Artistic Roller Skating – An Overview

After reading Roller Skating for Gold, I was inspired to try to find videos of many of the legends mentioned in the book.  I have been doing a series of posts on the various dances used on the international level, but I have been quite lax in posting other great skating videos to my blog.  I thought it might be helpful if I had an overview post, demonstrating the various aspects of artistic roller skating.  This post will be very video intense, but you can continue reading after the jump break.

Traditionally, artistic skating has included figures, dance, and singles skating.  Today these events have morphed and changed to include pairs, solo dance, precision, and show team events, along with their traditional predecessors.


Figure skating is the essence of the sport.  It was adapted from the ice skaters, who would use their blades to carve fancy shapes into the ice.  Today roller skaters trace painted circles, performing a sequence of one foot turns and loops to create the shapes.  Figures test the skater’s balance, poise, and accuracy, not to mention determination and nerves.  There are large figures performed on 6 meter diameter circles, and small figures, more often called loops, performed on 2.4 meter diameter circles, with a loop figure painted at the halfway mark.  While some would say that watching paint dry is more exciting, figure skating enthusiasts will explain how the symmetry and perfection of edges required for the figures make them the most beautiful and truest form of skating that exists today.

Here is an example of the large figures:

And here is an example of the loop figures:


Dance skating developed when some innovative skaters tried to adapt popular ballroom styles to skates.  The earliest know dance skating dates back to the 1800s.  Traditionally, dance skating was always a partnered relationship between a man and a woman.  Today, however, solo dance events are more popular than the team versions.  These solo dance events grew from a lack of male partners, though both men and women can skate solo.  In roller skating there are two distinct styles – the American style and the International style.  The international style was developed from the methods used by ice skaters.  It is characterized by crossed progressive (pushing) steps, and instep mohawk (two foot) turns.  The American style was developed in the 1940s as a way to utilize the design of the roller skate to give a smoother, more elegant appearance to the dances.  The progressive steps are parallel, and the mohawk turns are heel-to-heel.  Some of the international dances were re-written for the American style to more fully utilize the large skating surfaces that were more prevalent in the United States.  The International Style is used for the World Class level events, whereas American style is used for most of the domestic dance skating events in the US.  The World Class level skaters also perform an Original Dance (specified style of music, with original choreography) and a Free Dance (music and choreography optional) as part of their competition.  World Class solo dance skaters only perform a solo free dance.  There are domestic free dance divisions as well, that do not qualify to the world meets.

American Team Dance:

American Solo Dance:

International Team Dance:

International Solo Dance:

Original Dance:

Free Dance Team:

Free Dance Solo:


Freeskating is perhaps the most exciting event to watch when done well.  It utilizes jumps, spins, and footwork set to music of the skater’s choice.  For the fans of ice skating, this would be the most recognizable aspect of our sport.  Most of the jumps have names similar to ice, with the most notable exception being the Mapes (on ice called a toe loop), which was named after the man who first nailed a chunk of rubber to the front of his skates so he could perform toe jumps like the ice skaters who use toe picks.  Roller skaters also have a variety of unique spins (such as heel camels, broken ankles, and inverted spins) which either aren’t seen much or cannot be performed on ice due to the physical differences in the skates.  As with ice skating, at the world class level skaters have a short and long program, though at the domestic levels skaters only have one program, with duration correlating to the age of the participants in the event.


Pairs skating is an absolutely breath-taking event when the best teams are performing.  The lifts are stunning, the spins are phenomenal, and the emotional range of having two people skating together is simply unmatched in the single events.


Fours is an event that is no longer competed, but was perhaps one of the most amazing sights back in the 1960s.  Fours consisted of two pairs teams skating together, performing tricks and stunts that are simply stunning to watch.  It was difficult to find the time, space, and talent to create the fours teams, so this event was eventually eliminated, though many of the old-timers lament its passing.  (Apologies for lack of embedding – but these videos are fabulous and totally worth checking out the links).


Inline skating isn’t nearly as prevalent in the artistic world as it has become in speed or hockey skating – mainly because the inline skate is very limited in its use compared to the traditional quad roller skate.  However, there are a few individuals who use inline skates for freestyle singles skating, though this event isn’t nearly as popular as the traditional freeskating event.


Precision skating involves a group of 12-24 skaters demonstrating formations in a routine.  There are lines, circles, boxes, intersections, and pinwheels, all with synchronized movements and footwork demonstrated by a team of skaters.

Large Show Group

This event is an offshoot of the precision event, except that the emphasis is more on the presentation or show aspect, as opposed to the technical requirements.

Small Show Group

This is similar to the large show group, but with fewer skaters.

3 thoughts on “Artistic Roller Skating – An Overview

  1. Very interesting to hear that figures are a set size. In ice it is based on the size on the skaters height. For a figure eight, the diameter of each circle is three times the skater's height. I'm really lucky, because the center circle of a hockey rink is 30 feet diameter, and as a 5'0″ tall skater, that's exactly the size that my figure needs to be 🙂

    Our moves in the field tests now require figure eight edges at various levels, but I noticed this weekend they are TINY. Most of the ones I saw, the diameter was less than twice the skater's height. They are no longer required to TRACE over the figure though- just hold the edge once, then go over it (close, but it isn't looked at for exactness) with the other edge/foot.

    Thanks for finding all the videos. I've seen some fours exhibitions on ice. One of the neater moves was a lift, where the lady was pressed up, then tossed over the man's head to the other man who was waiting, when, almost exactly the same time, the other lady was lifted by the first man.


  2. I think it is good that ice is starting to bring figures back, though still sad that you don't have to repeat the tracings and master the edge quality like the old days. Do you still have to do the higher figures with the turns (rockers, brackets, counters, threes), or only trace the figure 8 edges?

    Also, I think I read somewhere that roller skaters used to put powder down and create the tracings by rolling through that, but then (in the 1940s, I think) they decided it would be better if everyone had to trace the same circles. In a way it is good because everyone has to create the same edges, and there isn't any clean-up work to be done between skaters. Though the tiny kids do have trouble getting enough power when they first start, it helps them to develop strength and good pushing technique.


  3. I think that the only “figures” that are on the moves in the field test are the front circle eights and the back circle eights- at the lowest levels. Just to teach edge control.

    Loops have been brought back at the high level, but not as a figure, they go in a line across the ice.

    Figure tests are still available (the rulebook is published online!) but you have to find a judge who can score them, and not many are still qualified. I hear the Seattle area has a thriving figure population, and have even held a figure competition a few times recently, but the rest of the country it isn't really a 'thing'.


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