Loving Those Lancers


Ländler dance was a folk dance that combined the gliding principle of the waltz, the improvisational yodelling, clapping and stomping of the polka and the intricate pivots and steps of Styrian dance. It was performed by both couples and small groups in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia in the eighteenth century. It was believed to have been first translated onto the ice in the ice - anglicised as The Lancers - in Canada in the late 1860's.


In the early twentieth century, The Lancers reached their height of popularity in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa following the publication "Dancing On Skates: How To Skate The Lancers" by Castle-Upon-Tyne English Style skater Colonel Herbert Vaughn Kent.

Skated in groups of eight to sixteen (four to eight couples), The Lancers were in essence a branch of combined skating that drew from elements of North American 'fancy' skating, the stiff English Style and early ice valse patterns from Austria and Germany. The figures had grandiose names like The Great Rose, The Grand Lily and The Grand Chain. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "A caller commanded the moves, and the couples executed 'Ransoms' ('Once-Backs' in England or 'Englanders' on The Continent) in opposite lines as if in a square dance. Lancer dancers thought in terms of north, south, east, west, and returning to home. The Lancers resembled a crude precision team trying to keep up rather than 'dance' in the sense Jackson Haines intended."


Reverend Francis Kilvert's diary offers several accounts of skating parties in Draycot Foliat over the Christmas holidays in 1870 where The Lancers were performed. He recalled how Lord Royston sulked after being corrected when he made an error calling the steps but that "The Lancers were beautifully skated. When it grew dark the ice was lighted with Chinese lanterns, and the intense glare of blue, green, and crimson lights and magnesium riband made the whole place as light as day. Then people skated with torches." Another man of social standing, Captain J.H. Thomson, praised the Lancers as a welcome alternative to being one of "those less enterprising persons who are content with merely travelling round and round the circumference."

In his popular book "The Art of Skating", Irving Brokaw remarked, "The chief points to remember in skating The Lancers are: First, to keep time; that is, for those who are skating to take their first strokes and make their turns exactly together; and second, to keep line; that is, when two or four skaters are skating side by side, they should keep their dressing. The appearance of a figure, where each skater may be skating perfectly himself, is quite spoiled if the skaters do not make their steps together, and if one gets ahead of another when they meant to keep in line."


As pairs and fours skating and ice dancing rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, The Lancers fell out of favour in North America. However, they remain a most fascinating footnote in figure skating's rich history... perhaps one of the earliest examples of just how complicated synchronized skating really is.

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