Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Serpentine Loop: Skating History Through Poetry

"Elee Krajili Gardiner's poetry bowled me over with its breadth of emotion and vision. Her writing has the movement of someone who understands skating." - Dick Button

From Margaret Atwood's poem "Woman Skating" to Alice Munro's short story "The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink", skating has long been a cherished subject of the writing of Canada's most gifted writers. With her 2016 book "Serpentine Loop", Vancouver based Elee Kraljii Gardiner adds her name to that incredible list.

In "Scribe", the very first poem in the collection, Gardiner establishes a firm connection to and respect for skating history: "I was on the ice before I could walk. // In the womb then in her arms." She refers to her mother, Olympic Gold Medallist, World, North American and U.S. Champion Tenley Albright. History lifts almost every page. From an 1849 rescue of a drowning skater on the frozen Schuylkill River to the sombre meditation of school figures, Gardiner takes you along on a journey through time. If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the ice and hear the sound of a loop being carved.

People, places and things from skating history jump out at every (three) turn: Charlotte, Maribel Vinson-Owen, Henning Grenander, the Skating Club Of Boston, the Mercury Scud. From the quiet concentration of early morning practices to bringing humanity to lost skaters of yesteryear who have perished when they fell through ice, the stories in this gem of a book give skating history new life.

One of my favourite pieces in "Serpentine Loop" is called "Absurd Figures". Through allegory, Gardiner compares the exclusivity of the skating world and the pressure to live up to the expectations of coaches and judges to the need to 'fit in' in social circles we feel we are on the outskirts of. It's a beautiful piece, as is "Final Flight", a touching tribute to the victims of the 1961 Sabena Flight 548 Crash. Though some of the pieces do draw from Gardiner's own skating experiences, the majority capture skating's essence in a broader sense, describing what figure skating was and is.

"Serpentine Loop" is currently available in paperback edition on both Amazon.com and Anvil Press. You can learn more about Elee Kraljii Gardiner and the book on her website at https://eleekg.com. If there's one figure skating book you buy this summer, please make this it.

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.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

A Century Of Figure Skating Fashion, Part Three (1930-1960)

In the first two segments of this three-part look at a century of figure skating fashion, we learned from the writers who chronicled the sport's evolution of the various factors that dictated what people wore to skate; everything from etiquette and societal norms to dressing for the weather to ease of movement. In this final segment, we will  explore how fashion on the ice continued to change in the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties.. and what better way to start than by being taken to school by the late, great fifteen time U.S. Champion Maribel Vinson-Owen!

THE 1930'S

In her book, "Primer Of Figure Skating", Maribel spoke at length with regard to the need for female skaters to follow in her competitor Sonja Henie's footsteps, get with the times and show a little ankle. She wrote that "a long, narrowish skirt will make any woman stand out like a sore thumb on any ice surface, just as a long black skirt would make her an object of special attention on any tennis court... You know how you stare at the little old lady who still wears lavender, lace and a black velvet ribbon around her throat? Well, that is just how people will stare at you if you arrive at the rink or pond in long skirts and froufrou accessories... The accepted style for skating skirts and dresses has a full circular, gored or pleated skirt which flares from the hip line, and this skirt is NEVER below the kneecap. A longer skirt at once stamps you as a 'rabbit' who doesn't know any better. Storekeepers all over the country have complained bitterly for two years that they wished beginning skaters would stop asking for the incorrect skirt length and would take their word for the right costume, so that they in turn could keep only the right thing in stock! And if you happen to find a store that tries to sell you a skirt that is too long and tight and too binding at the hips, don't buy it! As for the rest of the costume, good sense and a certain amount of fashion should dictate. Sweaters with skirts are always good, but if you are going to an indoor rink don't make the mistake, as one of my friends did, of wearing a heavy sweater, stocking cap and fur-lined mitts. Most rinks are heated nowadays, so it is well to inquire first. On the other hand, the trim windbreakers, parkas, and turtle-neck sweaters of the past season were perfect for pond skating. Big hats are out of place on the ice. The closer fitting the cap or turban the trimmer the appearance. Streamlining is as suitable to the skating figure as it is to an automobile chassis... Remember, no skirt at any time should be longer than knee length, and if you are still quite young and have a  reasonably svelte figure your skirts will become shorter as your ability increases."

The American skating legend also opined on men's skating fashion of the era, making it very clear that in competition, tights were an absolute requirement and noting the wider availability of off-the-rack fashions suitable for competitive male skaters: "For men there are now well-cut, tight-fitting special skating trousers on sale at several metropolitan stores and specially cut tight-fitting jackets. For the average male figure skater at an average practice session short knickers (never plus fours) are probably the easiest and best. For competition black or dark-blue tights are de rigueur. Some rinks make the wearing of coats compulsory, but outdoors sweaters are of course best. Almost every man looks far handsomer on the ice with a belt over his sweater and a scarf around his throat than he does sans belt and sans scarf. Gentlemen readers, take this lady skater's opinion for what you think it is worth!"

THE 1940'S

World War II resulted in a need for skaters to be costumed more economically and there are countless tales of many European skaters in this era sporting hand me down dresses and shabby tights. Yet, the influence of the glitz and glamour of show skating's boom in the thirties brought more skaters to the ice than ever before. Sonja Henie, in her short, showy costumes, became the poster child every young female skater wanted to be - and dress like. Noting this change, the Ottawa Citizen in a  March 7, 1941 review of a Minto Follies show recorded that "costumes had some sleeves or none at all, depending on the type of costume and not on the temperature. Nobody froze. Skirts descended as far as the ankles, the farthest they could go and still not trip up the skater. They also climbed higher, still modish and suited to the part until they reached sensible chorus-girl brevity."

THE 1950'S

Just as female skaters emulated Sonja Henie in the thirties and forties, in the early fifties everyone wanted to dress like Barbara Ann Scott. However, in reality, the majority of figure skaters during this period were remarkably conservative in their costume choices. A stock video called "Ice Skate Fashions" from this era describing appropriate skating wear at Rockefeller Skating Pond mentioned a "one-piece rayon skating dress as being just right for the occasion", a green cotton cordouroy jacket and skirt ensemble with a Dutch cap, jacket and pleated skirt sets and a cotton tweback velveteen vest and skirt with matching cap. Tights were by this era falling out of vogue among men and being replaced with jackets and trousers. Although clothes rationing ended in Great Britain in 1949, a shaky economy meant that many parents simply didn't have the funds to gussy up their young skaters in the latest fashions, although shops certainly kept ready made skating wear in stock.

THE 1960'S

As a guide to our final decade of skating fashion, we will turn to Howard Bass, who wrote extensively on the subject in his wonderful 1968 book "Winter Sports". Remarking on appropriate wear for school figures specifically, Bass noted "whether in ordinary practice or competitions, it is best not to wear too full a skirt that might billow out enough to obstruct one's vision of the tracings. Barbara Ann Scott used to favour a plain and simple, free fitting tailored dress of a blue-grey doeskin material, with long sleeves and several large pleats in the skirt to hold it down, and sometimes a belt around the waist." With regard to free skating fashion for women, Bass stated that "if the weather is warm enough, bare legs look and feel better, but woollen stockings or tights should be worn in the colder weather, and at all times a pair of light ankle socks... Anything accentuating a general streamline effect and which at the same time allows full freedom of movement should be the guiding factor. Close-fitting beret-type headgear, if any, is best. The bodice should be close fitting, yet with enough allowance across the shoulders to allow for ease of arm movements. Bloomers should normally match the skirt and not be bulky. For colder winter wear, opera-length silk, nylon or wool skating stockings have now become the vogue... Crepe and other elastic materials are obviously ideal for retaining shape while allowing full freedom of movement. Chiffon and lame are much favoured materials, with sequins and other decorative trimmings used in many imaginative ways... Generally speaking, the simpler and brighter the colour of the costume the more pleasing the effect."

Bass also chronicled the evolution of men's fashion during the sixties: "Men normally begin to skate in long trousers and an ordinary jacket or sweater. I suppose it is still useless yet to advocate for a fashion for shorts in this sport as it used to be in tennis; yet in suitable temperatures shorts would prove the more practicable and comfortable wear, giving a greater ease of movement which girls have enjoyed for decades. Special tighter-fitting trousers and short, smartly cut jackets are favoured by many of the more seasoned male performers. In competitions a more enterprising demand for variation of colour is a welcome current trend away from the outmoded traditional black, and several leading skaters have been admired and respecting for sporting, for example, a white tuxedo with dark trousers. A club badge on the breast pocket adds a smart finishing touch."

However conservative the clothing worn by most skaters during this era, there were risk takers like Jacqueline du Bief, for instance. At the 1962 ISU Council meeting in Portofino, Italy, 'decisions' ('not rules') were made on dress, reminding skaters to wear dignified, conservative costumes and not "brief, flashy costumes better suited to a carnival or ice show". The Council also expressed disdain that male pairs skaters and ice dancers were "attempting to match the costume of their partners, even including sequins and similar decoration." These 'decisions' even asked female judges to refrain from wearing trousers, "if possible." This 'old school' mentality towards skating fashion pervaded and as skaters pushed, the ISU pushed back.

Like in some sort of a time warp, that's where we will abandon our adventure in skating fashion history. It's incredible to try to wrap one's head around just how much what people have worn over the years has made an impact on how they have skated, and vice versa. The bottom line as far as I'm concerned is that a VARIETY of clothing choices, even today, is what makes skating visually appealing and so unique. Fashion has allowed skaters not only the opportunity to express their individuality but like actors, to aid in telling a story. If we think about how important that is, A 2014 Washington Post article attempted to make the ludicrous argument that the best way to eliminate bias in figure skating judging would be do away with costumes altogether and require skaters to all wear the same thing. To me, this was a prime example of how a lack of education about skating's history can lead to ignorance about its present situation. Ever unique, figure skating is NOT gymnastics nor should it ever be viewed with that lens... and we have its unique fashion history largely to thank for that.

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.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Century Of Figure Skating Fashion, Part Two (1890-1920)

In the first part of this three-parter on figure skating fashion, we hopped in the time machine and looked at how what people wore on the ice evolved in the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's. In part two, we're going to leave no stone unturned as we dredge through history and try to understand the unique role that the clothing people wore while skating in the 1890's, 1900's, 1910's and 1920's played in the sport's evolution:

THE 1890'S

As we explored in our look at 1880's skating fashion, a more streamlined look (with touches of grandeur) was starting to come into vogue, although attire was still very formal in nature. The mention of men wearing tights became more prevalent in 1890's skating literature, however safety and dressing for the weather continued to be concerns.

In the 1892 book "Skating", T. Maxwell Witham wrote of the evolution of skating fashions in England, "the members of the Skating Club affect, while skating, the costume of gentleman dressed for a Fête, namely, black coats and tall hats... There is no doubt that a short coat, knickerbockers, and a low hat form a very comfortable dress for skating in; and although it would look out of place on the club rink, it is the most natural attire for a country pond. Whatever costume be worn, skaters should remember that they are taking strong exercise in cold weather, and then after taking strong exercise in cold weather, and that after skating continuously for say twenty minutes and so getting hot... therefore the underclothing should be warm and thick, or severe chill may ensue. I feel a natural diffidence in making any observation of ladies' costume, but it is evident for safety's sake that the dress should be sufficiently short to avoid catching the skate when the skater is leaning over on an edge; and from an artistic point of view I think that the border or fur, or the heavy flounce sometimes worn at the bottom of the dress, detracts from the graceful swing which it assumes as the various curves are skated."

THE 1900'S

As we know, at the turn of the century there was a bona fide battle between proponents of the English and Continental (or International) Styles and one of the biggest advocates for England adopting the Continental Style was of course Edgar Syers. Knowing this, it's really no surprise that in "The Book Of Winter Sports" (published in 1908), he called for an end to the top hats and tails of the rigid English Style: "The choice of a suitable costume is somewhat difficult; English plates from 1850 to 1898 show us skaters in silk hats and frock coats, which recall the remarkable pictures which were the wonder of our childhood and still delight us, where sportsmen are depicted with gigantic beaver hats (quizzically known as 'castors'), stiff duck trousers, and tight braces, playing cricket, rowing in 'wager boats' and 'funnys', or otherwise engaged in athletic pursuits. The frock coat and top hat must be dismissed; knickerbockers and stockings, particularly if the former are baggy, are deplorably ugly ; trousers are not much better, and the combination of riding breeches and puttees, beloved of the novice, is not to be thought of. Heavy and thick clothing should be avoided, warm, light, and windproof materials should be worn for out of-door skating." During the heyday of skating in Switzerland during that era, there would have been a great contrast in fashion between what the English and Continental skaters were wearing. The styles of skating and fashion both definitely would have set the male skaters apart; trousers and tights would have been a significant contrast.

Female skating fashions in the 1900's remained largely the same across the board. Women wore elegant long dresses and petticoats made of rough tweed, homespun, heavy ribbed serge, cheviot, camel's hair cloth, corduroy and accessorized with hats and turbans made of brown mink, fox or gray squirrel. Fine thread veils were not uncommon. At the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, Olympic Gold Medallist Anna Hübler wore, according to Amanda Schweinbenz in her essay "Not Just Early Olympic Fashion Statements: Bathing Suits, Uniforms, and Sportswear", an ankle length wool skirt, high-collared white blouse and a say something hat.

THE 1910'S

By the second decade of the twentieth century, 'ladies pages' of newspapers from London to New York were filled with clever suggestions for women's skating costumes. Velveteen dresses with Godet flare collars and bell cuffed sleeves of fur, frocks of chiffon velvet with Hudson seal (dyed muskrat) pellerine, colored Georgette crepes with high funnel collars and borders of fur and Bouverie Capes in Scotch mole were all suggested as 'smart skating fashions' when accompanied by angora caps and heavy elderdown mittens. Making a grand impression at a skating rink was simply the thing to do, and many social climbers succeeded in stunning fashion.

However, it was also in the 1910's that a documented case began to made by some of the era's top female skaters for change in women's skating fashion. In George Browne's "The Handbook Of Skating For Use On The Ice", Olympic Gold Medallist Madge Syers wrote that "the important question of costume should be carefully considered. A skirt must always be an impediment, particularly when there is a wind; therefore, do not hamper yourself unnecessarily by a long or pleated skirt, but choose one short and rather narrow, of a fairly heavy material, cut to hang away from the figure, and weighted with a band of some close fur. [Although] many prefer the appearance of a full skirt, it should not be worn because it is so apt to get under the skate and cause an awkward fall; and it has a most tiresome habit of wrapping around the knees and binding them together. A loose warm blouse and fur toque should be preferred. Nothing should be worn which restricts the movements. No one will ever learn to skate who is tightly laced. This foolish habit is both dangerous to health and the cause of many bad falls. The waist must be free, so that the muscles have full play. Boots should be of soft calf, never of patent leather; they should be rather high and fit closely."

Professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel offered a much more visionary perspective on female skating fashion in the 1916 "Hippodrome Skating Book": "The costume for skating may now include practically all varieties of design and material, ranging from silk to leather, the latest fad. Nowhere can a woman look prettier and nowhere can she look less attractive than on the ice. Some items are essential, however. The material of the skating costume ought to be something which does not bulk up, something which falls into naturally graceful curves and straightens out quickly. An undergarment of silk or satin in the form of a petticoat, bloomers or knickerbockers is important in skating any difficult or spectacular figures, since it serves to keep the gown from bunching around the legs. The skirt should be comparatively snug around the hips and free, even slightly flaring, around the edge. Fur bands around the edge of the skirt give an air of appropriateness. The new unrestrained and somewhat bold way of skating necessitates skirts which permit freedom in the swinging and spread of the legs. A petticoat or short skirt of thin woven elastic goods, especially if of silk, makes an ideal undergarment for the skater, whether beginner or expert. The length of the skirt should be about to the tops of the skating shoes. Sensible costumes are now being adopted by the best skaters of all countries. One should as soon think of swimming in a long skirt as skating in one. The skirt which reaches to the middle of the calf will be found both comfortable and graceful. My skating costume at the Hippodrome is probably regarded as very daring, but I wish every woman who skates might test for herself how comfortable it is. There is a stimulus in suitable costumes which it is impossible to get any other way. Skating is worth a pretty and appropriate costume, and such a costume will last for years and be always in style." Madge and Charlotte's differing views on female skating fashion during this era also offer a rare glimpse at the contrast in the fashion of amateur and professional skaters during this pioneering period.

As men's skating fashion evolved in Europe with the growing acceptance of the Continental Style, we know that freedom of movement and tighter fitting wear continued to become the focus in North America as well. Frederick R. Toombs advised men not to wear garters or suspenders in contests and noted that "full length tights are always preferable." In his 1913 book "The Art Of Skating", Irving Brokaw suggested that "the skater must adopt the costume which experience and wisdom has taught to be the most serviceable for all-round use. For general skating almost any costume may be worn, providing that the coat or jacket is rather short and more or less tightfitting, so as not to impede the movements of the skater; but, of course, knickerbockers, which must be rather tight-fitting about the knee, are to be recommended for general practice, as they are far more comfortable to skate in than the long trousers, and give a feeling of freedom which is so desirable. For competitions or tests, where the skater wishes to make as good an impression as possible before critical judges, a costume consisting of a tightfitting coat or jacket, rather short, with the collar and front often trimmed with Astrakan fur, or sometimes the coat decorated with braid, after the military fashion. A neat felt hat, or cap made of fur or dark cloth. For the limbs, skating full tights or black, tight-fitting knickerbockers, with leather leggings fitting down over the ankles coming from just below the knee. For general exhibitions, the skater should study the style of costume which is most suitable for himself. The main thing is not to have the jacket too long or loose fitting, as this gives an awkward and ungainly appearance to even the most graceful of skaters."

THE 1920'S

Reflecting on 1920's skating fashion, the March 7, 1941 Ottawa Citizen noted that "fifteen years ago, costumes were different. Sateen was the favoured material for the costumes, good, dependable sateen. Sleeves were long, for one might have frozen to death in shorter ones. Dresses were long, too, for the same reason." Let's hear what many of the eminent authors of figure skating texts of this generation had to say on the subject!

Some offered a fairly traditional view for the time, turning their nose up at excess. In "Figure Skating Simplified For Beginners", Major G. Bailey wrote that "there is a wide difference in the choice which may be adopted. There is the skintight costume which makes the skater appear like a snake; or the wide bloomer costume of the 'plus four ' variety. For ladies the selection is infinite, which from their point of view should be satisfactory, but if a mere man may be allowed to give a word of advice, although knickers and jumper maybe all very well, and in fact the more suitable kits for skiing or bobbing, they do not look becoming for ladies on the ice rink. Of course you will frequently meet a certain class of people who seem to have a different costume for every hour of the day, and occasionally make their appearance on the rink as if they had mistaken it for a pantomime, but if they prefer this form of amusement rather than sport that is their affair, and as they afford 'copy' for the society magazines when recording winter sports events, it is all for the good of trade." In 1921, Bror Meyer wrote in his book "Skating With Bror Meyer" that for men, wearing "a light lounge jacket with tight-fitting knickers is very suitable, but the coat should not be very long. In any event, the costume should not be heavy and it is advisable to avoid long trousers as the skates may easily catch therein. For competitions, a short, well-fitting coat (black) with black tights give the best appearance. Ladies should under no circumstances wear a skirt which is either long or heavy, and very close-fitting articles of apparel should be avoided, as they necessarily curtail any free action."

Others had a more open mind. In 1921, James A. Cruickshank wrote of the evolution of women's skating fashion thusly: "In the manner of costume there is wide range of choice. A reasonably full skirt, comparatively short, is essential. Its length depends upon the height and figure of the wearer, but it should not be longer than the tops of the skating shoes nor shorter than the middle of the calf of the leg. The material may vary all the way from leather to sheer silk. Some of the costumes worn by the best women skaters of New York are simple and others elaborate... In general it is true that the same costume is not suited to both indoor and outdoor skating. The chief requirements in a skating costume are freedom from bulkiness in involved movements and flowing lines in the big curves. To aid in these results silk or satin bloomers are generally worn over some skirt material which is not too stiff to take graceful lines during athletic movements. Leather had some vogue in the fashion pages of the magazines, but very little among expert skaters; few materials could be more inappropriate. Silk sweaters, if not too long, lend themselves very well to good appearance on skates and women of good figure find one-piece costumes, of the Princess type, well suited to the sport. The latter design of skating costume is very popular among many of the best amateur women skaters of Europe. Sensible, suitable skating costumes are not subject to caprices of fashion and may be used for several seasons. Fur around the bottom of the skirt may be the correct style, but it does not add to the grace of a skating costume; in fact, the simpler the lines of the skirt the better they fit into a general impression of bodily grace. Of course, the costume for exhibition skating and ice ballets is a matter of individual taste and the requirements of the occasion." 

Although Sonja Henie often got the credit for the raising of the hemline in women's figure skating dresses, skaters like Herma Plank-Szabó and Andrée Brunet were among a small group of competitive skaters who predated her in the introduction of shorter skirts. In fact, at the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, Sonja Henie wasn't alone by any means in the short skirt department. The February 9, 1928 edition of the Prescott Evening Courier noted that "the petite Norwegian, Sonja Henie, with yellow skirt two inches above the knee appears to be a favorite with Miss [Beatrix] Loughran's knee high dark blue second and the French girls [Andrée Brunet] extremely abbreviated red last... 'I just want to be comfortable,' Miss Loughran said, when queried as to the length of her skirt."

Whoever did it first or best aside, Nigel Brown "Ice-Skating: A History" noted Sonja Henie's contribution to skating fashion history in the late twenties: "Apart from remodelling women's skating, she 'refashioned' it as well. The athletic element she introduced into skating could not be performed with ankle-length skirts and wide hats. Sonja Henie brought in the short skirt which enabled girl skaters to indulge in any movement unhampered." Sporting white skates and shorter dresses, all designed by her mother, Henie was the poster child in ushering in of a new era in skating fashion... and continued to push boundaries in this department throughout her professional career.

In perhaps the most colourful (literally) of the three parts of this examination of a century of skating fashion history, we will look at the fashions of the 1930's, 1940's, 1950's and 1960's in the conclusion of this series. Don't miss it because one of the sport's most colourful characters, Maribel Vinson-Owen, will be returning to the blog to take us to school!

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.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A Century Of Figure Skating Fashion, Part One (1860-1880)

Perhaps channelling my inner Joan Rivers, my next blog idea came to me almost like an Eureka moment: write about the history of figure skating fashion! I remembered reading a particularly excellent chapter on that very topic in Mary Louise Adams' "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits Of Sport" so I pulled the book off the shelf, reread a good portion of chapter eight and immediately got discouraged. Adams had nailed it. Little more was to be said on the matter and many excellent points I never could have put together were already pulled together with a keen sense of context. What more was there to write? The next morning as I was walking to work, I thought back on the topic and Adams' book and said to myself, "you know what? People have been skating for centuries. Surely there's more out there I can dust off and share on the topic of figure skating fashion." Lo and behold, after hours of sifting through old books, magazines and newspapers, I had enough for a three-part blog covering one hundred years!

There's no Lulu Lemon in this three-parter, honey. We will get things started with the era from the 1860's to the 1880's in part one, move on to the 1890's to the 1920's in part two and cover the 1930's through 1960's in part three. Then we'll stop right there, basically because when you make it to the end of the sixties in skating history, you just get sidetracked by Peggy Fleming's gorgeous skating and you completely lose focus. Alright! So grab yourselves a nice glass of (Long Island) iced tea and a say something hat, we're going to get all nineteenth century skating fashion up in here!:


I actually lied. We're going to start by getting a little context as to the formality of skating fashion back in the seventeenth century. Adern Holt's 1896 book Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls described an imagination of a seventeenth century ice skating costume as such: "Skating costume of the 17th century is as follows: Short satin skirt, long tunic, turned up all around the waist; long pointed bodice, sleeves with one puff, and then two white satin puffs to wrist; satin fur-lined muff, fur tippets, hood lined with a colour, gauze veil." As we know, ice skating was long a source of recreation and amusement of society's upper crust and Holt's imagination of what a female skater in a royal court might have worn back then probably wasn't too far off. Going forward in time to the start of our journey through figure skating fashion in the 1860's, we'll definitely learn just how formal skating fashion was back then. 

THE 1860'S

Good old Henry Eugene Vandervell! The staunch advocate of the stiff English Style of skating and inventor of the Counter And Bracket Turns was one of the first authors to approach the topic of skating fashion in print that we know of. In "A system of figure-skating, the theory and practice as developed in England", Vandervell wrote that "in considering how a skater should be attired, we have to observe that fashion and custom have not sanctioned, as in other athletic pastimes, a special dress for him, the probable reason being that men rush to the ice before and after business hours, and any peculiar (though comfortable) costume would thus be inconvenient. We need hardly remark that the white cravat, swallow-tailed coat, and pantaloons (the old dress of the Skating Club) are things of the past. We may also remark that, when a man is about to take violent exercise, no matter what the temperature may be, he, if possible, divests himself with great eagerness of all clothing likely to impede him. Numerous are the instances of this fact, from the peaceful rivalry of rustic games and sports to the deadly land and sea fights. Whilst some, perhaps, may regret the want of a more suitable dress for skating in than that in daily use they cannot deny that its absence adds much to the popularity of the art, as it enables all to participate in it. Whilst conforming, then, to the fashion of the day, let the skater take care that his clothes are well fitted, so that the action of the arms and legs is not interfered with. The coat, such as the Beaufort, with rounded skirts and buttoned across the chest to prevent the flapping of the said skirts, will do very well, and better indeed than the frock coat, though, perhaps, not so well as the dress coat. We also recommend a warm vest, flannel shirt, and under jersey, with the trousers tight round the waist, whatever fashion is given to the legs, ordinary warm drawers, and socks of cotton, merino, or silk. The overcoat should be used for coming and going, and standing still, but not when skating, as it is not only unnecessary but apt to make the skater so warm that standing still for a few minutes even may give a chill that will cause a cold." In this passage, Vandervell references "the white cravat, swallow-tailed coat and pantaloons" as the former attire of The Skating Club, London's premiere skating club established back in 1830. Though describing an extremely formal dress that would (by later standards) been considered an impediment to movement himself, even he acknowledges the need for freedom of movement. It's all in relative terms. Although Vandervell doesn't address female skating fashion in the 1860's, the 1863 Magazine "London Society: An Illustrated Magazine Of Light And Amusing Literature For The Hours Of Relaxation, Volume III" most certainly does. The unnamed author wrote: "Of course the costume must be adapted to the occasion, and a lady can no more skate while encaged in the modern fashionable wire-work, than she can ride while surrounded with those mysterious and voluminous productions of the ironmonger. There are few dresses more thoroughly become than the riding habit, and the best skating dress is neither more nor less than a riding habit with short skirts." If the men in the 1860's had it bad, the women in wire with their corsets and bustles certainly had it much worse.

Meanwhile in America at the United States' first skating club, The Philadelphia Skating Club, the exact same fashion employed across the ocean in England at The Skating Club had been previously adopted and was now growing out of fashion. Nigel Brown in "Ice-Skating: A History", noted that at the Philadelphia Skating Club (founded in 1849) dress was "an important factor, and like the Gilets Rouge, uniformity was essential, and up until 1865, the top hat, swallow-tailed coat, pantaloons and white tie were the official costume for figure-skating in the club." American author Edward Gill, in his 1867 book "The Skater's Manual, A Complete Guide To The Art of Skating" spoke of the new interest in freedom of movement and fashion: "Let your dress fit closely, but at the same time be of sufficient ease to insure freedom of notion. Neither skirts to coats nor full trousers should be worn. Let flannel be worn next to the skin by the delicate, and an extra undergarment by the robust. Let the chest be well defended against the cold. A piece of brown paper laid between the waistcoat and shirt is a cheap chest protector, or use one of Andrew Peck & Co.'s improved chest protectors, which is worn next the skin." That last bit totally felt like a plug for SequinQueen.com on RuPaul's Drag Race... "That's AndrewPeckAndCosImprovedChestProtectors.com!" 

I think the best account of 1860's figure skating fashion that really speaks to the acknowledgement that being overdressed was not going to help your skating or cause any would have to be a lengthy passage from Frank Swift and Marvin R. Clark's 1868 book "The Skater's Textbook": "In dressing, it must be remembered that the body requires less covering when exercising than is required when in
repose. Overconsiderate people are very liable to err in this respect, to the detriment of health. No exercise promotes perspiration so profusely and uniformly as skating ; it is, therefore, necessary when at rest, after exercise, that extra clothing be placed upon the body while remaining in the cold atmosphere. The skater should be warmly clothed, but not overburdened with clothing. Overcoats, cloaks, shawls, muffs, furs, and hoop-skirts should be discarded by the skater, as not only useless and incumbering the free movement of the body, but, by promoting a too profuse perspiration, endangering the health. Heavy flannels should be worn next the skin, as they absorb the perspiration more rapidly than any other material, and the wearer is less liable to colds. Skating does not necessitate any unusual change in the dress; men and boys should be dressed as usual in the winter season, leaving off the overcoat; women and girls should wear dresses reaching to the ankle only, as a long dress will hamper the movement, and often throw the skater. Unless a woman desires to make a display of her motive power, she will discard hoops altogether in skating, and as they are opposed to graceful movement, they should not be worn. The limbs should be unincumbered, to allow their free use, and therefore the skater's dress should be as loose as consistent with comfort and reason. Corsets are very injurious during the hours of exercise, and should not be worn by the skater if she has any regard for her health, as they prevent respiration and are dangerous in falls. Frequent bathing is essential, especially to those who skate frequently, and as a precaution against colds it is advisable to bathe the limbs before skating. We wish to impress upon the mind of the skater one very important precaution, which should be remembered at all times: Never sit down nor stand in repose in the cold air when overheated, unless extra clothing is placed upon the body, and not even then if avoidable. Colds are much more dangerous to the system than any disease, and the liability to cold should be avoided by every precaution in our power. Remember, therefore, never sit down nor stand in repose when overheated." Among the many suggestions of the authors is an obvious concern that skaters be appropriately dressed for outdoor exercise in the cold weather, and I think you'll find in all three parts of this blog that weather was absolutely on the minds of skaters before indoor rinks became the vogue... and that the transition certainly played a huge role in dictating skating fashion.

Jackson Haines

Before we move on to the swinging seventies - the swinging 1870's, that is - I want to look briefly at two figures who served in complete juxtaposition to everything we have just learned about 1860's skating fashion. Laughing in the face of the staid, cold fashion sense of his era, Jackson Haines exhibitions in lavish, theatrical costumes that were considered by many as more suited to a pantomime than an ice rink. T.D. Richardson wrote that "he was wont to give his exhibitions in the most varied Haines costumes. We see him at different times disguised as a Russian, a prince of fairyland, a lady, and even as a bear." Though unproven, it's conceivable that high society types in both England and America (mad hatters and wire-bound high society ladies alike) might have snubbed someone who simply was not attired appropriately to join their stuffy parties. Another figure whose fashion choices were at odds with the trends of this era was roller and ice skating star Carrie Augusta Moore, who performed in a blouse, matching knee-length trousers and white tights, which really would have been quite scandalous at the time for a woman. Society may certainly embrace diversity in fashion today, but rebellion wasn't just frowned upon back then. It was by many looked upon as a challenge to order and decorum... and they wouldn't have been having that one bit!

THE 1870'S

What makes the fact that Haines' theatrical costuming might have been unappreciated in England and America during that era so absurd was that in Canada during the 1870's, masquerade skating parties were of course in vogue! The flashier the better, sweetie at these fancy dress ice balls. Scotland's George Anderson, long time president of the Glasgow Skating Club, described the costumes at the Montreal Skating Club's masquerades in his book "The Art Of Skating" thusly: "Over the glittering floor sped dozens of flying figures, circling, skimming, whirling, and intermingling with a new swiftness, the bright and varied colours, the rich and grotesque costumes succeeding each other, or combining with bewildering rapidity and effect. The gentlemen, in addition to the usual characters, introduced some novelties - an owl, a monkey, a monster bottle, a tailor at work on his bench, a boy on horseback, all capital representations, and by good skaters. Among the suits of the ladies were representations of 'Night' and 'Morning', a vivandiere, a habitant's wife, and other characters... The skaters presented both a varied and brilliant appearance, their parts being characterised by that grace and skill of movement bred of long practice." Haines would have fit in perfectly and been the star of any of these spectacles undoubtedly.

By the late 1870's, the skating community was starting to wrap their heads around the fact that the answer to freedom of movement wasn't wearing loose fitting clothing; tighter-fitting wear was the key. In the 1878 book "Swimming, Skating, Rinking And Sleighing: Their Theory And Practice" edited by Captain Crawley, this issue was expounded upon with a terrifying footnote: "As regards to the rest of the costume, it should be as tight-fitting as will allow free play to the limbs, with no coattails flowing behind or impeding your movements. A stout suit with short jacket is the best and most graceful. Nothing of a hard nature, not even a latch-key should be carried in any of the pockets; and then a tumble cannot be very serious. I once witnessed a very melancholy accident owing to the neglect of this caution. A young man who was skating near had a tumble. As it was no uncommon sight on the ice, little attention was paid to him at first, but presently a crowd collected, and it was found that the poor fellow was dying. He carried in the pocket of a long-tailed coat the gimlet he used in putting on his skates; and when he fell, it penetrated the base of his spine." I almost think I should have saved that particular cautionary tale for the next "Paranormal Skatetivity" Hallowe'en edition!

THE 1880'S

Formality continued to be the order of the day in the 1880's but skaters and authors alike began slowly showing more appreciation for a little flashiness here and there. Richard Lovett's 1887 book "Pictures From Holland" described the costume of Dutch skaters near Rotterdam: "It is too near... to see much of the distinctive peasant dress of Holland. Most of the skaters are attired in costume not dissimilar to that seen in Hyde Park when the Serpentine bears. Here and there a Zeelander or a Frieslander is met with, and the dress of the great majority compares very unfavourably with the picturesque costumes, which fashion alas! is fast beginning to drive out of Holland." In 1889, Ladies' Home Journal advocated for female skaters to go big or go home, suggesting "a very bright costume... of scarlet cloth trimmed with black marten", bonnets with fur and matching collars and trimming, Russian sable, sealskin, Black Persian muffs and my personal favourite... "a jaunty jacket". 

Because the amount of material coming in the next two parts of this three-parter that will take us through a century of figure skating fashion are considerable, I think I will end off part one on a high note with that jaunty jacket! Stay tuned for part two. You don't want to miss it!

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.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Carrie Augusta Moore Goes On A Carrie Augusta Tour

Born December 12, 1840, Caroline (Carrie) Augusta Moore was a terribly important pioneer in both American figure skating and roller skating. Moore was from Concord, Massachusetts and the daughter of Captain John B. Moore (the Deputy Sheriff of Middlesex County) and Sarah Augusta (Hunt) Moore. She was the oldest of three sisters and her childhood interest in skating developed into what would prove to be quite a nineteenth century professional skating career. Like Mabel Davidson who followed in Moore's footsteps, Moore was absolutely revolutionary in every sense of the word at a time when even speed walking was considered 'an unsuitable sport' for women.

Her first public performance of note wasn't actually on ice skates but instead on roller skates. In the spring of 1863 when she was twenty three, Moore gave an exhibition of the sport at the Boston Theatre. At the time, the ability to achieve success both roller skating and 'fancy skating' on ice was kind of a prerequisite for anyone hoping to make a year round career of it all, and Moore was pioneering in that respect as well, widely acknowledged as the one of the first female rolling skating stars in America.

She had a good sense of humour. While practicing ice skating in Central Skating Park in January of 1866, Moore was introduced to journalist John Mansir Wing. In his 1865-1866 "Chicago Diaries", Wing said that "she did me the honor to fall upon the ice, and send for me to pick her up." On February 17, 1866, Moore was in Philadelphia performing as a special guest of the American Academy Of Music in a Grand Skating Matinee. In the Friday, February 16, 1866 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, she was billed as "the greatest lady skater in the world". The paper also noted, "this lady skates to music with all of the grace of the most accomplished danseuse", making it clear Moore was performing to accompanying music in America only three years after Jackson Haines shocked audiences by doing so at the Championships Of America.

However, Moore wasn't always embraced with open arms. Henry Roxborough's 1966 book "One-Hundred Not Out: The Story Of Nineteenth-Century Canadian Sport" recounts one such occasion in Canada: "In 1867, for instance, at Hamilton's Victoria Rink, Miss Moore, the widely publicized 'Skatorial Queen' performed. She made her first appearance in an attractive Polish costume, and with the first blast from the volunteer band, she whirled around the portion of the ice that had been roped for her performance. She waltzed for maybe ten minutes, rested for another twenty, then reappeared in a costume described as American in character and glittering with golden stars. While the Skatorial Queen tried hard, the spectators remained cool both physically and responsively. It was reported that Miss Moore had received $300 for two performances, and a paying customer cruelly complained, 'She ain't that good.'"

In March 1868, she again turned attention to roller skating when she appeared at the Olympic Theatre in New York in a skating scene that was part of a pantomime of "Humpty Dumpty". And no, there are no accounts of her 'taking a big fall'. She popped up again on Christmas Day, 1869 at the Oswego Ice Rink in New York. The "New York Clipper" described her performance thusly: "Miss Moore skates very timely, and gave entire satisfaction, drawing one of the best crowds ever seen in the rink." She followed her Oswego performances up with shows in New York City and Chicago.

Eugene H. Cropsey's book "Crosby's Opera House: Symbol of Chicago's Cultural Awakening" explained, "roller skating had recently become fashionable, and a large roller rink had just been opened on Wabash Avenue. The rink's manager was making a drawing attraction of Miss Carrie Augusta Moore of Concord, Massachusetts, believed to be the first female roller skater. The manager had prepared a gold medal to be presented to Moore in public, and proposed to C.D. Hess that she appear on skates during the intermission of a matinee of Aurora Floyd to receive it. Hess happily agreed and arranged for a member of his company to make the presentation and give a speech in which he bestowed upon her the title of 'Skatorial Queen.'" Later, Moore would be billed as 'the Velocipede Queen' when she added gymnastics to her roller skating performances. Her costuming (hardly what you would expect in competitive skating during that era) was described as a feathered cap over her flowing blonde hair, a blue velvet blouse embroidered in gold with matching trousers to her knees and white tights. Yes, Moore was skating in pants decades before Herma Szabo, Sonja Henie and others popularized shorter skating skirts.

In the July 19, 1871 Marysville Daily Appeal, Moore's roller skating performance was praised highly: "By-and-by, after the band had played pretty much all the music out of their horns, Miss Moore appeared, or rather flew into the room. No, she rolled in. No, that ain't what we meant to say. She sailed in. No - she glided in - floated in - that's it - floated in, charming all by the ease and grace of her airy flight, keeping time to the music of a waltz. She floated like a vision (she is rather a tangible version) from another sphere, who had condescended to take a human shape and appear in a skating rink for our amusement, instruction and - money. Seriously speaking, however, to say that her performances on the castors are good, would be to damn them with false praise. They are really wonderful, and the beholder is astonished and filled with admiration of her perfection in her art, for she has made roller skating her study, and has reduced it to a science... She waltzes, polkas, pirouettes, and performs all manner of gyrations that are scarcely deemed possible and have to be seen to be believed. She is by far the most accomplished skater we ever saw. She was dressed with taste, which added to the charm of her performance." Later that year, she brought her roller skating act to San Francisco, California.

On August 24, 1872 Moore married Charles E. Lovett and the following year Moore put together an ice and roller exhibition tour of Europe (varying dependent on which venues were available) with her newlywed husband, Callie Curtis and E.T. Goodrich (former competitors of Jackson Haines), paving the way for Mabel Davidson and her family to tour London and Paris over two decades later. Europe is where the trail seems to end in the story of Carrie Augusta Moore. We do not know much about her later life or her death, so I am going to just assume the best of this groundbreaking skater. Maybe somewhere in the foothills of the Alps in some small village there is a one hundred and seventy six year old woman still waltzing on Wednesdays in her roller skates and three turning on Thursdays in her ice skates. Stranger things have happened in this sport. Adelina Sotnikova, Olympic Gold Medallist? If you asked me a couple of years ago, I would say that a one hundred and seventy five year old Carrie Augusta Moore on a Carrie Augusta Tour would be more plausible.

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.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Pause For The Pausin's

Runner-up's almost as many times as Susan Lucci, Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin were at their peak as competitive skaters during the tumultuous era in Europe leading up to World War II. Although they were Austrian by birth and represented that country for much of their career, we can only speculate that their decision to represent Nazi Germany later on has played somewhat of a role in the fact that their role in pairs skating history outside of Germany has been largely ignored.

Richard D. Mandell's 1971 book "The Nazi Olympics" offered a wonderful retelling of how the Pausin's stole the show from German winners Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier at the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen: "A dazzling figure whom the dark and plain Ernst Baier set off perfectly was his partner in the pairs skating, [Maxi] Herber. She was blonde, small and slim, was dressed in pale satin, wore a tiny black beret, and smiled completely, like a movie star. They combined science and art and everyone knew it. Months before their appearance in front of the nine judges of nine different nations at Garmisch, they had a movie made of their already established set of figures and turned the film over to a composer who then fit the notes of the orchestra to their every movement and gesture... The pair produced the impression that they were something new under the sun. Then, a curious occurrence! Two Austrian children, fifteen-year-old Ilse Pausin and her sixteen-year-old brother, Erik - mere names on a list - took to the ice in an astonishing program that was the opposite of that of the methodical Ernst and [Maxi]. They chose as music a Strauss waltz with plenty of those throat-constricting accelarandos and retardandos. With a youthful verve, they flitted ecstatically across the rink like magic dragonflies. This was supremacy of another sort and the tempo of the new performance caused the spectators to respond emotionally with volleys of applause in an attempt to influence the ranking. There was really nothing to be done. Despite the hissings and grumblings of the predominantly German crowd, the nine judges were compelled by their own judgement to give the gold medal to (Maxi) and her consort. The schoolchildren were second; no one else was even close."  

Although Mandell's book wasn't entirely correct - it was Ilse that was sixteen at the time and Erik that was fifteen - he certainly captured the impression that the young Austrian siblings made at those Games. Growing up in Vienna, the pair trained at Eduard Engelmann's rink. At home, they were six time Austrian Champions and internationally from 1935 to 1939 won - in addition to their Olympic silver - silver medals at three consecutive European Championships and five consecutive World Championships. Unable to ever beat Herber and Baier, they also faced stiff competition earlier in their career from World Champions Emília Rotter and László Szollás of Hungary. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, the Pausin's made the decision to continue skating as representatives of that country. With international competitions cancelled due to the war, suddenly the siblings found themselves in the unusual position of being on the same team as their former German rivals Herber and Baier and in their final competition, the 1941 German Championships in Munich, they again finished second. The rivalry between the two pairs was very much real, as noted in the May 1953 edition of Der Spiegel magazine: "Even today, the Baier's see red when they hear or read the name Pausin. Conversely, it is exactly the same."

I'm not going to sugarcoat their affiliations. The siblings not only indeed represented Nazi Germany during the 1939 season but were friendly with Hitler. They also continued to perform despite the War, entertaining Nazi troops and civilians alike at the Berlin Sportspalast in 1945 during The Third Reich. Der Spiegel magazine further tells us that following World War II, Ilse Pausin married and took a job teaching skating in Vienna with Maja Hutz. There, she worked with Austrian pairs skaters in an effort to pass on the more acrobatic style that she and her brother had been proponents of during their career. The brother and sister also enjoyed success as professional skaters in Austria in the fifties, touring with Holiday On Ice. 

The Pausin's passed away two years apart in the late nineties. Now that you know about their affiliations with Nazi Germany, you'll no doubt remember them as painted with that brush. But one day back in 1936, they weren't the home country favourites. They were two outsiders; teenagers from Austria that came in and stole the show... two teenagers who probably had no clue what their future would hold.

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 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

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Fancy Dan's And Figure Eights

"When I started to skate I had a coach who used to grab my arm and push it back close to my side when I finished a movement with it in the air. It was natural to me that way, but he hated it. It drove him crazy. 'Don't skate like that, John,' he said. 'Why must you be like that?'" - John Curry

On April 1, 2001, The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. It was no April Fool's Joke. In the next five years, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa would quickly follow suit. As the world has evolved, figure skating has followed that ebb in the tide and adopted non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. There are no angry mobs from the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a men's short program but for a sport that loves its sequins and jazz hands, we aren't quite at the stage of embracing same sex ice dancing again - just yet.

Members of the LGBT community comprise an extremely large faction of the sport's viewership. There are countless sisters doing it for themselves on the ice and in the coaching and judging worlds. Yet, the long history of a certain demographic in the skating world turning up a nose at males with a little spring in their steps is absolutely an echo that still painfully resonates. Mary Louise Adams addressed the history of the skating's reluctance to embrace skating's - ahem - more feminine side in her meticulously researched 2011 book "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport". Blair Blaverman eloquently called out the glittery elephant in the room in his 2014 Buzzfeed article "Why Is The World's Gayest Sport Stuck In The Closet?" Two years later, Eric Radford and Adam Rippon, two of North America's elite skaters are out, proud and winning medals in international competitions. The consensus of many - and rightfully so - is "who cares about people's personal lives? It's what they do on the ice that counts." It's not that simple.

When professional figure skating became serious show biz back in the thirties, there were grumblings that Sonja Henie - with her lavish ice shows - was to blame for a 'sissy' trend in skating. In the December 21, 1938 issue of The Free Lance-Star, reporter Gayle Talbot bemoaned, "Henie must be charged with having a made a lot of... fancy Dan's out of this country's ice skaters."

A decade before the Stonewall riots in the late fifties, heterosexual dancers and skaters alike started piping up and defending the masculinity of their mediums. In a 1957 newspaper interview, reporter Earl Wilson asked dancer Gene Kelly the question, "You admit there are some raving sissies in the shows?" Kelly responded, "Yes, but what about your real men like Fred Astaire, Ray Bolger and guys like that? My brother Fred and I used to do a roller-skating act. We tapped danced on roller skates? Does that sound effeminate? I belted a guy in a night club for saying it about me. I was in Sharon, Pa. I went over and hit him and then I quit the job which I needed very much. I wouldn't do it now, but I still wonder why dancing has to have the stigma of sissyism attached to it."

That same decade, Gustave Lussi - the coach of two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button - claimed to have introduced "the masculine style, as becomes the athlete on skates" noting that there "is poetry in skating, but there is strength too." In 1969, Tim Wood said, "I think there was a time that figure skating was regarded as an effeminate sport and most of the guys looked down on the men who got into it, but no more." Nine years later, Charlie Tickner waxed in The Day that "the rap was that all male figure skaters were effeminate. So to counteract that, male figure skating became just a lot of strong moves and high jumps. Then John Curry and Toller Cranston began expressing themselves to music. It took some time but the judges came around."

In 1969, a skating instructor and minister at a Spiritualist church named Marion Proctor penned an instructional book called "Figure Skating". In an attempt to draw more young men to the sport, she made a point of clarifying that figure skating wasn't a "sissy" sport. Heaven forbid!

Excerpt from Marion Proctor's 1969 book "Figure Skating"

In his controversial February 12, 1976 article "John Curry's Path To Gold Strewn With Judges' Bias", Associated Press writer John Vinocur wrote, "the way [John] Curry skates... has been considered an insurrection, an offense, by the most crotchety of the figure skating judges. A German named Eugen Romminger two years ago said Curry was not virile enough and, that if he lived a lifetime, he could not vote for Curry as the best skater in the world. A former German champion, Sepp Schoenmetzler, admitted to having an irrational aversion for Curry as a skater. In each case the phrase that was never pronounced, but gnawed at the surface was this: John Curry does not conform to the only model of manliness that the old guard allowed." Curry was not the only skater of his era the judges could not reach a consensus on.

In a March 2013 interview with PJ Kwong on the Open Kwong Dore podcast, the late, great Toller Cranston recalled his experience at the hands of the judges at the 1968 Canadian Championships in Vancouver, where he finished fourth with a score of 1585.1 points: "I had marks (and there were twenty competitors) from first until last... from one until twenty. And that is so controversial really, actually so cruel... It was so hard to digest. That said, that event was the fuel that pushed me on for the next fifty years." It can be argued that Curry and Cranston both had the last laugh, winning medals at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, but it really wasn't that simple. In a sea of gray, both skaters courageously added bright strokes of colour to the landscape of skating.

Curry, Cranston, Rudy Galindo, Shawn Sawyer, Johnny Weir... they all have one thing in common. Reporters have termed their styles as "flamboyant". John Blanchette of the Spokesman-Review even claimed that Weir was "relentlessly" so. The irony is that these very same "flamboyant" skaters have excelled at interpreting music far better than many of their peers... one of the very things they are  required to do.

From John Curry being told that performing spirals after he reached 'a certain age' was inappropriate to coaches choosing soundtracks from "Rocky" and "The Lone Ranger" for young boy's skating programs, there's no denying that the skating world has historically perpetuated a restrained stereotype about what a male figure skater should look like. After all, skaters are often being evaluated by judges that are usually decades older than them. One wouldn't market a Nikki Minaj CD to a seventy year old anymore than they would be putting advertisements for denture adhesive in the latest edition of Teen Scream. If a little boy wanted to skate to Madonna or Britney Spears, there are absolutely coaches out there who would say no... and that's a real shame. Is homophobia rampant in skating in 2018? Absolutely not. However, if history has one lesson to teach us it is that the skating world has traditionally - and continues to - subtly expect certain things from male skaters. Old habits die hard.

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.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The 1949 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

After Barbara Ann Scott turned professional and Wallace Diestelmeyer retired following the 1948 World Figure Skating Championships in Davos, one might have predicted a dearth in Canadian figure skating. That simply was not the case. However, things became very complicated in 1949 when the Canadian Championships and World Championships ended up being scheduled at the exact same time. As a result, Canada's best figure skaters convened at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa to vie to become Canada's next champion and the country went completely unrepresented at that year's World Championships.

In the senior pairs event, Marlene Smith of Toronto, who had won the junior women's title the previous year, teamed up with Donald Gilchrist to take the title ahead of Pearle Simmers and David Spalding of the Connaught Skating Club and fellow Toronto Skating Club representatives Joyce Perkins and Bruce Hyland. As only one fours team had entered, an official competition was not held but a quartet from the Toronto Skating Club added comedic flair to their performance and earned some laughs from the packed audience, which included Their Excellencies, The Governor General and Viscountess Alexander of Tunis.

In ice dancing, the Tenstep was won by eighteen year old Pierrette Paquin of Quebec and twenty year old Donald Tobin of Ottawa, who had passed both the Canadian and U.S. Silver Dance tests together. However, in the Silver Dance and Waltz competitions, Joyce Perkins and Bruce Hyland reversed the result. Placing third in both events were Joy Forsyth, a stenographer, and her partner Ronald Vincent, a graduate of the University Of British Columbia with an honours in genetics who played the violin in his university's symphony.

Maintaining a slight lead of 3.9 points over Toronto's William Lewis in the school figures, Roger Wickson of the University Skating Club in Vancouver delivered a strong free skate to secure his first of two Canadian senior men's titles and The Minto Cup after skating in the shadow of Diestelmeyer and Norris Bowden in years previous. Bowden, who had won the senior men's title in 1947, dropped from third after the figures to finish fourth behind Donald Tobin.

There were nine entries in the senior women's competition. Jeanne Matthews of Vancouver, who had finished second behind Barbara Ann Scott at the previous year's Canadian Championships in Calgary, lead after the figures with 742.9 points ahead of Suzanne Morrow with 738.0. Patsy Earl of The Granite Club was third with 734.8 ahead of Marlene Smith, Vevi Smith, Pierrette Paquin, Patsy Scully, Cynthia Kirby and Betty Hiscock. Morrow, a fifth year student at Lawrence Park Collegiate from Toronto, came from behind to win the gold. The February 19, 1949 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" noted that she gave "a dazzling display of free skating" to snatch the title and The Devonshire Trophy. Patsy Earl finished second and Jeanne Matthews third.

Although the Toronto Skating Club won sixteen of the twenty seven medals offered in all events that year and earned the Earl Grey Trophy for most points accumulated by any one skating club, it wasn't for the host club's lack of trying. The aforementioned article from "The Ottawa Citizen" noted that "the tense atmosphere of the titular contests was relieved by the cheering antics of the 'Mintoettes', the youthful club members who lustily supported their Ottawa favourites. They were doing their best to 'sway judges and influence people,' according to one remark. There was always a loud cheer when the judges held up high score cards. Following the spirited and colourful competitions, the Minto Club was host to all officials, contestants and guests at a party at Landsdowne Park, when they were greeted by President and Mrs. D.P. Cruikshank."

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.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Spring Skating History Roundup

When I'm digging around for ideas for blogs, I sometimes come across the most unexpected and random stories. Today on Skate Guard, we'll sift through several fascinating tales that didn't quite have enough meat on their bones for a blog of their own. Grab yourself a nice cup of coffee, open the windows and let the fresh air in and enjoy a little spring skating history roundup:  


Toronto born Frederick 'Casey' Walker Baldwin earned his rightful place in the history books as the first Canadian to fly an airplane. What on earth does this have to do with skating? Before we get there, I want to start with the back story... which starts right here in Nova Scotia. The article "The Walkway Of Time: Highlights In The History Of Canadian Aviation" from the Canadian Aviation Museum talks about the development of the Aerial Exploration Association by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell: "The younger members of the A.E.A. included Glenn Curtiss, an American designer of internal combustion engines; Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army; and two Canadians, John A.D. McCurdy and Frederick W. 'Casey' Baldwin, both recent engineering graduates from the University of Toronto. The A.E.A.'s purpose was an ambitious one - no less than the construction of a 'practical aerodrome or flying machine driven through the air by its own power and carrying a man.' The Association operated alternately out of Hammondsport, New York, where Curtiss had a machine shop, and Bell's estate at Baddeck, a tiny Maritime village on Cape Breton Island. The A.E.A. was extremely successful, building and flying four airplanes in rapid succession. The last of these was the Silver Dart, designed by John McCurdy and considered one of the more advanced airplanes of its day. On February 23, 1909, McCurdy made the first airplane flight in Canada in the Silver Dart, taking off from the ice of Baddeck Bay and flying for about 800 metres." We know now that McCurdy was actually the first man to fly an airplane in Canada, but it was actually Baldwin who first flew it on March 12, 1908... but he did it down in the States. Here's where the skating comes in. In order to gain momentum and get the plane going, A.E.A. members took to the icy surface of Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, New York. Mark Kearney and Randy Ray's article "Casey Baldwin's Airplane: First In Flight" explains how the A.E.A. actually SKATED to try to get this plane moving and off the ground: "Baldwin got to fly the plane, named the Red Wing, because on the frigid say he was the only one of the aviation team who wasn't wearing ice skates. Since he was slipping on the ice, the others decided he would be most useful sitting in the cockpit." When the plane began to skid across the ice, the skaters (including Curtiss and McCurdy) managed to hold it in place while the skateless Baldwin climbed aboard. Henry Serrano Villard's "The Story Of The Early Birds" offers a great more detail about this momentous first flight: "The Red Wing, piloted by Casey Baldwin, sped over the icy surface of the lake on runners, bounded into the air, and actually flew for a distance of 318 feet 11 inches. Being virtually uncontrollable since it lacked any stabilizing device, it flipped over on one side and crashed. However, disregarding the practically unpublicized flights of the Wright brothers, this was the first time than an aeroplane was flown puclicly in America. The Red Wing was followed in a few weeks by a resplendent White Wing, designed by Baldwin. This model, because the ice had melted, was put on a tricycle undercarriage and taken for trials to an abandoned race-track known as Stony Brook Farm. It was soon apparent that to get the White Wing into the air was one thing, but to get back down without wrecking the machine was quite another. Smash followed smash in discouraging succession---fortunately with no injuries save to the feelings of the operator. 'It seemed one day that the limit of hard luck had been reached,' wrote Curtiss of these first ventures, 'when, after a brief flight and a somewhat rough landing, the machine folded up and sank down on its side, like a wounded bird, just as we were feeling pretty good over a successful landing without breakage.' The only way to learn was the hard way: by trial and repair, by study of stresses and strains, by provisional changes in details of construction. But on May 22, the White Wing, with Curtiss at the controls, flew a distance of 1017 feet in 19 seconds and actually landed intact in a ploughed field outside the old racetrack. It was cause for elation---and for the prompt construction, under Curtiss's direction, of a bigger, better, prize-winning plane: the June Bug." A replica of The Silver Dart, which McCurdy and Baldwin designed together, can be seen at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum here in Nova Scotia. It's near the Halifax airport - you can't miss it!


Born in Höxter, Germany in 1951, Wolfgang Beltracchi was the son of a house painter and church restorer who supplemented his income by creating inexpensive duplicates of Rembrandts, Picassos and CézannesIt suffices to say Beltracchi had been around art his entire life and considering his father's side 'job', it was no surprise that he himself admitted to copying a Pablo Picasso painting at fourteen years of age... in a single day. After being expelled from school at age seventeen, Beltracchi took to a nomadic life. He travelled extensively, spending time in Amsterdam, Spain, Mallorca, Paris, Morocco, London and Paris, experimenting with LSD and putting on psychedelic light shows at an Amsterdam nightclub. He also paid his way across Europe by forging painting after painting after painting and selling them to the highest bidder. According to a 2012 interview with Joshua Hammer in Vanity Fair, "one day during his wanderings, he bought a pair of winter landscapes by an unknown 18th-century Dutch painter for $250 apiece. Fischer had noticed that tableaus from the period which depicted ice skaters sold for five times the price of those without ice skaters. In his atelier, he carefully painted a pair of skaters into the scenes and resold the canvases for a considerable profit. Thirty years ago, fakes were even harder to detect than they are now, he tells me. 'They weren't the first ones I made, but they were an important step.' Soon he was purchasing old wooden frames and painting ice-skating scenes from scratch, passing them off as the works of old masters."

In 1993, Beltracchi married his wife Helene and took on her last name. They worked together a husband and wife con-artist team with an elaborate fictional back story about grandparents who had been art collectors in the twenties. While police have identified almost sixty paintings they suspect to have been forged by Beltracchi, he admitted to have forged hundreds of paintings by over fifty artists. This went on for almost four decades until the husband and wife "team" were finally arrested in 2010. Both were given prison terms which they are serving in an 'open prison', meaning they both are allowed to leave and work 'day jobs' and return to prison at night. Although like in any good story the bad guy 'got his' in the end, he sadly bilked millions out of art collectors worldwide. An exact figure of how he much he swindled out of buyers is really anyone's guess at the end of the day. It's especially saddening to me that he decided to drag skating into his art forgeries. Perhaps more heartening is the story of Marei von Saher (a former West German Junior Champion skater and mother to British Champion and Olympian Charlene von Saher) who has in recent years made considerable headway in long-standing legal battle to have several paintings stolen from Jewish relatives by the Nazis during World War II returned to the family. The universe has a funny way of dishing out justice in its own funny ways and it's heartwarming to see a some positive come to the life of a German skater in the wake of a German forger who spent so many years making money using depictions of skaters to rip people off.


From the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit to an American inmate who sued himself and asked the state to pay, history is peppered with stories of litigious lawsuit lovers. Sadly, the skating world has not been immune. On January 8, 1956, a married, thirty six year old mother of three from Billings, Montana named Ada Cassaday gathered up her family and headed over to the City Of Billings Municipal Park skating rink for a refreshing morning skate. She had her figure skates on when she arrived and before taking to the same ice she had enjoyed skating on since 1945, she noticed that the ice had frozen in a pitted manner. Although she acknowledged that conditions were less than ideal, around the rink she went three times. Ada and her husband suspended their four year child in the air between them as they glided along. Surprise, surprise, down came the rockabye baby, mother and all... and an injured Ada decided to sue the city. In district court, Ada's case was deemed a nonsuit because the law assumed the risk of falling on the ice, adding that her child dangling had been 'contributory negligence'. Unwilling to take 'no' for answer, Ada appealed... and the case was submitted to the Supreme Court of Montana on April 16, 1959. Curiously, there was discussion as to whether or not the fact that she wore 'sawteeth edge' (figure) skates had added to the risk in the fall. Ada's lawyer Joseph P. Hennessey, argued that his client " did not know whether the saw teeth on the front of her skate caught in the ice or not" and the transcript of the legal proceedings acknowledged that "skating on observed and tested rough ice with sawteeth edge skates certainly is a risk." In the end, Ada's case went nowhere. It was noted in the legal transcript that "the only cases which have imposed liability are cases where there was a hidden, lurking, structural defect, or where the defendant permitted rowdy, rambunctious, dangerous use by patrons or employees which were the proximate cause of the injuries. We have been unable to find any case, nor was one cited, which allowed recovery in the circumstances herein set forth." The moral of the story? Ice is slippery, honey.


For decades, a flooded field on the corner of Mount Auburn and Willard Streets in Cambridge, Massachusetts was home to the Cambridge Skating Club. Conceived by Frederick Swift and established in 1898, the club boasted such eminent members as George H. Browne, Maribel Vinson-Owen Theresa Weld Blanchard, Nathaniel Niles, Sherwin Badger and Bernard Fox. Joan Tozzer and Grace and James L. Madden all won competitions at the club in its first fifty years. Largely overshadowed by the who's who of figure skating that graced the ice at the club over the years are two siblings who dedicated their life to skating in Cambridge: The Milligan Brothers. Frank L. Milligan came from Nova Scotia in August 1887 at the age of twenty two to Cambridge to work as a labourer. Two years after his arrival in Massachusetts he was 'discovered' by none other than eminent skating author George Browne. Impressed by Milligan's skill in cutting fancy figures on Fresh Pond, Browne got Milligan a job as an assistant to the club's superintendent Stanford Smith and a skating instructor. Frank Milligan taught the club's members figures, the Waltz and Tenstep and by 1904, he was so in demand as a teacher of skating that he brought his brother Jim in from Nova Scotia to take over his off-ice responsibilities so he could focus solely on teaching. For over twenty five years, Jim sat in the club's old gate house guarding the entrance to the rink. Arthur M. Goodridge's 1948 historical record of the club recalled, "It is believed that Jim can call by name more Cambridge people than anyone else and that Frank knows more Cambridge grandmothers by their first names than any other person. Frank and Jim are full of stories of the old days. One night when something went wrong Jim had to go down the man hole in the poorly lighted Willard Street sidewalk to turn off the water. Dressed in white cap he emerged in the darkness to confront the trembling form of the most frightened lady he had ever seen. Frank delights in one about the night his former boss, thinking few likely to come, permitted skating on ice not strong enough. Fifty came. One broke through. Forty-nine gathered to witness the rescue. Fifty waded out!" In 1917, Frank Milligan took over as the club's superintendent but continued his work as a skating instructor. Goodridge recalled, "If record of such things had been kept it might be possible to prove that Frank has taught more people to skate and taught more people to dance the ten-step than anyone else in the world. Be that as it may, no one can deny him his record of hours of the night nursing ice and fighting snow in order to have skating on the morrow. He has a great knowledge of ice and is weather wise beyond belief. For his marvelous understanding of children the Club and many fathers and mothers owe much. Frank loves the Club as its members as they love him." In 1929, The Milligan Brothers even installed a sound system so that club members could skate to photograph records. Both brothers served the club for over fifty years, passing away in the fifties.


Blogging about skating history is (on a good day) ninety percent detective work and ten percent happenstance... and it was through the latter that I came upon this charming story from Scottish skating history about a twenty two year old potato farmer who went on vacation to Switzerland and returned an international champion. Shared in its entirety, here's the blurb from the Monday, January 27, 1947 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegram: "When 22-year old James Best, of 34 Victoria Terrace, Dunfermline, left last week for a fourteen-day holiday in the Swiss Alps, he had no intention of entering any skating competition. He took his skates just in case he would be near a rink. But he will return an international figure-skating champion, having beaten 12 French and Swiss entrants in the contest for the Arthur Cumming Cup at Wengen. Younger son of Mr. William Best, market gardener and potato merchant, Jimmy learned to skate himself and later had tuition from Mr. Cartwright, former instructor at Dunfermline Ice Rink. He started skating in 1930 when Dunfermline rink was opened. He holds a silver medal for the intermediate examination of the National Skating Association, and with Miss Margaret Young, of Kelty, was runner-up in the Scottish Pairs Championship at Paisley last year. Miss Young, who is also a silver medallist, and Miss Sheena Balfour, of Kirkcaldy, who is Scottish Junior Champion, are among the party holidaying with Mr. Best. He works in his father's business in Baldridgeburn, Dunfermline." You know, the stories that jump out and charm you sometimes aren't about the skaters who 'make it'. More often than not, they are about the skaters whose stories we only catch a fleeting glimpse of, whose special moments on the ice as skaters are only one adventure in a much bigger life story. That's something that any of us who have skated  can probably relate to, myself included. Belated congratulations to this skating Scot on a wonderful vacation surprise almost seventy years ago. Returning home to the potato fields, I am certain it had to have been a memory that provided great comfort.

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