Death spirals and twizzles: A figure skating glossary

Benjamin Agosto and Tanith Belbin
Benjamin Agosto and Tanith Belbin competed in the original dance during the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images 2008

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships return to the Twin Cities this Friday through Jan. 24.

More than 400 skaters from around the country will vie for titles in ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing at the senior, junior, novice, intermediate and juvenile levels. Previous champions in the competition — which began in 1914 — include Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton and reigning Olympic ice dancing gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Intermediate and junior level competition begins this weekend at the Bloomington Ice Garden; novice, junior and championship competitions will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Sunday through Jan. 24.

Can't tell the lutzes from the loops or the spirals from the twizzles? Never fear! Here's a list of common figure skating terms to help get you through the championships.


There are two kinds of jumps in singles and pairs skating: Edge jumps and toe jumps. Edges refer to the two sides of the skate blade — there's an inside edge and an outside edge. There is a forward and backward for each edge and each side, for a total of eight different edges.

Three-time national champion Michael Weiss demonstrates the six major jumps in the video tutorial below. He explains: "Edge jumps use one foot with no assistance of the other foot to spring up into the air for the jump. The toe jumps, you use the toe pick to toe into the ice and vault you up on the takeoff of the jump."


One of the most difficult jumps, it's the most easily recognizable because it's the only jump with a forward takeoff. It's named for its inventor, Axel Paulsen.


A toe jump taken off from the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.


An edge jump, taken off from a back outside edge and landed on the same back outside edge.


A toe jump taken off from the back outside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. The skater glides backward on a wide curve, taps a toe pick into the ice and rotates in the opposite direction of the curve. Named for its inventor, Alois Lutz (pronounced "LUTTZ").


An edge jump taken off from the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. Created by Ulrich Salchow ("SOW-COW;" the first part is pronounced like the female pig. Skaters often refer to it as a "sal [SOW]").

Toe loop

A toe jump that takes off and lands on the same back outside edge.

Lifts, spins and elements

Camel spin

Done on one leg with the free, non-skating leg extended backward, its knee above hip level. The body remains in this "spiral" position while spinning.

Biellmann spin

A jaw-dropper (or cringe-inducer; take your pick), this is where the skater's free leg is pulled from behind to higher than the head. Named after Denise Biellmann.

Death spiral

Not quite as sinister as it sounds, this is a pairs move in which the man rotates in a pivot position while holding one hand of his partner, who is rotating in a horizontal position around him with her body low and parallel to the ice.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker
Keauna McLaughlin, left, and Rockne Brubaker perform a death spiral in the free skate portion of the pairs event during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center in 2008.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images 2008

Layback spin

Generally performed by women, this involves spinning in an upright position with the head and shoulders dropped backward, back arched.


A pairs move in which the man lifts his partner above his head with arm(s) fully extended. There are several different variations, including the lasso, press and star lifts.

Tong Jian and Pang Qing
Chinese Tong Jian (bottom) lifts his partner Pang Qing during the free skating of the pair's competition in the 2009 ISU Grand Prix Final in Tokyo.
Toru Yamanaka | AFP | Getty Images

Sit spin

Exactly what it sounds like. A skater spins in a "sitting" position, with the upper part of the skating leg at least parallel to the ice.

Evan Lysacek
Evan Lysacek in a sit spin during his short program at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images 2008


A skater keeps one foot on the ice and extends the free leg above hip level.

Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan performs a spiral during the ladies' qualifying free skate at the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany in 2004. She was famous for her change-of-edge spiral.
Frank Augstein | AP 2004

Throw jump

A pairs move in which the male partner "throws" the female into the air to execute one of the jumps listed above.

Twist lift

Featured in pairs skating. While skating backwards, the male partner lifts the female over his head and tosses her in the air. While airborne, the female partner twists. The man then catches his partner and places her back on the ice.


A traveling turn on one foot with one or more rotations. Most commonly seen in ice dancing.


To the unfamiliar, ice dancing and pairs skating may looks the same but they're very different. Think of ice dancing as ballroom dancing on skates while pairs involves the same elements as singles skating but in unison — and with added components such as overhead lifts and throw jumps.

The footwork and choreography in ice dancing is also generally much more intricate and difficult, complicated by the fact that the couple must skate closely together throughout the program.

Short program

Official name for a two-minute, 50-second program in singles and pairs skating consisting of eight required elements. Followed by the free skate. The short program was formerly called the technical program.

Free skate

Formerly called the long program, for singles and pairs competition. This program does not have required elements, so skaters are free to choose the jumps, spins and step sequences that best display their technical and artistic skills. On the senior level, it is 4-1/2 minutes long for men and pairs and 4 minutes long for ladies.

Short dance

Consists of required elements including lifts, spins, twizzles and step sequences in ice dancing.

Free dance

On the senior ice dancing level, couples get 4 minutes to display their full range of technical and artistic abilities.

Source: U.S. Figure Skating

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