#Unearthed: The Development Of Fancy Skating In Canada


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure' is an article that appeared in the "National Pictorial" back in 1922. Penned by John S. Maclean, this piece offers a snapshot in time of the figure skating community in Toronto during the early roaring twenties.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF FANCY SKATING IN CANADA (JOHN S. MACLEAN)

Figure skating, the most fascinating of winter sports, combines healthful exercise with exhilarating effects. Its advantages may be shared by young and middle-aged, and even the elderly, for, paradoxical as it may seem, the junior championship of the United States was won last year by a gentleman of sixty-five. It brings together the youth of both sexes under most wholesome conditions, and the joy of their first waltz on ice will linger long in the memory.

Figure skating requires a keen sense of balance, which, however, is readily learned, combined with a knowledge of prescribed poses which are plainly described in instruction books illustrated with photographs and diagrams. The skate is slightly curved on the bottom, so that only a small portion
of the blade rests on the ice at one time, and this enables the skater to perform those circling figures which are the admiration of spectators.

The blade of the figure skate is also slightly hollowed on the bottom and the ability to travel on one edge or the other is one of the tests of a good skater. While the fundamentals of figure skating are simple, the combinations of them are almost numberless. Upon the foundation of a few curves,
turns, spins and jumps can be built up a skating performance of the most amazing variety.

One authority has estimated that more than 8,000 skating figures can be based upon the combinations of the fundamentals. The fundamental or 'school figures' adopted by the International Skating Union and accepted as standard in all parts of the world are the result of years of comparison and competition among the best experts of Europe. They include the edges, or gliding along in gentle curves forward or backward, changes of edge, threes, loops, brackets, rockers, counters and combinations of these. Skaters cannot be regarded as skilled until they can execute the school figures. In the enthusiasm to learn waltzing on ice many neglect the school figures, and find that when they enter a competition they are 'nowhere'.

The Amateur Skating Association of Canada which governs figure skating in Canada, is affiliated
with the International Skating Union of Europe and is authorized to hold tests and competitions in accordance with International rules and regulations. The competitions include both the prescribed school figures and also free skating to music, which is marked according to the contents of the programme and to the manner of performing it. The Union has also set up four graded tests which serve to classify club members. The simplest is the fourth class which is frequently used as an entrance test by clubs. The first class is very difficult and few have even succeeded in fulfilling the requirements of it. The badges indicating that skaters have passed these tests are keenly sought, for the tests are accepted by all clubs in the Association to indicate the standing of the members.

The leading figure skating organizations of Canada are: The Minto Skating Club of Ottawa, The Winter Club of Montreal and The Toronto Skating Club. In Ottawa and Montreal climatic conditions make practicable the use of natural ice each season but the milder weather of Toronto has hitherto impeded the progress of figure skating in this city. The Toronto Skating Club has now completed the erection of an artificial ice rink on Dupont Street, where the sport can be enjoyed for five months each season under ideal conditions. At one end are the club quarters in a two-storey brick building, equipped with dressing rooms and all accessories, parlors, dining and reception rooms. The wall overlooking the ice is glass so that members who do not care to skate can watch in comfort those who do. A hanging gallery along one side gives a magnificent view of the evolutions on the ice below. Three times a week the rink will be thrown open to the public, and for them comfortable quarters are also provided overlooking the ice. The skating surface, 160 feet long by 75 feet wide, is greater than that of any rink in New York. A portion of it will be reserved for those of the public who wish to indulge in figure skating.


The Governors-General of Canada have always taken a great interest in figure skating and make it a
prominent and, in the evenings, a picturesque feature of entertainment at Government House, Ottawa. Among the members of Vice-Regal households who have become accomplished skaters was Lady Rachel Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, who attended the carnival of the Toronto Skating Club last season and afterwards joined the members in one of their band sessions.

"With a view to the encouragement and development of figure skating in Canada," so the deed of gift runs, the Earl and Countess of Minto presented a trophy known as The Minto Cup, open to members of any established Amateur Canadian Skating Club. The winner of it and the title last season was Mr.
Duncan McIntyre Hodgson of the Winter Club, Montreal. The Duke of Devonshire, with a view to "the encouragement and development of individual figure skating for ladies in Canada" presented a trophy known as The Devonshire Cup, open for competition by members of any established Amateur
Canadian Skating Club. Miss Jeanne Chevalier of the Winter Club, Montreal, is now the holder of that trophy with the title 'Lady Figure Skating Champion of Canada'.

Even more delightful than the skating of a single performer is the graceful work shown in the combined skating of lady and gentleman. To encourage pair skating the Earl and Countess of Minto offered The Minto Challenge Cups, and the lady and gentlemen winning them are known as the 'Pair Skating Champions of Canada'. That title is now held by Miss Beatrice MacDougall and Mr. Allan Howard, of the Winter Club, Montreal. A further development of combined work which adds the requirements of great precision in movements is skating in 'Fours'. For this Earl Grey offered The Grey Challenge Trophy and clubs desirous of competing for it must each enter one or more pair of individual skaters (one lady and one gentleman); one or more pair (or hand in hand) skaters and one or more fours (two ladies and two gentlemen) . Thus one club may enter four or more skaters. It was won last season by the following representatives of the Winter Club, Montreal: Miss Jeanne Chevalier, Miss Winnifred Tait, Mr. Allan Howard and Mr. Norman Gregory.

An international aspect has been given to competition by the Duke of Connaught who offered a trophy open to teams of four, consisting of two ladies and two gentlemen from any recognized skating club in Canada, 'or elsewhere'. The deed of gift specifies "the general style and pose approved by the International Skating Union." The New York Skating Club sent a team of four accomplished skaters last season to Ottawa to compete for the Connaught Cup and a most exciting contest took place in the presence of the Governor-General, the Duchess of Devonshire and many other distinguished spectators. The cup, which had previously been held by the Minto Skating Club of Ottawa, was won by the same representatives of the Winter Club, Montreal who had won the Grey Challenge Trophy. The New York Skating Club was second and the Minto Club, third.

These competitions, it will be noticed, have always been won by skaters from Montreal or Ottawa. The Toronto Skating Club, however, expects that it will be able, before long, to bring some of the trophies to this city. In its new quarters it will have the finest facilities on this continent for figure skating and it has resolved to give great encouragement to the junior members for among the rising generation must be sought the coming champions.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 8


As autumn crept in over the years, I have introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. Atlantic Canadians use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. Firstly, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Let's take a trip down memory lane and explore a hodge podge of skating stories... with a delicious 6.0 finish!

WEIGHING IN ON WEIGH-IN'S

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Florence 'Rae' Claire Radosh garnered considerable attention when she burst on the skating scene at the age of three (!) during World War II. Under the tutelage of Helen Herbst at the Rockefeller Skating Pond in New York, she mastered Axels and Arabian cartwheels within a couple of short years. She was soon performing gymnastic tricks on the ice that were as wowing as Adele Inge's backflips and starring at the ice shows at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia under her stage name 'Florence Rae'. 


In the fifties, Florence signed a contract with the Ice Follies, touring the country and skating several shows a week before she'd even finished school. After four years with the tour, she was suspended without pay because the tour's organizers deemed her overweight. She had grown from five foot five and a half and one hundred and thirty pounds to five foot six and a half and one hundred and sixty pounds.

Florence went home and lost weight but when she tried to rejoin the tour, the Ice Follies folks said no... but they wouldn't let her on the ice because she "had become grossly overweight and unattractive to the general public". They also wouldn't let her out of her contract "because there was still eleven months left". This led to a five-year long very ugly legal battle and the end of her skating career. While we might (rightfully) shake our heads today at the gall of the 'weigh-in's' that occurred on skating tours, they really had the power to make or break a skater.

THE 1918 AUSTRIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

On February 5, 1918, near the end of the Great War, the Austrian Figure Skating Championships were held in Vienna - just over a month before the German advancement on British troops in Amiens.

Gisela Reichmann

The winner of the women's competition was Gisela Reichmann, representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. Her strength in the school figures was perhaps the crowning jewel in her victory by over ten points over Herma Szabo. An account of the event from the "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" on March 1, 1918 noted that her figures were skated with "fantastic overall certainty" but that Szabo, had improved considerably in this area. In the free skating, "Miss Reichmann [skated] an extremely rich program at a brisk tempo; Miss v. Szabo showed here more difficult figures and very good disposition."

Paula Hanke and Mitzi Schilling (gold and bronze medallists in the junior ladies event) and junior men's champion Emil von Bertalanffy

Though a senior men's competition was not contested due to the number of men in service, events for both junior men and women were held. Emil von Bertalanffy of the Wiener Eislaufverein won the junior men's event with "smooth, technically graceful skating" ahead of future European and World Medallist Otto Preißecker of the Cottage-Eislaufverein by over ten points. In third was Heinz Mattauch of the Cottage-Eislaufverein, followed by Fritz Fraenkel, Eugen Zwieback and Karl Petzlbauer, all representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. The "expected" winner of the junior women's event was Paula Hanke. She received fewer points than second place finisher Hilda Till but secured her victory by less than a point. In third was Mitzi Schilling, the daughter of European speed skating champion Franz Schilling and in fourth, Martha Strache of the Wiener Eislaufverein.

Ilse Adametz, silver medallist in the middle school girl's competition, representing Frauenerwerbverein

'Mittelschülerbewerbe' (middle school) competitions were also held for younger, less experienced skaters. Fritz Fraenkel and Grete Bresnik, representing Wiener Handelsakademie respectively, both were victorious in their classes. Of note among the competitors was the second place finisher in the middle school boy's competition, Hugo Distler. He would go on to win the bronze medal at the World Championships in 1928 behind Willy Böckl and Karl Schäfer.

That same month in Berlin, senior women, junior men and junior women all competed for national crowns as well. Although The Central Powers were definitely losing the War by this point in history, skaters were absolutely not being deterred from the ice.

LAVERNE BUSHER: SELF-TAUGHT AND SENSATIONAL


When Leverne Busher was a ten year old girl growing up in Kansas City, Missouri in the late twenties, she saw her first ice show and knew in her heart she was going to end up doing the same thing someday. Her dreams were realized in a fulfilling and successful professional career as an interpretive skater in shows but her path was quite different than the majority for she was entirely self-taught.

Leverne, who started performing professionally at age seventeen, explained her start in skating in an essay she wrote for the "Deseret News" in April of 1936: "My parents knew nothing of the art. They had already decided my career was to be dancing, singing and playing the piano. They were afraid skating would impair my dancing... I was sure I could, but this would require an instructor, also the right kind of skates. I got the skates with a Christmas gift of a check. To get instructions was the next problem. All the instructors knew how anxious I was to learn; still their time was money to them. But they didn't object to my being on the ice while they taught someone else. So, while they taught at one end of the rink, I was at the other end and benefited from the lesson." 

Leverne soldiered on, taking tips from other skaters about good form and technique but never once having a lesson from a professional coach... and she developed quite a knack for interpreting music once she got the hang of things. Her first performance was an exhibition for Red Cross workers and her parents finally came to see what their daughter had been up to. Leverne wrote, "My parents were almost in tears with pride and joy".


Forgoing competition altogether, Leverne auditioned for shows. Her first professional performance was at Chicago's Century Of Progress Exposition in 1934 and then the following year she received a contract to perform her interpretive performance in the Hotel Sherman's College Inn revue alongside Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson, Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb and World Professional Speed Skating Champion Bobby McLean. In 1937, she performed at the sixth annual skating carnival at the Chicago Stadium and then joined the Ice Follies. A 1938 "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" article described "the flower ballet, with Miss [Busher] as prima ballerina" as the opening act for a New York performance of the show. She also performed a duet with Valerie Fink and appeared in the film "The Ice Follies Of 1939" alongside Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart and an impressive skating cast. Devoting a great deal of her life to performing as a skater, Leverne passed away on September 9, 1992 in Marion, North Carolina, her career as a professional skater a reminder that there's "more than one way to make it in this business."

THE LEGEND OF THE MOROCCAN AMBASSADOR


Skating history is full of as many legends as it is verifiable stories. One fascinating yarn that was widely retold in nineteenth century illustrated magazines seems to have originated in Georg Bernhard Depping's 1827 book "Evening Entertainments; Or Delineations Of The Manners And Customs Of Various Nations, Interspersed With Geographical Notices, Historical And Biographical Anecdotes And Descriptions In Natural History". The aim of Depping's book was "to instruct and amuse youth", so a primary source this is not. Yet, with the amount of skating history he managed to get right, I wouldn't turn my nose up at this tale either.

Depping wrote, "An ambassador of The Emperor of Morocco at the Hague, desirious of giving his master some idea of the amusement of skating, wrote to him, that during a certain season, all the rivers of the Netherlands were covered with a kind of cake, which looked like sugar-candy, and was capable of bearing carriages and horses: that at such times, multitudes of men and women took infinite pleasure in running as swiftly as an ostrich upon these cakes, with the help of a couple of very smooth irons, which they fastened to their feet. The Emperor of Morocco looked upon this account of his ambassador as so incredible, that he called him a story-teller." The author claimed to have originally read of this fascinating tale in "some book of travels" but neglected to provide his source. The fact that Morocco and The Netherlands have had strong economic ties for over four centuries would certainly provide reason for an ambassador from that country to find himself among the ice-loving Dutch. Certainly a reminder that while "you shouldn't believe everything you read", you shouldn't always dismiss it either unless you can prove otherwise.

THE COCOANUT GROVE FIRE


Turn on the news and you are guaranteed to find some sort of tragedy. Whether War, natural disaster or accident, something bad happens every day and you better believe the media is going to let you know about it. Skating has certainly seen its fair share. The 1961 Sabena CrashThe Regent's Park TragedyThe Hallowe'en Holocaust and The Baltimore Armoury Incident immediately spring to mind as some of the worst.  What many may not know is that during World War II, another major tragedy (which didn't even take place in a skating rink) had an almost eerie number of connections to the figure skating world.

The date was November 28, 1942 and the scene was The Cocoanut Grove, a former speakeasy that became Boston's premiere nightclub during the War. Although the capacity was only four hundred and sixty, more than a thousand party goers packed the club that night. What these innocent patrons didn't realize was that they were were walking into a death trap. The Polynesian decor consisted of fake trees made of paper, cloth draperies and decorations which hid exit signs from view. Shortly after a busboy replaced a lightbulb that someone had removed so they could have some privacy while making out with their date, one of the fake palm trees caught fire. The paper decor was the perfect storm for the blaze and within five minutes, the flames had spread from the downstairs lounge to the main clubroom. The patrons were basically doomed. Side doors were barred and windows boarded up to prevent anyone from sneaking in and with only one turnstile exit available jammed with a pile of trampled bodies, exiting in a haze of smoke was nearly impossible. The death toll was four hundred and ninety two -among them Hollywood movie star Buck Jones.


So what connection could figure skating possibly have to this horrific event? Well, the night of the tragedy Ollie Haupt Jr., who was in the Naval Air Corps and Benjamin T. Wright, who was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps  at Harvard, heard an announcement that all enlisted men and reserve officers were to consider themselves on Active Duty and report to the scene. They acted as stretcher-bearers, taking the injured and dead out of the nightclub. Elizabeth Bliss, a member of the Skating Club Of Boston, was a volunteer with the Red Cross who assisted at the scene. Another Massachusetts skater, Sara E. Noonan, served as a nurse at the Boston City Hospital and cared for many victims. Among the victims were Henry and Jimmy Fitzgerald, enthusiastic hockey players and pleasure skaters and Charles Andrew Duhamel, an accountant at figure skating events who also served as the Skating Club of Boston's treasurer.


However, the story that's perhaps most eerie is that of Alice Quessy. She was actually scheduled to work at the Cocoanut Grove the night it burned down but a bad case of strep throat kept her home sick. In an interview in the July 25, 1979 issue of "The Evening Independent", she recalled the club's Polynesian decor and a sky-roof that opened so that "on a clear night, you could see the stars." So, a waitress at the Cocoanut Grove who by a stroke of good luck managed to escape almost certain death... incredibly fortunate but what does it have to do with skating? I'm getting there! 

Professional figure skater Alice Quessy and her young son

Harkening to the story of multiple shipwreck survivor Violet Jessop, Alice Quessy was actually one of the professional skaters on the ice during The Hallowe'en Holocaust. She narrowly escaped serious injury in that second disaster, but a bad accident while performing gymnastics on ice while touring with Holiday On Ice almost ended her professional career. It's odd how stories come together, isn't it?


Much like the skating disasters mentioned at the start of today's blog, the Cocoanut Grove tragedy could probably have easily been avoided with a dash of common sense and some sincere concern for the safety of those involved. It only goes to show you that a little vigilance and awareness of your surroundings might someday save your life.

NOVA SCOTIAN HODGE PODGE RECIPE


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Brilliant Brits: The Hilary Green And Glyn Watts Story

Photo courtesy "Ice Skate" magazine

Hilary Green first headed to the rink as a ten year old in 1961 after seeing a televised skating broadcast on BBC. Glyn Watts got his start on rollers around the age of six or seven, when his older sisters who were babysitting him dragged him to a rink. He finished third at the national level and was going to go international, but his coach moved to New Zealand. After finishing school, he relocated from the small town of Herne Bay to London at the height of Beatlemania, where he apprenticed as a women's hairdresser with Vidal Sassoon . Celebrities regularly frequented the salon and he got to rub shoulders with Paul McCartney himself. Glyn took up ice skating as a personal challenge but found the transition from rollers to ice incredibly difficult. Soon, he met Hilary, and the two formed an unlikely dance duo. They trained at the Silver Blades rink in Streatham with Peri Horne, a 1952 Olympian in pairs skating. "We struck the right balance from the start. Glyn is nearly a foot taller than my five feet two inches, and we size well together," said Hilary in a 1974 interview with sportswriter Howard Bass.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

Hilary and Glyn made their debut at the British Ice Dance Championships in November 1966, finishing fourth in the junior event. The following autumn, they placed third at the Queens Cup Open Ice Dance competition behind Yvonne Suddick and Malcolm Cannon and Susan Thompson and James Young and sixth in their first appearance as seniors at the British Championships. By 1969, they'd moved up the ranks to third and earned a trip to their first international competition, the 1970 European Championships in Leningrad, where they placed an impressive seventh.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

In the two years that followed, Hilary and Glyn earned two British silver medals and top ten finishes at two European and two World Championships. By November of 1972, when they earned their first of four British consecutive titles, they were considered bona fide medal contenders. Continuing to train under Peri Horne's watchful eye, both worked part-time to help pay for their training expenses, supplementing the cost with sponsorship by John Staples of MK Skates. The duo took took ballet lessons and did muscle-building exercises at a London hospital. They trained between eleven o'clock at night and three o'clock in the morning at the Streatham rink and on ridiculously crowded public sessions.


All the hard work paid off at the 1973 European Championships in Cologne, West Germany, where Hilary and Glyn staged a major upset by defeating Janet Sawbridge and Peter Dalby and claiming the bronze medal. It was Janet's tenth European Championships... and she had medalled at six of them. 


At the World Championships that followed in Bratislava, Hilary and Glyn again managed to win bronze ahead of Sawbridge and Dalby, firmly establishing themselves as Britain's number one ice dance team. 


That October, Hilary and Glyn defeated twelve other teams including future Olympic Gold Medallists Natalia Linchuk and Gennadi Karponosov to win the Prestige Cutlery Awards. They also won the very first Skate Canada International in Calgary, besting Louise and Barry Soper, Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov and eight other teams. It was, Glyn remembered, "a bloody good experience. What a lovely place! We took a trip down to Banff. I sometimes wonder why I came to the States!" At the 1974 European and World Championships, they moved up to second behind Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov. 

Hilary Green and Glyn Watts on the podium at the 1974 World Championships. Photo courtesy "Skate & Ski" magazine.

If ever there was a time that Hilary and Glyn thought they should have placed higher, it was in Munich at the 1974 World Championships. To improve their compulsories, they'd started working with Bernard Spencer - a stickler for good technique. Though Pakhomova and Gorshkov turned heads with their Tango Romantica, Hilary and Glyn's OSP was equally delightful. Glyn recalled, "We had a tango to Habanera from Carmen. We had gone with Bill and Bobbie Irvine, who were the ballroom dance champions ten times in England. They choreographed it for us and the crowd just loved it. I think Brian Moynahan was the correspondent and he said it was by far the better of the OSP's - it had such a tango feel. The free dance we had that year was pretty good too, so I thought we had a good chance. Second was good, but first would have been better." Later in the year, the National Skating Association honoured them with the prestigious Vandervell Trophy. Although many considered Pakhomova and Gorshkov unbeatable, Hilary and Glyn held onto hope that they might somehow stage an upset two years later at the very first Olympic ice dance competition in Innbsruck in 1976.

Hilary Green and Glyn Watts with coach Peri Horne. Photo courtesy David Price.

By 1975, signs were already starting to show that their number two position in the political world of ice dance was in jeopardy. Though they held on to win silver at the European Championships in Copenhagen when Glyn was sick with chest congestion, they did so on the strength of their compulsories. The judges placed them third in the free dance behind Linichuk and Karponosov. At the World Championships that followed in Colorado Springs, they dropped to third behind two teams that they had defeated the previous years, Moiseeva and Minenkov and Americans Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns.

 

 At the 1975 World Championships in Colorado Springs, Hilary and Glyn made a little skating history by being the first amateur ice dance team to include a kiss in their performance in their Blues OSP. Glyn recalled, "We had a little sequence where we were slow dancing in the corner. I used to be a bit of ham and there was one section where we'd do this smooching kiss and then breakaway. Every time I'd breakaway I'd look at that section of the crowd and pull a stupid face. They caught on to this, so by the second or third pattern - because you used to have to do three patterns - they were just waiting for it."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

By the Olympic season, Hilary and Glyn were receiving stiffer competition at home from Kay Barsdell and Kenneth Foster and Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell. Although they managed to win their fourth British title, they dropped to fifth at the European Championships and placed a shocking seventh at the Winter Olympics. Glyn remembered, "We had a really tragic year. I don't like to make excuses, but when you're a partnership you really are one person. Hilary's father came down, earlier in the year, with really bad cancer. She was terribly close to her Dad. Subsequently, he was admitted to the Royal Marsden... very frequently in and out, in and out. We'd get to the rink and she'd break down crying. I don't think we had a solid week of training. It was always two or three days on, then off. I'll be honest. We shouldn't have gone to the Olympics. It was the fact that it was the first time. You cross your fingers and hope everything's going to work out but as much as I'm thrilled to have been an Olympian, it was really not such a great experience. It was disappointing to finish that way."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Not long after, Hilary followed Peter Dalby to America to embark on a coaching career, but was homesick and returned to England not long after. Glyn taught in England for a while, taking Denise Best through her Gold Dance Test, before going to America also. John Curry had mentioned him to Nancy Streeter, who was President of the Skating Club of New York at the time. He taught there with Sonya and Peter Dunfield, building up the dance program at the Sky Rink. Within six months, he was standing at the boards with his first champion pupils, Judi Genovesi and Kent Weigle. He went on to coach in New Jersey and Connecticut and while teaching with Peter Burrows in Long Island, he started working moreso with singles skaters - among them Burrows' future wife Katherine Healy. Glyn recalled, "I had the opportunity to go back to England to open a hotel business with my in-laws. We were there for about six or seven months but things just didn't work out. I looked into coming back to the States. I still had my green card, so I was current. I had a nice offer from the Boston Skating Club, one from Atlanta and Carol [Heiss Jenkins]. Carol had met me a few times at Nationals and said she'd watched how I was with the kids and thought I'd be a good fit for her, so I came to Cleveland. I think my first lesson was Lisa Ervin, when she was like seven years old or something... We've been here ever since." Over the years, Glyn has worked with a number of top American skaters, including Lisa Ervin, Tonia Kwiatkowski, Timothy Goebel, Jenni Meno, Aren Nielsen, Colin and Parker Pennington and Ryan Hunka. 

Hilary has coached for decades in Great Britain, and recently worked out of the Absolutely Ice arena in Slough, a town just west of London, England. Glyn coaches at the Winterhurst Arena three days a week, but is planning on retiring this year. His coaching partner is now Tonia Kwiatkowski, his former student. He was rinkside in Detroit at the 1994 U.S. Championships, when the attack on Nancy Kerrigan occurred. He remembered, "We had Lisa and Tonia. I was in the Cobo, the other training rink, with Lisa. We were just sitting watching the practices and all of a sudden there was a scuffle across the rink, people running in and out the curtains and the next thing we heard Nancy's been attacked and all this business. In all fairness, I know she got in with a bad crowd but in the locker room, I liked Tonya! She was a rough and ready girl. I'm not condoning what she did but... she was sociable, she'd say hi. She was approachable."

Though Hilary and Glyn won three medals at the World Championships, they are perhaps the most overlooked top ice dance team of the seventies. Their career, despite its challenges, deserves far more recognition.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1983 European Figure Skating Championships


The seatbelt became mandatory in Great Britain for drivers and front seat passengers just one day before gales lashed the country, contributing to several fatal automobile accidents. To the shigrin of the Finnish, the Soviet Union was attempting to introduce Russian as the official language of Estonia. "Are You Being Served?" was a favourite on British television and Men At Work's "Down Under" topped the music charts.


The year was 1983 and from January 31 to February 6, the best figure skaters in Europe descended on the Große Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, West Germany to compete head to head in the European Figure Skating Championships. The event was attended by a who's who of figure skating - the Protopopov's, Peter Jonas, Angelika and Erich Buck and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler were all prominent spectators. Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin and Stanislav Zhuk stood at the boards as coaches; Lawrence Demmy, Elemér Terták and Sally-Anne Stapleford were judges. Janet Lynn, Petra Burka, Emmerich Danzer, Ingrid Wendl and Joan Haanappel all served as commentators and 1980 Olympic Bronze Medallist Dagmar Lurz worked the press office. Let's take a trip back in our trusty old Skate Guard time machine and explore some of the unique stories from this competition. Buckle up, we're in for a bumpy ride!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

In Innsbruck in 1981, the talk of the competition was the fact that the number of pairs entries (six) was the lowest in thirty years. Many felt that the dwindling numbers reflected the injuries that were resulting from the push for pairs teams to include more difficult technical content in their programs. Keep in mind that only twenty years prior, throws weren't even a thing in amateur pairs skating.

The perils of practicing throw double Axel's didn't phase the East German pair of Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach, who became the first non-Soviet pair in over fifteen years to claim the title the following year at the 1982 Europeans in Lyon, France. In Dortmund, the numbers had doubled from 1981 to twelve and the East Germans again prevailed, winning both the short and long programs in decisive fashion to defend their title.

Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov with coach Irina Rodnina

With clean side-by-side triple-toe-loop's, the Soviet pair of Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev moved up from fourth after the short program to claim the silver, knocking a second East German pair, Birgit Lorenz and Knut Schubert down to third and their compatriots, Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov off the podium. Siblings Naija and Pekka Pekkala were the first pairs team from Finland to compete at the European Championships since 1965 and finished a creditable eighth after the short program but a disastrous showing in the free skate knocked them all the way down to last place.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Great Britain's Karen Wood had to pull out after the women's short program in Dortmund after being diagnosed with a viral throat infection. "After what the doctor gave me - pills and injections - I could not have passed the dope test, anyway," said Wood. She would have ended up in the 'B' Final anyway: a controversial consolation round of sorts tested at the event for skaters who didn't place in the top fifteen after figures and the short program. Rather ironically, France's Agnes Gosselin won the 'B' group with a clean triple Lutz/double toe-loop combination... which a grand total of zero of the 'A group' skaters even attempted. Coach Erich Zeller echoed the sentiments of pretty much everyone in attendance when he said, "I think the new ISU regulation with 'A' and 'B' finals very unfair. It should be annulled." English sportswriter Howard Bass shared his sentiments, remarking, "Somewhat comparable to the Wimbledon Plate in Tennis, [it is] a somewhat pointless exercise."

Elena Vodorezova. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

With the retirements of Austria's Claudia Kristofics-Binder and Great Britain's Debbie Cotrill, both exceptional in the school figures, seventeen year Witt (who we obviously know was a strong free skater) perhaps faced on paper little challenge in the 'A' championship. That wasn't really the case. Elena Vodorezova, who had finished third behind Witt in Lyon, was right at her heels again in Dortmund.


Katarina Witt later wrote, "Having placed, up to now, 14th, 13th, 5th and 2nd in the previous European Championships, I had no doubt that now it was time to win. My 2nd place position after the compulsories was an excellent starting point. The flawless short program gave me a little leeway, so that despite a fall in the freestyle, I managed to eke out my first European Championship title. While doing my most difficult jump, a triple Rittberger, I fell down. I'm proud that I took the risk, anyway... I am skating to a Rondo Veneziano Medley, which among others, includes a melody by Mozart. Because of this, we agree to stay consistent with the theme, and I become 'Mozart'. Naturally, I am wearing knickerbockers on the ice... Afterwards, there was a heated discussion over my outfit. In fact, it was decided that there should be a regulation requiring women to wear skirts for figure skating. Performing the same short program as in Dortmund at the European Championship, I skated a month later at the World Championship in Helsinki as Mozart wearing a skirt! I really felt ridiculous. For a figure skater, it is tremendously important to feel comfortable in her costume, and in this case, I did not. I felt that the knickerbockers much more effectively underscored the essence of the character I was representing. During the freestyle competition, I am skating to the music 'Rhapsody in Black', and am, of course, wearing a black dress. Like the blue dress in 1979, it, too, was handed down by Anett Pötzsch. This wonderful dress was made for her for role in the skating show 'Hello Dolly' in 1980. She only wore it a few times. She had meanwhile ended her ice skating career, and had told [Jutta] Müller that it would simply be a shame to keep it hanging in the closet unused, so, a few alterations were made, and presto, it was mine. Off the ice, traditional waltzes were the source of excitement at the closing banquet. The European Champion Norbert Schramm from West Germany and I from the GDR stepped on each other's feet more than dancing with twinkle-toes. The fun we were having had some of the officials and operatives raising their eyebrows. The press was already alluding to the new 'dream couple'."

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Katarina Witt's triple loop attempt in Dortmund, though failed, was a rare gamble from her - one that paid off in her first European title win, ahead of silver medallist Elena Vodorezova, who fell on a triple toe-loop, but skated quite well otherwise. Claudia Leistner of West Germany climbed all the way from ninth after the school figures to claim the bronze.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin performing their Rock n' Roll OSP

When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were forced to withdraw after Jayne injured her shoulder working on a lift for their "Barnum" free dance, the door was opened wide for twenty three year old Natalia Bestemianova and twenty five year old Andrei Bukin.

'B and B' indeed rose to the occasion, taking a strong lead in the compulsories ahead of Britons Karen Barber and Nicky Slater. Although criticized by the media for a lack of speed in the OSP, Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" noted, Barber and Slater's "new OSP to 'The Hungry Eye' by the rock group Johnny and the Hurricanes drew both cheers for its comic section where Nicky strummed Karen's leg like a guitar and boos for low marks. For once they escaped [Torvill and Dean's] shadow but the judges did not reward them with the marks. They dropped to third." In fourth in the compulsories but second in the OSP that year were sixteen year old Marina Klimova and her twenty two year old partner Sergei Ponomarenko.


At the end of the day, Klimova and Konomarenko dropped down to fourth when another Soviet pair, Olga Volozhinskaya and Alexander Svinin, rose two spots to claim the silver behind Bestemianova and Bukin and ahead of Barber and Slater. Lynn Copley-Graves stated, "Betty Callaway thought Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, in their first Europeans, had the best compulsories of all the Soviets although not yet the presence of ice, but they could pull out only fourth. The German press wrote that 80% of B&B's moves could be accomplished in the theatre, that they did not really ice dance." The two skaters who made the "80%" comment to the West German press were former European Champions Angelika and Erich Buck.

The ice dance medallists in Dortmund. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Jayne Torvill was sympathetic towards Bestemianova and Bukin. She later remarked, "I've no doubt that people will have asked them if they thought they would have won had Torvill and Dean been there. That can't have been very nice for them."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

After the school figures, France's Jean-Christophe Simond led the pack ahead of Jozef Sabovčík, Heiko Fischer, Norbert Schramm, Grzegorz Filipowski, Vladimir Kotin, Rudi Cerne and Fernand Fedronic despite badly faltering in the third figure, the loop. In an interview after the figures in Dortmund, Simond said, "I kind of missed the first tracing. It was too small, so I tried to compensate in the second. But it was worse, and I lost balance and tried to cover up. It was just a bad figure. I'm disappointed with it, but I'm pleased overall." 

Jean-Christophe Simond's lead evaporated when West Germany's Norbert Schramm won the short program in a spectacular fashion in his home country. The shuffling in the standings actually put Sabovčík into first place entering the free skate, but in winning the free skate, Schramm took home the title ahead of his Czech challenger and Alexandr Fadeev, who wasn't even in the top eight after the figures. Some felt Vladimir Kotin, who finished only fifth, had the skate of the night in the final round of the competition.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

In his book "Jumpin' Joe", Jozef Sabovčík recalled, "As I was the unfortunate one to skate after [Schramm], I had to wait until the masses of flowers were cleared off the ice before I could begin. Although I started well and put in a good triple Axel, I could feel myself fading and left out a couple of elements. But I wasn't disappointed with my silver-medal finish. In fact, I found very exciting - until I talked to my coach and officials from the federation. Although they were happy I had taken a medal, they weren't pleased with the way I had skated. I tried not to listen. This was my first medal at Europeans and I didn't want my confidence to disappear. I needed something to hang on to and so I turned a deaf ear to their words."

Left: Jozef Sabovčík. Right: Norbert Schramm. Photos courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

Conversely, in his 2012 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, winner Norbert Schramm recalled, "1983 was probably my most difficult competition I've ever done. I was European champion the year before and I competed in my own country, so everybody expected me to win again. And this is really tough pressure, not only that you know that you want to win and show what you could do, but you know more or less that you have to win and that everything has to work out. And this is very very tough competition. The arena was full, it was covered to the last seat, and they all were expecting me to do a great job. You have to do it, you can't say to anybody else, oh, go out and skate for me, you have to go out and skate yourself. You have a hell of a pressure, and I was more than happy and more than released after everything was done, and it worked out how I planned to do it."

Left: Thomas Hlavik. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Right: Norbert Schramm.

Twenty two year old Norbert Schramm's come from behind win wasn't the only thing that had audiences in Dortmund talking. The technical accomplishments of two other young men had certainly turned heads. The February 4, 1983 issue of "The Globe And Mail" noted, "Thomas Hlavik, a 17-year-old Austrian student, startled the audience with a perfect triple axel, the first time it has been performed succesfully at the European competition. Then [Fadeev] went one better. He, too, performed a triple Axel, landed beautifully and followed with a double-jump combination - the first time a triple Axel had been landed with a combination jump in international skating. Fadeev's accomplishments included eight triple jumps, two in combination with each other. He also attempted a quadruple [toe-loop] jump but landed on both feet after only 3 1/2 revolutions." Fadeev wasn't alone in attempting the quadruple toe-loop in Dortmund; a young Petr Barna, competing in his first Europeans and placing eighteenth, attempted the jump on practice sessions.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Suitably impressed with the skaters who followed in his footsteps, World Champion Emmerich Danzer remarked, "I have never seen a more impressive free program. The medals were awarded to three completely different types of skater."

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The Finse Skøitehallen

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

"I spent unforgettable vacations at Finse. It is wonderful on this earth to find places where everything tastes good, everything smells good, everyone seems young, and everyone young seems witty and wise. Ponce de Leon may or may not have discovered springs in Florida, but I am one of thousands who discovered Finse." - Florence Jaffray Harriman, "Mission To The North", 1941

Surrounded by glaciers and snow-covered slopes, Finse was largely uninhabited until the late nineteenth century. Its barren land was used solely by hunters and farmers. Due to its altitude - some four thousand feet above sea level in the mountains of Hordaland, Norway - it was winter there for almost ten months of the year.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

Finse became a popular winter sports destination for British and Russian tourists when a mountain lodge style hotel was opened in the spring of 1909 after the Bergen Railway was completed. The hotel had 'all the modern conveniences' - central heating, electric lights, a billiard room and baths. As was the local custom, guests sliced their own Fjellbrød and served themselves salt-cured meat and fish, coffee and beer. Laps often passed the hotel's front doors while driving herds of reindeer. The hotel played host to many distinguished guests, among them King Haakon, Ernest Shackleton, Fridtjof Nansen and Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke. When they stayed at the hotel, Sir Francis Lindley taught the Prince Of Wales how to ski. The hotel was right by a lake, but as temperatures often dipped as low as minus thirty five degrees Celsius, owners Alice Lister Fangen and Joseph Klem came up with the idea of constructing an indoor rink in the hotel out of sensibility for the hotel's guests.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

The Finse Skøitehallen was a one thousand and thirty six square meter ice rink with no columns and windows on all three sides. Wood stoves heated the building and two hundred bulbs installed in the ceiling provided ample lighting at night for skaters. Though originally used only for recreational skating by the hotel's guests, the nearly year-round soon drew in Norway's top curlers, speed and figure skaters. Prior to his 1916 trip to America, famed speed skater Oscar Mathisen practiced in Finse. Less than four years later, Norway's 1920 Summer Olympic figure skating team - Ingrid Guldbrandsen, Margot Moe, Andreas Krogh, Martin Stixrud and Alexia and Yngvar Bryn - took up residence there before heading to Antwerp to compete.

Sonja Henie at the Finse Skøitehallen. Screenshots courtesy video from Nasjonalbiblioteket.

As a fifteen year old preparing for the 1928 Winter Olympic Games, Sonja Henie trained with Martin Stixrud at the Finse Skøitehallen during the off-season when there wasn't ice at the Frogner Stadion. Her family had a hunting lodge less than fifty kilometers away in Geilo, so it was familiar territory. Footage of her training in Finse was used in the Swedish film "Sju Dagar For Elizabeth". In her book "Wings On My Feet", Henie recalled, "Finse had become our private training place to a large extent, since I used the ice most and more seriously than anyone else in the good spot... The ice was excellent early in the fall, making it quite unnecessary to go abroad, and father was sticking to his wise principle that it is good to train away from one's rivals... I put on small exhibitions of the most informal sort, and interested people of the neighbourhood turned out in large numbers to watch them. Sometimes people came all the way from Geilo for these homespun performances, though all we had to offer were nearly impromptu improvisations with father in charge of the music and that often amounting to no more than a gramophone."

Andreas and Joseph Klem on the ice at the Finse Skøitehallen. Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket.

Not all visitors were impressed with the Finse Skøitehallen's facilities. In 1912, H.K. Daniel lamented, "If this venture is to be pursued on the same scale as in Switzerland, then Swiss methods must also be adopted... Public moneys must be forthcoming for the acquisition and upkeep of the necessary... skating terrenes."

Photo courtesy Universitetsbiblioteket, Universitetet i Bergen

During World War II, Finse was occupied by Nazi forces, who planned to build an airport on the Hardangerjøkulen glacier. Only one plane landed there and the project was scrapped. In 1940, the Finse Skøitehallen was hit by an Allied bomb and badly damaged. Tourism at Finse's hotel slowed after the War and the local population, which relied largely on tourism, diminished greatly. The Finse Skøitehallen was quietly demolished in 1973, its glory days as one of Norway's first indoor ice rinks all but forgotten.

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' the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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? 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Premier Danseur: The Alfred Mégroz Story

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

If you were a Lutz lover in Switzerland in the roaring twenties, you definitely knew the name Alfred Mégroz. The thirtysomething skater was the pride of the Club des Patineurs de Lausanne at the time, amassing win after win at the Swiss Figure Skating Championships from 1919 to 1924 while serving on the board of his skating club. After placing a disastrous eighth out of nine competitors in the figure skating competition at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, he penned a report to the Olympic organizers advocating for a Winter Sports Week in Chamonix, France. We now remember that event as the 1924 Winter Olympic Games.

At the Bandy Rink in St. Moritz in a skating competition held in conjunction with a reunion of skating enthusiasts who frequented the Kulm Hotel, Alfred won the men's event, waltzed to first place ahead of Britons Madeleine and Kenneth Macdonald Beaumont and Ethel Muckelt and Leslie Hoov and judged the women's competition. Though an accomplished competitor who wore many hats, Alfred's most important contributions to the skating world came after he turned professional in 1925.

After training skaters at the Patinoire Ste-Catherine for two years, Alfred made a living at the Caux-Palace, where he took the (then) unorthodox step of instructing skaters both on the ice... and at the ballet barre. His students included Louis Pache, Francoise Benois, Martine Galie, Riviana Casella and Claudine Huguenin. In between skating lessons, he took the ice himself in a neverending series of exhibitions throughout Switzerland, extolling to anyone who would listen the virtues of artistic skating to classical music. In every sense, he was the obscure thirties version of John Curry.

Alfred Mégroz and Yvonne de Ligne

It was a 1928 exhibition at the Palace à Montana with Belgian Champion Yvonne de Ligne that first really made everyone take notice. In between demonstrations of school figures, Alfred performed exhibitions to Ernest Gillet's "La Lettre de Manon", Franz Schubert's "Impromptu" and Arthur Rubinstein's "Valse Caprice in E flat major". The January 31, 1928 edition of the "Nouvelliste Valaisan" called it a "superb artistic and athletic event" full of "wonderfully harmonious undulating movements." The following year, he wowed the residents of Neuchâtel with the city's first true ice show, which featured Alfred's interpretations of waltzes by Frédéric Chopin and an artistic duet with his student, Ada Muller of Montreux.

Alfred Mégroz and Mme. Goudet skating in Geneva, Switzerland

Like John Curry, Alfred Mégroz developed his own troupe, consisting mainly of students and those who shared his belief that skating should be approached moreso an art than a sport. Though lacking in flashy costumes and travelling spotlights, the troupe created pieces set to the music of Franz Schubert and Claude Debussy. They even took on Charles Gounod's "Faust". Describing one of the troupe's shows - which consisted of seven separate acts - in January 1932, a reporter from "L'Express" wrote: "One begins to understand just what that 'physical pleasure' of the mysterious skating [means], this thirst for air, light, movement. It provides joy... opens new horizons. One could not be surprised to see skaters such as Grafström and Henie enter deliberately into the footsteps of the stubborn creator of this genre, Alfred Mégroz." The testimonials continued to pour in. "La Villageoise", describing one of his performances in January 1934 raved that he was "an artist who worked with a grace and infinite ease on ice... His interpretations of classical music are excellent, especially 'The Swan' by St-Saens [which was] a great success."

Alfred Mégroz ice dancing with Emmy Andersen

One chilly December afternoon at the Molitor Rink in Paris in 1935, Alfred hosted a séance, followed by an exhibition where he skated to classical music. It went over so well, the next month two time Olympic Gold Medallists Andrée and Pierre Brunet joined in on the fun in a rousing encore. The French loved the theatrics of the Swiss skating artist and hired him on to work with French Champions Gaby Clericetti and Jean Henrion. The Swiss newspaper "L'Temps" praised the decision of their neighbours: "We must congratulate Mr. Mégroz for the trust placed in him, perfectly justified in the eyes of those who know his incomparable mastery."


Alfred's artistic chops were put to to the test in 1937, when he went to Great Britain to work with Claude Langdon on "Rhapsody On Ice", a lavish skating production developed by impresario Claude Langdon and staged at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The production consisted of two bona fide ice ballets, "The Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter". Alfred conceived "The Enchanted Night" and choreographed both productions, working with a who's who of professional skating in the process, including Belita Jepson-Turner, Phil Taylor, Harrison Thomson, The Brunet's and Frick and Frack. In his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", Nigel Brown wrote, "It was mainly through the enthusiasm of Alfred Mégroz... that 'Enchanted Night' and 'The Brahman's Daughter' saw the light of day. He sought to combine the principles of ballet and skating, a unification as he believed of art and sport. He made the vital mistake of not understanding that skating was... a very different art form from ballet." Although the shows were largely panned by critics, skater after skater he worked with in "Rhapsody On Ice" went on to long and influential professional careers, shaping the artistic landscape of figure skating through both their performances and work as coaches and choreographers.


Following the Covent Garden production, Alfred returned to Switzerland and taught with Alexander Schlageter at the Patinoire de Montchoisi in Lausanne before opening l'Ecole de patinage du Windsor Palace in Villars-Chesières, where he kept skating lessons and tests for youngsters alive throughout World War II. In the forties, he served as President of the Swiss Skating Association and in in the fifties, acted as President of the Schweizer Eislauflehrer-Verband (Swiss Professional Skating Teachers' Association). 

After dedicating a lifetime to the betterment of the sport, Alfred retired to Montreux and died June 30, 1956 at the age of seventy two while visiting Pregny-Chambésy, Switzerland, after living with diabetes for many years. Though rarely given a lick of attention, his contributions to figure skating were extremely valuable.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.