Softly, Deftly, Music Shall Surround You: Tracing The Origins Of Figure Skating Warhorses

Photo courtesy New York Public Library

In the mid-twentieth century, the expression 'warhorse' became part of the international vocabulary, often used to describe a work of art or music that became familiar because it was seen or shown many times. 

Though there are millions of amazing pieces of music in the world, the figure skating world has long had a tendency to circle back to warhorses. When one skater has used a piece of music to effect, coaches or choreographes often take notice. It's a rare example of recycling not being good for the (figure skating) environment.

Cheeky 1940's music suggestions. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine..

The music that some consider to be overused in figure skating today isn't the same music that was considered to be overused in decades past. In the first half of the twentieth century, Strauss waltzes and pieces like "The Dream Of Olwen" and "Les Patineurs" were used ad nauseum. At the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, no less than seven skaters performed to music from the same operetta -  Franz von Suppé's "Banditenstreiche". The latter pieces are rarely used today, but programs to pieces like "Carmen" and "West Side Story" are a dime a dozen. 

Jeffrey Buttle's program to "In This Shirt" by The Irrepressibles

I've combed back issues of "Skating", "Skating World", "The Skater" and "The Canadian Skater" magazine and old books and put together an interesting little list of warhorses and their surprising possible origins. In some cases, the skaters who first used a piece of music are quite obvious (Michelle Kwan's free skate to the soundtrack from "The Red Violin" for example) while others, like Maurice Ravel's famous composition "Bolero" (made famous in skating by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean) might surprise you. What are your favourite and least favourite skating warhorses?


Possible Original Performer(s)


Willy Böckl, "The Land Of The Midnight Sun" (Skating Club of New York carnival), 1930

Music Of The Night from Phantom Of The Opera

Dorothy Hamill, 1987 World Professional Championships

El Tango De Roxanne from Moulin Rouge

Evgeni Plushenko, 2001/02 free skate (amateur competitions)


Finale, 1934 Ice Follies of the Toronto Skating Club

Exogenesis (Muse)

Sinead and John Kerr, 2010/2011 free dance (amateur competitions)


Marion Davies, 1949 gala at Queen's Ice Rink, Armando 'Pancho' Rodriguez, 1950 free skate (amateur competitions)


Maria Butyrskaya, 1997/98 free skate (amateur competitions)

Blues For Klook

Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin, 1992/93 free dance (amateur competitions)

Lawrence Of Arabia

Jimmy Crockett, 1963 All Year Figure Skating Club carnival

La Tosca

Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, 1992 Tom Collins Tour Of Champions


Sergio Ballongue, 1980/81 free skate (amateur competitions)

The Mission

Paul Wylie, 1988/89 free skate (amateur competitions)

The Nutcracker

Used in no less than six different North American club carnivals in 1940

Reel Around The Sun from Riverdance

Opening Number, 1996 Elvis Tour of Champions, Kate Robinson and Peter Breen, 1996/97 free dance and Aren Nielsen, 1996/97 free skate (amateur competitions)

The Red Violin

Michelle Kwan, 1999/2000 free skate (amateur competitions)


Mary Jane Halsted, Margaret Leslie and Lorraine Hopkins, 1936 Montreal Winter Club carnival


Harrison Thomson, 1939 Hollywood Ice Revue

Samson And Delilah

Peggy Fleming, 1967/68 free skate (amateur competitions)

Clair de Lune

Vivi-Anne Hultén, 1939 Skating Club Of New York carnival

Moonlight Sonata

Opening Number, 1934 Ice Follies of the Toronto Skating Club

The Feeling Begins from The Last Temptation Of Christ

Jill Trenary, 1992 U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships

Romeo And Juliet

Mary Bohland and Don Condon, 1945 Ice Follies

West Side Story

Peggy Fleming, 1967/68 exhibition program

Rhapsody In Blue

Group Number starring Maribel Vinson and George E.B. Hill, 1935 Skating Club Of Boston carnival

Schindler's List

Paul Wylie, 1994 Vicks 44 North American Open

The Firebird

Cathleen (Pope) and Willie Frick, 1936 Skating Club Of Boston carnival


Brian Orser, 2002 Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate II

Feelin' Good

Caryn Kadavy, 2005 Desjardins World Team Skating Challenge

Swan Lake

Up for serious debate – Lucienne Bonne and Sonja Henie both performed “Dying Swan” routines around the same time and Lucienne claimed Sonja stole the act from her. The first was also perhaps Charlotte Oelschlägel, who Maribel Vinson Owen recalled seeing perform to it on a trip to Europe in 1931.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Evgeni Plushenko, Stephen Carriere, Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem and Alexander Aiken, 2005/06 free skates (amateur competitions)

Nessun Dorma

Erik Larson, 1989/90 free skate (amateur competitions)

In This Shirt

Jeffrey Buttle, 2012 Medal Winners Open

Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini

Hayes Alan Jenkins, 1956 on The Ed Sullivan Show

Nothing Else Matters

Steven Cousins, 1995 ISU European Tour Of Champions

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Viktor Petrenko, 1990 World Championships (exhibition)

Paint It Black

Hilary Green and Glyn Watts, 1975/1976 free dance (amateur competitions)

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