Figure Skating 101 - Dec. 21

What is a spiral?

Sasha Cohen performs her acclaimed spiral.
Sasha Cohen performs her acclaimed spiral. (Getty Images)


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By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to
(12/21/2007) - A spiral is a figure skating move which is based on the classic arabesque position from ballet. The basic forward spiral is performed while a skater glides forward on one foot with the chest facing towards the ice and with the free leg stretched back. The free leg should be higher than the hip level as the move occurs. A skater's body looks a bit like a banana when the spiral is performed. The back should be arched and the free foot should be pointed and turned out. The skating leg is straight and locked (or almost locked), and the free leg is extended. Unlike the ballet arabesque, the skater's torso is not held completely upright.

The use of arms during a spiral can vary. Some skaters hold their arms out to the sides as they do the move; others move an arm in front and hold one in back. Sometimes a skater will move the arms around or grab the free leg. There are endless ways that skaters can be creative with the arms during a spiral.

Everyone Does Spirals

All figure skaters must do spirals, but men don't usually do spirals as well as the ladies. Beginning skaters first learn to do forward spirals in a straight line. Skaters taking the U.S. Figure Skating Pre-Preliminary Moves in the Field test are required to do two forward spirals (one on each foot), down the length of an arena.

Once forward spirals in straight lines are mastered, skaters are expected to be able to do spirals on edges and on curves. Many new young skaters are able to do spirals better on outside edges than on inside edges. As ice skaters advance, they are expected to be able to do spiral variations, and spiral sequences.

The World's Best Spirals

Figure skating legend, Michelle Kwan, is famous for doing a beautiful change of edge spiral. Kwan begins her spiral on an inside edge, and is able to make an easy transition onto an outside edge. Her free leg is extended very, very far above her head as she performs the move. Michelle's legs are almost in a complete split when she does her beautiful change of edge spiral.

Another skater who has outstanding spirals is 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen. Some people say that Sasha's spirals are the best spirals done by any figure skater in the world. Cohen exhibits much control and incredible flexibility when she does her spiral sequences. At the 2006 Winter Olympics, she received very high marks for her beautiful spirals.

Remember, you don't have to be a Michelle Kwan or a Sasha Cohen in order to enjoy doing spirals!

Happy Skating!

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