#Unearthed: Skating Just For The Fun Of It

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure', entitled "When The Waters Are Frozen: Skating Just For The Fun Of It", comes to you from the October 1902-March 1903 issue of "Outing" magazine. The author is American skater J.V. Gillman.


A learned professor of psychology once said he could describe the whole trend of a man's past life, if the man would tell the mental images which arose when the professor pronounced certain words of a series. I tried the plan the other day - only a little changed. I wanted to know which was the dearer to the average heart—skating or swimming. So, after swearing seven men to tell the truth, I said "lake." When the answers had been written, I found that the word had called up in five minds a sheet of ice; in two, water. I am aware that the professor mentioned would pronounce this experiment valueless, on the ground that there were an insufficient number of instances (I think that is the phrase), but, nevertheless, so far as it goes, it shows that skating is mighty close to the average American heart—a little closer than swimming.

Then, with the same subjects, I pronounced the word "skate." Their written description of the resulting visual images proved that the recollections closest to the hearts of five were those of their earliest skating days. The other answers had a certain interest. One described a racing scene, at the national championships, last year. The writer of it said he had never skated, had weak ankles or something, and so had no personal experience to fall back on. The seventh saw a rink with men and women, and one woman in particular, who had blue eyes and - but, since he confided later that his engagement is to be announced at Christmas, I cast his answer out as induced by local and temporary disturbances, and hence irrelevant. I rather think these experiments will justify me in saying that our most permanent recollections of skates and skating are those very early ones when we were not sure whether we would keep our feet or land on our heads, but finally could glide along with something that suggested the flying bird.

For my part, these early recollections cluster about a farming community in the Middle West. There were a creek and half a dozen ponds - not the lakelets one finds in the East, but infinitessimal things, which ranged from thirty feet to one hundred yards in diameter. Snow followed closely on the heels of cold weather, so the few days of clear ice were precious. The actors on this scene were farmers' boys - no worse and no better and no wiser nor less wise, nor in any way different from other farmers' boys the world over. I think they appreciated their skates more fully than boys who have less trouble getting them. It took saving, then - the saving of hard-earned nickels for a long time, and the earning of money by methods devious and original.

Most of us, at first, had old-style skates with wooden bodies, a screw at the heel, and two straps that wound round heel and ankle until the skater suggested the picture of an ancient traveler sandaled for his journeyings. The runners turned up over the toe in front, and the bigger the curve the prouder was their possessor, for he imagined himself able to go over greater obstacles. It was into this assortment of old-fashioned skates that Frank Wilson came with a pair of "clubs." We called them "clubs," then, though we afterward called them "half clubs." Heel-plates and toe-straps held them solidly in place. Frank had earned those skates. He had plodded along the banks of the creek morning after morning, trapping muskrats. He had gone with his father quail-shooting, on an agreement whereby he was to carry all the game, and to have what rabbits were killed. Rabbits brought five and sometimes even seven cents, at the store. Then one day Frank set a mink-trap, baited with a chicken which had been carried down by cholera. He found in the trap next day, not a mink, but one of the biggest, blackest skunks it has ever been my fortune to see. He tackled it with a long pole, and thought it was dead: but it wasn't, and when Frank got home with the skin he was sent to the barn to bathe and change his clothes. We used to hold our noses after that in a superior way when he came round. But that skin brought a dollar, which, added to other savings, brought from the city a pair of skates advertised in the "American Agriculturalist".

Then came winter and ice, and the neighbourhood throng gathered on Saturday at the creek: and while the rest of us were labouring with our straps, Frank slipped on his "clubs" and sailed away. Then we recalled an old line from our copy books, "He laughs best who laughs last." The skating of that period was not fast nor fancy - it was just skating and nothing else. It was the fun that comes from gliding over the ice, of fast motion, with something of birdlike balancing. There were racings on the pond. Short, and impromptu: but the best days were the Saturdays, when we could start in the morning and skateaway and away and away. Down the creek, under the foot logs, over the flood gates, and around the bends and turns, where the deep holes lay, and where we had caught bull-heads and suckers in summer. Sometimes we found a bit of clear ice, and could lie with our coats over our heads looking down at the fishes. At noon there was always a fire in the woods where we ate lunch, and then the return and the feast at night, which was a bigger feast, for the reason that skating began just after butchering time.

But the best day of all this period came in the spring. The snow went away, and went so fast the creek could not carry off the water. So the creek broadened to a mighty river, and backed its waters up to overflow the ponds and the fields around them. The pond behind the school-house had grown to cover a whole cornfield. Then came a cold wave, which sent the mercury to zero in a night, and next morning the enlarged pond was a sheet of the glariest ice. It was not thick - not nearly thick enough to be safe. It bent and swayed, and sometimes the water spurted up behind the skater. But what skating it was! No one whose skating has been confined to solid ice knows the joy of gliding over a surface which bends and waves as you pass. We caught the spell of it. We knew the intoxication of adventure. We laid out a path across the pond and set out, one at a time, to see who dared be last across. Each crossing made the next more dangerous: the ice bent more and more: and more water came out behind the skater; but the exhilaration grew and grew till we were drunk with it, and we went sliding, jumping, slushing, right through till some one went in. Then we pulled him out and made a new path. It mattered not that we sat around the stove that afternoon on sharp sticks, to dry; nor that the teacher spent half an hour lecturing on the difference between bravery and rashness, and on the sinfulness of risking life needlessly. I think we all remember that noon hour as one of the occasions on which we really lived.

The old wooden-bodied skates passed. 'Half clubs' with their heel plates grew common, and went their way. Then came 'full clubs' with heel plates and no strap at the toe, but instead a clamp that opened and closed with a key. Then the heel plate went away, and in its place came a skate with clamps at heel and toe, both of which worked with a lever, and left nothing to be desired.

But by this time the old crowd on the creek had gone, too. It had passed on to another stage. This stage had new elements. There was no more rivalrry over style of skates; it was taken for granted that each had good ones. The rivalry was based on new grounds. There had come to the skating ponds others than the boy crowd. Rosy-cheeked girls were there - what girl is not rosy of cheek in winter on the ice - specially in the moonlight? And moonlight plays a big part, now, for the scene is the lake near a college town, and skating is attended with parties and chaperones and lunches and that sort of thing. And every night sees the lake covered. Just a little more sedate is the crowd that now comes to the water's edge. And boys may not race to see who shall first be skating. It is a race to see who shall have the privilege of putting on skates for the rosy-checked maids, and the influential chaperones. Then, two and two, each two clasping a stick, or each other's mits, they glide and circle and glide. They race and shout and sing. Now the wind rises, and sails are forthcoming, and they race with the wind, without an effort. The stir of winter is in the blood, the spell of the moon is on the merry-makers - indeed, when we come to recall it all, it really was better, a great deal better, than those boyhood days on the creek and the ponds: there were more worries and more work to dull the recollection; that is all.

One night's skating stands out above the rest in my mind. I happened down upon the north shore of the Lake of the Thousand Islands, one day in January, and wanted to cross to the American side. The ice was not strong enough for driving, but one could get across on skates if he knew the way, and was careful. Two boys were going to Grindstone Island, and they volunteered to show the route. We picked our way, among cracks and airholes, to the island. We crossed, and I went on alone. The ice was solid now, and new, and one unbroken glare. The sun had set, and the moon, all white and cold and arctic in its suggestions, was rising. And out from the village on the southern shore came skaters, men and women, youths and maids, and children. And they skated as one seldom sees skating in a promiscuously chosen crowd - skated with a grace and ease that told of endless practice. They were perfect skaters, for the reason that skating is a part of their living. When winter comes, and they want to go up or down the river or across to the Canadian villages, or to the islands, they must skate, and skate they do, perfectly. Figures and speed were combined, and bobs and chair sleighs came into play. Men laboured behind the latter, as some of us have laboured in summer, when some miss has occupied the front seat of the tandem; and harnessed themselves to the former, and went like sledge dogs down the lake to give some crowd of youngsters a breath-stealing ride. We know the Thousand Islands as a summer resort, and pity those who stay there the whole year round. Right there a weight
of pity turned to envy in my mind, and I vowed if I was ever blessed with a winter vacation I would go again to the Thousand Islands, and be a part of this gliding, rollicking. mid-winter life.

The ingenuity displayed by the young American - and the rather old American, too, for that matter - in securing skating ground has been a credit to his wits. The smaller cities have had their public ponds; sometimes in parks. Again the work of private individuals, who flooded some old lot, or dammed a stream, and charged ten cents admission. When snow has covered the ice, men with shovels and brooms have cleared it away, and the fun has gone on without interruption. And many thousands of tennis courts have done service in winter as skating ponds... The spirit of American skating is alike in city and country. It is pretty much the same rollicking crowd on each skating place - pairs and threes and fours and tandem lines and bobs and chair sleighs. American skating is skating for a good time rather than the fancy work, which delights the European and makes him labor over his figures until the sport goes out of the thing, and it becomes hard routine work. In general Americans have never taken to figure skating, as have the skaters of Continental Europe, though a few of our young men have become fairly proficient and upheld local honors against Canadians. Nevertheless it is a fact that Jackson Haines, who visited Europe in 1863, practically founded the present Continental style of figure skating. Americans have taken to speed skating, probably for the same reason that they have to football and baseball and track athletics. For the reason that what is strenuous and full of competition appeals to them. Since the championships of 1901 the National Amateur Skating Association of America. and the Canadian Amateur Skating Association have united in holding alternate competitions for the championship of America. Last year neither Americans nor Canadians carried off the chief honours. An Americanized Swede won the half-mile and five and ten mile championships, at Verona Lake, N. J. Morris Wood, of New Jersey, was the only man of the American continent who won. He carried the honours at one and three miles. The Canadians won nothing. While Peter Sinnerud was technically an American, he had learned his skating in his native country, and we cannot claim much glory from his performances. This year the speed championships will be held at Montreal, early this month, and it remains to be seen whether we shall not come in for a bigger share of honours.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

What's In A Name?

Penmanship is a dying art. It is facing the same steady demise a nineteenth century art faced in the early twentieth century. In schools, they are no longer teaching cursive handwriting... and on frozen ponds you won't find many skaters carving their names out on beautiful black ice anymore.

From Belgium and Holland to North America, tales of nineteenth century skaters devoting considerable time and effort to devising methods of carving out their names or initials on the ice pepper skating history. However, in his 1897 book, T. Maxwell Witham of The Skating Club in London extensively attempted to debunk these many accounts thusly: "Who has not heard from many old skaters, or rather from those who class themselves as such, but more particularly from non-skaters of either sex, of a generation that is fast fading away, how some famous skater of their day cut out his name, and who has not brought down their ire if the possibility of the feat was doubted? Strange, too, in 'The Times' for January, 1864, may be read an account of a little girl of eleven years of age who cut out her name. I, too, have heard small boys declare they saw a skater cutting out his name; nay, even more, an old skater once told Mr. Vandervell he thought it was the operation that he was then engaged in! And all this at a period when continuous skating was unknown. When a boy, Mr. Vandervell used often to be in the company of the best skater of the locality in which he resided in the country, and this gentleman had attained this singular reputation: 'He could cut out his name.' On being asked, if it were true, if he would be kind enough to permit the inquirer to witness the feat, he ridiculed the idea of such a thing being possible. This gentleman was a very fair and powerful skater, but his capabilities did not dual even extend to the double 3; and as for the serpentine line and Q, such things were utterly unknown in the country, as was every movement relating to combined skating. This myth, Phoenix-like, rises from its ashes; you may, even at the present day, hear people talk about it. Have the skaters of the present day degenerated? Certainly not; the art has never been so highly developed as at the present time... With our present knowledge... such combinations are now quite accomplished facts. We may torture the combinations into the semblance of a name, but that our ancestors were able to 'cut out their names' is wholly mythical, as without continuous skating, which was not known till 1869 or 1870, the combining of figures representing letters was wholly impossible." Witham's argument centered around not around his belief that carving out one's name on the ice was impossible, but ironically the introduction of new figures and turns at his own club in the decades that followed would have helped skaters achieve the feat.

In Douglas Adams' 1892 book "Skating", Lily Cheetham of Southport gave a detailed description of how she carved out her first name thusly: "Right outside back loop, change, inside back loop, change, back 3, forward inside loop, change, change, forward inside rocking turn, back inside loop... The difficulty lies in making the letters the correct size relatively, and the dot of the 'i', of course, is wanting." Canada's George Meagher also included diagrams depicting the alphabet of skating in his 1895 book "Figure And Fancy Skating", although his illustrated table provided little guidance as to how to  actually execute of the figures. That said, the sheer volume of accounts of skaters writing their names on the ice in North American and Scandinavian newspapers of the era put a hole in Witham's argument.

Twenty years ago, if someone said we'd be seeing programs with five quadruple jumps, many of us would have responded with the same suspicion as Witham did to the skating alphabet. Proclaiming that anything is impossible when it comes to skating is never a good idea. With impeccable technique, an artist's ingenuity, problem solving skills and a healthy dose of determination anyone has the power to carve out history.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Consigned To Oblivion: Three Forgotten Olympic Figure Skating Medallists

Maribel Vinson, Ulrich Salchow, Madge SyersSonja Henie... the stories of many Olympic medallists have become part of figure skating's lore. Their stories have been featured as vignettes in coffee table books and in many cases, developed lives of their own... becoming healthily infused with fiction as they are told and retold over time. While we may all be acquainted many of these early Olympic medallists, there are others whose stories have fallen through the cracks. In today's blog, we will explore the stories of three Olympic medal winning skaters you won't find in the history books!


Born April 6, 1904, Georges Harold Roger Gautschi had to grow up at a very early age. His mother passed away when he was only ten and he was shipped off from his native Switzerland to a boarding school in London during World War I. When he returned, he balanced his studies with a secondary education on the ice at the International Skating Club Of Davos.

Top: Georges Gautschi. Bottom: Andor Szende, Kathleen Shaw, John Ferguson Page, Ethel Muckelt, Dunbar Poole, an unidentified Swiss skater, Georges Gautschi, Werner Rittberger, Artur Vieregg, Zsófia Méray-Horváth and Gillis Grafström in Switzerland in 1925. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

An unheralded skater whose best finish at the European Championships prior to the 1924 Winter Olympics was seventh, Georges cemented a strong third place finish in the school figures on all but one judge's scorecard at the Chamonix Games and held on to claim the bronze medal behind Gillis Grafström and Willy Böckl. In doing so, he became the first Swiss figure skater in history to win an Olympic medal. Although he won a bronze medal at the 1926 European Championships at his home rink, his results were sporadic throughout much of the twenties, largely owing to the time he spent devoting to his business interests rather than his skating.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

By 1930, Georges was married to Hungarian Champion Edith Hecht and practicing as a lawyer in Davos. He travelled aboard the S.S. St. Louis from Boulogne, France to compete at the 1930 World Championships in New York City, where he won his first and only medal at the World Championships behind Karl Schäfer and Roger Turner. After his return, he wrote a letter which appeared in "Skating" magazine thanking the American hosts for their hospitality: "Your fair conception of sport was a most agreeable surprise, especially because here in Europe we don't find it everywhere. I assure you that my start in New York was my nicest competition. So I never will forget it, nor the kind sympathy I found in America."

Otto Preißecker, Ludwig Wrede, Fritz Kachler, Georges Gautschi, Josef Slíva, Willy Böckl and Ernst Oppacher at the 1925 World Championships in Vienna. Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein.

After his return, Georges worked with friends and financiers to help construct Zürich's first artificial outdoor rink and handily won the 1931 Swiss title. He then left the competitive skating world behind. He passed away on February 12, 1985 at the age of eighty one.

 In his 1928 book "Das Eissportbuch", Fritz Reuel shared an anecdote of how the talented Swiss star put a gentleman skating in the English Style in his place: "One day on the Davos rink a young Englishman, proud of his huge figure, in the presence of the then also still quite young contemporary Swiss champions and Olympian Gautschi not very tactfully asked, "Is not our English skating a wonderful sport?" Gautschi replied in his dry Davos style, 'By jove, it is a fine job for stiff old men.' And I thought he hit the nail on the head."


Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

Born July 9, 1894 in Christiania, Norway, Andreas Jens Krogh was the second youngest of Albert and Marie Krogh's ten children. His father was a well-known instrument maker who ran a successful optical business. Andreas learned to skate at Bislett Stadion and in the second decade of the twentieth century was one of the Oslo Skøiteklub's most talented members. At the 1913 European Championships, he placed dead last but the Swedish judge, impressed by what he saw, had him in first place in the free skate.

At the 1914 Norwegian Championships in Trondheim, Andreas claimed gold in both the men's competition and the pairs event with partner Astrid Nordsveen. That same year, he defeated none other than two time Olympic Silver Medallist Willy Böckl to earn the silver medal at the European Championships in Vienna.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

During World War I, Andreas quit skating to manage the family business when his father passed away. At age twenty five, he made a dangerous wartime business trip to America aboard the S.S. Stavangerfjord.

The ice lured Andreas back, and at age twenty five he travelled to Antwerp, Belgium where he won the silver medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics... besting Olympic Gold Medallist Ulrich Salchow in the process. After a fifteen year retirement, he staged an unlikely comeback in 1935 and won his fifth gold medal at the Norwegian Championships at the age of forty. During World War II, Krogh coached skating in Oslo and performed in ice shows for the occupying Nazi forces. He passed away on August 25, 1964 in Oslo at the age of sixty nine and is buried in the Norwegian capital's Oslo Western Civil Cemetery, where his legacy as the only man from his country to win an Olympic silver medal in singles figure skating is all but forgotten.


"A friend of mine, who took to skating somewhat late in life, was very diligent in collecting advice from those who were inclined to help him. He summed up his researches by stating that he had numerous useful hints, but that in effect only one was common to all his advisers. Briefly stated, it came to this: 'Don't trouble about what the other fellows are doing; try to skate like me!' The figure-skater is a person of high ideals." - Geoffrey-Hall Say, "The Field", December 12, 1908

Born April 27, 1864 in Bray, Berkshire, Geoffrey Norman Edward 'George' Hall-Say was the son of Sir Richard and Ellen (Evans) Hall-Say. The Hall-Say children spent the first ten years of their lives with over a dozen servants at their beck and call at Oakley Court, a Gothic Victorian country house overlooking the Thames before moving to North London. Sir Richard and Ellen's eldest daughter Mary married the great nephew of novelist Jane Austen, who of course penned "Pride And Prejudice" and "Sense And Sensibility". Geoffrey studied law, passing his final examination in 1887.

It wasn't until Geoffrey was in his thirties that he became a keen enthusiast of the rigid English Style of skating that was the fashion of his era. Most proponents of English Style skating staunchly opposed to idea of badges or tests - let alone competition - so when Geoffrey entered the special figures competition at the Summer Olympic Games in London in Summer 1908, he would have been certainly been going against convention.

Although was one hundred and fifteen points behind winner Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin and sixty behind silver medallist Arthur Cumming, Geoffrey's medal win in 1908 was remarkable in that to this very day, he remains the oldest person to win a medal in an individual winter Olympic sport in history, beating out another figure skater, 1920 Olympic Bronze Medallist Martin Stixrud of Norway by one hundred and seven days to hold this distinction. At the time of his bronze medal win, he was forty four to Panin's thirty four and Cumming's youthful eighteen.

A man of "private means", Geoffrey resided for a time with a club steward named Arthur Johnson and his wife Charlotte and was well known as an administrator in boxing circles. He served on England's Council of the Billiards Control Club and was an avid snooker player. He also raced his yacht Camellia at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club.

Oakley Court in 1870. Photo courtesy Oxfordshire County Council.

Geoffrey passed away on January 21, 1940 at the age of seventy five in Brighton, a forgotten medallist in the only international figure skating competition he ever entered. You'll definitely remember the manor house he was raised in as a young child though... it was used as Dr. Frank N Furter's Castle in the 1975 cult classic film "The Rocky Horror Picture Show".

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Volkoff's Ice Ballets

Boris Volkoff. Photo courtesy Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections

"Sometimes I feel tired, but as soon as the music starts and I begin teaching, I forget all my troubles." - Boris Volkoff, "The Ocala Star-Banner", August 22, 1971

Boris Vladimirovich Volkoff and Janet Baldwin married in 1936. They were a striking couple. She, Canadian by birth, dressed in Russian hats and Persian lamb coats. He was a charismatic ballet master from Russia who trained under Mikhail Mordkin, who danced with Anna Pavlova in the Ballets Russes in Paris.

Boris earned a reputation as one of Canada's most eminent choreographers of his era in no time, opening his own school and dancing in the Tanzwettspiele (dance festival) at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games. To give you a real scope of Boris Volkoff's significance in Canadian dance history, he's considered by many as 'the father of Canadian ballet', was named a member of The Order Of Canada and his Volkoff Canadian Ballet is considered widely as Canada's first ballet company. The August 10, 1971 issue of the "Herald-Journal" noted, "Volkoff became a ballet master after the Russian Revolution and with his company toured China, India, Burma and Malaya before touring the United States with Adolph Bolm's Chicago company in 1928. He stayed with the company for 20 months before moving to Toronto in 1930 on the invitation of the Uptown Theatre."

Members of the Toronto Skating Club perform Boris Volkoff's "Ballet Caprice" in 1935. Photo courtesy Pringle & Booth Archive.

What role did Boris play in skating history? An important one, of course! In the early thirties, coach Walter Arian of the Toronto Skating Club, in an effort to add an even grander sense of art to the club's already lavish carnivals, engaged Boris Volkoff to choreograph Canada's first serious skating ballets.

Boris transposed sections of "Cinderella", "Swan Lake", "Night On Bald Mountain" and "Prince Igor" to the ice. In March 1934, thirty five skaters performed his choreography to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero". His wife, also a dancer, became engaged in the creative process as well. Boris and Janet's work made a considerable impression on the Canadian skating community at the time. In a March 14, 2009 article in "Torontoist", Janet noted that previous to their work on the skating ballets, Toronto skaters "just skated around to the music as it played... no connection or artistry."

That's not to say that ballet themes weren't featured in the Toronto Skating Club's carnivals before the Volkoff's arrived on the scene. In the roaring twenties, Cecil Smith and Ethel Kirkpatrick appeared in elegantly costumed group pieces that paid homage to the dance world. Without video material to compare those earlier performances with Boris' choreography, we can merely speculate as to how superior his work indeed was.

Members of the Toronto Skating Club perform Boris Volkoff's choreography. Photo courtesy Pringle & Booth Archive.

A December 11, 2009 article from the Toronto Dance blog recalled that Volkoff's ice ballets "drew audiences from as far afield as Michigan, New York, and even Florida until the early 1950s. Volkoff’s connection to figure skating brought him fame abroad, and he was offered a lucrative position in New York that he turned down because, as he said, he wanted to establish a Canadian company of dancers, not ice shows. He did, however, continue to work with skaters, including Olympians Barbara Ann Scott and Otto and Maria Jelinek." Boris continued his affiliation with the Toronto Skating Club until 1952 when Walter Arian, the coach who had first engaged him to work with the club, passed away.

The seed that Boris planted was an early precursor to later efforts to develop the artistic vein of skating in Canada including the Canada Ice Dance Theatre and Mrs. Ellen Burka and Toller Cranston's important work. His commitment to transposing dance to the ice showed Canadians the artistic possibilities skating offered and to this day, Canadian choreographers lead the way in the field of choreography. Everything starts somewhere.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Reader Mail, Reader Mail, Wherefore Art Thou Reader Mail?

There's nothing I enjoy more than rolling up my sleeves, digging deep in the archives and piecing together the puzzle pieces to share stories from ice skating history from all around the world. Well, maybe there's one thing I love more... and that is hearing how these stories speak to the people who are reading them. Over the last year, I have received countless e-mails, messages on Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. In today's blog - which is again crazy overdue - I want to once again answer some of your questions and share with you a small sampling of reader mail, many connected to several of the blogs in the archives and some relating to topics that haven't even been covered.


Q: From Natalya (via Facebook): "Who is your favourite Russian figure skater?"

A: You know what? That's a tough one so I think I'm going to have to go with several. I have always thought Ilia Kulik was just a gorgeous skater. In terms of women, Olga Markova and Alena Leonova hands down. As for ice dance, I just loved the work that Klimova and Ponamorenko and Bestemianova and Bukin did as pros. Pairs is a no-brainer... Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Q: From Erika (via Twitter): "Have you ever written about a skater you didn't like?"

A: Interesting question... Yes. I've written about a few different German and Austrian skaters who performed for the Nazis during World War II but in context, who knows who knows how much of a choice they had, right? One skater's story that really rubbed me the wrong way was Juliet Stanton Adee. I just can't wrap my head around how any woman could choose to actively campaign against the right for other women to vote any more than how any woman living in North America today could support the Conservative or Republican party.


From Wim (via e-mail): "Today I chanced upon your recent 5 October 2017 Skate Guard blog on 'Three Belgian Skating Pioneers'. Great stuff! This happened when I (a Dutch sports history writer based in Utrecht, The Netherlands) was browsing for the particulars of Olga Schiffelers, the Dutch figure skater and one time partner of Robert van Zeebroeck (a fact you mention in your blog). Olga was one of the great Dutch post Great War sportswomen, although now virtually unknown... Just for the fun of it, here is a pictures of Olga Schiffelers as an automobile endurance rider (1927) and as a figure skater. Sadly, no picture so far of Olga and Bobby van Zeebroeck, but who knows."


From Ilse (via Facebook): "Hi, you wrote an article about The Great Carmo Circus and mentioned The Jainczik Ballet. My friends grandfather was this very Franz Paul Jainczik 1892-1966. He was married to Lucie Erna Elsa Lieckfeld on 23.03.1916, 1889-1930. She skated with him.  Apparently she died on ice, had an accident. Do you know anything about her? My friend and her brother Dieter Jainczik are keen to know more about their grandparents. Thanks."

I wasn't able to help with Ilse's inquiry but if anyone happens to know more about the Jainczik's, please let me know and I'd be happy to put you and Ilse in touch!


From Rick (via Blogger): "Fascinating. Much there I didn't know and hadn't seen. Not sure I've ever seen that photo of Julius, who was my grandfather. His daughter, Virginia, was my mother. The fourth member of the Nelson Sisters - Genevieve - was the girls' cousin. She later married Bill Swallender, a [figure] skating coach who died the 1961 plane crash in Belgium with his pupil, Doug Ramsay."


Lela Brooks with Valentine Bialas, Charlie Gorman and John O'Neil Farrell

From Carol (via Facebook): "My mother Lela Brooks represented Canada in the women's speed skating demonstration events so your article had special meaning for me... Lela is an Honoured Member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. She was considered a real pioneer for women's sport."


Jinx Clark

From angmag55 (via Blogger): "I knew Jinx [Clark] years ago. Me and my husband/now my ex spent time there with some of our good friends! Jinx's place was great! She even brought out the champagne on my 21st Birthday in celebration of the fact I never had anything but Coca Cola while under age 21! Lost touch over the years but when started researching found she had skated off to Heaven!"


From Sharon (via Facebook): "A friend of mine from high school, Janie White Hensley, went there with her parents. They took her for her birthday. Her parents were both killed in the explosion. So tragic."

From Pam (via Facebook): "My father was a fireman, at station #28, just down the street from the Coliseum. First responders on the scene. They didn't have enough stretchers for the wounded. The firemen used their coats for stretchers."


From Alice (via e-mail): "Stumbled on your blog and reading it is a real treat.  Your recent posts on Gillis Grafström made me look for info about him online. Didn't know he married a Mendelsohn and died in Germany so I dusted off my school days German and started looking for more info online. A great photo of him and news story from his stepdaughter who says he died not quickly as Wiki says and has some very fond and happy memories of him: http://www.pnn.de/potsdam/298342. His grave and his widow's are at Bornsteder cemetery right across the road from his favourite outdoor practice lake in Potsdam  There's a good photo of both their grave stones on Flickr and Find-A-Grave has some links to the family graves in Germany and Switzerland. His Mother-in-law was buried in Bornsteder, too. She had a slightly suspicious death in 1943 and his Father-in-law, Otto (d. 1949 had his banking and manufacturing interests confiscated by the Nazis about the time Gillis died. Otto and his son were buried in Basel, Switzerland. The Mendelsohn family had a history of early deaths by heart attack and were targeted by the Nazis as Jewish despite their forebears converting to Christianity and had to wear stars and worse. I am wondering if the public can still skate on Bornsteder lake and why Gillis' father-in-law and brother-in-law were buried in Basel but his wife and mother-in-law in Potsdam.  Germany didn't reunify til early 1990's and so post-WWII Potsdam was Eastern Bloc and not open to them? Differing feelings in the family towards Germany after WWII?  A family dispute when Mrs. Gillis Grafström divorced her first husband whose family had bankinxg relations with the Mendelssohn banking interests?  It is very odd for his inlaws not to have been reunited in death but buried in separate countries."


From Ashley (via Facebook): "Great article ! So lucky to have been taught by the legendary Miss Hogg at the end of her career. At first I was in awe of her, but as an ex roller skater myself (and maybe because we shared the same Birthday) we got on immediately. She put me at ease and taught me with the same passion and total focus and dedication she gave to her champion pupils. Her figure technique was simple to understand but thorough and she expected and inspired the impossible. She was frightening yet kind and encouraging and very often hilarious. I loved my lessons with her at Queens Ice Rink and have some very happy memories of her to go with some very valuable skating and life skills she taught me. I owe her a great deal, she is a true legend of roller and ice skating!"


From Mint Mogul (via Blogger): "I was actually at the first of these tours -- it was incredible to see them live. I remember that Brian did a great routine to 'Big Man on Mulberry Street' that included a Tano Lutz. His edges and speed across the ice were impressive, and markedly different than Witt, who was also at the height of her creative powers."


From Barbara Berezowski (via Facebook): "Great blog! Thanks for the honourable mention! Winnipeg Canadians was very special to me...so many wonderful memories!!!!"

From Kenny Moir (via Facebook): "It was my first time of competing at Canadian Championships and I didn't care about the weather or the dodgy official hotel, it was the great performances that stood out. Like Karel Latham, Toller's and of course Karen Magnussen's. My Novice event was done early and I was glued to every performance....great experience!"


From Susan (via Facebook): "I skated at the old Burlingame rink for over 10 years - took all my tests there. I have such good memories of the family - parties they would have for us skaters at their home, always so kind."


From Larisa (via Blogger): "I would like to give some precise definitions. At Budapest in 1963 Hana did her best in free skating and had an ovation of the audience and it's not objective truth to say that 'she didn't skate with the panache and artistry of her competitors'. As for ballet lessons from Madame Aubrechtová, Hana had been taking these lessons for many years before these championships. At European Championships in 1965 she was 7th, but 5th in free skating and became the favourite skater of the public with Gaby Seyfert. As for 'a psychologist who told her, 'If you two stay together for a long time, it would end badly,' that didn't concern Jiři, the question was about Hana's relations with her mother which were very strained before European Championships 1969. This psychologist advised her to go to the health resort Spindleruv Mlyn with Jiři and leave her mother at home. That was done and Hana came home in a very good form. He was a leader after compulsories at European Championships. But her mother came to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and when Hana said her she was very troubled before free skating, Mrs. Maškova gave her a tablet of algena and couldn't skate her program well after fall from 3R. I remember these Championships and my tears after Hana's defeat. That was a fatal change of her career."


From Kitty (via Facebook): " I remember Dennis sitting in my kitchen in Toronto telling fabulous stories. He had a great sense of humor and laugh. I was just a little girl but, his style of skating shaped my vision of artistic skating."

From Stephanie (via Twitter): "Thank you for highlighting so many skaters whose legacies need to be remembered! Your posts are an important link to the past of the sport."

From Joyce (via Facebook): "My memories of Dennis and Toronto was getting all dressed to the nines and going dancing. We were both underage, not sure how we pulled it off. There were lots of us that went all skating at the Cricket Club one summer. It was so much fun!"

From Cydney (via Facebook): "I loved Denis as many of us did ~ he was extraordinary, provocative, mischievous and direct. He's the only one that had the guts to tell me I would never compete again - straight to my face! It was hard, but he said it. And he set me free to explore my new life. I'm very grateful."

From Carl (via Facebook): "I remember the last time I spoke to Denis was in PG at sections in 1978 (I think), he was smoking the the men's change room and we were laughing and having a great time."

From Neil (via Facebook): "Dennis was the first friend I met when competing when it was Divisionals back in the day! He was an awesome skater and I loved watching his artistic talents when he competed!"

From John (via Facebook): "Dennis stayed with me when he first came to Toronto. A wonderful guy and a great skater. A lot of fun."

From Ellen (via Facebook): "I skated with Kevin and Shaun in the Summer of 1978 in Toronto and also went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Thanks for the memories!"

From Debbie (via Facebook): " A uniquely talented skater and lovable human being. I think of him often. Taken from this world far too soon."

From Darlene (via Facebook): "Dennis, Shaun and Rob were all taken away from us too soon! They were my training mates and I was so lucky to have called them my friends. Thanks for remembering them."


From Marit (via Facebook): "Great read! I was there and it was a strange experience, certainly nothing the organizing committee was trained to deal with. Most heartwarming experience was the wonderful reception young polish skater Grzegorsz Filipowski received when stepping on to the ice. The applause lasted for several minutes, and since he was not allowed to bow or acknowledge it in any way, he just stood there quite bewildered as applause rained over him! Thanks for writing! Looking forward to more!"


From Victoria (via e-mail): "I am so pleased to have discovered your blog about Henry Graham Sharp and to read your kind words and interesting facts about my Grandpa! I showed your blog to my Mum who loved reading about her Dad and was visibly quite moved for the time you have taken to research and write about him.  Thank you so much."


From Caroline (via e-mail): "I ran across your article on my Aunt Anna from your Skate Guard Blog this evening.  Thank you for writing this!  As the anniversary of her passing is coming up (1/28), I was so glad I found it.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss her like crazy. I often wonder, if she were still here, how she would react to seeing how skating is today. This is one of my favorite pictures of her with me when I was about 10 or so.  She told me I could do anything I set my mind to and thanks to her encouragement,  I have - in all phases of my life."


From Barbara (via Facebook): "I was skating on the USA rink in Lake Placid just prior to Ekaterina and Sergei getting on the ice to practice their pair away from the rest of the Stars On Ice rehearsing on the 80 rink. On my way home I heard on my car radio that a male skater from the cast had died in the rink. I was so shocked I had to stop the car for I thought that the skater had been poisoned by one of the special cookies I had baked and delivered to the cast as a Thanksgiving present just before I left the Olympic Center."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html

The 1965 European Figure Skating Championships

From February 11 to 15, 1965, Europe's best figure skaters flocked to the Palace Of Sports at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium. It was the first time the European Championships had been held in Russia since 1911 and for many of the participants, their first exposure to life behind the Iron Curtain. Interestingly, the event was actually one of the first European Championships to be widely broadcast. France and Great Britain each treated television viewers back home to two hours of skating coverage and in West Germany, skating fans got to see a full eight hours of coverage. Curious as to how things played out? Dress warmly and pile into the time machine, we're going "Back In The USSR" and you don't how lucky you are!


Because the British team travelled first by ship and then took a two and a half day trek by train, the 1965 European Championships were one rare occasion when Mrs. Gladys Hogg - who refused to take an airplane - got to see her talented pupils compete on the international stage. In the compulsory dances - the Argentine Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep - reigning European and World Champions Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman led the way ahead of the three British teams competing. They won the free dance and title with what Lynn Copley-Graves described in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" as a program that was "beautifully in time".

Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Although Janet Sawbridge and David Hickinbottom and Yvonne Suddick and Roger Kennerson were the two British teams who made the podium that year, it was the free dance of the fourth place team, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, that incensed former World Champion Lawrence Demmy. He wrote in "Skating World" in March 1965: "This night belonged to Ford-Towler. They were magnificient, everything came off just so - the audience loved them, and they received a tremendous ovation." Hungarians György Korda and Pal Vásárhelyi, also students of Mrs. Hogg, placed fifth, followed by teams from West Germany, Czechoslovakia and France. The event marked only the second time in history that a Soviet ice dance team appeared at the European Championships. The first time the Soviets had placed dead last. This time on home turf, Nadejda Velle and Alexandr Treschev placed an unlucky thirteenth. However, sitting in the audience studying intently were two young skaters who didn't need luck... Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov.


After narrowly missing the podium at the 1964 Olympic Games, European and World Championships, Austria's Emmerich Danzer was looking to make a statement in Moscow and with two of the three men who had placed ahead of him at the 1964 European Championships in Grenoble not in attendance, he had a fighting chance. In the school figures, he narrowly edged defending champion Alain Calmat five judges to four.

Left: Emmerich Danzer, Right: Emmerich Danzer, Alain Calmat and Peter Jonas with their medals

In the free skate, the results were even closer. Calmat actually had five first place ordinals, Danzer two. One judge tied them and another gave the nod to West Germany's Sepp Schönmetzler. When the scores were tallied up, Danzer had managed to defeat Calmat by a mere two places. The bronze medal went to another Austrian, Vienna's Peter Jonas, and Schönmetzler settled for fourth. To top of all the excitement, three future Olympic Medallists managed top ten finishes. Wolfgang Schwarz was fifth, Ondrej Nepela eighth and Sergei Chetverukhin tenth.

Sepp Schönmetzler's exhibition program. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Two years later, skating historian Dennis Bird noted that had the fifty/fifty ratio between figures and free skating been in place at that time, Alain Calmat would certainly have beaten Emmerich Danzer.


Sally-Anne Stapleford. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Twenty women vied for the 1965 European title, among them three incredibly talented people who would make great impacts on the sport as coaches, choreographers and judges: Tamara Moskvina [Bratus], Uschi Keszler and Sally-Anne Stapleford. However, with the retirement of Sjoukje Dijkstra, it was Regine Heitzer's time to shine. In true Austrian fashion, she dominated the school figures with first place ordinals from all nine judges. Stapleford and her British teammate, Diana Clifton-Peach, were second and third. The results of the free skate were a completely different story as four different women had first place ordinals: Heitzer, Helli Sengtschmid of Austria, Gaby Seyfert of East Germany and Hana Mašková of Czechoslovakia. With but one first place ordinal in the free skate, Heitzer won the gold medal on the strength of her superb school figures. Stapleford, whose highest ordinal in the free skate was fifth, took the silver. France's Nicole Hassler took the bronze with only one free skate ordinal in the top three. Sengtschmid, Seyfert, Clifton-Peach and Mašková followed in the standings in one of the most 'all over the place' women's competitions in the history of the European Championships. Keszler was eleventh and Moskvina fourteenth.


Like with a Sonja Henie or a Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, we like to look back at history through the lens that the legendary Soviet pair of Ludmila [Belousova] and Oleg Protopopov were unbeatable. In fact, when the new-fangled connected compulsory program was contested in Moscow in 1965, the Protopopov's were given a run for their money. Two judges had the Swiss team of Gerda and Ruedi Johner first and a third had the two teams tied. The Swiss judge even went so far as to tie the Protopopov's with the second Soviet team, Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik, perhaps to give his own team a little breathing room. However, in the free skate Ludmila and Oleg skated brilliantly in their home country to claim the first place ordinals from every single judge - even Switzerland's. The Johner's claimed the silver and Zhuk and Gorelik the bronze in an incredibly deep field of seventeen teams. 

The pairs podium

Following the competition, the Protopopov's treated their comrades to a beautiful exhibition to Jules Massenet's "Méditation" from "Thaïs". In his 1978 book "The Big Red Machine The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions", Yuri Brokhin noted that "the champions' interpretation of Massenet's 'Méditation'... had an impact more powerful than their counterparts in ballet did onstage: where dancers must break their pace at the point of greatest strain for an arbitrary turn in the next position, skaters are in continuous motion... No skaters even close to Belousova and Protopopov between 1962... and 1968."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The Sad Fates Of Three Russian Figure Skating Pioneers

Nikolay Aleksandrovich Panin-Kolomenkin rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, winning Russia's first Olympic gold medal in figure skating in the special figures competition at the 1908 Summer Olympic Games in London, England. He went on to better the sport in his country as a coach, judge and author in the years that followed and has been revered as the 'first great Russian figure skater' by many. However, the fates of three other Russian skating pioneers weren't quite so idyllic. Today, we'll take a brief look at their stories...


Hailing from Russian Finland, Karl (Carl) Antonovich Ollo settled in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he joined the St. Petersburg Society Of Ice Skating Amateurs in 1903. He was one of the founders of his teacher Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin's school at Yusupov Gardens. Under Panin's watchful eye, he soon became regarded as something of a wiz at special figures.

Karl Ollo, Herra Rosenberg, Walter Jakobsson and Sakari Ilmanen in 1907

After participating in carnivals and competitions in Helsinki, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Karl competed at the 1909 European Figure Skating Championships in Budapest, where he finished fourth behind Hungary's Sándor Urbáry in a four-three split of the judging panel. That same winter, he won the Silver Challenge Shield in Vyborg. This contest, organized by N.D. Borajinoff, consisted solely of special figures and free skating.

Special figures devised by Karl Ollo

In 1910, Karl won his first of three Russian titles and in 1911, he won the school figures at the European Championships held at his home rink, competing in temperatures of over minus twenty degrees Celsius.

A less than stellar free skating performance dropped him to second overall, but his silver medal was only the third medal won at the European Championships by a Russian. Tragically, following his in loss in St. Petersburg, Karl was killed on the front lines during the first World War.


Born in 1880, Fedor Ivanovich Datlin also hailed from St. Petersburg, was coached by Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin and taught at Panin-Kolomenkin's school with Karl Ollo. In the winter of 1907, he made quite an impression at an international competition at the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna, but did not win. His last place finish at the 1909 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden was equally disappointing. However, he did win both the 1908 and 1908 Russian titles and the very first men's title of the Soviet Union in 1920. Devoting many years to passing on Panin's teachings to a new generation of Russian skaters, he died at the age of sixty one during the Siege Of Leningrad in December 1941, where many Russians starved to death under unthinkable conditions, literally dying in the street. He is buried in Seraphimovskoe Cemetery alongside over a hundred thousand other Siege Of Leningrad victims.


Matching side-by-side photograph and engraving of Alexander Panshin

Born September 15, 1863 in the St. Petersburg district of Sestroretsk, Alexander Nikitich Panshin was an accountant by trade who lived on the shores of the Sestroretskiy Lake. In January 1889, he entered the World Championships in speed skating in Amsterdam, won three of four distances and set a new world record. Two weeks later, American Joe Donoghue challenged Panshin to a rematch. Panshin won that too. The next month on the Petrovka River, he won a three mile race later recognized as the first Russian Championship in speed skating, defeating young Moscow physician Sergey Puresev on home turf. While competing in numerous speed skating races, he improved the design of Russian speed skates, which were then manufactured at the Sestroretsk Arms Factory.

In the late nineteenth century, he reinvented himself as a figure skater, winning his first of four Russian titles in 1897 at Yusupov Gardens. A talented specialist in special figures, Panshin committed suicide on November 4, 1904 in Sestroretsk at the age of forty one.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

How Dance Tests Got Their Start

Prior to World War I, the Prince's Skating Club at Knightsbridge in London, England as well as the International Skating Club of Davos in Switzerland offered members tests in waltzing on ice, but it wasn't until the thirties and forties that ice dance tests were widely introduced and standardized.

Great Britain inaugurated its first dance test, the NSA Third Class (Bronze) Dance Test, in November 1934. Daphne Wallis and Reginald Wilkie not only worked toward this milestone, but were the first to take the test and pass. After passing, Wilkie sat on the panel to judge the next candidates. In March 1936, the Second Class (Silver) Dance Test was added. Again, Wallis and Wilkie were the first to pass. In 1939, the First Class (Gold) Test was added to the schedule. The first to pass in this instance was Walter Gregory, whose newly invented Rhumba had been included in the test.

By 1940, the NSA's Gold Dance Test had turned into a marathon. Candidates had to perform the Argentine Tango, Rhumba, Paso Doble, Westminster Waltz, Quickstep, Viennese Waltz and Rocker Foxtrot to standards, then skate a one and a half minute 'exhibition dance' that was "marked for originality and arrangement [with] no spirals or breaks except for changing position". If couples received a minimum mark of 4.2 out of 6.0 from all three judges, they then had to perform a four-minute PAIRS program! If they received at least 3.5 for Contents and 4.2 for Manner Of Performance for their pairs program, they passed the Gold Dance test. If they failed even one component, they had to take the entire Gold Dance test again. To make matters even worse, the entire test was taken on the same day!

Under the direction of Harold Hartshorne, the USFSA adopted rules for its first ice dance test at its Annual Governing Council Meeting in April 1938. In order to take the test, skaters had to be USFSA members in good standing. Three judges marked each team on a scale of one to ten, with a passing mark of six. Dances were broken into two judging categories: Accurate Timing Of Steps To Music and Performance. In the book  "The First Twenty-Five Years: USFSA 1921-1946", Hartshorne recalled, "Skaters were required to attain a certain standard in the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Fourteenstep not only satisfy their curiosity as to their respective terpsichorean ability, but also to qualify for Sectional and National Competition. When the Bronze and Gold were instituted, the original test was called the Silver. I was aided in the preliminary work on the Gold Test by Joe Savage and Perry Rawson who helped me weed out four English and an Austrian dance for the consideration of the Dance Committee, whose members were not very familiar with any of them. Interest in these dances was, however, rapidly inspired by our Pair Champions, Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox, who gave excellent renditions of the Rocker Foxtrot and Killian as then skated in England; also the Angolas who interpreted the Viennese; and the MacLennans of Australia who demonstrated the Blues."

The first USFSA tests were taken the summer that followed in Lake Placid during the club's Dance Week. By 1939, Silver and Bronze tests were added to the USFSA dance testing format. As of that year, the Bronze test consisted of the Continental Waltz and Fourteenstep, the Silver the Continental Waltz, Reverse Waltz, Three-Lobed-Eight Waltz, Fourteenstep, Foxtrot and Tango and the Gold the Blues, Killian, Viennese Waltz, Rocker Foxtrot and Three-Lobed-Eight Waltz. Among the first USFSA dance judges were Theresa Weld Blanchard, Joseph K. Savage and Eugene Turner.

In 1939, the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada - precursor to the CFSA and Skate Canada - adopted the National Skating Association's third, second and first class dance tests. During the forties, the CFSA formalized its own three-tier dance test structure based on the NSA model, minus the 'exhibition dance' and pairs program. However, the dance tests were slow to catch on. At the 1946 Annual General Meeting of the CFSA, it was reported that only one hundred and fifty eight dance tests were taken... versus five hundred and sixteen figure tests. One of the main reasons for this was Canada's involvement in World War II, which meant there were fewer male partners around.

During the War, many countries that still had rinks open dabbled with their own variations of the NSA testing model. In 1950, the ISU Dance Committee met to try to standardize dance testing on an international level. A proposed dance three-tier model consisted of three Bronze dances (European Waltz, Fourteenstep and Foxtrot), four Silver dances (American Waltz, Blues, Killian, Tango) and five Gold dances (Argentine Tango, Paso Doble, Quickstep, Viennese Waltz and Westminster Waltz). The cost of taking these ISU tests was higher than that of USFSA, CFSA and NSA tests and as international judges were required, many of the first skaters to take the tests did so while attending European or World Championships.

Dance tests from the 1980 CFSA Rulebook

Much has obviously changed over the years, but today in most countries dance tests play an incredibly important part in figure skating programs from the ground up. If you haven't heard the Dutch Waltz music thousands of times... you haven't been to a test day!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

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