- Figure Skating in the Formative Years: Singles, Pairs, and the Expanding Role of Women by James R. Hines
Figure Skating in the Formative Years by James R. Hines is an interpretive history of skating in the Western world. Hines draws from primary sources including instructional skating books, newspaper articles, artwork, and archival collections to outline the key people and events that he considers to have impacted the development of the sport. Written in such a way that each chapter can be read independently, the book in its entirety provides a thorough history of figure skating and its development as a recreational and competitive sport as well as a form of popular entertainment.
Spanning approximately seven hundred years of skating history (thirteenth century through to and following World War II), of particular interest is the author’s discussion of the growth of pair skating, especially since most academic texts to date have focused on singles skating. Pair skating was added to the World Championships and Olympic Games in 1908; for this discipline to be added, however, it meant that competitions for pairs had previously existed. Hines points to records of couples doing figures in unison in competition as early as 1860 and notes that pair skating was popular in ice shows, which contributed to the overall growth of that discipline as well as the sport in general.
Hines contends that the development of pair skating also required more women participating in skating beyond a social/recreational activity since couples—with little exception—were/are comprised of one man and one woman. Thus, according to Hines, the growth and development of pair skating are intertwined with female involvement in the sport. Accordingly there is an important focus throughout the book on the historical participation of, and contributions made by, girls and women. What emerges is a complex history that suggests female skaters have been limited by but have also challenged socially constructed notions of gender.
Social class is also mentioned throughout the book, with Hines noting that, in early years, skating was a pursuit primarily undertaken by royalty and (reflecting influences of royalty on social norms and values) the upper class. While eventually skating became more accessible to those of lesser economic means, the sport nevertheless remained one that catered more to the affluent, an argument one could still make today especially when discussing elite figure skating. In one of the more surprising revelations from the book, Hines notes that, at one point, wealth was argued to lead to a disinclination to be physically active, a fact that commentators at the time suggested was reflected in less affluent people constituting the majority of membership in skating clubs as clubs formed and grew (37). Certainly, in present times, it would be more commonly argued that wealth provides greater/easier access to being active.
Hines references many aspects of skating, including the formalized implementation of rules and regulations nationally and internationally, the development of clubs, and key figures and events, providing detailed and important insights into skating’s formative years. [End Page 126] He has also included some spectacular images. There should have been more engagement with the sociohistorical work of Mary Louise Adams (Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity and the Limits of Sport, 2011) rather than just passing reference, especially since Hines discusses similar themes (that is, gender and class and figure skating) and many of the same people and events. Additionally, Hines notes a drastic reduction in the international successes of skaters from Austria, Britain, and Germany following WWII (111). Given that these countries had been dominant in the sport, this is an important point. However, in remarking on exceptions where men, women, and pair skaters from these three countries won World or Olympic Championships in the fifty years following WWII, the author does not list any of the World or Olympic titles won by several East German skaters in that time frame, including Katarina Witt, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and...