35. Basic Spirals

As I pointed out back in Chapter III, the spirals you were learning are the classic edge positions, extended in a large curve. Everyone can do them, and they are not only great fun for the skater but, when done with speed, freedom and real style, are beautiful to watch. These same spirals may be done with a change of edge, so that you are covering a large amount of ice surface with your original momentum. You may change from OF to IF, or from IF to OF, swinging your free leg first forward and then back, just as in the corresponding school figure. You may also—and with good effect—change from IF to OF without moving your free leg at all, except to press it harder and farther back as you come through the change. This is a little more difficult than the other method but worth perfecting, for a change spiral done like this—from the landing of a half-flip or a split jump, with the body going over into an arabesque position after the change to OF—is a good move, requiring real control.

The change-edge spirals may also be done backward in a variety of ways. For instance, after stroking forward to gain speed, do the first six steps of the man's ten-step on a large curve and hold the regular OB spiral position (second position of the eight) for a half-circle or so. As you cross the long axis of the ice surface, change edge to the IB, moving the free foot forward but without changing the arms or head. After riding like this about a quarter-circle, pass the free leg back again and reverse the arms, with the head still over the free shoulder looking back where you are going (a very necessary precaution in a crowded rink, and one too many skaters forget! Most skating positions are designed to allow the skater to see those around him—if he will just look. Not looking is the most common cause of accidents, so train the eyes now). This spiral may also be done by reversing the arms at the change without moving the free leg.

A good-looking change spiral uses this same reverse IB position (free leg back, free shoulder forward) on the first half (do the six-step preparation, plus a deep crossover) and then draws and drops over to a deep OB, with a sharp change of body lean and a complete reversal of arms and free leg at the transition, as in the regular inside to outside backward school figure change. This is an athletic move and must be timed with precise and decisive movement to make it work. If you are a female, try leaning the upper body backward after the change, raising the skating arm over your head, press­ing the free leg hard forward and quite high, with your head turned back over the free shoulder. This latter position, done to extreme, can be spectacular (but take it easy at first—it requires real balance). As you must have gathered by now, there are myriad variations of arm and leg positions. Try everything you can think of, and be sure to try them on both feet. My pet aversion is the advanced skater who comes to me for a free skating lesson and says, "Oh, but I can't do a good inside forward spiral on my left foot. I can only do it on my right!"

If you are a male, don't think spirals are just for girls. The great Gillis Grafstom made his famous IF spiral a specialty. He did a deep-leaning IF edge with both arms and shoulders and his free leg pressed hard back; then at the depth of the curve he gave a quick knee bend and straightened instantly into a very erect straight OF done on the diagonal with skating arm and shoulder forward, free arm and leg and hip back, head turned forward over his skating shoulder in classic pose— a most effective move which, done with Grafstom's feeling for line and style, never failed to win applause. Hayes Alan Jenkins, in his Olympic routine, so excelled in another varia­tion of the IF spiral that it almost became his trademark. Hayes, with free arm way forward, allowed his free leg to swing back across and outside the curve behind his skating leg, as he bent deeply on a terrific edge. As I'm sure you realize, only great muscular control and a skating hip com­pressed hard under him would allow him to hold such a basically unorthodox position. In pair skating it is essential that the man as well as the woman be able to do fine spirals. Yet most of the pairs that have come to me for training in recent years have taken more time to unify their spirals (with the man the culprit) than any other aspect of the program.

As I said earlier, "spiral" in common usage always brings to mind a position where the body of the skater is way forward, the free leg very high behind, and the head up with a strongly arched back. This arabesque position of the body is extremely important and may be incorporated with all the changes of edge and turns to produce an almost infinite number of spiral variations. The arabesque position is also used in spinning by both men and women, alone as well as combined with jump spins. So it is important to learn to do it well as soon as your edge control allows.

Skated in correct form, an arabesque spiral is a thing of grace and beauty. Done badly, with a humped back, a bent free leg, an unpointed free toe, a drooping head, angular arms, or any other ungainly body position, and it at once becomes ludicrous. A good arabesque requires limberness; if you are not limber to start with, stretch until you are. Stretching will make you feel good—after the first few days! You will discover muscles, tendons, etc., you didn't know you owned.

I think the best way to learn the basic arabesque position is first at the barrier and next on the flat of the blade in a straight line down the ice. It is wise to have a friend watch you, particularly at first, as it is difficult to feel, especially if you are at all stiff, whether everything is in its proper place. Stand facing the barrier with the free arm and hand crossed under the skating arm on the rail. Raise the free leg—straight, turned out, and the toe pointed—as high as you can with your body erect and your hips level. This will not be very high perforce. Now, without lifting the free hip or the free side in any way or breaking the line of the body at all, rock your body for­ward at the skating hip as far as you can. If you keep your head up and your back arched with a strong pull on all the muscles, your free leg will automatically rise as the trunk of your body gradually creates an arc. If tightened "hamstrings" behind the knees don't prevent a full stretch, your free foot and your head will be the even ends of the arc. Eventually your free foot will go even higher. As you stretch, be careful to keep forward and downward pressure on both the free hip and the free shoulder. The whole trunk of the body should be as horizontal to the ice as possible. It is as if your body were a seesaw, with your straight skating leg its fulcrum.

Once you have a moderately good arabesque at the rail (be sure to do it on both feet), try it gliding straight down the ice. Start in the same way and rock your body over, holding both arms easily out to the side so that you form a perfect horizontal T. When your audience approves of this moving position—first on one foot, then the other—try leaning to all the edges, forward and back (Illus. 35), left and right. Again there is a great variety of possible arm and head positions. One of the best known is the "Bror Meyer spiral," named for one of the famous teachers of the sport, who invented it. (Many figures in skating are similarly named after their first exponents.) Lean in arabesque position to the OF edge and allow your free arm and shoulder to reach way forward, while pressing the skating arm and shoulder back. To make the body line a curved sideways arc from free hand to free toe, you must bring your free arm in a curve close to your ear. (It feels too far forward when it's right.) Turn your head to the inside of the circle. Well done, this is a very graceful, leaning pose.

No spiral, however, is first-class unless it is absolutely steady. The free leg should rise into place in one motion and must remain there, unwavering, for the duration. "Moving statues," someone has called spirals, and that is an apt description. The arms and head may change, and for that matter, the trunk of the body may change from upright to arabesque or vice versa, but each position in itself must be firm.


Having whizzed down the ice and brought off a good spiral, you must now have an ending for it. A common and effective finishing move is the pivot. For many years pivots were neglected by young skaters, but luckily they are now back in favor, thanks to the Jenkins brothers, though not in the pro­fusion or fancy varieties of my father's day. Pivots should never go out of style, for they lend interest and grace to programs for both men and women. In pair skating, a con­trolled OB pivot is a "must" for any man who expects to take his partner successfully through a "death spiral" (Illus. 36). (I suspect this maneuver got its name when a skater who couldn't pivot properly sent his partner crashing onto the back of her head!)

Pivots are really not a bit difficult and should be learned by every beginning free skater. As the OB is the most common, we will start with that. In England it used to be called a "curtsy," which gives you an idea of its effect. (This name should not deter men, for on ice it is a thoroughly masculine move.)

Most of us find it easier to start a pivot from a right edge, turning around to the left; so from whatever spiral you are on, maneuver (if forward, turn a three, etc.) onto your ROB. Wait until your speed diminishes, as it is difficult to learn a pivot from a fast wide-angle curve, though eventually, of course, you will swing into one that way. Bending both your knees deeply, swing your free foot way around straight in back of your skating foot toward the absolute center of the curve. Jab its toe point firmly—and straight down—into the ice, at the same time turning your right heel consciously out a bit (See Illus. 36). Shift most of your body weight to the toe-point leg and pull back hard with this left shoulder, turning your head to the left, too. This means that your right skate (with any weight you have on it on the ball of the foot) will be pulled in a small back circle all the way around your left toe point. You should keep your body erect with arms out; your bent knees and the position of your feet give the curtsy effect.

After a turn or so like this, pull your right foot in, straighten your knees, and come to a stop with both feet together. If you have your body weight distributed as directed, your right foot will trail easily around and you will be able to do as many revolutions as you wish. With practice you will be able to turn threes while pivoting, using all your edges, IF, OF, and IB, with variations on each. But right now the simple back pivot and the stop will do.

Are You Ready To Move Onto The Next Lesson? Click Here...