Figure Skating Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of figure skating by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

figure skatingFigure skating is a sport in which skaters perform a series of set movements on an ice-skating rink. The movements are performed as part of a program set to music that lasts several minutes. A program can include spins, spirals, lifts, jumps, steps, turns, etc. Programs are performed by individual competitors or by pairs of competitors, and points are awarded by a panel of judges. Competitions are held at local and national levels, and also at the international level. International competitions such as the World Figure Skating Championships and figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games are regulated by the International Skating Union (ISU).


Ice skating has been a popular winter pastime for centuries, especially in northern and eastern Europe. Before the invention of modern ice-skating rinks, people skated on frozen lakes, rivers and ponds. Figure skating gradually developed from this long tradition of ice skating, along with other sports like speed skating and ice hockey. The first known account of figure skating is A Treatise on Skating (1772) by the English writer Robert Jones, in which he describes a very formal and rigid style of skating. A much freer and more expressive style was developed in the 1860's by the American skater Jackson Haines, and it's this style that forms the basis of modern figure skating. In the twentieth century figure skating became more popular and competitive as movements and programs became more spectacular and athletic. National championships became major sporting events, especially in North America, and televised broadcasts attracted many viewers. The growing popularity of figure skating as a form of entertainment was further boosted by new forms like "ice dancing" and "synchronized skating" that appealed to mass audiences. Modern figure skating is both a popular spectator sport and a highly-profitable part of the entertainment industry. Live shows such as Disney on Ice constantly tour the world, televised figure-skating shows attract millions of viewers, and the world's top figure skaters can become highly-paid entertainers and celebrities.


The most important piece of equipment for skaters is their "figure skates". At the front of each blade on a pair of figure skates is a set of jagged teeth called "toe picks" or "toe rakes" that are used when executing movements such as jumps and step sequences. There's also a groove along the bottom of each blade that creates two distinct edges; the inside edge and the outside edge. Skaters learn to use these edges to increase speed and precision in various ways.

Elements and Moves

Elements are particular moves in a figure-skating program, such as jumps, spins, lifts, spirals and step sequences.


Jumps are moves in which a skater leaps into the air and then rotates his or her body. Most jumps are completed by landing on one foot and then skating backwards. The six main rotational jumps are called the axel, the salchow, the loop, the toe loop, the flip and the lutz. Jumps can be performed as individual elements, or one after another in a jump combination or sequence.

FREE Podcasts 🔈 Many of these listening exercises have transcripts, vocabulary notes and comprehension questions.


Spins are moves in which a skater rotates many times. The three basic types of spin are the camel spin, the sit spin and the upright spin. They can be performed as individual elements or in a sequence. Spins can be performed on either foot, and professional skaters can rotate 70 or more times in a single spin. They are required elements in all figure skating competitions, including the Winter Olympics.


Lifts are required elements in pair skating and ice dancing. Pair lifts usually involve a male skater lifting his female partner overhead while rotating. They include armpit-hold lifts, waist-hold lifts, hand-to-hip lifts, hand-to-hand lifts and hand-to-waist lifts such as the twist lift. In a twist lift, a male skater throws his female partner into the air and then catches her by the waist after she's performed a twist. Dance lifts, which cannot be above the shoulders, include stationary lifts, straight-line lifts, curve lifts, serpentine lifts, rotational lifts and combination lifts.

Step Sequences and Moves in the Field

A "step sequence" is a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes performed while moving over the ice in a straight line or while following a curved or serpentine path. The turns used in step sequences include bracket turns, three turns, mohawks, rockers, counters, twizzles and choctaws. "Moves in the field" are a range of other moves in which skating skills are demonstrated. They include spirals, spread eagles, and hydroblading, in which a skater moves over the ice with his or her body in a very low position, often almost horizontal to the surface. Step sequences and moves in the field are often used to link major elements like jumps, spins and lifts.

Formats and Scoring

Competitors usually have to perform two different programs. The first program, often called a "short program", includes required elements such as jumps, spins and steps. In the second, often called a "long program", skaters can express themselves more freely and perform more challenging elements and sequences.

A panel of judges is responsible for scoring, and they must give two scores for each program they judge. The first is the "total element score" (TES) in which required elements are scored for technical accuracy and execution. The second is the "program components score" (PCS) in which five additional components are judged: skating skills, transitions, overall performance, choreography and interpretation. After calculating the average TES and PCS, the two scores are added to find the total score for a particular program. All of a competitor's scores are added together to find their total score, and the competitor with the highest total score is the winner.

Figure Skating at the Winter Olympic Games

Figure skating competitions have been held at the Winter Olympic Games since 1924. The five events now included are the men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating for male and female duos, ice dancing for male and female duos, and a team event. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, the figure skating competitions will be held at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi from February 6 to 22.

Figure Skating Vocabulary

word example sentence meaning
blade Have you sharpened the blades on your skates recently? the metal bar on the bottom of an ice skate
choreography Who did the choreography for your new program? the art of planning figure skating programs, or an instance of this
combination I'm learning this new combination with two jumps and a spin. two or more elements performed one after the other
element Some of the elements in her short program were really difficult. a distinct figure skating move, like a jump, spin, lift, step sequence, etc.
hop I can do little hops and steps, but I can't do those long jumps yet. a small jump without a rotation
hydroblading They did some beautiful hydroblading in their long program. a low gliding movement, with the body almost horizontal to the surface
ice dancing My mum loves watching the ice dancing competitions. a figure skating discipline that resembles ballroom dancing
jump I still fall over a lot when I try to do jumps. a move in which a skater pushes off the ice and rotates in the air
lift We were trying a new lift when my partner dropped me on the ice. a move in which a skater lifts his or her partner into the air while rotating
long program The time limit for the men's long program is 4.5 minutes. the second and longer program in singles and pairs competitions
move Figure skaters have to learn a lot of moves. any movement or element that's used in figure skating
pair skating One of the most spectacular elements in pair skating is the death spiral. a discipline in which two skaters perform elements together
program All of the competitors perform two different programs. a performance of figure skating movements set to music
required element Step sequences are required elements in most figure skating competitions. a skating element that must be included in a competitor's program
rink Olympic-sized rinks are 60 metres long and 30 metres wide. a large flat surface of ice that's used for skating or ice hockey
rotation I can do six rotations a second in some of my spins. a circular movement around a central point
sequence Do sequences score as many points as combinations? two or more elements linked by brief decorative moves
short program Her short program was good, but she had problems in her long program. the first and shorter program in singles and pairs competitions
spin In many spins, skaters rotate on one foot while holding the other. an element in which skaters continually rotate
spiral If you're doing a spiral, try to keep your free leg above hip level. a move in which skaters glide on one leg while raising the other
spread eagle I usually do a spread eagle just before I do my axel jump. a move in which skaters glide on both feet with their toes pointing outwards
step sequence I'm working on a new step sequence that my coach just taught me. a series of steps and turns that follow one another
synchronized skating The first synchronized skating team was formed in 1956. a discipline in which 8 to 20 figure skaters perform together
Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers. He is also creator of WORD UP, the world's #1 EFL board game.