Recreational Ice Figure Skating/Advanced Skills
At the outset it should be mentioned that all the figure skating disciplines (dance, freestyle, and moves in the field, which have replaced the school figures) offers challenges that contribute to improving the other two. A well rounded figure skating program offers all three.
Ice dancing uses the same skills as other forms of skating, but has a strong emphasis on timing, ie, skating and turning following the beat of the music. Unlike freestyle, where you can skate pretty much to any piece of music, dance music requires a well defined even beat and tempo. Jumps are not required in dance, and spins only in free dances, so if the thought of trying those skills scares you, but you like skating to music, dance is a good option. You do not need a partner to learn dancing, and often low level club offer competitions on solo dancing.
You may also want to get the instructor to show you the steps for the introductory dances to get a better feel for what's involved. The introductory dances require only forward skating - no turns. When you do get to the turns, they will be mohawks and forward 3-turns. You will probably find them easier to learn in the dance context particularly the mohawks.
The main skills that you need to begin dancing are an effective forward stroke, the ability to hold inside and outside edges meaning you can glide around turns on one foot and a reasonably good posture. If you have not mastered these yet, a lot of your "dance" time will be spent working on basics.
Freestyle skating consists in combining footwork, jumps and spins to music. Although footwork should be practiced equally on both feet and both directions, especially if you expect to be a good competitive freestyle skater, jumps and spins and some linking movements are often only done and required in one direction. Most people prefer to spin and jump counter-clockwise towards the left. Although this is probably somehow related to the innate preference to use the right hand, it is not always true that right handed people prefer to turn counterclockwise (or vice-versa). The best thing is to try both directions and decide which one is easiest for you. Most instructors reccommend settling on the same direction for spins and jumps, since spins are used as stepping stones to multirevolution jumps.
Jumps cannot be mastered without good edges and upper body control since it is this that sets the stage for what follows. The approach to a jump is as important as the jump itself, since it is the approaching footwork that gets your entire body into the right position to jump. Several single and half jumps are described below, roughly in order of difficulty. They are first defined in terms of the take-off edge, whether or not a toepick is used, and the amount of rotation. For the sake of brevity, all the jumps are explained for counter-clockwise rotation. If you jump in the other direction, replace "left" with "right" in the descriptions below.
The Waltz jump is done on the arc of a circle starting from a left forward outside edge edge and landing on the right backward outside edge, with one half rotation. Here are some tips:
- Watch your posture. You must stand upright over your skating leg and your knees should be bent. Do not look down.
- You do not take off or land directly on the edge of the blade. The last thing to leave the ground is your left toepick. The first thing to touch the ground is your right toe pick.
- Since you glide on a back out side edge after landing, practice gliding on this edge on the landing position shown in Figure 1. Your arms should be out at or slightly below shoulder height, and slightly ahead of your body so that you can see both hands out of the corners of your eyes; your left leg extended out behind you, and your head up. All but a couple of jumps land the same way, so this will be very well spent practice time.
- The sequence of the jump is a down-up-down movement. Down to prepare for the jump, up to jump, and down on your landing leg.
- You do not have to jump very high or wide at first. In fact, you can practice "walking" through the jump at first, by doing a forward outside 3-turn and quickly switching to the right foot and landing position after doing the turn.
- When you start to jump, use your arms and free leg to help you get height. Both your arms and free leg should be behind you as you glide forwards onto the jump, as the skater in Figure 2. As you rise onto the toe-pick to jump, swing both arms and free leg forwards. Getting that right, is critical for learning the Axel later on.
- Jump on a straight line. You may be tempted to use your shoulders and free leg to steer the jump into the circle you are describing as you take off, but this is a mistake. The jump will be easier if you keep your shoulders and hip squared in the same direction as your torso and you jump straight ahead of you. It will help if you avoid turning your head to the left, but instead keep on looking ahead. You will tend to jump in the same direction you are looking.
The Salchow starts from a back left inside edge and lands on the right back outside edge. Although you may find the idea of approaching a jump backwards strange at first, it is rather easy once you have tried it a couple of times.
- The best way to set up the Salchow is to do a left forward outside 3-turn. You need to check the turn rather strongly: keep you right shoulder and arm firmly behind you and extend the right leg behind you.
- As you start jumping, let your right arm and leg come forward (but to not move your left shoulder!). Releasing the ckeck of the turn as you rise up will make the back inside edge curl in as you roll up onto the toe-pick so by the time you become airborn you will be actually facing forwards ; in fact, if someone took a picture of you at this precise moment, you would look like you are doing the Waltz jump described above. If you go back and look at the tracing you left on the ice as you took off, you should see a J-shaped curve, shallow coming out of the 3-turn, and deeper just before takeoff with a toe pick mark atthe end.
- The most common error while learning the Salchow is not to have or hold any check following the introductory 3-turn. This will make the entry back inside edge to spiral in and reduces the power of the jump, with comes mainly from the sudden release of the check as you rise onto the toe-pick. To avoid this error, practice the approach without jumping, just turn the forward outside 3-turn and hold, hold, hold the exit edge with the right arm and leg extended behind you. The more flat you can do the exit curve, the better.
- You need to jump from a bent knee, so make sure that you do not start raising on the skating knee before you are ready to release the check with your right arm and leg. In fact, try to sink a little deeper on the just before starting the jump.
- The Salchow has a rather even cadence to it and you could practice counting going into it: 1 - turn, 2 - hold the check; 3- let the free leg and arm move from behind and jump.
A toe-loop is a toe-assisted jump. It is done from a right back outside edge, usually from a right forward inside 3-turn. The left leg extends and the toe-pick is planted far back behind in the direction of travel and used as a pole vault. The skater rises and lands on the usual right back outside edge.
- It is important to place the assisting toe-pick right behind you, not to the side or crossed behind the leg you are skating on. Also, make sure that both your torso and free leg are square and backwards to the direction of travel as you pick. It is very important to keep you left arm in front of you at all times, and the right arm off the side until the second you jump. If you let your shoulders and upper body turn around to the left or turn out your free leg (so that your toepick is facing forwards as you pick) you will do what is known as a toe-Waltz. This cheat is hard to undo and it will make it harder to achieve a double toe-loop further along the road.
- As an exercise, you can "walk" through this jump: do a right forward inside 3-turn and put your pick in the ice far behind you, but do not jump...keep your skating knee bent and use the pick to pivot around between one quarter to half of a turn; it is important to maintain your torso perfectly aligned with the skating knee; and to transfer all your weight to the toe-pick while you pivot on it. Once you are roughly facing forwards, lift your right leg and do a small hop or step off the left toe-pick onto the landing edge.
- Make sure that you point your toe as you drive the toe-pick into the ice. This will make the take-off more secure.
- Although the toe-loop, is nominally a full rotation jump, in the practice you will be doing at least a quarter to a half rotation on the ice. This is not bad technique, as long as your shoulders and picking leg turn together as a unit and face the same direction throughout the take-off.
The loop jump starts from a right back outside edge and finishes on the same edge. As usual, it is a good idea to try to get used to the entry edge by holding a sustained glide. The usual way to get into the jump is from counterclockwise back crossovers. When you cross over the left foot, do not pick up the right foot. Instead glide in that position, with your feet crossed on slightly bent knees and most of the weight on the right foot over the middle portion of the blade (no toe-scratching!) ; the left arm should be strongly checked in front and the right arm strongly checked behind, and your upper body slightly turned towards the inside of the circle. You will not be able to do a good loop if your shoulders and upper body start rotating towards the left, so concentrate on holding the checked position.
- Once you are comfortable with the entry edge, bring your right arm to your chest. The arms should move alongside your body rather than around - pretend you are scooping a pot of gold up from the ice with your right. That way your are less likely to rotate your upper body, which should remain in the checked position throughout. As you scoop your right arm, lift your left knee so that your left foot is crossed over your right angle and do a single rotation backspin on the ice. Then finish off in the landing position with the left leg in back.
- To do the actual jump, increase the bend of the right knee as you do the scooping movement with the right hand and then rise strongly on the knee to become airborn, so you do the backspin described in the previous exercise in the air.
Some additional tips:
- If you feel like you cannot rotate or land facing forwards it probably means that your upper body is rotating left during the take off. Go back to practicing the entry edge and focus on holding your torso still throughout the jump. Keep your head looking inside the circle.
- Avoid leaning forward.
- Keep the free leg in front of the skating leg. It is very easy, especially just at the moment of jump, to let it wander off sideways, out of the circle. This will make it very hard to control the jump and you may fall on the landing.
- Remember to roll up on the blade as you jump, pointing the toe so that the pick is the last thing to leave the ice.
The flip jump is a toe-assisted jump starting from a shallow left back inside edge (usually from a left forwards outside 3-turn). The toe-pick of the right leg is planted in the ice far back behind the direction of travel and the skater vaults from the right leg, rotating one full rotation and landing on the right back outside edge.
Unlike the loop, toe-loop or Salchow it is hard to "skate" through the flip to understand the mechanics of the jump without actually having to jump, so that might make it seem harder to learn. However, here are a few tips:
- Make the 3-turn pretty flat, almost on a straight line. You need to hold the check after the turn very strongly and you do not want to lean your body into the edge. Your right arm should be kept right behind you - keep it slightly above parallel with the ice and make sure that you feel the pinch at the shoulder. your left arm should be held right in front of you. It help if you keep looking ahead and make sure that your left hand never leaves your field of vision on the entry edge. The upper body check is similar to that required for a loop jump.
- After the turn, hold the back inside edge and bend your left knee a lot and extend your right leg back. Do not move your arms and shoulders while you do this. As you stretch the leg back, bend forwards slightly from the hip so that your upper body is on the same line as your right leg (think of a rigid bar going from your right toe to your head). Try not to raise the picking leg when you stretch it back, but keep it close to the ice. You want to plant the toe-pick firmly in, but without kicking the ice. Observe Figure 3 to see what you should look like at this point.
- As you plant the pick, transfer your weight from the left to the right side. The right toe-pick has to be able to support your weight and pull you into the air. To feel this, try this exercise: stand on your left skate and reach back with your right leg, held straight and with the toe extended. As your pick grabs the ice, let it pull your left skate backwards as you rise on your left knee.
- As you rise up on the toe-pick (and not a second earlier!) release the check at your upper body by move the right arm forwards alongside your body and bringing in your left arm towards you. This is a similar scooping move to what was described earlier for the loop. Hold your upper body perfectly aligned with your right leg. rise up the left knee as you become airborne to ensure that all your weight is well centered on the right leg.
- In the air, try to keep the legs crossed in a backspin position.
- You can use half-flips as a stepping stone to learn the entry to the flip: After the forward 3-turn, pick with the free right leg, as described above, jump up, and land again on the toe-pick of the right leg, stepping forward onto a left forward outside edge. Go back and take a look at how much distance you covered doing the above. Then do it again, this time making a conscious effort to use your picking foot to pull yourself backwards. The distance should get longer.
The Lutz is named after the Austrian skater Alois Lutz. The Lutz is similar to the flip, but it takes off from a back outside edge instead of an inside edge. This means that the jump turns in the opposite direction to the entry edge. This "counter" character of the jump makes it one of the hardest single jumps, since it is not possible to take advantage of the intrinsic rotation provided by the edge to start turning. In fact, one of the most common mistakes in the Lutz is doing a change before the take off, so that the skater is technically doing a flip instead of a Lutz. This is what is usually referred to as a "flutz". Although an incidental change of edge just before the takeoff might be tolerated, the best looking Lutzes are achieved by taking off a pure outside edge.
- The standard preparation for the Lutz consists in clockwise back crossovers followed by a sustained shallow left back outside edge. The hips and shoulders should be perfectly square while riding the edge; keep your right foot close to your skating foot, left arm to your side and right arm slightly to the front.
- After settling on a stable outside edge as described above, reverse your arms so that your left arm is extended right in front of you and your right arm is pushed all the way back until you feel a pinch on that shoulder. Keep looking straight ahead down your left arm. Bend the skating knee, extend back the right leg and plant the pick on a straight line behind the left skating foot - it may feel like the pick is slightly inside the trace described by the skating foot. If you pick off to the side, you will most likely change the edge before the take-off. Other than the edge, to position just before picking should be similar to that described for the flip - see Figure 3.
- Make sure that you don't raise the free leg and kick the ice with the pick. This is not only a waste of energy, but it also makes you bend too much at the waist (not to mention that it will hurt your toe!)
- During the picking, concentrate on holding that right shoulder check and keeping the left arm in front of you. It will be harder to rotate in the air if you start rotating your upper body before you lift up.
- As you jump, draw the free arm into, not around, the body.
Some skaters use an alternative entry: Instead of riding the long back outside edge, they do counterclockwise crossovers or a left outside mohawk, ride briefly on a shallow right back outside edge, cross the left foot over the right to get onto the left outside back edge and then pick and jump. This entry is sometimes recommended to get rid of a flutz, because the right shoulder tends to move naturally backwards during the crossover step prior to the jump. The secret is not to linger on the left back outside edge edge and pick and jump immediately after the preceding crossover.
The Axel jump takes off from a forwards outside edge is landed on the backwards outside edge of the opposite leg, after one and a half revolutions. It is considered a stepping stone for learning multirevolution jumps.
- The usual approach to the Axel is a right backwards outside edge. On the approach, make sure that your body is very upright, your feet are close together and you are facing outside the circle. From this position, push strongly onto a left forwards outside edge on a deeply bent knee. You should adopt the same position shown in Figure 2., so if you spent time perfecting the entry to the Waltz jump, it will pay off now.
- As in the Waltz jump, the lift-off for the Axel comes both from pushing off the skating leg and from swinging forwards the arms and the free leg. The more forceful the swing, the higher the jump will be. As you raise on the jumping leg, roll your weight forwards onto the toe-pick. The toe-pick will be the last thing to leave the ice.
- An important difference to the Waltz jump is that the right leg should not remain extended as you kick it forward; instead drive the knee upward. This is what some people means by "stepping up" into the Axel. The movement of the right resembles climbing up a steep staircase. The purpose of this "stepping up" is to keep the free leg as close to your body as possible during the lift-off stage. This facilitates the snap into a fast rotation and the weight transfer from the left to the right leg, required for a stable landing on a strong back edge.
- As you lift the ice your free knee will be pointing upwards, your arms extended in front of you and your jumping leg fully stretched. Now comes the tricky bit: To generate the fast rotation, quickly pull in your arms towards your chest, point down the soon to be landing leg and cross the left foot over the right leg. This will look as if you were doing a backspin in the air; ideally you should look like the skater in Figure 4. Although achieving this air backspin position quickly is not strictly required to be able to do an Axel, it is the key to complete successfully more advanced multi-revolution jumps and it is generally considered better form than jumping with your legs hanging side to side.
- When you land, unwrap the legs by lifting the left knee and roll onto the back edge edge in the usual landing position.
The Axel can be a difficult jump to learn. Although mastering this jump will inevitably take some time and quite a few falls, there are several skills and exercises which can be used as stepping stones for the Axel. Practising them will provide you with some ingrained knowledge of the correct technique for the different phases of the jump and reduce the risk of injuries resulting from clumsy attempts:
- Waltz jump: Having a strong confident waltz jump is an important requirement for the Axel. Practice waltz jumps making sure that you adopt the proper take off position.
- Waltz-loop combination: Doing a loop (or better, a loop-loop) after the Waltz jump serves to control the free leg and hip and also helps with the concept of weight transfer to a new rotation axis.
- Backspin: Practice as many backspins as possible. A good exercise consists in snapping into a fast backspin from a standstill (by quickly pulling in your arms and crossing your legs at the ankle. This exercise simulates getting into the flight position and fast rotation in the Axel and multi-revolution jumps. Doing the backspin off the landing of a waltz jump is also an excellent exercise.
- Step-up: From a standstill or a one-foot forwards glide, step onto the take-off leg and practice the step-up into the Axel: swing your arms forwards until they are extended in front of you and drive your free knee upwards to hip height or higher and you roll up onto the toe-pick of the jumping leg. When you are comfortable with the step-up, try adding a fast backspin as you touch down with the landing leg.
A two-foot spin is a good introduction to spins in general and to get used to the feeling of spinning on the ice. You can start a two-foot spin from a standstill as follows:
- Start by bending your left leg keeping your torso upright. Your shoulders and hips should be lined up over your left foot. Roll that foot up to the front of the blade so that you are catching the toepick. This will keep you anchored on the ice as you prepare for the spin. Your right skate should be on the ice, about a shoulder-length away from the other foot, but your weight should be centered on the left foot.
- "Wind up" your upper body: Your left arm should be forward and a bit across your body and your right arm should be well back. When you release this tension by bringing your upper body (shoulders, torso, arms) to neutral, you will create some rotational energy that will set you spinning.
- Release the wind-up by bringing your right arm around to neutral. As you do this, let your right skate travel around in a circle, pivoting around and towards your left toe-pick so that your feet end up close together. Once your right arm has come round, pull in your arms to your chest, and get off the toe-pick - you should still be at the front of the blade, on the area right behind the toe-pick.
- At that time you should be spinning. Keep your shoulders level, do not bend at the waist and do not look at the ice!
- To exit the spin, open up your arms and push out onto a back right outside edge, exactly the same as the landing position for jumps.
Once you manage to spin, try a moving start: glide forward on both feet held parallel with bent knees. Wind up your upper body and lean to the left to describe a circle; and the circle starts spiralling in towards the center, cock your left knee to stick your pick in the ice. When the pick catches, release the wind-up, rocking back from the pick, and pulling in with you arms. In other words, once you have begun the pivot, this is identical to a standing start, but you have the added momentum from your forward motion.
Forward Scratch spin
The basic mechanics are similar to those of a two-foot spin described above. However, you need to place all your weight on one leg. The non-skating free leg is pulled in at the same time as the arms, providing extra rotational speed. You can get used to the feeling on spinning on one foot by starting a two-foot spin, either from the pivot or the moving entry. As you start spinning try picking up your right foot, placing it next to your left ankle. Once you manage to spin like that without losing your balance, you are ready to try the one-foot entry.
The basis for the one foot forwards scratch spin entry is a strong forward outside edge. A good exercise is to push onto an edge from a standstill and describe a circle with a diameter about half of your height. Keep your left knee strongly bent, your upper body facing in the direction you are going (it helps to think of keeping your chest right above your skating knee) and your left arm extended right in front of you. You right leg and arm should be extended behind you. You should be able to hold this edge until it spirals down to the center of the circle, at which point you can roll up to the front of the blade to and let your right side come around to initiate the spin.
The real spin entry is similar to the exercise described above, except that you do not wait for the edge to curve itself: instead, roll onto the bottom toe-pick after you have described a full semicircle and the your right arm and leg come around at the same time. The "up" is similar to what you do to start a 3-turn, but try to make a concious effort to catch the toe-pick. This will help you convert all your forwards momentum into pure rotation and give you a faster spin.
- Make your that you do not let your left arm move to the side while you are on the edge - it should stay right in front of you until you release your right side; once you do this let your left arm slightly off to the side.
- It is better to keep your arms and free leg extended as you start spinning; you should be able to see both of your hands off the corner of your eyes and your free leg should be in front of you. Keep the left knee slightly bent. This position will stabilize you and help you correct any small unbalance you have carried over from the entry better than if you pull in immediately.
- When you do pull into, do it in two parts:
- Move your hands towards your chest thumbs first (grab the outside of one hand with the other) so that your elbows are sticking right out. At the same time, bend your right leg knee so that your right skate is touching your left knee; at the start you can move the right skate to the inside of the knee to spin with your legs side to side, but eventually you want to place it against the outside of your knee so you can spin with your legs crossed.
- lower your free leg alongside the skating leg, making your that you keep your balance over the front of the blade and that you do not shift downwards your right hip while you do so. At the same time, pull your elbows down close to your body; another variation is to slide your hands from your chest down your stomach and belly until your arms are stretched down in front of you. The combined action of the arms and leg will make you spin faster.
- If you find yourself travelling while you are spinning it is probably a consequence of letting your upper body lean or turn out of the circle on the entry edge. In this case, go back to practising the long held edge exercise.
- To exit the spin, uncross your right free leg and push onto it, adopting the jump landing position. Opening up with your arms and leg with stop the spin.
You will be able to generate more power and a faster rotation if you start from a moving entry. The standard entry is from clockwise back crossovers. After crossing the left foot under, keep that leg extended beneath the right leg. Reverse your arms so that the left arm is in front of you and the right arm extended behind you. From this position, illustrated in Figure 5, step forwards on a deep outside edge, on the same position described above. Some tips to get this entry right:
- Make sure you do not drag your toe-pick before stepping forwards
- Do not turn our upper body when you are about to step onto the forwards outside edge. The most common mistake at this point is to try to
step out by 90 degrees. Instead, you should aim to step forwards in the same direction you are coming from, only on a tighter circle.
The backspin is done in the same direction as the forward scratch spin, but done on a outside edge of the other leg. The standard method to learning a backspin is starting from a standstill:
- Stand with your feet parallel with legs straight but not locked. Anchor your right toe-pick into the ice.
- Wind up your upper body, with your left arm in front of you and right arm pull back. You start the spin by bending your right knee a little more (sinking on the right knee will ensure that you transfer the weight to the right side), then sweeping your right arm around along a wide arc towards the front. Your left foot will describe a brief back inside pivot around your right foot during this entry. Try not to pivot on the toe-pick, but roll back slightly behind, where you are supposed to spin.
- So far, what you are doing looks like the two-foot spin entry described above, only your are pivoting backwards on the right leg rather than forwards on the left leg. To start the actual backspin, pick up your left leg off the ice by raising your left knee as soon as your shoulders become parallel to your hips. Your left skate should be at the same height as your left knee; remember to keep a soft right knee while you do this. After perfecting the entry, you can try pushing off the left inside edge instead of merely lifting the leg. This will give you more speed.
- It is critical at this point not to drop your left hip, otherwise you will fall right off the spin or (even harder to correct in the long term) start spinning on an inside edge instead of the outside one. Also, keep pressing down on the sweet spot of the blade - do not rock either towards the toe-pick or the back of the blade. It helps if you keep your right knee slightly bent at all times during the spin.
- After raising your left leg off the ice, cross your legs. Start by placing the heel of your left leg against the inside of your right knee, making sure that your left knee is pointing forwards. At this point your arms should be positioned as if you were hugging a giant beach ball. You should be able to see your hands out of the corners of your eyes. As you bring your arms in slowly, let your left skate to slide down along your right leg, heel first, until your legs are crossed at the ankles; see figure 6.
As you get more comfortable with the spin, you can increase the number of rotations by using linear motion:
- Slide forwards on a left inside edge; keep your left arm in front of you and the right arm to the side.
- Push on a deep right inside edge, with the skating leg deeply bent and let the edge carry you around in a tight circle. Make sure that your do not move your arms or your upper body while you do this. Your chest should be over your right knee throughout this. The left free leg remains behind you and slightly turned out to the side.
- Rise on the toepick to initiate the spin. Do not try to move the free leg across and over the right leg as you climb onto the pick. Instead, think of turning your spinning leg and upper body around. This is probably the hardest bit in the whole entry but once you will get it, it will cause a dramatic improvement of the spin!
Finally, you need to exit the spin. Start by pulling out your arms slightly and raising the free knee (this will slow down the spin). Then, bend the skating (right) knee deeply, rocking back onto the center of your skate and unwrap the free leg, extending it behind you forcefully, making sure that your upper body remains upright. This will translate your rotational motion into backward motion on an right back edge. This is the same exit that you will use to land multirevolution jumps, so it is worth practising it often. An alternative exit is to drop the left skate onto the ice and exit on the left backward inside edge.