Ice Skating Institute (ISI) Figure-skating Programmes Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Ice Skating Institute (ISI) Figure-skating Programmes

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The Ice Skating Institute is an organisation run by the ice rink industry in the United States, and offers instructional, performance, and competition opportunities to skaters of all levels and abilities.

ISI v USFS Figure Skating Programmes

Within the American figure skating community, there is some debate as to which of the two major instructional programmes is better for children: that offered by the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) or that from United States Figure Skating (USFS). The introductory programme in ISI is called Learn to Skate, and the initial programme in USFS is called Basic Skills. The programmes have many things in common:

  • Both offer group instruction1 for all groups from toddlers to adults.
  • Both focus on the 'free-skating' elements of figure-skating, rather than the classic figures (such as the figure of eight) that many remember from decades past.
  • Both offer advanced programmes for students who have passed the introductory levels.
  • Both offer opportunities for competition.
  • Both utilise tests to determine when students are ready to move to the next level.

In general, ISI is a recreationally-oriented programme, and USFS is a competitive programme. However, many ISI skaters participate in competitions (both those specifically for ISI skaters and USFS competitions), and both children and adults take lessons through USFS programmes without ever intending to compete. It's also not uncommon for children to begin in ISI programmes, and then switch to USFS programmes when they start to take skating more seriously. For most novice skaters, the initial choice simply comes down to which programme is offered at their local ice rink.

Different ISI Programmes

The ISI programmes include:

  • Basic skating instruction
  • Recreational figure skating
  • Figures
  • Couples, pairs, and ice dance
  • Synchronised skating and other team-based programmes
  • Speed-skating
  • Pre-hockey instruction
Not all rinks that offer ISI programmes offer the full range of activities - the most common are the basic skating and recreational figure skating programmes. In addition to the levels described below, ISI also offers a graduated programme for disabled skaters.

Learn to Skate

The toddler programme in ISI has levels from Tots 1 to Tots 4. In some rinks, these classes are of the 'Mommy and Me' variety, with a parent participating along with the child. These are also often the classes where adolescent and young adult skaters have their first teaching experiences. The moves learned during the Tots classes include:

  • The safe way to fall and get up from a fall
  • Marching, both in a standing position and while moving
  • Beginning stroking and two-foot glides
  • Preparation for snowplough stops
  • Dip - bending the knees and crouching down slightly while gliding forward
  • Forward, backward, and single swizzles - the feet move in and out, making an hourglass shape, and pushing the skater across the ice
  • Two-foot jump in place
  • T-position and push - this involves putting the feet in the position of an upside down letter 'T', and using the rear foot to push off onto a glide on the front foot
  • Two-foot or one-foot snowplough stop
  • Backward wiggle - as the hips shake from side to side with the feet together, the skater moves backwards in a zigzag

The Learn to Skate programme for older children and adults is divided into five levels, and includes many of the same basic moves as the Tots programme. Since the early levels of the programme assume no prior experience, children who have taken the Tots classes are often able to skip the Pre-Alpha level.

  • Pre-Alpha - the moves at this level include two-foot and one-foot glides, forward swizzles, backwards wiggles, backward swizzles, beginning stroking, and beginning snowplough stops.
  • Alpha - the moves at this level include forward stroking, forward crossovers (both left-over-right and right-over-left), and one-foot snowplough stops.
  • Beta - the moves at this level include backward stroking, back crossovers (both directions), and T-stops.
  • Gamma - the moves at this level include outside edge three-turns (both left and right feet), inside mohawk turns and combination sequences on both feet, stroking from a T-stop position, outside edges, and hockey stops.
  • Delta - the moves at this level include inside edge three-turns, forward edges, bunny hops, lunges, and shoot-the-duck moves.

Recreational Figure Skating Programme

It is at this level that the students work on learning the different jumps and spins of figure skating; the levels in this program are termed Freestyle (FS) 1-10. In addition to the spins and jumps, most of the levels also have a set dance-step sequence to test footwork skills - this sequence focuses on the precise performance of complex footwork, rather than what most would think of as 'dance'. Most of the jumps are learned first as a half-jump, then proceeding to singles, doubles, and eventually triples2. Levels Freestyle 6-10 also include several jump combinations, in which one jump leads directly into another. Not all of the jumps listed at each level need to be successfully learned to progress on to the next level - for example, FS 7 requires either a double toe-loop or a double toe-walley. Quite often, students may be working on moves from several different levels at a time.

move FS 1 FS 2 FS 3 FS 4 FS 5 FS 6 FS 7 FS 8 FS 9 FS 10
flip jumpshalf  single   double triple
toe loop jumps  single   double  triple
toe walley jumps halfsingle   double  triple
lutz jumps half  single  splitdoubletriple
salchow jumps  single  double   triple
loop jumps   half, single   double triple
axel jumps    single   double or opposite direction 
other jumpswaltzballet   split, falling leafopposite direction jumpillusionbutterfly, arabian cartwheels 
spinstwo-footscratchchange footsitcamel, camel sit scratch combo, backspincross-foot, layback, change sit, comboflying camel, flying comboflying sit, camel jump camel combo  
other movesforward pivot, forward spiralstwo different forward spiralsbackward pivot, backward spiralstwo different backward spirals      

ISI Testing

Each ISI level has an associated test, in which a skater is given three opportunities to successfully execute each move for that level. The best of the attempts is scored, and a skater needs to pass each requirement in order to pass the test3. If a skater fails a test, they have to take the entire test over again, rather than simply retaking the move(s) failed. Skaters can receive a patch for each test successfully passed.

At the Tots levels, tests are often done in the form of group games. In the Learn to Skate and Recreational Skating levels, posture is taken into account when assessing all moves. At the Freestyle levels, skaters are also required to perform a short program that includes the moves from their level, set to music. A minimum score on the programme is also required to pass the exam at these levels. As the levels increase, the qualifications for those judging the exams also do:

  • For levels up through to Freestyle 6, the exam can be given by any ISI instructor, although preferably not by the student's own instructor.
  • For Freestyle 7, the exam must be assessed by three ISI instructors, ideally from more than one rink.
  • For Freestyle 8 and 9, the exam must be validated via a videotape sent to the national office.
  • For the Freestyle 10 exam, it must be assessed by official ISI judges, usually at a national event.

ISI Competitions

Competitions are available for all ISI programme levels, generally with separate competitions for youth and adult skaters. However, it is not unusual for skaters to hold off on competing until they reach the Freestyle levels.

In addition to competitions, many ISI skaters participate in exhibitions, which are generally shows held by the rink to showcase all of their skaters. Exhibitions are often a mix of solo performances, group production numbers, and many things in between. Unlike competitions, no scores or prizes are awarded, although skaters sometimes need to audition to obtain certain roles. Exhibitions often end up involving expenses equal to or even exceeding those for competitions - while travel isn't an issue, it's not unusual for a skater to need to buy several different costumes, plus pay 'ice fees' for rehearsal times. And since these exhibitions are also usually fund-raisers for the rink or skating club, it's quite common for the skaters' families to be pressed into selling tickets to the show as well.

Further Reading

  • Do you want to find out more about skating? Search the h2g2 Edited Guide to see what other Researchers have had to say.

  • Keep up with the latest sporting news at BBC Sport.

1However, skaters certainly have the option of using private lessons rather than group instruction to prepare for the examinations and competitions of either organisation.2In competitive figure skating today, quadruple jumps are sometimes seen, but these are not included in the ISI programme.3As noted earlier, some requirements specify one of range of elements, so not all skaters taking the same test will perform exactly the same moves.

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