The other Jones

Readers of this blog and everybody else who’s interested in skating history already know about Robert Jones’s Treatise on Skating. But there’s another book, a much more recent one, by a Jones. Ernest Jones is well-known in psychoanalytic circles as a disciple of Freud, and his background on psychology provides the foundation for his book, or rather books, because The Elements of Figure Skating went through two very different editions.

The first edition, published in 1931, comes in at only 135 pages. It begins with the claim that it “is addressed by a beginner to beginners, and the distinctive feature of it is its psychological mode of approach to their problems in studying Figure Skating.” It’s meant to cover the first year of skating, for someone who “has an average degree of suppleness and confidence” and skates about an hour a day (5). In concrete terms, this includes the forward eights, the forward outside three turn, the forward serpentines, and the back outside eight—basically first test. Some attention is also given to ice dancing.

The second edition, published in 1950, is, at 310 pages, a significant expansion of the first. By this point, Jones had had nearly 20 more years to refine his skating skills, and the book makes it clear that he has made good use of them. It includes all kinds of exercises for figures and combinations of them, which makes it a must for anyone doing figures today. What it lacks is details of brackets, rockers, and counters; Jones notes this in his preface and refers to the reader to T. D. Richardson’s Modern Figure Skating.

In the second edition, Jones includes descriptions of various grapevines, which have mostly been forgotten today. These long, intricate two-footed figures are fun to play with but hard to learn from books. Jones notes that “To describe them in detail has been held to be impossible, a challenge which I found hard to resist” (8). People stopped doing them because they were focused on winning competitions, which meant avoiding two-footed skating as much as possible. Jones calls this “a pity” because skating on two feet can look good and helps develop smooth turns and flexibility (218). He also adds a chapter on teaching skating and another on the history of skating. The former shows how his background in psychology informs his coaching, and the latter is interesting if not entirely accurate.

The writing style is clear and entertaining, as demonstrated by the description of the Demon Eight, reproduced here:

I will finish this section by mentioning a particularly ferocious figure known as the Demon Eight. It is so called because of its having been invented by the Devil, a fact which will be obvious to you as soon as you try it. There is only one gentleman—let me call him Mr. A. B., not Mr. B. A.—who can skate it with easy proficiency, so it is not surprising that he has been suspected of complicity in sorcery, if not of something worse. Carry out a full circle on an ordinary No. 1–No. 2 Backward Outside, but before finishing the circle draw the free foot again forward, slip it across the skating foot and in front of it, i.e. inside the circle, and on reaching your centre strike off on a Backward Outside edge on this second foot. What had been the skating leg remains somehow attached to your person, and gradually finds its way to the front. The shoulders have to be strongly reversed in preparation for the change. With luck—and skill—you are now again in a No. 1 Position and you have to hold it until you change to a No. 2 and complete the circle. The change was an inter-circular one, for there are two circles: so it cannot be a Mohawk. But both circles are skated on the same edge; so it cannot be a Choctaw. In fact it is pure wickedness, not to say devilry. (216–217)

Go try it.


Ernest Jones. 1931. The Elements of Figure Skating. London: Methuen.

Ernest Jones. 1950. The Elements of Figure Skating. London: Allen & Unwin.

T. D. Richardson. 1930. Modern Figure Skating. London: Methuen.

Further reading

Todd Dufresne and Gary Genosko. 1995. “Jones on Ice: Psychoanalysis and Figure Skating.” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 76.1:123–133.