Skating 101: Figure Skating Spins

This post took a while to make because I wasn’t really sure how I was going to tackle how to describe spins. In my last post about figure skating jumps, I posted a handy dandy video that someone else created on spins. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no such video exists for spins.

Stephane Lambiel

Figure skating spins are told apart by their position and I didn’t think that a blog post full of pictures was going to be that helpful as it would make this post super super long. So here is what’s going to be the general rundown of this post:

1. Basic Guide: Here is a link to the wikipedia page on figure skating spins. People have already created a picture gallery of many of the figure skating spins along with a short written description of what they look like.

2. Basic Guide (Sparknotes version): For those who don’t have time to peruse the wikipedia page right now, here are some common spins (many of these are listed in program requirements) as well as a personal favourite.

Combination Spin – A spin in which a skater changes their position, foot or edge (or any combination of the three) without exiting the spin.

Camel Spin

patrick chan camel spin

The camel spin is done in an arabesque position or with the free leg (the leg that’s not on the ice) parallel to the ice or higher than the hip. Some spins, like the doughnut spin and Yuna Kim’s “Yuna camel” (aka a layback bent-leg camel) are just variations of this spin.

Sit Spin

michelle kwan sit spin

The sit spin is, as the name implies, done in a sitting position where the skater’s skating leg must be parallel to the ice and the buttocks must not be higher than the knee. There are also variations of the sit spin, like the pancake spin and cannonball spin.

Layback Spin

karen chen layback

The layback spin is more commonly done in ladies figure skating whereas the previous two spins are done in both the ladies and men’s competition. The layback is done in an upright standing position with the skater’s back arched and the head is dropped back. In a classic layback (pictured above), the leg is held at an altitude position but ladies looking to fulfill the requirement of doing a layback spin have held their free legs to the side in other positions.

In addition, the arms are usually held above the body. However, some skaters will do variations of a layback spin where they hold their free leg (a catchfoot layback). Another variation of the layback (and the catchfoot layback) is where a skater holds their free leg up to their head in what is called the haircutter spin.

Biellmann Spin

denise biellmann spin2

Popularized by Denise Biellmann, this spin has been used quite often lately – especially the younger, more flexible skaters who can do a hyper-extended Biellmann (see Elena Radionova’s last spin in this program). Skaters often start in a layback position and finish in the Biellmann spin. In a Biellmann spin, the skater pulls the free leg up above their heads (it is not a Biellmann unless the foot is above the head) with one or two hands. There is also the half-Biellmann spin which is done starting with the camel spin rather than a layback.

Personal Favourite: The Pearl Spin

The pearl spin was created by Caroline Zhang and despite its pretty name, it’s actually just a catchfoot layback that transitions into the Biellmann spin. Still, it requires a lot of flexibility and power.

3. Entries and Edges

To make a spin harder, skaters can enter into a jump through very difficult transition movements. These include the:

Butterfly – The skater’s legs make a scissoring motion in the air and the skater’s body is horizontal above the ice before entering into the spin. The takeoff is done in a twisting motion with 2 feet. Some skaters will also do several butterflies in succession before entering a spin.

Death drop – Similar to the butterfly but the takeoff is done forward with one foot.

Flying spin – In which a skater does a bit of a jump before entering the jump. In the above video, some put together videos of all the ladies doing a flying combination spins at the 2013 World Championships. See how the skaters kind of switch feet and do this hop before entering into their spins?


When we learned about jumps, we learned about inside and outside edges. You can change edges in a spin as well. This makes the spin more difficult but for the average viewer, the edge change can be a little hard to spot. Personally, I wouldn’t be too worried about this if you want to be an informed viewer at the Olympics. All you should know is that changing edges makes the spin harder which brings up the level and base value of the spin.

For those of you who are a little OCD, you can spot the change of edge when the circle of the spin (when you spin, you don’t rotate on an axis but the blade makes a very small circle on the ice) gets a little bigger or changes a little. The video has annotations that point out when the skater changes edges, which makes it a bit easier to spot.

4. Pair and Dance spins

Skaters do spins in the pairs and dance competition but things change just a little bit because there are now two people on the ice.

Side-By-Side Spins – An element done only in pairs skating in which both skaters execute the same spins at the same time. The spins should be done in perfect unison and not too far from each other. If you listen closely at live competitions or in videos, you can hear one of the partners yell, “Change” when they need to change their positions. Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov start their SBS spins at 3:22.

Dance/Pairs Spin – The spins themselves are similar but are named differently depending on the discipline in which they are performed. In a dance or pairs spin, the two partners must always be connected to each other while spinning. Meryl Davis & Charlie White start their dance spin at 1:45 in the above video (in one of my favourite original dances ever too!).

5. What does it mean to do a good spin?

Under the new International Judging System (or the Code of Points System), spins are given levels ranging from 1 to 4 with 4 being the highest level. The levels take into account the difficulty of the spin as well as the number of rotations but for the casual viewer, a good singles spin should:

  • Be fast.
  • Rotate in the same spot (if a skater drifts to a side while spinning, that is called traveling).
  • The positions should look nice – the details like their extension, toe points, turned out feet should add to the aesthetics of the spin.

A good side by side pairs spin should:

  • Be in perfect unison.
  • The skaters should not be too far from each other. (They also don’t want to be too close, as Jessica Dube learned when her partner was traveling and cut her face with his skate.)
  • Each individual must also fulfill the general requirements of good singles spinning listed above.

A good dance/pairs spin should:

  • Be aesthetically pleasing. The positions should look picture perfect at any given moment.
  • Not lose speed.
  • The changes in positions should be smooth and should look effortless.

Anyways, that is all I have to say for spinning.

Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you want me to talk about? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Other Skating 101 Posts:

History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System

The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System

Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics

Figure Skating Jumps

Figure Skating Spins

Pairs Skating Elements

Ice Dance

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alicia Bendz
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 18:40:40

    Figure skating seems so dangerous sometimes…


  2. Trackback: Skating 101: Pairs Skating Elements | The Rinkside Cafe
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  9. uggochi
    Feb 06, 2014 @ 18:24:45


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