Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport

Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport

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By Mary Louise Adams
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2011
World Rights
320 Pages
ISBN 9781442611719
Published Feb 2011
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ISBN 9781442643185
Published Feb 2011
Online discount: 25%
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ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442695610
Published Feb 2011
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In contemporary North America, figure skating ranks among the most 'feminine' of sports and few boys take it up for fear of being labelled effeminate or gay. Yet figure skating was once an exclusively male pastime - women did not skate in significant numbers until the late 1800s, at least a century after the founding of the first skating club. Only in the 1930s did figure skating begin to acquire its feminine image.

Artistic Impressions is the first history to trace figure skating's striking transformation from gentlemen's art to 'girls' sport. With a focus on masculinity, Mary Louise Adams examines how skating's evolving gender identity has been reflected on the ice and in the media, looking at rules, technique, and style and at ongoing debates about the place of 'art' in sport. Uncovering the little known history of skating, Artistic Impressions shows how ideas about sport, gender, and sexuality have combined to limit the forms of physical expression available to men.

Mary Louise Adams is an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and the Department of Sociology at Queen's University.


  1. Introduction
  2. Tough guys? Figure skating's macho moment
  3. Girls' sport
  4. Manliness and grace: Skating as a gentleman's art
  5. Women start skating, skaters form clubs, their art becomes sport
  6. "They left the men nowhere": The feminization of skating
  7. Artistic sport or athletic art? Class and gender and shifting definitions of skating
  8. Sequins, soundtracks and spirals: Producing gender difference on the ice



‘In examining the experience of men who engage in a culturally feminized sport, Mary Louise Adams illuminates the historical and contemporary twists, turns and axel jumps through which gender is defined and re-defined.  While scholars often view sport as a site where rigid boundaries of heterosexual masculinity are policed, Adams paves the way for a broader, nuanced view of sport as a field of shifting meanings and contested power.’

Michael A. Messner, author of It's All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports

‘Timely and unique, Artistic Impressions deepens current understandings of gender and sexuality through a provocative and well-researched history of figure skating. Mary Louise Adams asks whether skating is beginning to lose its effeminate label in light of the changing political economy of sport and culture at large. Sports scholars will welcome Artistic Impressions as a compelling and carefully woven analysis of one of the most highly gendered sports.’

Patricia Vertinsky, School of Human Kinetics, University of British Columbia

'It was the movement to music that first drew me to figure skating, and it is still that aspect which fascinates me today. But like all young male figure skaters, I had to endure the social taboo of participating in the sport. I enjoyed reading Mary Louise Adams' remarkable book about the history of our sport. I was intrigued by how gender differences affected the direction of figure skating from the time of Sonia Henie to the present.'

Louis Stong, Skate Canada Hall of Famer and consultant; coach of World Champions Barbara Underhill, Paul Martini, and Kurt Browning

‘This book offers an excellent history of the sport with respect to gender… Artistic Impressions should be a required reading for anyone involved in the marketing and development of figure skating.’

Melanie Hoyt, <em>International Figure Skating Magazine; August 2011</em>

‘Mary Louise Adams offers a thoughtful and complex discussion about sport, gender, and sexuality. …Artistic Impressions is an excellent fusion of historical research and sociological analysis.’

Douglas A Brown, Sociology of Sport Journal, vol 29:01:2012

‘It is full of fascinating detail….I learned a great deal and was impressed at how engagingly Adams explained some of the specificities of the transition from a set of sporting activities being embedded in masculinity to one so strongly inflected with femininity… Adams succeeds in putting figure skating onto the agenda of the history of sport.’

Kath Woodword, Sport in History, vol 32:01:2012

‘Artistic Impressions is an important book and a long-overdue contribution to the history of figure skating.’

Paul J. DeLoca, Journal of Sport History; vol 40:02: 2013

Mary Louise Adams interviewed about Artistic Impressions on New Books in Sports: Listen to the Podcast
North American Society for Sport History Book Award (Namibia) - Winner in