Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Belita--The Forgotten Skater

In the 30's and 40's figure skating, particularly show skating, was the rage. At one point there were so many ice shows (many in theaters and night clubs) that skating clubs had trouble finding coaches to teach. Part of the appeal of skating in that era may have been that women did not wear slacks, and their skirts went below the knee. Figure skating with its exposure of long legs and costume 'underpinnings' must have been pretty exciting back then to men who didn't have the kind of access to pictures of scantily clad women that exists today.

Sonja Henie was a name that is still remembered, but the voluptuous Belita (who has mostly passed from public memory) held her own in the public eye for several years. Unlike Sonja, Belita didn't run her own career, didn't like to skate, and left the business as soon as she could.

What she left behind are some film clips of some beautiful show skating from a different era. She was a trained ballerina, and came into skating with that mindset. She seems to have had about a dozen strong skills, mostly spins and spirals. Her candlestick spiral is notable.

Skating technique has changed in the last 60 years, and she was skating on stages so you won't see any spectacular jumps. In the language of my youth, she was 'built'. Belita specialized in 's.e.x', she used her body like a telegraph to send male viewers the message "I'm what you want. But boys, I'm a wild ride."

There's actually a full movie (Silver Skates) with her (and several other skaters of the 40's) on NETFLIX, so you can see her acting too. My advice, scroll through to get to the skating scenes, plot and acting; not much.

Fortunately, there's some videos of her on youTube. In this one from the movie SUSPENSE she's skating a performance in a 'bad girl' role. I believe her partner is the late Gene Turner (US Men's Champion 40 & 41). He partnered her in Silver Skates as well.

In this bit from Silver Skates she's a little tease, especially at 1:30 and beyond. The candlestick spiral at 1:10 makes me wince at how close she goes to the scenery. This was a WWII picture, hence the battleship scenery.

And if you're into some slightly more risque' costumes, there's always the borderline dominatrix look in the number below. Who knew the 40's were so naughty?

 But for pure skating, this performance from Suspense shows her in her best light. From an artistic perspective I think this is beautifully shot, especially in the camera coverage.

 Let me say that if I ever do a program I'm going to do my darnedest to replicate that dress!


  1. You know who else is sadly forgotten? John Curry, who was British, European, World, and Olympic champion of 1976, and still unequaled for sheer artistry and beautiful skating skills. I would rather watch him (and what would be considered his "simple" programs) glide across the ice than any of today's skaters with their arsenal of jumps.

    1. I've read John Curry was a great admirer of Belita as she was the first to incorporate a balletic approach to skating.