Figures & science

The nineteenth century was when the system of compulsory figures was being formalized and governing bodies were created. Vandervell & Witham’s A System of Figure-Skating was the first `scientific’ treatise on figure skating. At the time, most figure skaters were rich  men: they had the disposable income to spend their  time — all day, on days when the weather was suitable — skating and thinking about skating. This was also an age when science was getting done. Rich men, perhaps even the same rich men, were also spending their time discovering the secrets of the universe.

There are a lot of similarities between skating figures and doing science. In both, one must be patient and meticulous. Every minor error must be examined and corrected. It can take many days, or years, to get a minor point right. And at the end, one has results that may not seem impressive to the uninitiated.

Was it a coincidence that these two activities involved the same people? Or was science a fundamental shaper of figure skating?


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.