Threes Company, Fours A Crowd: Skating's Lost Discipline
Skating has long been a social activity as much as a competitive one and it was very much owing to this social aspect that fours skating (a now defunct discipline that featured two pairs skating one program together on the ice in tandem) got its start. With its roots in English Style combined figures, fours skating emerged as a popular discipline in Canada in the early twentieth century. It evolved simultaneously at clubs in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and its popularity soon trickled down to clubs in United States. The Minto Four of Margaret Davis, Prudence Holbrook, Guy Owen and Melville Rogers were arguably the most successful pair, winning the North American Championships three consecutive times beginning in 1933.
Margaret Davis, Prudence Holbrook, Guy Owen and Melville Rogers
On fours skating, in her 1938 "Primer Of Figure Skating", Maribel Vinson Owen wrote: "A four, where two ladies and two men do combination skating, is always a favorite with skaters and audiences alike. The program, where moves may be done separately, in pairs, or all four together, is a fascinating problem of construction, while in execution complete unity of steps and skating rhythm plays an even greater part. Every four should have a 'leader' to direct practice and keep order, but in performance four people should skate as one."
Soviet pairs turning fours into sixes
Fours skating's early beginnings consisted not of the free skating programs we traditionally think of in connection with the discipline but in actuality in the execution of school figures in unison. Irving Brokaw's 1913 book "The Art Of Skating" explains that in the Minto Skating Club's Grey Challenge Trophy event in fours skating teams were required to perform a specified series of figures: "F and F three about and F meet 5 2, F and IF Bracket and Once-back and F meet (four individuals), Once-back and F about and Once-back off meet, 'Twice-back and F and IF, center three and IB and IF and F meet 6, Total, 22. All of above figures to be skated to a center. 'Fours' comprise two pairs to same center and four individuals to same center." Later, the discipline would evolve into a single free skating performance (no short and long program) judged obviously for technical merit and artistic impression on a scale of 6.0 as that system was in place.
The discipline gained some traction in other countries as well, including the Soviet Union and Germany but was mainly a novelty act used in exhibition performances. It was to my knowledge only ever contested internationally at the North American Championships (last in 1949) and Skate Canada International (last in 1990). After former CFSA President and later ISU Vice President David Dore won the Canadian fours title in 1964 with Bonnie Anderson, Laura Maybee and Greg Folk, fours skating was put on the back burner at the Canadian Championships for for almost twenty years. Interestingly, during the time period fours FIGURE skating's popularity lulled, it was very popular as a discipline in roller skating.
Christine Hough Sweeney, Doug Ladret, Denise Benning and Lyndon Johnston exhibiting fours in the Parade Of Champions at the 1988 World Championships
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