Jackson Haines, a 19th century ballet dancer from New York City, is known as the father of which modern sport?

And the answer: figure skating.    
Photo credit: public domain.

Born in New York City in 1840, Jackson Haines claimed to be the national champion of figure skating long before the US Figure Skating Association was established in 1921. After his method of skating was ill-received in the states, he turned his attention to Europe, where his approach became known as the “international style.” Haines invented the “sit spin,” one of figure skating’s three basic spin types.

While the exact time and process by which humans learned to ice skate remains unknown, primitive animal-bone ice skates that date as far back as 1000 BCE have been found in parts of Scandinavia and Russia. This means that, for nearly as long as humans have been around, they’ve found a way to slide across the ice with grace (or some varying level of it). The earliest known written mention of ice skating occurred in the 12th century, in which the author referred to types of “poles” used to skate across the ice. This was due to the fact that early ice skates lacked the sharp blades that we associate with the sport today. Since then, skating technology has come so far that Olympic figure skaters today actually wear skates that are entirely custom made—for each foot.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before there were carbon fiber skates and custom-made boots, the mid-19th century saw the rise of the all-steel skate—which was already a vast improvement from the pesky wooden footplate used previously. After 1900 came the addition of the toe pick, which enabled skaters to better grip the ice on certain jumps, as well as the “closed-toe” blade of one-piece steel, which added strength to the skate and permitted a much lighter-weight blade. Meanwhile, skating as a hobby continued to pick up speed across the United States and Europe, especially as refrigerated ice rinks entered the scene in the late-19th century. No longer did skaters have to wait for winter to arrive—training could occur all year round.

Did you know?

January is National Skating Month! Now in its 22nd year, the month earned its designation by the US Figure Skating Association and Learn to Skate USA to increase participation in and create enthusiasm for all ice sports. Interestingly, modern figure skating often involves “ice dancing,” which is an activity dating back to one harsh London winter in 1862. Skaters began the practice by mimicking the waltz, but on ice, over 120 years ago.

Learn more about skating and National Skating Month here.


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