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Synchronized Skating Primer

by Janet Swan Hill -- revised 8/18/98 (send mail to Janet at:

Synchronized figure skating is deceptively simple. Skaters don't do jumps or spins, so it is easy to assume that anyone who can skate will find synchronized skating easy, but it isn't necessarily true. Synchronized skating has its own difficulties, challenges, and vocabulary, and requires some specialized techniques. Skaters who have synchronized skating experience tend to forget how much they had to learn, and so they forget to tell new skaters all that they need to know. This can lead to frustration for both the new skaters and the experienced team members.

The following information is a compilation of hints and terminology originally prepared for the Cutting Edge, Denver Figure Skating Club) and the Rocky Mountain Figure Skating Club synchronized skating teams. It was designed to help new synchronized skaters not feel so lost.


  1. DON'T LET GO -- The cardinal sin in synchronized skating is letting go when you are not supposed to. A break in a line, a spoke, or a circle is disruptive. It looks bad by itself, and rapidly gets people out of place so that they can't successfully do the NEXT move. So, hang on for dear life. The only exception to this is rule #2:
  2. LET THEM FALL -- When your neighbor falls, LET GO. If you fall, LET GO. Being dragged is dangerous, and may pull others down as well, and it takes longer to recover if you don't have your own hands to help you up.
  3. LOOK IN -- In a pivot or pinwheel, took down the line toward the pivot. Check your alignment and adjust your speed to make the line straight between you and the pivot.
  4. SKATE IN -- In a pivot or pinwheel, skate in toward the pivot. Lean toward the pivot, inside leg bent more than the outside. The faster you go, and the farther you are from the pivot, the greater the lean. It feels like walking sideways up a hill toward the pivot. Centripetal force will try to fling you away from the center, so you must counteract that by skating in. The more everyone skates in, the less pull there is.
  5. LEFT-RIGHT -- Unless otherwise instructed, any forward step sequence begins with the left foot.
  6. ODD-EVEN -- Unless otherwise instruced, in any two-beat step sequence, the first step is on the odd-numbered beat. For example in a sequence of step-cross-step-chasse, performed to a four-count, the "steps" take place on beats 1 and 3, the "cross" and the "chasse" take place on beats 2 and 4.
  7. TURN AROUND THE LEFT SIDE -- In a turn from forward to back or back to forward, unless otherwise instructed, turn "around your left side". (counter-clockwise). In a clockwise maneuver it may be necessary to turn around the right side in order to maintain momentum, but ask first, because everyone has to turn in the same direction.
  8. ARMS STRAIGHT -- Elbows locked. Limp arms and loose elbows give no support to your neighbors, and may pull them off balance. Limp arms allow lines and circles to buckle.
  9. DIFFERENTIAL SPEED -- In order for pinwheels to work, skaters at and near the middle skate very slowly. Sometimes they are hardly moving at all. With each position outward from the center, skaters go a little faster. Skaters at the end go the fastest of all. It's important that the center people skate slowly enough to let the skaters on the ends keep up.
  10. LEARN YOUR NEIGHBORS' PARTS -- In a performance or competition you will not be able to refresh yourself on what your role will be if your neighbor falls or drops out of the formation. You must know what to do, who to hold onto, where to pass through, etc. if your neighbor is suddenly not there.
  11. DON'T STOP -- If someone falls or drops out of a routine .... even during practice .... don't stop. You will not have the opportunity to stop during competition, so practice coping with accidents even in practice. Keep the routine going until the coach tells you to stop.
  12. GRAB IN FRONT -- When you are joining with someone in front and someone behind, you are responsible for looking to the person in front and grabbing their hand (or whatever). You are responsible for putting your hand out in back for someone to grab. HAVE FAITH the person behind you will grab without your watching.
  13. CHECK YOUR ALIGNMENT -- constantly. Adjust your speed to keep lines straight, circles round, etc.
  14. SHOULDERS ON THE LINE -- No matter what direction your hips and legs are skating, your shoulders must be lined up along the direction of travel. This isn't always comfortable, but if your shoulders are not along the line of travel, you pull your neighbors out of the path they must take. This is true in straight lines, curved lines, and circles.
  15. FLOW -- A routine should flow from one formation to another, with no stops or pauses while skaters "wait for the music" to begin the next maneuver. It's important to get to formations at exactly the right moment so that you can be stable enough to begin the next move, but so you will not look as if you had to "wait".
  16. HEADS / HANDS / SMILE -- Each step consists of the feet, location, head, and hands. As soon as you know the step, always practice it WITH the correct head and hand position, and with a smile (unless the move or music requires some other expression)
  17. LOOK UP -- Hold your head up, and look at the top of the stands. If you look down, or straight out at eye level, the audience and judges will see only the top of your head. Practice this every time.
  18. SMILE -- Smile throughout the program unless otherwise instructed. A frown or a serious look gives the impression that you are uncertain of the routine. It is hard to remember to smile, especially with the stress of competition, so remember to smile during practice, to make it a habit.
  19. PERFORM -- A precision routine is a performance, not an exam. Look as if you are delighted to be there, and can hardly wait to show what a great routine you have. Perform as if you had just jumped out of a cake. Concentrating on the fun and on projecting the performance will make the steps easier and faster, and will help get the audience and judges "into" the routine.
  20. EXAGGERATE -- Make every move big. The audience and judges are a long way away, and whatever you do looks smaller from a distance.
  21. PRACTICE -- Every move needs to be automatic. The only way to make this happen is to practice it. Practice on your own, on ice, in your living room, and in your dreams.
  22. MATCH -- The second most serious sin in synchronized skating is not matching the rest of the team in your steps (remember that the first was letting go). You must all be the same in timing, in style, and in degree. Kicks and chasses should be the same height, extensions should match, spirals should be equally high, head turns should be equally sharp, etc. It is not a virtue to show how high you can kick if no one else can match it.
  23. KNOW THE MUSIC -- The third most serious sin of synchronized skating is not skating to the music. The only way to make sure that you skate to the music, and on time with it is to know the music intimately. Get especially familiar with changes between pieces of music, pauses, and changes of tempo, so that your body just KNOWS when the change is coming and how long it takes, and so that if you miss a step or fall and have to get back to the routine, you know just what to do as soon as you have gotten over the problem.
  24. KNOW THE COUNTS -- You can't rely on watching other people to let you know when to do things, or what to do. You must know for yourself how many of what is done and in what order. If you wait for a hint from other skaters, you will do the steps late.
  25. DON'T RUSH -- In the excitement of competition, the tendency is to rush. Keep track of the music, and don't get ahead of it. Finish each move before starting the next. Rushing and "anticipation" shows up especially in kicklines, and in transitions where a team gets to a new formation so early that they have to wait for the music before beginning the next formation. If you are getting someplace too quickly, adjust your speed.
  26. WHEN A CIRCLE BREAKS -- the ends drift out, and the skaters at the break cannot rejoin by themselves. They need help from the whole circle. All skaters near the break (within about 4 or 5 from the end) need to skate IN, trying to make the circle smaller. Pull in with the inside foot, and push in with the outside foot. The skater on the trailing end of the break needs to aim NOT toward the person they are trying to join, but farther in, several people in from the other end of the break.
  27. WHEN THE LINE BREAKS -- , skate in toward the break. Skaters on both sides of the break need to help. If the line that breaks is in a pinwheel, skaters outside the break need to skate in as hard as they can, and skaters on the inside need to take care not to let the pinwheel speed up now that fewer skaters are attached.
  28. WHEN YOU FALL -- Let go. Get out of the way. Pull your hands in. Rejoin as quickly and with as little disruption as possible. BUT ......
  29. WHEN YOU FALL IN COMPETITION -- Let go. Get out of the way. If you cannot rejoin immediately, skate to the side of the rink near the judges and crouch down so you cannot be seen. Wait until the formation comes close, and rejoin as unobtrusively as possible. If you cannot rejoin before the end of the routine, skate to your place in the formation after the closing pose, and skate off with the team.


There are many different ways to hold on to other skaters, and a good routine will have a variety of holds. Holds are constantly evolving, but these are the basic ones


Formations are constantly evolving, and many have a variety of names. All formations are some variation of the five basic types: wheel, line, circle, block, and intersecting move

NOTE/REQUEST. If your team has a different name for any of the holds or formations listed above, or has some other formation that you believe is basic enough that it needs to be included, please let me know at

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