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The Man Who Invented Figure Skating Was Laughed Out of America

December 12, 2017 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Jackson Haines. (Credit: NordicPhotos/Alamy Stock Photo)

Nearly 60 years before the first Winter Olympics, long before figure skating was even a sport, an American named Jackson Haines became known for the pirouettes, dances and dramatic jumps he performed on the ice.

Haines’ road to fame and fortune wasn’t an easy one. He was laughed off the ice in his home country and spent years trying to convince European audiences that they wanted to watch ice dancing. But with a bit of talent and an ingenious head for business, the American athlete changed the way the world thinks about skating.

Thanks to Haines—now known as the Father of Figure Skating—dancing on ice has become a sport loved the world over.

Ice skating has been around for thousands of years—since around 3000 B.C., when indigenous Scandinavians used trimmed animal bones to propel themselves across the ice. But figure skating took a bit longer to come into existence. Though ice skating was a beloved pastime by the Victorian era, there was little artistry involved. During cold spells, skating enthusiasts would take to frozen ponds and lakes on rough hand-forged blades attached by leather straps to shoes.

In the years before the Civil War, the United States fell under the spell of a skating craze, forming clubs and ushering in the dawn of skating as a competitive sport. However, the stiff movements of these early skaters—most of whom practiced skating in “the English style”—would be nearly unrecognizable to modern-day audiences. On the ice, they performed their moves in response to a “caller,” who shouted the names of formations and movements to those moving about on the ice. In response, skaters would perform the different postures. Knees had to remain unbent and arms unlifted. It was formal, stuffy and technically exacting.

Jackson Haines. (Credit: NordicPhotos/Alamy Stock Photo)

It took Jackson Haines to loosen things up on the ice. Born in New York in 1840, Haines was a trained dancer and a born entertainer. He wanted to translate his ballet moves to the ice. During the 1860s, Haines began to skate to music instead of callers’ instructions, performing fluid movements that were completely different from the frosty formations practiced by English-style skaters.

By all accounts, audiences weren’t sure of what to make of Haines’ improvisational, free-flowing skating. …read more


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