The cross-foot spin

The cross-foot spin is a figure skating move that was once quite popular but is rarely performed today. Laurence Owen performed one at the end of her 1961 National Championship-winning free skate (jump ahead to 4:30 if you just want to see the final spin combination):

While I was looking for a video, I found lots of videos labeled “cross-foot spin” that actually depict scratch spins. The skater typically crosses the free foot over the skating leg and lowers it to the skating foot to gain speed (by decreasing the moment of inertia) during a scratch spin. So yes, by the end of the spin, the skater’s feet are crossed, but that’s not a cross-foot spin. In a real cross-foot spin, both feet are on the ice. The skater begins with a (usually back) scratch spin, then lowers the free leg all the way to the ice.

The cross-foot spin is sufficiently old that its origin is unclear, but it seems likely that it became a recognized skating move during the nineteenth century, when free skating was rapidly developing as a significant part of figure skating. Vandervell and Witham (1880:289) quote a description of it from Swift and Clark (1868), which Foster (1874) considers one of the most important skating

The cross-foot spin is done by starting off on a `one-foot spin,’ and crossing the balance-foot over and placing it upon the ice on the other side, the toes to be as near together as possible.”

When it is done done well, the cross-foot spin is extremely fast. Maribel Vinson (1940:192) describes it as “far and away one of the most effective of all the spins, but its effectiveness is paid for by the difficulty of perfecting it. The balance for a long fast cross-foot is tricky, and only a very few skaters in the world have been absolutely consistent in its performance. Sonja Henie, in her competitive days, had the fastest I remember seeing among girl skaters, and Roy Shipstad’s is outstanding in any company; Audrey Peppe has a very fine one, too.”

Gary Beacom (2006:65) describes the cross-foot spin as “the most fun you can have on a pair of blades—if you do it correctly, that is. Finding a perfect centre and then sucking every part of the body into it as the spin crescendos into a very fast, very long, and very quiet whirl is a feeling of absolute harmony.”

In decades following Laurence Owen’s triumph, the requirements for free skating tests and competitions became more specific. In 1961, there were no specific requirements for free skating, other than it be finished within a prescribed time limit (USFSA, 1960:9–35), leaving competitors free to select their favorite moves. By the 1980s, the cross-foot spin had fallen out of favor (Ogilvie 1985:289).

The cross-foot spin is rarely performed today, but not entirely forgotten: it remains an option for Ice Skating Institute skaters, who must perform their choice of a “Cross-Foot Spin, Layback Spin or Sit-Change-Sit Spin” on the Freestyle 6 test. There is also hope that it may be revived in international competitive skating. The latest edition of the U.S. Figure Skating Rulebook, which follows the regulations of the International Skating Union, includes the cross-foot spin under the rubric of upright  spins (page 233). As skaters look for more creative and difficult moves to perform in order to maximize their scores under the new system, they may find that the cross-foot spin is as fun and effective as their predecessors thought it was.


Gary Beacom. 2006. Gary Beacom’s Vade Mecum. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing.

Fred. W. Foster. 1874. “Skating literature.” Notes and Queries, 2(5):107–08.

Robert S. Ogilvie. 1985. Competitive Figure Skating: A Parent’s Guide. New York: Harper & Row.

Frank Swift and Marvin R. Clark. 1868. The Skater’s Text-Book. New York: John A. Gray & Green.

USFSA. 1960. The Twentieth Annual USFSA Rulebook: 1961 Edition. Boston: United States Figure Skating Association.

Henry Eugene Vandervell & T. Maxwell Witham. 1880. A System of Figure Skating: Being the Theory and Practice of the Art as Developed in England, with a Glance at its Origin and History. 3rd ed. London: Horace Cox.

Maribel Y. Vinson. 1940. Advanced Figure Skating. York, PA: Whittlesey House.