jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Filer un son


So I asked my son’s cello teacher about a phrase that he uses sometimes to describe a good sound: le son filer. This means “sound spinning,” as in spinning le fil, a thread. (Not spinning the way skaters do (pirouette or tourner); that wouldn’t work while playing the cello!)

This is a phrase that Mr. Howard got from one of his teachers, André Navarra (or perhaps it was Pierre Fournier; he studied with all the greats). It refers to a sound quality that draws you in by its continuity, tension, and form. The thread of sound pulls in the listener, and doesn’t let go.

I looked this phrase up in Rupert Hughes’s The Musical Guide (1903), which gave a variation, filer un son (or filer la voix): to draw the tone out to a thread of sound.

I’ve been thinking about what makes good ice dancing so compelling, and I think it’s related to this concept. It’s not just the sparkly costumes, fancy turns, or catch-your-breath lifts. As much as I love these things, I also enjoy watching ice dancers who are dressed in everyday practice clothes do much more basic things. Their movement is seamless, blending push into extension, one edge into another. It looks like an unfaltering flow of energy, or like the breath going in and going out.

This quality of movement is waaaay harder than it looks. I was thinking about this idea while I was practicing one of my basic exercises today: outside forward swing roll, change edge, inside mohawk, step forward and repeat on other side. Instead of a continuous thread of movement, I kept slowing down and then having to accelerate again. There were definitely interruptions in movement on the change of edge (tipping into the circle to change), push after the inside mohawk (falling off the inside edge rather than lowering and getting a good push to the outside edge), and step forward (push!).

It helps to slow this exercise down so that I can really think about both each discrete movement and about how to get from one position to another. The tricky part, though, is getting rid of the pauses and hesitations.

The more I think of it, the more my skating has been a matter of pushing and then trying to balance on edges, rather than creating a continuous motion. I’m like the interrupting cow joke!

Knock, knock

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow.

Interrupting co. . .


Hopefully this concept will inspire me to get rid of the stutter, especially as my left side works better and better. No more lame jokes (though I can’t promise anything) and no more lame Jo either.

La patineur filer–et danser sur glace!

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 “Filer un son

  1. Great analogy! I agree that good skating is pretty breathtaking on its own. I strive to skate like a kid but still have a bit of the “adult skating syndrome” going on where things look a bit awkward and forced. Love the idea of thinking like a musician – that is definitely something I can learn to channel!


  2. Flow is perhaps the most amazing thing about skating– we have the opportunity to develop a much greater degree of flow than other kinds of dancers can, and it is so beautiful to watch. For ice dance coach Ty tells me (in practically every lesson) to bend first, then push. Something that I need to hear a lot (I hope it’s at least starting to sink in?). Another thing he’s told me is that part of being an advanced skater is learning that you have to push hard on every stroke. There’s nowhere in your program that just going along as you are, without trying to get more speed, is enough.


  3. Yes, Mary, absolutely! I used to think dance took less power and stamina than freestyle–boy, was I ever wrong. And it’s good to have a dance coach who calls you out on every stroke.


  4. Your simple description of the exercise- swing roll, edge change, mohawk- makes me want to skate.


  5. You should get out there, Anne. Tailbone down!


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