From Berlin To Brooklyn: The Arthur Held Story


"Brains and patience are the essentials for success. It means years of work, and if one of your hockey players were to devote the same time and brain study to his sport as the average skater does to his pastime, the question of salary limit would be even a more vexed one." - Arthur Held, "The Calgary Daily Herald", December 15, 1911

Arthur Held was born January 27, 1887 in Neustadt, Germany. Little is known about his early life aside from the fact he served for two years as a Corporal in the Imperial German Army's Engineers branch, won the junior championship of Munich in 1903 and taught figure skating for a time at the Berlin Eispalast. He later recalled of the famed German rink, "It was funny to see boys and girls who walked with the uncertain movements of their bodies like a young collie dog, skating in perfect position."

Arthur emigrated to America in 1910 and spent one winter teaching skaters in New York and Boston. In 1911, he was invited to the Minto Skating Club by the Earl Grey to teach his daughter Lady Evelyn Grey the finer points of school figures. He soon became the Minto Skating Club's first instructor and played an important role in introducing the new Continental (International) Style to Canada. He also helped develop fours skating, an evolution of the English combined figures. Among his students were some of Canada's earliest champions, including Eleanor Kingsford, Ormonde Butler Haycock, Douglas Henry Nelles and Philip Harvey Chrysler. Kingsford recalled, "Thanks to His Excellency who did so much to help the club, our first professional came out from Europe and quite revolutionized our style. How he enthused us and made us work, six hours a day and more, and what a joy it was being taught the correct way to swing and balance."


In her book "Minto: Skating through Time", Janet B. Uren noted, "Arthur Held deserves recognition as Minto's first coach, the one who helped Ottawa skaters to strive for and, for the first time, meet international standards. He also managed to win over at least one Ottawa audience by performing ten minutes of 'stunts' in the intermission of a hockey game. His program, the local newspaper reported, included 'spirals, counters, back rockers, serpentines, reverse swings.' The hockey audience, used to tougher fare, began by lustily booing 'the little fellow, alert, swift and natty in his skating uniform.' By the end of the program, the onlookers were cheering their heads off."


Arthur had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, but behind the discipline was an understanding of figure skating's artistic possibilities. He believed skaters and sculptors each had something to teach one another, and noted it wasn't an uncommon sight for skaters to study the statues in European museums for inspiration. Quoted in the December 15, 1911 issue of "The Calgary Daily Herald", he remarked, "Following the plan of the continental teachers, I endeavor, and have had its success demonstrated, to have all those who come to me for instruction well versed in the ground work, that is, the correct poise of the head, the movement of the hip and shoulder, and the correct way of carrying the balance foot. When these have been properly learned and the whole body taught to swing in a line and not by jerky movements, the skater is then in a position to take up waltzing or even free to enter upon the wider field of free and fancy skating. I am often asked as to what constitutes the difference between the Continental and Canadian styles. In 1900, Salchow, the ten times world's champion, demonstrated how the various styles, which had been developed previous to that, could be adapted, each to some particular figure. He then worked out, as it were, a combination of all of these, taking in the better points of each, with the result that he believed he attained the perfect style. As skaters are quick to grasp anything in the way of improvement, it was readily adopted. This then is the Continental Style. It gives the skater a chance to develop individual 'mannerisms,' you might call them, yet the ground work is the same. So you see, there really is no Continental Style. It is simply the style for correct skating, and if it is taken up seriously, you might see within a few years a representative of the Minto club entered for the world's honours."

Mademoiselle Dazie and Arthur Held. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

Arthur and George and Elsbeth Müller were arguably the first European coaches to come to North America and 'raise' skaters on the Continental (International) Style, which was also being introduced to members of clubs in large centers by North Americans who learned the Style abroad around the same time. Other European coaches of renown, such as Sweden's Bror Meyer and Emmy Bergfelt, Germany's Karl Zenger and France's Armande Gobeille, soon followed. Several of these coaches did their rounds in New York, Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, helping to spread the 'skating gospel' and fostering a sense of community between Canadian and American skating clubs, which began to intermingle at competitions and carnivals during the Edwardian era and the years that preceded The Great War.


After his tenure at the Minto Skating Club, Arthur returned to New York and taught at the St. Nicholas Rink during much of The Great War. In February of 1916, he won a competition for professionals judged by audience ballot at The Hippodrome in New York City, besting four other men. That same month, he skated an unconventional duet during the intermission of a hockey game at the St. Nicholas Rink. The February 24, 1916 issue of "The Sun" recalled, "Irving Brokaw and Arthur Held, the latter dressed as a woman, gave an exhibition of pairs skating." In 1917, he even appeared at the Hero Land exhibition at the Grand Central Palace in Manhattan with Bror Meyer, Emmy Bergfelt, Fanny Davidson and Freda Whitaker to promote figure skating in New York. After The Great War, he supplemented his income from teaching skating by working as a tool maker at an automobile engineering firm.


In 1921, Arthur began teaching at the Brooklyn Skating Club, which was undergoing a reorganization at the time. During his short stint teaching there, the membership grew from eleven to seventy one members. One of his last performances was a duet with Virginia O'Mallet in the first Intercity Scholastic Skating Championships held at the Brooklyn Ice Palace. 

Arthur passed away on May 25, 1922 in Manhattan at the age of thirty-three, six weeks after contracting pneumonia - in the days before antibiotics. He left behind his wife Maria and two children... and earned his place in the history books as one of North America's first notable European skating instructors.

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