jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Ode to the European Waltz


At my lesson this week, Ari had me doing the side pattern from the European Waltz. We’ve been working on the man’s part for so long that it took me a few tries to get back into the woman’s steps. And then I realized how much repressed trauma can be buried under my smooth mask of skating joy and calm.

OMG, not the European Waltz! The dance that shall not be named! It was the first compulsory ice dance that I ever failed. I passed it on the fourth try, only because (a) I took enough cold medicine (for a bad cold, I swear) to put myself into a kind of altered state, and (b) I watched Torvill and Dean’s legendary Paso Doble OSP on television (yes, it was that long ago) right before the test.

The European Waltz is pretty much three-turn city. The pattern goes something like this: left three turn, back outside right, back outside left, step forward to right three turn, back outside left, back outside right, repeat the whole thing, then do three repetitions of a three-turn-to-back-outside-edge. The test requires three patterns, not short and definitely not sweet. It goes round and round the rink for what feels like forever.

Oomph pah pah, oomph pah pah, threatening imminent doom with every pulse of 3/4 time.

After I passed, I thought with relief that I’d never have to work on it again. But oooohhh nooo. . . . to progress further on the pre-gold dances I am faced with the brutal reality of the Starlight Waltz end pattern, which has two of those end pattern Euro-threes capped off by the oh-so-delightful foxtrot mohawk.

Had I passed my pre-golds soon after my silvers, I might have been spared testing the Starlight Waltz, which some years ago was made into a pre-gold dance (when I started ice dancing, it was tested at the international level, after the gold-level dances). But I took a set of breaks from skating, and a long long break from testing after doing the silvers. I actually do like the Starlight, aside from those wicked three turns. The repetitive three turns make European Waltz harder, because for me it’s like repeating the same mistake again and again and again. And again.

Both my three turns and back outside edges are problematic. Luckily, it’s the same basic challenge with both: not using the inside edge to lower myself down on the knee, and not placing the new foot on the ice. Unluckily, this causes the same problems: instead of lowering on the inside edge, I’ve been falling into the circle on my three turns (not lifting my heel), not lowering down but falling from the inside edge onto the back outside edge. I’ve also been sliding my feet from outside to outside on the transitions, missing those loveable “rockover” inside edges at the end of each outside edge. I need to work on controlling those inside edges in order to create a genuine, bona fide (really, truly, madly, deeply) push from one edge to another.

Some days I find myself watching those how-to videos (boy, can Maya Usova ever lower herself down on that inside edge!)

and thinking to myself, yeah, right.

I’m not sure I am conveying the proper tone of optimism about this process. So in the spirit of a modern dance teacher I once had who said “Your weaknesses become your strengths,” I am trying to stay upbeat and just keep at it.

So I tell myself that the European Waltz is a great dance with which to develop proper technique. It’s not fussy, there are no special features; it’s just rise and fall, three turns and back edges–and lots of controlled inside-edge pushes. Just my kind of thing, no? I even wrote a little poetic tribute to the European waltz in the style of Emily Dickinson. Here’s her original poem:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee.

And revery.

The revery itself will do,

If bees are few.

And here’s my version:

To do the European you need a back edge and one three,

One back edge, and a three.

And melody.

The melody itself will do,

If threes are few.

Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

6 thoughts on “Ode to the European Waltz

  1. I’m definitely not well-versed in ice dance, but maybe one day I will learn them (after I am done with freestyle). This dance definitely sounds challenging! How is one supposed to make these steps look easy!?! 🙂


  2. I think you’d rock at ice dance, Eva! It’s a different mental game than freestyle, definitely.


  3. Love the poem! I have the same problems with CCW turns. It’s maddening. I tell myself to just duplicate whatever I’m doing during the mirror image CW turns. As Chief Dan George says to Dustin Hoffman: “Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.”


  4. Great quotation! I will definitely have to remember that one–thanks!


  5. Thanks for introducing me to that Emily Dickinson poem, and your version for the European. I’ve only just started on the European, there’s no telling how long it will take, especially with my dance coach only intermittently in town. One ice dancer I know told me it was his hardest dance to learn, and he has his golds.


  6. It’s interesting how hard the dance is, considering it only requires three turns and edges. Now that my left three turn is better, I may actually begin to like it. It’s like going over to the Dark Side! But for others who have mastered dance threes, it is way easier–hopefully you’ll zoom right through it.


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