Figure Skating



Artistic skating demands a careful balance of strength, precision, and artistry, all wrapped up into a single performance of four (4) minutes or less. Many challenges exist to inspire all ages to reach individual goals, from Beginner Classes to World Championship and Pan American Games levels. Skaters enter artistic events in one or more categories – Figures, Free Skating, Dance, and Pairs.


Figure skating teaches balance and control, and, like scales on the piano, is often considered the basis of all skating. Well-skated figures demand tracing accuracy, body control, and intense concentration. Each skater retraces a series of figure patterns – combining a variety of difficult take offs, edges, turns – on a set of circles painted on the skating surface.

Judges look for exact tracings performed with uniform speed, proper edge control, precise turns, and pleasing body positions. Each figure is scored separately by the judges, and the skater with the highest sum by a particular judge when all the figures in an event have been skated, is ranked first by that judge. [TOP]

Closely resembling it’s winter games counterpart on the ice, the Free Skating Event demands creativity, technical agility and virtuosity. The objective is for skaters to freely integrate the technical components – jumps, spins, and footwork – with music, to create a performance which embraces the realms of both sport and art.

In the early competition levels, there is only one free skating program, ranging from 1½ to 3 minutes. For more advanced competitors, the event is divided into two (2) sections. The Short Program is 2 minutes long, and is worth 25% of the total score. The Long Program is 4 minutes long, and is worth 75% of the total score. Men and Ladies compete in separate events.

The Short Program is skated first, and contains pre-specified elements (jumps, spins, footwork) which must be completed by each skater, in a routine that is choreographed to music of the skater’s choice. The Long Program has no required elements, but must consist of a pleasing balance of jumps, spins, and footwork, congruent with the skating ability of the athlete. It is skated one or two days after the Short Program is skated.

Two marks are awarded for each skating performance. In the first mark for “TECHNICAL MERIT” , judges look for speed, height, and difficulty in jumps; control, velocity, and variety of position in spins; and originality and confidence in the footwork segments used to connect each item in the program. In the second mark for “ARTISTIC IMPRESSION” , judges consider the harmonious composition of the program as a whole, ease of movement in time to the music, and carriage together with originality and expression to the character of the music. [TOP]

Adult dance classes are popular in roller skating rinks across the country. This is where people gather to skate new and old dances, “just for fun and exercise”. And when children progress from the early learn-to-skate programs, they will often first learn some of the beginner dance steps and patterns. We most often think of “Dance”, though, as an elegant and graceful competitive contest. Dance Events can consist of Compulsory Dances only; Compulsory Dances plus a Free Dance; or the World Class standard of Compulsory Dances, Original Set Pattern Dance, and Free Dance.

Compulsory Dances are thought of as the ABC’s of roller dancing. The rhythm, steps, and pattern are prescribed, and in a competition, all teams or solo dancers are evaluated while skating the same dance or dances. The OSP Dance is skated after the Compulsory Dances. The tempo and rhythm are set by the International Artistic Committee, and changes for each skating season. While the dancers must conform to the specified tempo and rhythm, they must also create a pattern of steps that is repeated at least once. What makes each dance “Original” is the specific music that has been chosen, and the combination of steps and moves that should be commensurate with the skill level of the dance team. Two scores are awarded for the OSP, one for Technical Ability and Composition , and the other for Artistic Impression and Style.

The Free Dance is the real crowd pleaser at roller dance competitions. Dance teams each skate a 3-4 minute “free” dance, with original choreography and music of their choice. This dance must be non-repetitive, should display the character of dancing, should include new and known dance movements, should demonstrate originality in concept and pattern, and should provide an interesting interpretation of the music selected. Free Dance moves are similar to ballroom dancing – the couples rarely separate, and there are no jumps, high lifts, or spins.

Judges focus on creativity, skating ability and step execution, and musical interpretation, when determining the best overall Free Dance. Two scores are awarded as in the OSP, and the scores are added to those of the first two elements of the competition for each skater, by each judge. The World Class Dance Event consists of two Compulsory Dances ; an Original Set Pattern (OSP) Dance ; and a Free Dance . Each portion of the event is worth one-third of the total score, and each element is skated on a different day, culminating with the ever-popular Free Dance. [TOP]

Pairs skating includes many of the same elements as Free Skating (sometimes referred to as “Singles” skating). The added bonus for Pairs, though, is the addition of dramatic lifts and spins, unique to the abilities of a man and woman skating as a team. As with Free Skating, the Pairs event has two components – a 2 ½ minute Short Program worth 25% of the total score, and a 4-minute Long Program worth 75% of the total. Both programs are made up of elements similar to Free Skating but skated by two people in unison, and executed simultaneously (shadow skating) or symmetrically (mirror skating). Partners mirror or shadow each other as they move through their program, striving for perfect conversion of music to movement by executing a series of jumps, spins and footwork, and punctuated by exciting overhead lifts and “throw” jumps.

Exact timing is the prime objective in Pairs, along with steady jumps, good rhythm in the spins, and unison of footwork. Judges evaluate the harmonious appearance and style of the team, as well as the program content (TECHNICAL MERIT), and manner of performance (ARTISTIC IMPRESSION). [TOP]


While serious artistic competitors insist on a good smooth floor, recreational skating can be enjoyed wherever there is a safe, smooth surface of ample size. North American Skaters usually practice in indoor Roller Skating Rinks, and in community arenas during the spring and summer months when the ice has been taken out. Europeans though, are most used to skating on outdoor rinks, and must constantly “weather the weather”.

Laid wooden floors , coated with specially designed epoxies, tend to be preferred by many skaters for their “feel”, and the “spring” they offer skaters when performing jumps. However, the most common type of skating surface in Canada is a cement floor , again coated with a specially-designed, often colour coordinated, coating. Other floors such as terrazzo and tile have proven to be popular in some rinks, and the Rostin sport-court type of floor used at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg proved to be very successful. The regulation floor size for Pan American Games competition is 25 X 50 metres, though permission may be granted on request for a slightly smaller surface. Floor sizes in Canada are generally very close to 25 X 50, and sometimes larger. [TOP]


Artistic roller skates come in all forms and types. Beginner and recreational skaters will often opt for a complete set, that is boots, plates, and wheels all purchased as a unit. More advanced and competitive skaters will usually select the various components separately, thereby taking advantage of the specific boots (often custom-made), plates, wheels, bearings, cushions, spacers, etc. that they want. Roller skates can range in price from $50. to $1,500.+, so the choices and options are endless!

Boots are chosen primarily for fit and durability – more support is usually sought for skaters doing rigorous free skating, for example, than for a figures-only skater. Plates are chosen for their strength, weight (the lighter the better), suitability to the skater, and they must be exactly the right size. They are screwed to the sole of the boot, but in precisely the right alignment.

The wheels again are a matter of personal choice, but they must be suited to the type of floor, or skating surface. Harder wheels will be slippery on a floor that is also somewhat slippery. Bearings fit right into the wheels, and are then held onto the axle with lock nuts . Other components to complete the truck mechanism depend on the type and style of plate chosen.

Artistic skates are fitted with a toe stop at the front of each skate. Used in a similar fashion as the pick on ice figure skates (e.g., for the take offs in jumps, etc.), the types and sizes of toe stops vary, depending on the type of skating and on individual preference. For example, compulsory dance skaters wear very tiny ” dance plugs” as they have no need to use the toe stop while they dance – in fact, regular-sized toe stops get in the way of neat, precise footwork while dancing.

Both the traditional roller skates and the inline skates are accepted in all competitions, including the World Championships and the Pan American Games. The same boots can be worn for both types of skates, but the plate/wheel mechanism (called the “frame” ) is completely different for inline skates. Unfortunately, the inline artistic skate technology still has not advanced to the level that is acceptable for most high-level competitive skaters – they still have better maneuverability and technical prowess on the traditional roller skates.

While not really “equipment”, the costumes worn by artistic competitors are worthy of mention. Outfits similar to those seen in ice figure skating and ballroom dancing are worn, and costumes are often very elaborate at the World Class level. Much simpler and more comfortable clothing is worn for practice sessions, and roller skaters don’t need to bundle up or worry about the cold! [TOP]


Three (3) to seven (7) judges are assigned to judge each event in a competition, as well as a referee. Immediately following each skating performance, each judge allocates scores to the skater/team according to the following scale:

Perfect 10.0 Below Average 4.9
Excellent 9.0 Defective 3.0
Very Good 8.0 Poor 2.9
Good 7.0 Very Poor 1.9
Fair 6.0 Extremely Bad 0.9
Average 5.0 Not Skated 0

As in ice figure skating, the mark allotted a skater is of value only in relation to the marks allotted by that judge, to other skaters. It is the ranking that is important, not the mark itself, thus the skater with the highest marks from a judge receives a first place from that judge, regardless of the value of the mark. This “placing” is called the ordinal.

In the International system of scoring (used for World Class events) scores for each section of the event are tabulated according to a specified system of “Wins and Losses” , matching total scores for each skater against those for every other skater, for each of the judges. The winning skater is the one with the most “wins” over the other skaters.

Scoring may be “Open” (the marks are displayed to the audience after each performance), or “Closed” (the marks are recorded by the judges after each performance but are not publicly displayed and are sent for tabulation at the end of each event). Final results are posted, and ribbons, plaques, medals, or trophies are awarded at the completion of each competition. [TOP]