Feb 25, 2010

Impudent strumpet

Not me. One of my tweeps, who asked the best questions about figureskating during the Olympics. I was extremely proud of my 140 character twitter responses, but here are some answers in more depth:

Can figure skating dresses be machine washed with all that netting and sequins? If not, do they get smelly?
If a dress has jewels or beading, you can gently hand wash it, but you can't put it in the machine. A dry cleaner who specializes in beaded garments (for instance, one that does wedding dresses) can clean it.

Yes, they get smelly. IceMom has a post on caring for beaded and jeweled dresses here.

Do they enter jumps backwards because it's easier, or because it's harder?
The two hardest jumps are axel (forward take off) and lutz (backwards take off). Axel is hard because of the extra rotation (forward take off adds a half rotation, so a "double" axel, is actually about 2 1/2 rotations), Lutz is hard because it's one of the few true full-rotation jumps (more about that in a sec) and because it's a "counter" jump-- rotational direction is opposite of entry edge direction. Don't ask.

In fact, salchow, loop, and toe loop, mechanically, actually all jump off a forward edge. This makes them easier not because of the edge, but because in these cases it reduces rotation in the air.

Do they have to start at centre ice, or can they start anywhere on the rink?
The can start anywhere in the rink, starting in the middle is just a great big "look at me!" sign. Especially in show programs, you'll sometimes see skaters starting against the boards, just to be funny. Starting and finishing in the middle of the rink also gives you that fabulous publicity shot against the Olympic logo, cuz when is that ever going to happen again.

Why do they go with opaque instead of sheer flesh-coloured tights for their legs?

Sheer tights are too fragile for figure skating. You'd never get through more than one program. Years ago, skaters used to wear tights with a sheen, but that is now considered tacky. The tights don't match skin tone, because they are made in literally only one color. This is a real problem for black skaters. Surya Bonaly used to refuse to even wear tights. They tried to force her and she told them to go f*** themselves. I read somewhere that Debi Thomas dyed hers with tea. Show skaters will often wear standard microfiber in a tan color (a little heavier than sheer, not quite the blanket weight of skating tights) with brown fishnets over them, which gives the legs a nice definition. I don't know why competitive skaters have never picked up this trick.

Don't get me started on the over-the-boot thing they were all doing this year.

Why is her score so relatively low? She didn't seem to mess up, did she?
I don't know which skater this referred to, but it hits the crux of the disconnect between the scoring and the fans. The scoring marks 12 to 13 required elements, plus 6 "component" scores that grade technique, choreography, interim steps, and other artistic elements. Non-jump required elements further are divided into levels of difficulty from 1 to 4. The level is awarded on the spot by a technical specialist. Then each element is given a "grade of execution," i.e., how well you did it, from -3 to +3. The four major things that drag a score down are: under-rotating jumps (lower base score), low levels on required elements, negative grade of execution, and poor component scores. Judges seem to award component scores on a "stair step" basis, i.e. the less technically skilled skaters ALWAYS get lower component scores, no matter how brilliantly they skate within the technical confines. Conversely, the technically skilled skaters ALWAYS get high component scores, no matter how ugly they are on the ice (Comrade Plushenko comes to mind.)

Would a skater be allowed to compete in both singles and pairs, if she were wunderkind enough to do so?
Yes. This happens all the time at the National level. Caydee Denney was also a singles skater, looks like until last year. (someone correct me?)

Is there a functional reason why figureskating dresses are so often high neck low back instead of low neck regular back?

The "keyhole" style is traditional in figure skating dresses. Gonna refer this one to Ice Mom, too! Update: see the responses!) The bare back is just sexy. Tonya Harding tried this in reverse in 1992, with essentially a bare front. Judges weren't happy, but then Tonya generally pushed a lot of people's buttons, even before it occurred to her to try actual criminal activity.

Is it just me, or do the women spend more time obviously cueing up for their jumps than the men?
I think it's just you, but it could also have something to do with upper body strength. Multiple rotation jumps take a tremendous amount of upper body strength, which will favor the men.

Why doesn't it injure him when she puts her blades on his thighs like that?
This was in reference to the style in dance lifts this year, in which the lady actually stood on the gentleman's calf, thigh, stomach, or head for all I know. The answer is, yes it hurts. Charlie White tried skating with a pad under his pants on their amazing lift, but found it too cumbersome, and decided to just deal with the bruise.

On a similar topic, the women often cut their hands with all that blade grabbing. US Juvenile Dance champion Angel Giordano wraps her hands in gauze when practicing.

Is there like a standard choreography notation for explaining to ppl how exactly the compulsory dance goes?
There is no notation per se, but the patterns are drawn out (men's steps and ladies' steps) and there is standardized abbreviation so you know what to do at each step. All the patterns can be found at icedance.com.

Is it hard for them to not crash into each other when they're all skating around and warming up?
Short answer-- not really. On-ice warm ups at competitions are about the least crowded ice that skaters ever get to practice on, especially at the lower levels. A typical free style session has an upper limit of 26 to 30 skaters, and half again that number of coaches. Most of the time when you see skaters having close calls at competition warm up they are psyching each other out. Tonya Harding and Katarina Witt used to be notorious for it. Actual crashes are accidents. There are actually protocols and rules for practice sessions, regarding right of way, pattern, and manners.

Impstrump's blog is Impudent Strumpet. Thanks for the great questions! See you at Worlds!


  1. Hi, Xan!

    I actually did write a post about cleaning figure skating dresses that had a lot of beading on them. The post is called How-to: Clean Figure Skating Dresses with Vodka. No, seriously.


    Ice Mom

  2. Hello, Xan and Impudent Strumpet (love the assonance, BTW)!

    Here's the question: Is there a functional reason why figureskating dresses are so often high neck low back instead of low neck regular back?

    Most hems that touch the skater's body (neck, arm holes, key hole back, panty leg openings) have elastic worked into the seam so the fabric hugs the body and doesn't gap. This makes sure that the skater can move without showing her butt cheeks.

    Low-cut backs have very little risk of gapping open because backs are nice and straight.

    Fronts, however, aren't straight. Picture a one-piece swimsuit. They hug the bust on the top, but they don't press against the breast's skin on the underside. They can't. If a seamstress attempted it, the skater would be showing a lot of inappropriate skin. Remember Jennifer Lopez's low-cut Versace green dress at the 2000 Grammys? Two words: body tape. Body tape doesn't work for figure skaters.

    That's why you don't see a true front low-cut dress on a figure skater. Even Tonya Harding had flesh-colored mesh on her trashy low-cut dress.

    There is, too, the case for high-cut dresses because they're less likely to slip off of a skater's shoulders when she's spinning and jumping. Look closely at photos of dresses with shoulder straps. Often these shoulder straps are sewn over flesh-colored athletic mesh or Lycra. They're an illusion. The skater wants to keep that dress firmly in place and a high-cut dress does this more easily.

    Great questions!

    Ice Mom

  3. Hi Xan :-) I have a question about the ISI and ISU adult amateur competition levels. Can you post something about that, please?
    Thanks in advance :-)

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  5. Anon, I'm going to refer this one to Joanne at About Figure Skating (http://figureskating.about.com/) Find her on Twitter also: http://twitter.com/AboutIceSkating

  6. I think the over the boot tights are for camouflaging worn or taped up boots and making them more presentable for tests and competitions...since most skaters only have one pair of skates at a time and don't have separate "competition boots". Otherwise what is the point of buying them when after doing a few lunges they take a beating?