All right: Spins.

First off, you cannot really do skating spins on a dance floor. Quite. The most I can do with sit spins is try to balance myself while stationary, which doesn't work as well as you'd hope. A lot of positions are much more stable while spinning, primarily because the direction in which you topple over is defined relative to you, and not relative to the surface you're spinning on. Rotate fast enough, and you stay upright quite literally because you don't have enough time to finish falling over in any one direction. Friction and a lack of starting velocity kill your chances for this one. Camel spins are similarly impractical.

Standing spins are easier. If you can pirouette on floor, you can at least kind of gauge how you'd perform basic one- and two-foot spins, scratch spins, and corkscrew or crossfoot spins. It's slower than it would be on ice, and you can't keep the rotation going long enough to get into some of the fancier positions, but you can at least start them convincingly.

I'm not sure this exact sequence of moves is represented as a dance step -- probably, although not in ballet, which is loathe to depend on the slickness of the floor to accomplish things when it can dump all responsibility on the dancer instead -- but the question is moot, because I already do these damn things. All the time. Like, in the kitchen waiting for my pasta water to boil. Crossing the living room, when there is nobody else home to accidentally run into. Occasionally in the supermarket, as it provides a good half-second of entertainment where just turning around the normal way would be boring. Any time I'm in socks or slick enough shoes on flooring, really. I am a toddler who has discovered office chairs, is my point here.

I probably do them weirdly. Most dancers are discombobulated by spins too fast to spot, but spotting things has always made me much dizzier than not spotting things. (My running hypothesis is that there's something wonky with my inner ear. I only hate high places when I'm the one responsible for not falling off of them, and I have issues with staring at my feet on stairs and balance beams.) Between that and saccadic masking, I just give up on using my eyes, and stick with whatever I get from various proprioceptive senses. An amusing side-effect of that is that it throws me out of whack if I try to spin with my hair all pinned to the back of my head -- it makes quite a nice pendulum when loose or in a long plait, whose swing helps me judge speed and whether I'm upright.

The start to a basic standing spin is a sort of fouetté with the feet farther down. Fouettés are normally done en pointe, more or less; on an ice skate, that would roll you all the way up onto the toe pick. You could probably do it like that, but it would be really unstable and not recommended to the point where I haven't caught any of the Olympians doing it, not even Kurt Browning, who seems to have been determined to invent a new way to send himself to the hospital every time he did his footwork.

Here also is an example of Wikipedia being written by demented monkeys -- either "backward inside/outside edge" does not mean what I think it does or the Wiki article is bizarrely wrong, because if you click through their example pictures, all of the skaters are balanced on the front of the blade, on the curve just behind the pick. The shadows and the buildup of snow make that quite clear. This squares with the instructions for upright, sit, and camel spins I've gotten from unrelated YouTube videos, and I haven't found anything mentioning the rules say you have to do it the nearly-impossible way for it to count, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the sensible way is right and the Wiki-monkeys are wrong.

There are three ways to spin yourself: Pivot on one foot by kicking backwards, pivot on one foot by kicking forwards, and pivot on one foot by swinging your free leg around, usually to the back. All are easy and the first two are methods any bored kindergartener with slippery shoes would discover. Mind that I may have the terminology entirely wrong, as Wikipedia is my source for this, and this is a really horribly confusing article, and their example photos are almost entirely devoted to explaining the many ways in which you can do this while waving one of your feet around in the air, ideally over your head.

The first one is a kind of standard upright spin. You start on your chase leg, step forward onto the ball of your jumping foot, and kick the chase leg backwards to spin yourself in the same direction as you normally jump. You can do whatever with your chase foot. Like with the sit spins, pretty much anything is legal as long as you don't fall down; I was doing what are basically scratch spins, which is where you're balanced on one foot with the other one in close and locked in a spiral cross, almost-not-touching the surface. (On skates, this makes the toe pick of the non-supporting foot scratch a light circle in the ice, hence the name.) The kick-off foot is allowed to trail and wrap whichever way is handiest, which for this kick-off nocks it around the back of your skating ankle.

The second method is called a backspin -- in this case, a back scratch, because of the foot position -- because when you kick off forwards, you obviously spin backwards. You step off onto whatever foot you don't use for the regular spins and kick off forwards with the other, sending yourself backwards in your usual jumping direction. The kick-off foot trails front this time, and the back of that ankle nocks over the front of your skating foot. I think this is also a kind of crossfoot spin, because the free foot is in front, but don't quote me on that.

A corkscrew spin is a kind of crossfoot spin where instead of kicking off the ice as you enter the spin, you rotate by kicking a foot around and whipping it behind you, usually to cross the skating leg somewhat higher than the ankle. These can also be done as sit spins, although this is one of the weirder positions to be in with your knee bent that far, kinesthetically speaking.

With dance slippers on polished studio floor, you can get several good revolutions out of all of these starts. Three to four times around isn't a lot, but it is enough to figure out how you balance, and how to swap out feet. Flipping from a scratch spin to a corkscrew spin is pretty easy, and rather fun. You do it by switching feet. I step out right and flip my left leg around front to set myself off clockwise, locking my left ankle over the front of my right foot; to switch, step down left and lift right, keeping my right foot where it is relative to the floor, rotating until the right one is in front, then flip my right leg around back to continue rotation. It's less complex than it sounds. CCW spinners use the other feet, of course; I screw around like this so much it's actually comfortable in both directions.

I expected to have to un-learn a lot of dance posture for this, but funnily enough, I don't. The main thing is that the foot position is much flatter, because skates don't bend and you don't want to be on the pick; I'm on the ball of my foot rather than my toes. I also have to fight the impulse to step way out of things -- you do that in dance because you want to stop your foot momentarily relative to the floor if you change feet, whereas on ice you wouldn't, so the "step out" for a foot switch is more of a "step down and try not to break the flow".

It improved my mood quite a bit to catch myself in the mirror and note that my entry into a corkscrew spin looks a lot like Lambiel's already, which is what I'm shooting for. Most skaters, particularly the men, accelerate into spins by swinging their arms and legs, then pulling them in to reduce the radius of the spinning mass and therefore get going faster. Conservation of momentum, etc. They tend to stay straight up and down as much as possible as they start, like Amber Corwin here, even if they intend to drop into a sit spin or bow into a layback later. Lambiel swings himself way into contrapposto, a very distinctive form. If what I'm doing is an accurate reflection, he's actually throwing himself into the spin with one hip, plus the counter-rotation of his shoulders. It pitches his full body weight into the move, rather than just relying on limb acceleration, which is probably how he gets going fast enough to keep that up for a good minute if he switches feet in the middle. It also explains why he's not much for things like shotgun spins -- it would be pretty difficult to swing into one of those cockeyed. The catchfoot pancake spins are all creative ways of flattening out those same contrapposto poses.

I also totally fail to grasp why everything I read insists that layback spins are terribly difficult things. I ended up about 90% of the way to the iconic pose (not enough rotation time to get your arms up into a loop on floor, sadly), just trying to figure out what happened if I pulled a foot off the floor in a corkscrew spin. If you're already that flexible, and you're throwing yourself around contrapposto, it's trivial to roll back into the bend instead of straightening up once you're spinning.


  1. See, the wikipedia mention of edges makes sense to me, at least partly. If nothing else they're directional markers to tell you which direction you're spinning. (They could use clockface directions but, frankly, left back inside, for instance, means a lot more to me than clockface directions, because I have several years of body memory to draw on that tells me what left back inside feels like.) I'd have to actually get out there and try it out to figure out if there's a noticeable weight shift going on that would correspond to the appropriate edges. I think probably not, but my kinesthetic sense isn't super well developed so I can't say for sure.

    And I'm not sure you could sustain a spin on your toe pick, actually. I don't think friction would let you. One of the ways you can tell that you've rolled too far onto it is that you stop spinning. (This is also a way to tell that you've gone too far back. Actually, knowing that you're not spinning in quite the right spot on your blade is really easy because it's either way, way harder than it should be or flat out impossible. This does not mean that actually finding the sweet spot is quite as self evident, alas.) I mean, I suppose you've got pivots, but there you've got the other blade on the ice (and potentially a partner orbiting around you) for extra momentum.

    1. Is backWARDS inside edge not the same as BACK inside edge? I know the latter is the dorsal medial quadrant, in medical terms. In dance terms, spinning on that spot would have you pivoting on the outside of your [i]heel[/i], which I have never seen done for more than perhaps one revolution, and only in tap, where you can spin on the edge of the back tap plate. It's not stable and it's really hard on your calves, plus it locks your knees. Physically, you would not be able to drop into a sit spin from that foot position, either. In all of the example photos, it's pretty plain from the shadows (meet the blade at the front, split from the blade in the back, indicating the back of the blade is not touching the ice), the snow (built up under the front of the foot, meaning that is the part of the blade that's shaving material laterally from the surface), and how the skaters are poised (their center of gravity is hanging over the ball of the foot, not the back) that everyone is leaned forward slightly and rotating around a point on the front of the rocker. I can certainly see how it would work to vary between inside/outside edges, but I can't see how you could sustain a spin for that long working on the heel end of the blade.

      Spinning "forwards" and "backwards" is pretty meaningless to me. I'm strongly clockwise-dominant for all the edge jumps, mildly clockwise-dominant for things like wally jumps and my so far pathetic attempt at waltz jumps, and so slightly clockwise-dominant for upright spins that the only way I can tell is that it's the direction I choose to pirouette if the direction doesn't matter at all. If there's even the slightest reason to go the other way -- I'm screwing around in the grocery store and I happen to have to turn that direction, for example -- it isn't any trouble. I can keep track of whether I have kicked off or swung the non-pivot foot to the front of me or the back of me, but fuck me if I know what's considered forward or backward relative to my dominant jumping direction.


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