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The History of Artistic Skating

Figure and freestyle skating, along with skate dancing, are part of artistic skating. Like skate dances, figure skating is made up of set, formalized movements and steps. Freestyle, which originated from figure skating, incorporates routines individual to each roller skater or skating couple. Originally performed together during competition, in 1949 figures and freestyle were split into separate competitions. 

Gloria Nord.jpg

Gloria Nord, headliner of the Skating Vanities skating show of the 1940s. (81.33.488)

The early development of figure skating on roller skates came from ice skaters. While fancy figures never became popular on roller skates, since their purpose is the picture left on the ice rather than the executed move, roller skaters added their own movements as it became increasingly popular beginning in the late 1930s. Though figure roller skating took time to develop, roller skaters eventually created an itinerary of more than 40 figures of jumps, turns, and spins.

Freestyle roller skating dates back to the early twentieth century, when roller skaters began adapting movements from ice skaters in the 1930s and 1940s. During this same time, roller skaters began creating their own movements. In the 1940s, after completing the required figure skating movements during competition, a roller skater could then execute their own fancy figures or trick skating to reveal their skill as a skater. In 1949, freestyle separated from figures, resulting in its own competition. New movements were often named for the skater who first performed them during a freestyle event. Freestyle skating involves interpreting the tempo and mood of the music during the routine, and each skater is judged by his or her speed, height of jumps, sureness of spins, and connective footwork.

One of the three styles which make up artistic skating (the other two being figure and freestyle), dance roller skating began in the nineteenth century. Jackson Haines, an American ballet teacher and ice figure skater living in Vienna, introduced skate dancing to the United States. Popular with rink skaters from the 1880s onward, skate dancing at first only mimicked ballroom dancing. Roller skaters only skated waltzes and marches until the early 1930s, when, in 1932, the tango was introduced. Seven year later, in 1939, roller skate dance became a competitive sport, and soon after brought forth numerous dances created especially for roller skaters.


Elsbeth Muller in 1941 taught rollerdancing at the Arena Gardens Rink in Detroit, Michigan. (81.13.5)

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