A Seminar In Shadow Skating History


Without a question, one of the earliest and most defining changes in the discipline of pairs skating was the introduction of shadow skating. Although combined figures and dance steps had obviously already been introduced, competitive pairs programs prior to World War I in no way resembled the programs we see today. Throws, lifts and death spirals weren't part of the pairs skating vocabulary yet but shadow skating, introduced to the sport by the British, laid the foundations for the inclusion of side-by-side jumps and spins.

To explain what shadow skating was in a nutshell, imagine two skaters side-by-side performing a footwork sequence in unison, mirroring each others movements. Although T.D. and Mildred Richardson were the first two to introduce the art to competition in 1923, it was actually the Richardson's well-respected coach, Bernard Adams, who gave the first known exhibition of it publicly some years prior. T.D. Richardson wrote of his former coach: "It was Bernard who, with his brother, first demonstrated shadow skating, a form of pair skating which he introduced. They looked like two figures cut out in black paper. The show consisted of turns, quick-moving steps and what would nowadays be considered simple jumps. But it was skated with great precision, in beautiful style and very fast. The term shadow skating was not used until 1923 when the late Kenneth Dundas applied it, in the Manchester Guardian, to the pair programme skated by my wife and me, and built on the lines of that of Bernard and Alex. A few years ago in an American show brought over by John Harris (Ice Cycles), it had been revived most beautifully. Bernard also had a foursome, consisting of the Adams brothers, with two other Princes instructors, Christian Soldan, a Swede, and Leonce Pesquier, a Basque from Biarritz, who had learnt his skating at the Palais de Glace in Paris and in Nice."

The Richardson's introduction of shadow skating at the 1923 British Championships received mixed reactions. When both they and Ethel Muckelt and John Page incorporated it into their Olympic programs at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, British judge Herbert Ramon Yglesias marked the Richardson's down severely... and put Muckelt and Page first. In his book "Ice-Skating: A History", figure skating historian Nigel Brown explained that when "T.D. Richardson and his wife executed almost an entire programme along these lines... a controversy started among the leading skaters as to whether to condemn or approve it as an interpretation of pair-skating... Some authorities would not even look at it, believing it not to be pair-skating at all, others thought it the highest form of pair-skating. It was more difficult to perform, and when the future World Champions, Pierre Brunet and Andrée Joly, developed it to a high standard and incorporated it in their programme, shadow-skating became a classic department of pair-skating art." 

I think it would only be right to finish off with a lesson in shadow skating from T.D. Richardson himself. Here's his description from his hugely popular book "Skating With T.D. Richardson", published in 1952: "[Shadow skating] is by far the most difficult, depending for its effect on complete unison of length of edge, sway, swing of the arms, shoulders, free leg and hip, and of tilt of the head - the last being the most difficult of the lot to acquire and the one which, when all the others are in accord, completes the picture. Another very important factor in this form of skating is, that it must be close together - not more than arm’s length apart. Perfect shadow skating requires hours, days, even years of patient practice, with a neutral eye constantly on the alert for any break in the uniformity. And finally it must have speed. Acquiring Spontaneity The best and quickest way to acquire all this is to take a simple step and work at it in sections, adding to it as soon as each section becomes entirely automatic - because there must never be the appearance of 'thinking' in a pair programme and it must give the impression of complete spontaneity. Let me give an example of one of these steps. Lfo (long), Rfi-Lfo (short), Rfo (long), drop three to Lbo (long), back cross-roll on to Rbo, a quick three turn on to Rf i and finishing with a 'cut-away' on to Lfo. This little step sounds very simple. It is. And if it is 'just done' it looks nothing at all. But do it in style, together, with a wide throw of the free leg on the cross-roll, on the three turn and on the cut-away, with a full shoulder swing, the arms in alignment, flowing very freely and with the heads moving round at the same angle; do it at speed and put it in the middle of a programme and someone is sure to say to you 'I did like that little step just before you went into...' This movement will not take you very far, so from your Lfo continue with a cross drop counter and back change, and so on into a lift, spin, or a jump. It would be a simple matter to enumerate dozens of these little opening phrases, but it is better and much more interesting and self-satisfying to work them out for yourself. It is extremely doubtful if you will find anything original, and if you do, only your closest admirers will give you credit for it. You will always be subject to the accusation of plagiarism, which of course is nonsense. Your steps should vary in speed of movement, that is to say, some should be com- posed of turns and changes, rockers, counters, and threes, combined and performed with such rapidity that even the best-informed student of this type of skating finds difiiculty in following its complexity. The others should be of long, flowing, deep, and powerful edges with position for a three jump, back loop, or Salchow; and these in their turn will develop into Axel Paulsens, double- loop, and double-Salchow. Frequently in these shadow dance steps, you will find a position simply asking for toe-Salchows, Lutz, back counter or rocker jumps, and as soon as this feeling is experienced, start at once and include them."

Just when you thought you'd had absolutely enough of cut-away's, they're back in their original splendour. Grab yourself a partner, test out T.D's shadow skating lesson and let me know how it goes!

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