skate, that the 'Jackson Haines spin' which Haines invented was not a typical sit spin as we'd think of it today. In their 1868 book "The Skater's Textbook", they describe it thusly: "The world-renowned skater's great specialty is doing a 'one-foot spin' and, while revolving, stooping so low that his balance leg must necessarily be perfectly horizontal to clear the ice, then rising gradually and finishing the spin upon his toe." So basically, upright, sit, upright and then up on the toe pick. Think about skaters of the twenties and thirties and the kinds of spins they were performing at the time. The Jackson Haines spin in its true form was definitely something we definitely saw from competitive skaters back then. Now? Not so much.

Haines also built on a figure developed by a New York City contemporary, E.B. Cook, known as 'pivot circling'. Irving Brokaw described that Cook "made a great deal in the way of substituting one
toe in the ice in the place of the other, the succeeding toe taking the place of the other by coming exactly into the same spot located by the outgoing toe. He made many substitutions of one toe for the other in this way, and some very peculiar ones from what he called the 'Intoto' position. Moreover, besides circling the pivot, he made the performing foot skate a succession of linked angles around in a ring. Also, taking a pivot, he made the other foot go far away on an edge (almost to half length) and make a connected set of pivots, forming a star." Brokaw notes that this was also a specialty of Haines also, but that Haines surrounded his pivot figures with a circle. The result, curiously, produced a pentagram my ancestor Anna Maria Conrad might have quite impressed with.

As for his style itself, Irving Brokaw wrote in "The Art Of Skating" that Haines "had less enthusiasm than his contemporaries (the New York Skating Club and the Philadelphia Skating Club and the Canadian skaters) for the invention of one-foot, continuous figures, many of them made in small, kicked circles. His temperament affected artistic display and correct body positions (after the manner of the Russian dancers, now so much in popular favor), too, but in long, graceful curves or in dance strokes and steps." In 1913, George Browne clarified that "since Jackson Haines left before rocking-turns were invented and died five years before a bracket was ever skated, or at least described, he
obviously could not have been much of a performer of modern American 'stunts'."

As far as I'm concerned, the REAL story versus all of the legend out there shows us a man who was wholly committed to enacting change and had a great passion and verve for performing. His travels alone back and forth from country to country are testaments to this indefatigable determination to show appreciative audiences just what skating could be. Haines showed that skating had more potential for creativity than rigid figures traced around an orange on the ice in a top hat and tails; more than speed skating races on a fen. With his same-sex ice dancing, female dress and elaborate ice ballets, he broke down barriers and reminded us that skating doesn't have to be as linear as a quad/triple combination on one end of the rink, a triple axel on the other and a haircutter spin in the center. I can only hope, in demystifying his story and separating fact from fiction, that people can finally have a clearer picture of his true role in the sport's rich and colourful history.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Murphy's Law: Team Hong Kong At The 1987 World Championships

Training in a tiny rink of 30 X 70 feet with a broken Zamboni, thirty year old Chi-Man Wong, seventeen year old Edith Poon, twenty three old Shuk-ching Ngai and nineteen year old Cheuk-fai Lai made history by becoming the first four skaters representing Hong Kong to compete at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1987 - but they didn't do it without causing quite a stir.

In her 1994 book "Figure Skating: A Celebration", Beverley Smith wrote that "a group of Hong Kong skaters at the 1987 world championship in Cincinnati, Ohio, had no coaches at all. Chi-Man Wong, at thirty, had been almost entirely self-taught until two years before the event, skating in Hong Kong's only ice rink... Edith Poon, Hong Kong's best female competitor, practiced the wrong compulsory figure until she was set straight the week before the competition. Hong Kong's ice dancers withdrew after they arrived with music for their free-dance that was only two minutes, fifteen seconds in length, when it was supposed to be four minutes. And the music for their original dance had the incorrect rhythm." 

That poor ice dance team that Smith wrote of, Cheung Lai-yuk and Chan Chiu-keung, couldn't catch a break when Lai-yuk, on her first visit to North America, became quite ill after eating Western food. The fun for the Hong Kong skaters didn't end there. Edith Poon, a roller skater with only three months of training on the ice, floundered in the short program. Ngai and Lai, the pairs entry, were so out of their league in their short program to "Romeo And Juliet" that one judge gave the duo a 0.2 for technical merit. Their highest mark was one 2.7 for presentation. Most of their technical merit marks were around 0.8; their presentation marks around 1.8. 

In the March 11, 1987 edition of The Pittsburgh Press, the coach of the pair, Kathy Kitchner (an Australian who was teaching skating in Hong Kong) cited the incredibly small rink and deplorable ice conditions as reasons that her pair fared so poorly, saying "that she believed someone ran the Zamboni into a wall, which is why ice is smoothed by dumping buckets of water onto the surface each night." Keeping in mind that throughout skating's history, some of the world's best have competed on the Olympic and World stage on cut up ice, in downpours and blizzards and flooded ice in exactly the same manner, although the ice and training conditions would have certainly not been IDEAL for the Hong Kong skaters in 1987, I think it's pretty evident that subpar coaching and poor translations of ISU rulebooks played equal roles in this disastrous debut. In the March 10, 1987 edition of The Ottawa Citizen, Kitchner acknowledged, "When I came six months ago, they were teaching themselves. I'm here to support them, but I don't feel they are ready for this."

Despite the fact that Wong, Poon and Ngai and Lai all placed a distant last in their respective disciplines, the skaters from Hong Kong in 1987 weren't mocked. Instead, they were embraced by the crowd at the Riverfront Coliseum that March. The encouraging crowd gave them all loud ovations, littered the ice with flowers for the new kids on the block and American pairs coach Pieter Kollen took the struggling team of Ngai and Lai under his wing in practice, stating that "the fun of sports is more than the competition; it's the sportsmanship involved."  

Rather than go home and hide under the bed, skaters from Hong Kong went home and tried to rebuild... literally. Choosing to refrain from competing at the World Championships again until 1994, in the interim they built two more rinks (both in shopping malls) that were a third of the size of an Olympic rink. Still not quite grasping that rink size would absolutely play a difference when adapting programs to international competition, Hong Kong's pairs entry, Poon Hoi-san and Cheung Wai-tung, again finished last at the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan. Although skaters representing Hong Kong, including Ronald Lam (who was fourteenth at the 2015 World Championships) have enjoyed more promising results over the years since then, a skater or team from the country has yet to win a medal at a major international competition. Although progress is sometimes slow and steady with competitors from ANY developing skating country, I think we can all learn a lesson from the people of Cincinnati and the skaters from Hong Kong in 1987. Pointing and laughing only serves one purpose: being a jerk.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Figure Skating: The Devil's Sport

In decades and centuries past, religious leaders have long used their positions of influence to condemn everything from rock and roll music to dancing as "the work of the devil". What many may NOT know is that once upon a time figure skating was the fire and brimstone flavour of the month.

I want to share with you an editorial called "Skating To Perdition" from the February 21, 1885 edition of The Lutheran Witness that expresses this very arcane point: "The skating rink craze has become epidemic in this country, and is spreading in every direction in spite of all righteous opposition. If it were one of the silly, harmless crazes that sometimes affect empty heads and light heels, it might be left to run its natural course, like a case of the cold. But it is a demoralizing evil, injuring the health, corrupting the morals, and ruining of the souls of some of the infatuated devotees of the rink. The denunciations of our correspondents in this issue are not a whit too strong. Even secular papers, like the New York Tribune and the Sun, have been moved to protest against the skating rink as an evil. Another journal says it should be suppressed by law as a nuisance, and still another declares it to be worse than the ordinary theater. The pastor of a Methodist church in Binghamton, N.Y., stated in his pulpit recently that he knew of fourteen girls who had been ruined by these sinks of iniquity. He knew of many men who could not pay their honest debts because of money expended at the rinks. He knew of contracts for the purchase of homes that had been given up for the same reason. He knew of many families which had been broken up by the scandals started in these places. 'The Highway Of Holiness' charges that the habitues of the rinks gamble in a small way for almost everything; the exercise is often overexertion; accidents occur, in the form of broken arms, etc.; 'there is a doubtless a chase present to see the ladies fall, and the gentlemen fall over them,' and it is an expensive amusement. 'The Christian Advocate' says that these rinks have led to a great increase of extravagance; many of them have side-shows attached; there are opportunities for indiscretions, the first steps towards vice; there is no parental supervision; legitimate business of various kinds is interfered with, and the craze is a direct antagonist of religious effort. 'The Lowell Sun' charges some rinks to be the result of the most immoral class of the community, prostitutes and libertines, both married and unmarried... 'We believe,' says the Sun, it is in its effects the most immoral licensed institution that we have; that it is the cause of more and more immorality... The theaters are a Sunday School compared to it.' These are strong words; but we believe they are fully warranted by the facts. The rinks of Cleveland can furnish additional illustrations. No true Christian, or anybody else who has a conscientious regard for his honor, character and influence, [should] frequent the place of evil where thoughtless youths are ensured their destruction. Away with the rink!"

This kind of mentality even extended well into the twentieth century. In February 1978, a writer in La Voz Eterna magazine wrote that "roller skating or ice skating at a rink where music is played is not a place for a Christian, whether it is a school class party or otherwise. One may try to justify the music by saying: music is played to drown out the loud noise of the skates, but this is not so. This is the voice of the devil speaking. The music here, too, gets under the feet and in the body. Before one is even aware of it, one is listening to the music and unconsciously moving with the music."

Not to be disrespectful to anyone's religious beliefs (I'm a live and let live kinda guy) but I was actually laughing my ass off as I transcribed these quotes. The reality is though that even today, there are ACTUALLY people in this world who believe that homosexuality is a choice and/or a sin, that we have a right to dictate what people do with their own bodies... You know what I mean and which political and religious groups and figures I'm referring to. And you know what, bless their pointy heads. They probably don't know any better. But as much as we may all share a laugh and an eye roll at this archaic way of thinking, maybe we can take from all of this that ways of thinking change over the years. What seemed logical to some over a century ago will seem silly a century later.

I do know this though... if we're all going to a fiery hell because we love figure skating, at least we will be lutzing and looping in great company.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Ice Gayety: The Skating Tour That Never Was

When we think about figure skating shows and tours during the sport/art's first 'golden era', the names that come to mind instantly are probably Ice Follies, Ice Capades, Sonja Henie's tours and of course Holiday On Ice. But were those the only gigs in town, as it were? Hardly. Would-be competitors were cropping up around the world and in 1946, some serious money was invested into a skating tour originating in Florida called Ice Gayety.

The producer of the tour was named James Edgar and Ice Gayety wasn't his first venture into the professional skating business. In 1940, Edgar produced the Royal Ice Palace Revue which toured the U.S. and Canada with the circus company Beckmann and Gerety Carnival. It was a short lived affair though, as Edgar enlisted in the army in January of the following year, serving in Europe for eighteen months before being medically discharged with the rank of major in November of 1944. In no time, Edgar was back to the drawing board with his mind set on his piece of the skating entertainment pie.

Under the umbrella of his company Ice Skating Enterprises, Inc. Edgar chose the warm weather locale of Sarasota as the starting point for his skating spectacular. He commissioned a one hundred and ten foot flame-proof round top tent from the U.S. Tent and Awning Company that would seat three thousand, a mobile refrigeration plant from the Chicago Buildice Company to make the ice and hired the New York agent Harry Hirsch to book skaters and supervise the production of the show. Edgar hired people to do lighting, wardrobe and sell tickets. All he really needed was a choreographer and he found one in a Chicago skating coach and Ice Capades and Ice Follies skater named Anne Haroldson (Leitch), who was convinced to take time away from coaching in the windy city to come down south to put together this big show. Chorus skaters were hired (mainly from New York) and rehearsals were initially scheduled to start on February 8, 1946 in anticipation of a March 1 opening date. An early February article in Billboard magazine stated Edgar even "rented a house to accommodate the line girls." In total, an estimated one hundred thousand dollars (no paltry sum nowadays let alone then!) was poured into Ice Gayety.

It all went down the drain in TWENTY FOUR HOURS! On February 9, 1946, Edgar announced plans to abandon the effort. In a Billboard magazine article, Edgar said "the show had been postponed indefinitely because the skating rink, comprised of 20 plates, weighing 1750 pounds apiece, was found to be too heavy for easy movement on the schedule contemplated. Ice Gayety was scheduled to open here March 1-2 and then go on tour under canvas. Vaughn Richardson, general agent, had booked the show thru April 14 in Florida spots, with many choice downtown locations listed. Edgar's decision was reached in time to stop most of the skating performers before they left New York City for rehearsals in Sarasota. Two girls arrived from Chicago and another was halted en route at Denver. Edgar said other plans were being studied for use of the portable equipment. All preparations for the show were well advanced. The big top had been flame-proofed and erected for rehearsals. Cookhouse for workingmen was in operation and work was started on the seats. Costumes were completed. Billing had been printed and the billing crew was ready to begin."

Can you even imagine? Short of a bank heist, even the most enthusiastic of high stakes gamblers in Vegas would have a hard time throwing away that much money in such a short span. Rather than sit utterly defeated by the failure of Ice Gayety, Edgar ultimately soldiered on and turned his attention away from skating. He for a time owned the Sparks Circus, which began as a wagon show in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and took the show on tour in 1946 and 1947 by railroad. Financial concerns, no doubt as a result of the Ice Gayety flop, apparently continued to haunt him though as an August 23, 1947 article in Billboard stated that "Edgar owed James A. Haley a sum of money, but this he is reliably reported to have laid on the barrel head when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus was playing Detroit three weeks ago."  

In the winter of 1947, Edgar terminated his relationship with the Sparks Circus and although Ice Gayety never made it off the ground, he DID make two very important contributions to circus history: establishing the final circus to be an under-canvas railroad show and placing Venice, Florida on the map as a popular circus venue. He passed away on June 7, 1957 at age forty seven in South Vend, Indiana while traveling with his wife Anne to visit his son William at Culver Military Academy. Looking back, we can only wonder what Ice Gayety could have been if only things had gone a little differently. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Is That All There Is To A Circus?

"And when I was twelve years old, my daddy took me to the circus,
The greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants, dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
As I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don't know what
When it was over I said to myself,
Is that all there is to the circus?"

- from Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber

If there's one thing that studying figure skating has taught me, it is to be prepared for the unexpected. Given that I "grew up" in the sport in the mid to late nineties when skating so saturated the entertainment market that tank ice shows could be found everywhere from casinos to tourist attractions like Sea World and Busch Gardens, the concept of skating having connections with the circus didn't really phase me that much. What DID surprise me was exactly how far back that connection went.

Australian born illusionist Harry Cameron was born in 1881 and made quite a name for himself as The Great Carmo, touring with circuses and variety shows in Australia, France and the U.S. before planning a trip to Great Britain to develop a troupe and circus there. He almost didn't make it. The Big Apple Circus' "Circopedia" explains "The Great Carmo - as he was henceforth to be known - and his girl-assistants were ready to return to England, and they tried to book passages on the Cunard liner Lusitania, which was sailing from New York on May 1, 1915. Although cabin accommodations were available, there was no space in the hold for Carmo's huge amount of stage and magic props, and he had to wait for a later ship. It was a lucky strike: This was to be Lusitania’s last voyage; she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland on May 7, an event that led the United States to declare war on Germany." Pretty incredible stuff. Cameron opened The Great Carmo Circus in Balmoral Gardens in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the summer of 1928. His show featured a horse trainer named Emmerich Ankner, a Japanese juggler known as Togo, Conrad's Bears, an elephant named Baby June and twelve lions. Menageries (which we visited in The Tower Of London blog) were also important parts of circuses at the time and Carmo's Circus featured a menagerie of animals as well. He took the circus on tour and by the following summer was in Gatford, London with aerial artists, acrobats, Belgian clowns, a perch-pole act and figure skaters added to his growing line-up.

The skating act was The Jainczik Skating Ballet On Real Ice and opened in July of 1929. A hanging card designed by Leon Crossley advertising the skating circus act informed that the Jainczik Ballet was held on the Football Ground at Northdown for "a short summer season" and that shows were held twice daily at 3 PM and 8 PM on "real ice". Alfred Jainczik was a German figure and roller skater who four years after performing with The Great Carmo Circus patented an improvement to roller skates. Sadly, The Great Carmo Circus floundered with tent and weather problems and in late March of 1930, the big tent burned to the ground and several animals were badly burned during the catastrophe. He attempted to keep his circus going at of all places a SKATING rink in West Bromwich but the financial loss he suffered caused The Great Carmo Circus to close its doors. The following year, Cameron opened Carmo's Colossal Circus at The Hippodrome but by then, he'd replaced the ice skating ballet with a roller skating duo called The St. Moritz Skaters. We do know that Alfred Jainczik left England aboard the Normandie liner in 1937 bound for New York, advantageously getting out of Europe before World War II broke out. He then toured with the Ringling Bros. Circus in the U.S. for a time.

Other circuses also staged ice skating shows but none were perhaps as popular as Moira Orfei and Walter Nones' Italian Circo Sul Ghiacco (Circus On Ice) show which opened in 1969. It included a circus ring and skating show in one venue and was known for its use of elaborate sets, props and costumes. After separating Orfei's show from the Circus On Ice show in 1976, the actress Orfei at one time was involved in the ownership of Holiday On Ice. 

Today, ice acrobats, skating bears, fire and hula hoop acts remain some of the most sought after novelties for both traditional and non-traditional skating and variety shows and without the unconventional pioneering efforts of people like The Great Carmo, Alfred Jainczik and Moira Orfei, the unseeming might have easily remained relegated to 'the impossible'.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Bishop Eight

Figure skating as we know it today wouldn't exist without its technical innovators - jump inventors like Axel Paulsen and Ulrich Salchow, prodigal spinners like Lucinda Ruh and Denise Biellmann and even skaters like Charlotte Oelschlägel and Ina Szenes-Bauer who created visually stunning moves in the field. Although the interview with 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist Trixi Schuba certainly discussed her specialty (skating perfect school figures), I wanted to talk about a long lost SPECIAL figure that was so challenging for late nineteenth century skaters to execute it was really that generation of skaters' 'Iron Lotus'. It was called The Bishop Eight.

The Bishop Eight was designed by American skater and author Marvin R. Clark. Similar to certain figures of the English Style, it was designed to be skated either individually or in a group. Frederick R. Toombs' 1879 book "How to become a skater" describes how to execute this challenging figure in full detail: "Entering into the combination are the outside and inside edge rolls, the cross roll and the threes. I will describe it as executed by two persons. Remember that the two skaters do not face each other and that the direction for one is the instruction for the other. 1. The two skaters join right hands, standing sideways to each other and facing in opposite directions. 2. Make a small half circle on the right foot, outside edge, forward. 3. Turn a three, at the same time changing the right for the left hand and make a half circle backward on the inside edge, right foot, returning to the starting point. 4. Going backward on the outside edge, left foot, make a curve and a three, turn halfway around the circle and change to the inside edge, forward, left foot. Make a curve and turn a three, from backward to forward, and from inside edge, left foot, to outside edge, right foot, coming forward, up to the centre, and joining left hands. 5. Put the left foot well over the right, as hands are joined, firmly on the ice, on the outside edge and execute a cross roll. Repeat the movements already described, completing the other half of the eight. The cross roll should always be put in at the point of meeting and may be accomplished more easily, because each skater assists the other with his hands." Dizzier than you've done the hokey pokey for five minutes after a nice refreshing Long Island iced tea? I am.

The wild complexity of The Bishop Eight and other American figures of the era including the Flying Scud (also an invention of Clark), The Tulip and The Ball Of Twine prove case and point that though British and Continental European skaters were largely known internationally as the great masters of complex special figures, insanely difficult special figures were being developed in North America in the sport's developmental stages as well. Triple/triple combinations and level five step sequences aside, how many of today's skaters do you think could master The Bishop Eight? Technical innovation comes in many forms. Today, there is renewed interest in using figures as a teaching tool and of course, the current excitement about the upcoming World Figure Championship and Figure Festival in Lake Placid serves as an important reminder that although competitive figure skating may have ditched the 'figure', not EVERYONE has forgotten the challenge and reward of skating's most difficult discipline. Personally, I think that's a beautiful thing.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Haines Revisited: Same Sex Ice Dancing In Vienna

There's a wealth of conflicting information out there about skating pioneer Jackson Haines but one story that is not only absolutely fascinating but also largely unknown is that of his work with his then-teenage Austrian protégé Franz Belazzi.

We all know that Haines was a huge hit in Vienna with his productions set to music that he had composed especially for his productions. However, the story of his performances with Belazzi is a little more ice shattering. Nigel Brown's authoritative 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" tells us that "another brilliant pupil of Haines was Franz Belazzi, a born show-skater. It was perhaps this particular aptitude that made him Haines' favourite. When he was seventeen he partnered his master in exhibitions in Vienna and Prague, and on these occasions Haines skated at the same time as Belazzi. After an introduction together each one performed his own programme and on its conclusion both skaters joined in the centre and executed a jump or two, terminating with a Viennese waltz of Haines' invention. The second half of the programme was exclusively theatrical. Haines appeared as a bear and Belazzi as his trainer. The scene was a village square. Thunderous applause greeted the skaters when the exhibition ended with the bear waltzing with the young trainer. Belazzi continued to play an important role in Vienna even when at nearly eighty years old he was on the board of the Engelmann Ice-rink."

Well, well, well... To think it all started with nineteenth century same sex ice dancing. Bet you didn't see that one coming! Haines didn't just settle for dressing up like a (polar) bear or waltzing with his male student. Like Callie C. Curtis who was featured in the most recent Axels In The Attic podcast, Haines also appeared in female dress and even wore the folk costumes of Savoyards and Russians. princes and paupers. He sometimes experimented with roller skates and stilt-skates and became friendly with Tsar Alexander II,

Prize pupils of Jackson Haines - Franz Belazzi (L) in 1867 and Leopold Frey (R) in 1870

His balletic style, flashy costumes, no wife by his side, his social circle and close relationships with male students like Belazzi and fellow Vienna Skating Club member Leopold Frey have long led inquisitive minds to speculate about the American skating pioneer's true sexual orientation. We weren't there and we don't know who he was making babies with but we DO know he certainly was a barrier breaker and the father of the International Style of skating. Nigel Brown said it well when he noted that "the triumph that Jackson Haines enjoyed as an exhibition-skater in Europe was due to a number of factors. He arrived on the Continent at a time when ice-skating was quite unimpressive and little developed as a spectacular art, and so he electrified the skating world by his revolutionary interpretation of sliding over ice and he conquered the general public by his theatricalism and showmanship. The serious skater had not visualized such a stagy approach to skating, and the ordinary spectator witnessed a new type of entertainment which pleased and thrilled. Adding to this a magnetic personality, it can be understood how he went from success to success as he travelled from one capital to another. His career was meteoric."

Meteoric and ahead by a century... and I often have to wonder the more I think about it... Was Jackson Haines the previous incarnation of a John Curry or a Toller Cranston? It wouldn't shock me in the least.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Monday, 10 August 2015

AXELS IN THE ATTIC, EP02: Callie C. Curtis: 19th Century Drag Queen On Ice

The second episode in the special six-part Axels In The Attic skating history podcast series looked at the fascinating (and gender bending) story of champion American skater Callie C. Curtis. Show notes:

  • Brown, Henry Collins. "Valentine's Manual Of Old New York". No. 4, New Series. 1920 edition.
  • Browne, George H. "A Handbook Of Figure Skating For Use On The Ice". 1913 edition. Published by the Barney and Berry firm.
  • Browne, George H. "American Figure Skating, As A Recreation And An Accomplishment". Outing Magazine Vol. XXXVII. October, 1900. 
  • Canadian Jewish Heritage Network's Louis Rubenstein collection.
  • Fitzgerald, Julian T. "History On Ice and Roller Skating - 1916". Provided by the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.
  • "Amusements". Daily Alta California. September 25, 1871.
  • "A Decided Sell". The New York Clipper. February 20, 1869.
  • "GRAND SKATING TOURNAMENT. The Championship of the Pacific Coast And The Gold Medal Won By T. Morris". Daily Alta California. September 1, 1872.
  • "High Art On The Ice: Something Of Interest About Fancy Styles Of Skating". The Elmira Telegram. February 3, 1889.
  • "Sports And Athletics". Rockland County Times. February 27, 1904.

Although not formally recognized as either the U.S. or North American Championships by 'today's standards', the Skating Club Of New York was hosting international competitions dating as far back as the 1860's called the Championships Of America, the first two of which were won by figure skating pioneer Jackson Haines. However, Haines wasn't the only American born men's skater who was turning heads at these competitions. Less than a decade later, a Chicago man named Callie C. Curtis began his utter domination of "fancy skating" at these events, winning his first of five consecutive Championships Of America in 1869.

Curtis was born April 24, 1848 in Chicago. He was perhaps best known for his design of a figure called The Curtis Star which was described by E.T. Goodrich in the February 3, 1889 edition of the Elmira Telegram as "one of the prettiest and most difficult figures I ever saw cut on the ice. Nobody could accomplish it with the ease and grace that characterized his efforts, and it was finally called the 'Curtis Star'. It was formed in three parts. First there was the circle. This he did by the simple inside edge, forward toe step. At the completion of the circle the skater would jump back clear of the circle, so as to leave no marks inside of or across the circle. Then the plain star was made standing with one foot at the point... Curtis would let his left foot run a little farther away from the right; the drawing it in would bear hard on the heel of the right." As far as technical innovations, George Browne also credits Curtis with introducing European skaters to the mohawk.

On March 15, 1869, Curtis handed a resounding defeat in the men's event to defending Championships Of America champion Frank Swift in Rochester, New York. An account from Julian T. Fitzgerald's "History On Ice and Roller Skating - 1916", graciously provided by Karen Cover at the U.S. Figure Skating Museum, explained "Frank Swift was then Champion of America, having won the Diamond Medal the previous year at Allegheny City, Pa. Feb 6., 1868. Twice he had successfully defended his title, but the Chicago boy was too much for him and he had to bow to his superior. When Mr. Curtis was declared the winner by a score of 47 points to 41, Mr. Swift took his defeat manfully and skated up to Mr. Curtis and pinned the Diamond Medal on his breast."

The story had been a little different less than a month earlier, when Curtis caused quite a stir in the city donning his finest drag and entering a LADIES figure skating competition. The February 20, 1869 edition of the New York Clipper gives a full account of the spectacle: "The skating public of Buffalo and Rochester were the victims of a 'sell' of the largest dimensions and most thorough description during the week ending February 6th - a hoax of so laughable a character, however, that they could not allow their angry passions to rise against the perpetrators. It turns out that 'Miss Godbout, the lady from New Brunswick' instead of being one of the 'weaker vessels' was none other than the accomplished western skatist, Callie Curtis, who is now a candidate for the championship. At the termination of the ladies' content at the Buffalo Rink on the night of the 6th, to the astonishment of the on-lookers, the majority of whom enjoyed the joke, though some, with no humor in their souls, seemed disposed to find fault. To silence these grumblers and set himself right before the public, Manager Harvey published the following card in the local journals of the 8th: 'The impossibility of getting two first class lady skaters to compete in a public match for your amusement, induced me to have one of our finest male professionals (Callie Curtis, the 'Star Of The West') assume the role of a lady for the nonce, and it was my intention to have divulged the secret on Thursday evening, but during the contest that evening the idea suggested itself to me that I could afford you a second evening's amusement, and in the interim have the same skaters display their skill in our Rochester Rink. This being accomplished I lost no time in revealing to you the 'Star of the West' sans veil, sans wig, apologizing to you for the temporary deception, conceived and carried out to amuse you. Some who were in the secret predicted that the revelation of it would be met with disapproval and this morning counselled me either to postpone the match indefinitely or allow Miss Godbout to preserve her incognito; my disinclination to disappoint you by failing to perform what I had advertised was an insurmountable objection to the first course, and my determination to reveal the secret, both in justice to you and to add fresh zest to the entertainment, precluded the adoption of the second.'" The kicker? The last line of the article: "Curtis perpetrated a like sell upon the good people of Pittsburgh and vicinity last season." That wasn't the only trouble Curtis got himself into while in New York skating. Another 1869 article from the same paper stated that "Callie Curtis was recently arrested upon a charge of seduction, preferred by a chambermaid at one of the Rochester N.Y. hotels, but upon examination he proved the falsity of the charge and was acquitted."

Despite his on-ice trickery and this off-ice allegation, Curtis continued to dominate skating in America during this period, winning the next four Championships Of America. In late October 1871, ice was installed at the Metropolitan Theatre and Curtis performed "a great double and single comic and fancy skating act" with Billie Burt in conjunction with a production of John Baldwin Buckstone's "Green Bushes; Or, A Hundred Years Ago". He was also an accomplished roller skater. Curtis was the organizer and manager of the Championship of the Pacific Coast in roller skating in San Francisco in 1872. According to a September 1, 1872 article in the Daily Alta California, he "went through each piece before the contestants, and in their presence Mr. Curtis was applauded to the echo when he led off in the first piece. He skims over the boards as gracefully with the clumsy roller skates as if he were sliding on smooth ice... and performs as many different feats". His demonstration of the elements that would be judged at that event totalled over TWENTY different figures, steps and "specialties, embracing original and peculiar movements". Curtis also mentored a young skater named Johnnie Cooke of Cleveland, Ohio, who earned the reputation as "the human top" for his impressively fast spinning ability. Reportedly, his double-flat spin later popularized by Sonja Henie was a sight to behold. Tragically, Cooke died at only twenty years of age, never finding the same success in competition as his accomplished coach.

Here's where Curtis' story collides with that of Mabel Davidson, whose career and life we explored back in January. A roller and figure skater from Concord, Massachusetts named Carrie Augusta Moore had put together an exhibition tour of Europe in 1873. Curtis headed over with E.T. Goodrich to skate in that tour, paving the way for the Davidson family (with Mabel as the star attraction) to tour London and Paris in 1896. The absence of the reigning champion would have obviously opened the door for a new champion and I'm sure some of his competitors couldn't have been happier. An undated newspaper clipping from the era found in the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network's Louis Rubenstein collection noted that Curtis was "no longer a resident of Chicago, and living now in Europe, will not trouble the aspirants for his title with his presence." Certainly has a bit of a "don't let the door hit you on the way out" ring to it, doesn't it?

Although I wasn't able to find much of anything about Curtis' later life, we do know that he never returned to America and continued skating in Europe after Moore's tour ended. In January 1886, he competed at a figure skating competition in Germany held in conjunction with the Hamburg and Altona Skating Club's international speed skating tournament. The winner of the speed skating race was of course Norway's Axel Paulsen, but it was Curtis who finished ahead of Paulsen in the 'fancy skating event'. He was second to Paulsen's third, the winner being a C. Werner of Christiana.

Whether he was skating on roller or figure skates, in men's or women's dress, outdoors on a pond or on a theatre stage, beating American skaters or Axel jump inventors, Curtis certainly made an impression everywhere he went and I'm happy I was able to unearth some of his story and glue together the broken vase pieces. Without an understanding of where figure skating came from, we'll never be able to get a firm handle on where it's going.

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