Figure Skating 101 - Nov. 16

All about spread eagles

Ben Agosto performs his spread eagles beautifully, even while holding onto partner Tanith Belbin.
Ben Agosto performs his spread eagles beautifully, even while holding onto partner Tanith Belbin. (Getty Images)


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By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to
(11/16/2007) - Every week and figure skating expert Jo Ann Schneider Farris take new fans on a guided tour through the ins-and-outs of competitive skating.

This week, we tackle spread eagles -- what are they, why they're called that, how to do one, and more!

What is a spread eagle?

A spread eagle is when an ice skater glides on two feet down the ice, but points the toes in opposite directions with the legs spread apart. The heels of the blades are lined up as the move glides down the ice in a straight line or on a curve.

There are inside spread eagles and outside spread eagles. Inside spread eagles are easier to do than outside spread eagles, because outside spread eagles are done on outside edges. A good spread eagle is done when the legs are completely straight, when the head is up, and when the rear is tucked in. Some figure skaters add arm movements to their spread eagles. Spread eagles, when done well, are a pleasure to watch.

Origin of the name

Most figure skaters and ice skating fans have no idea where the term spread eagle came from. The move actually got its name from the American Indians! In the 1800s, some Indians were brought to England. They entertained the elite classes with their war dances. Those Englishmen who were involved in figure skating noticed that one of the positions done by the Indians resembled a turned-out position that was being done on the ice. Shortly after that, the Indian "Spread-Eagle" war dance step became an official ice skating term and move!

Not everyone can do a spread eagle

Spread eagles look easy, but some very accomplished figure skaters are not able to do them. Many figure skaters just don't have the open hips that are necessary to do a good outside spread eagle. Most skaters can do small inside spread eagles, but there are a few people whose hips are so closed that even doing an inside spread eagle is impossible. Since spread eagles can't physically be done by every skater, they are not required at skating competitions and are considered connecting moves.

Famous figure skaters who do great spread eagles

2006 Olympic silver medalist ice dancer Ben Agosto does very strong spread eagles. What's impressive about Ben's spread eagles is that he does them while lifting his ice dancing partner, Tanith Belbin, in the air! Tanith has to trust Ben completely as she puts her body into twisted and stretched-out positions, and Ben has to maintain his balance and concentration as he lifts Tanith while spreading his legs and feet.

Denis Petukhov is another ice dancer that does spectacular spread eagles while lifting his wife and ice dance partner, Melissa Gregory. Olympic champion Brian Boitano and Olympic silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan do spectacular spread eagles. 2007 U.S. National Juvenile Boys Champion, Joshua Farris, is able to do an outside spread eagle right into a double axel, followed by another outside spread eagle!

Spread Eagle Exercises

No one is able to do a spread eagle immediately. Those who want to do them should do some exercises at the rail first.

• While holding onto the rail, open up your legs, feet, and hips while putting the inside of your skates right at the edge of the rail.
• Straighten both legs and push your hips completely forward and hold that position for at least twenty seconds.
• Continue holding onto the rail, but move your feet about ten inches away and shoot each blade out on outside edges. Your feet must point in opposite directions, and the heels of each blade should be in line with each other.
• Maintain that outside spread eagle position while holding onto the rail and use the rail to move yourself in one direction. Now move yourself down the rail in the other direction.
• If you feel brave enough, now try the spread eagle without holding onto the rail. Don't forget to tuck in your rear!

Practice Makes Perfect

Spread eagles don't come easy, so figure skaters sometimes forget to practice them. Those who do practice them every time have a better chance of being able to do good ones consistently. Don't give up if you can't do a spread eagle right away. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Happy Skating!

For more information on the fundamentals of figure skating visit the U.S. Figure Skating's Basic Skills Program. Happy Skating!