jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Deconstructing turns


I got a copy of John Misha Petkevich’s book Figure Skating: Championship Techniques as a parting gift from my friend Lisa when I moved away from Los Angeles many years ago. I really enjoyed talking with Lisa at Pickwick Ice Arena, where she would bring her young daughter to skate. Happy times!

She wrote a lovely message in this book: “Jo, I’m going to miss one of the few skating buddies I have–over the age of 12.” See, adult skaters are special people!

Did you know that, according to Wikipedia, John Misha Petkevich was born in Minneapolis? Such a small world. It is fun to look over his book, with its action-photo of Brian Boitano on the cover, again. It moves from the basics of posture and sculling to advice on how to do a “reverse double lutz” (his original invention). There is also advice on how to choose an appropriate pairs partner that I will need to save for another day (not!).

The book has a very short section on ice dancing that calls it “the most elegant and sophisticated of the disciplines of figure skating”: “In ice dancing, athleticism is, in the strictest sense, the servant of beauty.”

Okay, that description is making me discouraged. Back to earlier chapters for more basic advice.

“The back is the main support for the rest of the body. It provides the pinion around which all the movements will occur, literally and figuratively.”

“the push-off should resemble an explosion.”

Where the book might be most useful for me right now is in its really detailed description of the mechanics of turns. I’m trying to keep a number of things in mind as I take apart my three turns (again!) and embark on the alternate universe of brackets, rockers, counters (and mohawk and choctaws, oh my!).

For those readers who are not familiar with these turns, here’s a summary. (If you want to watch some short  clips of how these are used by elegant, sophisticated, beautiful, and athletic ice dancers, I urge you to go to this most excellent page from “Ice Dance Analysts.”)

  • Three turns rotate into the original curve, making a “three” on the ice (for instance, a forward outside edge turns into a back inside edge).
  • Brackets are counter-rotated; the top of the turn points out of the original circle (forward outside edge turns into a back inside edge, but the body turns in the opposite direction than a three turn).
  • Unlike three turns and brackets, counters and rockers involve two circles instead of one and require a change in the direction that the body leans. Three turns and brackets actually have a change of edge at the point of the turn, but counters and rockers do not.
  • counter starts like a bracket, with the body counter-rotated during the entry edge circle, but changes to a different circle on the exit (forward outside edge into a back outside edge). A rocker begins like a three turn with the body rotating into the initial circle, and then creating a new circle (forward outside edge, body rotates into the edge and then continues to a new circle on a back outside edge).

I will summarize and paraphrase here some of what “Misha” describes as the general principles of turns:

  1. The principal driving force for a turn is the rotational (angular) momentum of the upper body either in concert with or at odds with the angular momentum of the blade.
    1. When it is in concert (as in three turns), the rotational momentum of the upper body going into the turn proceeds at a faster rate than the rotational momentum of the blade. At the point of maximum rotation, the blade is forced into a small curve, creating the first half of the turn.
    2. When it is at odds (as in brackets), the rotational momentum for the turn is created by the upper body. But this is increased by straightening the skating leg, shifting body weight to a different part of the blade, and by the tension of the upper body and hips working against each other. In the preparation for the turn, the rotational momentum of the upper body overtakes that of the lower body of the lower body and forces the blade into a smaller curve, creating the entrance to the turn. Tension created at the waist (a wringing or twisting sensation) should be experienced in the fullest sense (if the upper body could spin freely around at the waist, the turn would be virtually impossible). The maximum point of rotation occurs when the shoulders are parallel to the skating foot. Primary rotation is exerted by the shoulders (and the core) rather than the arms.
  2. The entrance to a turn is enhanced by lifting over (straightening) the skating leg. This reduces the pressure (created by the skater’s weight) of the blade against the ice. (Ari describes this as “unweighting” the skating foot, almost like a jump.)
  3. During the entrance to a turn, the weight is shifted from the part of the blade opposite to the direction in which you are skating (back of the blade for forwards, front of the blade for backwards) to the same part of the blade as the direction of travel (front for forward, back for backwards). This weight shift accelerates the entrance of the blade into the smaller curve for the turn.
  4. The exit for the turn is created by checking (rotating the upper body against the hips). This begins prior to the middle of the turn, since the check pulls the blade out of its initial rotational path.
  5. The direction and degree of body lean determines the kind and shape of the turn. Before, during, and after three-turns and brackets, the lean remains into the circle; for counters and rockers, the lean shifts to a new circle.

Lots of mental gears turning even as I am writing this. Thanks, Misha! Thanks, Lisa! I’m dedicating my next thousand or more turns to you!

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.

2 thoughts on “Deconstructing turns

  1. Love the comment about a push off resembling an explosion. Oh, if it were only that easy to execute! Figure skating turns took me forever to figure out. Counters and rockers are so confusing unless you do them on a regular basis. Those illustrations are immensely helpful!


  2. Thanks, Eva. Yes, I still have to really think about counters and rockers or I forget what direction to go in! Then what a disaster!


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