Our Alumni in the News

A Little Look at Lifts

Did you know that our very own Dench and Stewart helped to create the lifts that we see today.  Read on.

Although we have certainly explored a wide range of topics in figure skating history to this point, it seems like pairs skating often gets the short end of the stick. I wanted to rectify that today by taking a little look into the early history of lifts in pairs skating.

In his 1959 book “Ice-Skating: A History”, figure skating historian Nigel Brown noted that “pair-skating which had been originally recognized by the International Skating Union in 1908 when the first World Championships in that event was staged in St. Petersburg, continued to be practiced for the next fifteen years along the classic lines of its inception. Three schools of influence combined in designing the classic expression of pair-skating at the beginning of the century. The English school which very early furnished world champions in this branch emphasized a pleasing choreographic structure of programme executed with a certain technical precision. The Viennese school which introduced spirals and spins into pair programmes concentrated on dance steps, speedily and gracefully executed. The German school whose representatives captured the first world pair title gave full expression to the movement of limbs producing a theatrical effect.” The introductions of ‘field figures’ (each partner performing the same school figures far apart) and shadow skating by T.D. and Mildred Richardson, were both first met with opposition but became important components of early pairs skating programs. Early forays in adding lifts to programs by The Brunet’s and Lily Scholz and Otto Kaiser (a weightlifter) were met with the same controversy shadow skating once received. Brown noted that “lifts were received with mixed feelings and regarded with distaste by many. Some looked upon lifts as acrobatics which did not belong to pure skating. There certainly was a crudity about them when first introduced, but no medium could be more adapted for expressing aerial grace than skating.”
1936 Olympian Rosemarie Stewart and her husband Robert Dench, who emigrated from Great Britain to California in 1940 and became stars of the Ice Capades, penned a 1943 book called “Pair Skating And Dancing On Ice”. It is one of the earliest books that offers any sort of concise glimpse into which elements pairs teams were including in their programs during this era. Stewart and Dench offer a clear distinction between lifts and carries: “For a lift, the man raises his partner from the ice, turning her with a continuous movement in the air, and places her back on the ice; for a carry, he picks up his partner from the ice and holds her in the air as long as he wishes before setting her down. The former is a continuous movement; the latter is sustained… Carries are not allowed in competition, as they are considered ‘strong-man stuff.’ You should therefore reserve them for exhibitions, and only use lifts in your competitive program.”

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