Sultan Of Swing: The Hubert Sprott Story

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

Born August 15, 1908, Perry Hubert Sprott was the son of teacher turned merchant Arthur Frederick Sprott and Winnifred Frederica Perry. He was raised in a home on McMaster Avenue in Toronto, Ontario and like many young people in the city at the time spent his winters indulging in outdoor pursuits.

Hubert Sprott, Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher and Jack Hose, 1931 Canadian Champions in fours skating. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

Although an avid recreational skater in his youth, it wasn't until he was in his twenties that Hubert first started pursuing figure skating seriously. The handsome five foot eight skater with brown hair and blue eyes made his debut at the Canadian Championships in 1930 at the age of twenty two, finishing second behind Winnipeg's Lewis Elkin in the junior men's event and winning the Canadian fours title with Mary Littlejohn, George Beament and Elizabeth Fisher. He repeated as fours champion the following year and defeated none other than Osborne Colson himself to take the 1931 Canadian junior men's title.

Hubert Sprott, Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher and Jack Hose, 1931 Canadian Champions in fours skating. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

In 1932, Hubert finished third in the senior men's competition at the Canadian Championships behind Bud Wilson and Guy Owen and in 1933, he won the silver medal in the fours event at the North American Championships with Wilson and his sister Constance and Elizabeth Fisher. In the years that followed, he would focus entirely on fours skating, winning five more consecutive medals at the Canadian Championships in the now defunct category for a grand total of two junior and eight senior medals at the Canadian Championships. Not bad for a skater you have likely never heard of, right?

While still competing, Hubert married Louise Hart Allen of Missouri and in 1931, the couple's son
Arthur Frederick Sprott, Jr. - named after Hubert's father - was born. Two years later, they welcomed their daughter Mary. The family resided at Glen Road in Toronto until 1937, when Hubert retired from competitive skating and moved the family south of the border to embark on a career as a professional. After teaching in Cleveland, Ohio for a time, thirty three year old Hubert and the Sprott squad moved to Oakland, California in the spring of 1942. That summer, he appeared in Harry Losée's Hollywood Ice Revels at at the Tropical Ice Gardens in Westwood Village alongside Belita Jepson-Turner and Maribel Vinson Owen. It was while residing in California that he made his most important contributions to the sport.

Along with Audrey Miller, Hubert played an important role in the development of the annual ice carnivals at the St. Moritz Skating Club at Iceland in Berkeley. He also taught skating at the All Year Figure Skating Club in Los Angeles and helped revive interest in pairs skating on the West Coast. However, Hubert's contributions to ice dancing - a discipline he never pursued seriously himself - were his most enduring legacy.

Sprott's Paramount Waltz, skated at a 3/4 tempo with 52 or 56 measures of 3 beats per minute to Viennese Waltz music.

Chances are you've never heard of the one hundred and eight count Sprott Tango or Sprott Waltz or the three-beat Paramount Waltz, but if you've spent any time in a rink you know the Swing Dance. It was Sprott's creation, first introduced to American ice dancers in the November 1948 issue of "Skating" magazine and first performed at the Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs that winter. By the 1948-1949 season, Hubert's Swing Dance was in the USFSA Rulebook as one half of America's new Preliminary Dance Test alongside the Dutch Waltz, invented the same year by George Muller. The  Swing Dance was later adopted as a Preliminary and later, Junior Bronze Dance in Canada and in the years that followed, has been skated all around the world.

Sprott's Swing Dance. Photo courtesy Robert S. Oglilvie's book "Basic Ice Skating Skills".

In 1951, Hubert's nephew Peter Firstbrook won his first of three Canadian titles. The following March, Hubert remarried to twenty six year old Tiney Edwina Russell (McGehee), a Texan living in Long Beach. Three years later, he was elected to the board of governors of the Professional Skaters Guild of America, where he served alongside Cliff Thaell, Gene Turner and Bud Wilson. He devoted much of his later life to bettering the world of coaching and died July 11, 1985 in Los Angeles. You may never have heard his name before, but the next time you hear the strains of the Swing Dance music playing at a test day at your local rink, you'll be able to put a story to a dance.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":