May 20th, 2017

Do skaters get dizzy?

Yes, they do. But not nearly as dizzy as you and I would. They’ve got a system, although it takes a lot of practice:

The short answer is training, but to really grasp why figure skaters can twirl without getting dizzy requires an understanding of the vestibular system, the apparatus in our inner ear that helps to keep us upright. This system contains special sensory nerve cells that can detect the speed and direction at which our head moves. These sensors are tightly coupled with our eye movements and with our perception of our body’s position and motion through space. For instance, if we rotate our head to the right while our eyes remain focused on an object straight ahead, our eyes naturally move to the left at the same speed. This involuntary response allows us to stay focused on a stationary object.

Spinning is more complicated. When we move our head during a spin, our eyes start to move in the opposite direction but reach their limit before our head completes a full 360-degree turn. So our eyes flick back to a new starting position midspin, and the motion repeats as we rotate. When our head rotation triggers this automatic, repetitive eye movement, called nystagmus, we get dizzy.

Skaters suppress the dizziness by learning how to counteract nystagmus with another type of eye movement, called optokinetic nystagmus. Optokinetic nystagmus occurs in the opposite direction of the nystagmus and allows us to track a moving object—such as a train whizzing by—with our eyes while our head remains in place. As the first few cars of the train move out of view, our eyes jump back to their initial position to follow the next few, and the motion repeats. Skaters can train themselves to engage this opposing eye movement when they rotate to offset the nystagmus and keep the world from spinning.

That makes me a mite dizzy just to read about. I don’t think spinning is for everyone. It wouldn’t be for me, even though I was a dancer. Dancers use quite a different technique than skaters to defend against dizziness—a much easier one, in my opinion, one that is only possible because they spin far more slowly, since their friction isn’t reduced by being on ice.

But the biggest mystery is why dancers prefer to generally turn clockwise and skaters counterclockwise. I’m a left-handed right-turning dancer, and I have a good friend who was a right-handed left-turning dancer (left-turning dancers exist, but they are a great rarity), so it has nothing to do with handedness.

Nor does it have to do with dominant feet or legs, as that article linked postulates. There is a type of turn in ballet called the chaine turn which makes exactly equal use of both feet and both legs, and yet the clockwise preference of dancers is retained while doing chaines.

Want to learn how to do them? They’re relatively easy compared to other ballet turns:

By the way, I think the weight of that dancer’s upper back is ever-so-slightly leaned too far backward rather than on the vertical. I know, I know; picky, picky, picky (I used to teach ballet, too, but you won’t see me demonstrating it on video).

And I’d love to see this girl’s physics project (read the explanation at YouTube):

I used to be able to do many of these—but not on pointe:

Here’s the champ of spinning in skating, Lucinda Ruh:

22 Responses to “Do skaters get dizzy?”

  1. mollyNH Says:

    She’s a wonder. Amazing!

  2. Frog Says:

    I am not sure I buy the explanations of Dr. Amir Kheradmand, who mentions the vestibular apparatus only to then ignore it.

    I would also question his assertion that optokinetic nystagmus or an adaptation to it can be consciously learned. More info is needed. For a spinning skater, those railroad cars are passing at a fierce speed!

    Nystagmus is a really quite complex subject. Those that understand it best are neuro-ophthalmologists, rare birds. Dr. Amir, a mere neurologist, is in his own small way trying to be another Dr. Oz, I fear.
    See this:

    It is really worth learning about the fascinating 3-D structure and workings of the vestibular apparatus. Then tell me you believe it was created only by evolutionary accident!

  3. Irene Says:

    Lucinda Ruh’s spins are amazing! And is that her doing some chaine turns at 3:07? I think so.

    Kudos also to whoever designed her costume. Breathtaking in the spins.

    Thanks Neo!

  4. n.n Says:

    vestibular apparatus… it was created only by evolutionary accident

    It’s possible, but, then again, so is an extra-universal entity. We just don’t know, and while science (i.e. a logical domain, a process, a method, a philosophy, established with the knowledge that accuracy is inversely proportional to the product of offsets from an established frame of reference), may provide plausible solutions, it does not actually provide answers. So, what it is the proper assessment of belief, whether it is purported to be directed by science or faith?

    That said, consider that your perspective is influenced, if not determined, by your frame of reference. Evolution is a chaotic process (e.g. human life) that is neither progressive (i.e. monotonic) nor stochastic. It is characterized by a lack of skill and knowledge, incompletely or insufficiently characterized and unwieldy, which precludes determination of of future and past events and processes.

  5. n.n Says:

    The Biellmann move is the perfect exhibition of the female form: graceful, elegant, and feminine.

  6. AesopFan Says:

    So nice to see such lovely non-political spinning.

  7. Frog Says:

    “So, what it is the proper assessment of belief, whether it is purported to be directed by science or faith?”
    Science depends on independent, reproducible verification of results/findings made by others. Objectively.

    Faith, on the other hand, is a mystery. Spoken at every Mass are the words, “the mystery of faith”. Shared, yes, widely so, but still a mystery.

    Now, look at the vestibular apparatus, the semi-circular canals with their hairs, each wired to a nerve, with tiny otoliths above those hairs that trigger them with their movements, the canals in non-coplanar array so that at least one otolith is generating a signal regardless of body position, all buried protectively in temporal bone. There are many such miracles in biology.
    We have yet to see a computer randomly generate all of Shakespeare’s plays, much less monkeys at keyboards..

  8. Caedmon Says:

    Interesting: I had assumed skaters “spotted” like dancers.

    For about 15 years I studied and practiced the whirling dance mostly known for its associations with Dervishes.

    How did I do it? I’m not sure. No eye technique was involved. It was a matter of balance, keeping the head still, and watching the world rush by. It is not accomplished by staying on one spot, I and my fellow dancers could move around.

    Anyway, I mention this because we went counterclockwise. For some reason it is very difficult to whirl clockwise. After many years of practice, I could, just about. It is just far more natural to go counterclockwise. We used to joke that maybe it is something to do with the coriolis effect,

  9. OM Says:

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

    Slower spinning: the slidey, glidey, thing.

    Done en pointe, as explained in another Youtube video. How to keep the shoulders level and unmoving despite to frantic footwork? Practice?

  10. jon baker Says:

    The proposed method of creating simulated gravity on space stations is spinning. Apparently RPM, radius , angular velocity and tangential velocity are all factors to consider for human comfort in such a habitat.

  11. n.n Says:


    Faith is a logical domain that intersects with the other logical domains, including: science, philosophy, and fantasy. It is a mystery in so much as we lack knowledge and skill to observe and wield it. The complexity of the “vestibular apparatus” is a logical construct that arises from a process and function (e.g. “motive”) that is incompletely or insufficiently characterized and unwieldy, perhaps forever more. Consider that chaos, probability, etc. are also constructed models in lieu of necessary knowledge and skill.

    That said, my point is that it is meaningful to consider each in proportion, in context, and neither elevate nor denigrate human capacity and perspective.

  12. n.n Says:


    Complexity is not an argument against evolution. Evolution is a chaotic process with a fitness function. We lack the perception and skill to predict chaos beyond a limited frame of reference (a.k.a. “scientific” logical domain).

    Your perspective is entirely valid. Faith is a universal domain, whether it is people who believe that an “intelligent” entity designed and initiated the autonomously running processes (e.g. human life), or others who believe in spontaneous conception (e.g. “big bang”, human life). Ideally, we will not reject other logical domains, but we will recognize a soft partition.

    For example, in an Andy Griffith show, Andy’s son meets and receives gifts from a man in the woods. His father asks his son to identify the man. His son replies with a description of his location, activity, clothes, and general appearance, but he cannot name the man. This happens several times and the father starts to wonder if his son is lying, and if those “gifts” have an illicit origin. He requests to meet the man. His son guides his father to the woods, once, twice, and thrice, and each time the man is missing. The father grows increasingly certain that his son is lying. The son grows increasingly worried of his father’s doubts (loss of faith). The conclusion of this story is that they finally do meet the man, a telephone repair man, which explains his odd activities (swinging from the trees), odd dress (hardhat, tools, etc.), and irregular presence.

    I don’t reject evolution because it is a chaotic (i.e. complex) thing, and I don’t accept all of its revelations because they cannot be established within the narrow limits of the scientific domain. It’s a physical process that can be characterized (e.g. human evolution from conception) in limited circumstances (frames of reference). Similarly, I don’t reject articles of faith because they are a mystery or myth, and I don’t accept them because of a consensus.

  13. Frog Says:

    Thanks for finding me valid.
    You say, “Evolution is a chaotic process with a fitness function.”
    With a fitness function. Ahh, therein is its redemption.
    I am not a chaos theorist by any stretch, but chaos is disorder. Raising order up and out of chaos requires much energy, otherwise chaos is an inevitable descent into pointless Brownian motion. Whence cometh that energy, yielding such beautiful and complex structures like the vestibular apparatus, or mitochondria? Or the order of the elements, as seen in the periodic table?

  14. n.n Says:


    Chaos is a seeming disorder in the absence of sufficient knowledge and skill. For example, chaos appears to be ordered and manageable in limited frames of reference, “the scientific domain”, in systems that are semi-stable (e.g. human life).

    Notice that I am neither affirming nor denying one faith or another, conventional or “secular”. Your perspective may be right. Someone else’s perspective may be right. You may both be wrong. I am suggesting judgment in proportion, in context, with appropriate criteria.

  15. Frog Says:

    Chaos is “manageable” only by injection of energy.
    Without that, chaos can be understood but not managed.
    The famous model of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causing a hurricane to form off of Africa months later is energy-dependent in the butterfly!

  16. AesopFan Says:

    in re Chaos theory: If a dancer spins fast enough, maybe that causes global warming instead of hurricanes??

  17. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Faith is the belief in the unseen realm.

    Irreducible complexity was the argument Darwin proposed that would destroy and disprove his own theory of the life tree of species. This has already been found in the organic machine that is the bacterial flagellum. It’s a biological rotating engine. Each specific component has no survival and thus no fitness value, it is just a waste of space and resources until all the components are assembled.

    The problem with evolution is that they keep trying to find evidence for it, and they can’t. Scientists often have faith in certain models, like computer models. Higgs boson had faith that the higgs boson predicted in the Standard Model would exist via experimental energy data, while Hawkings predicted, on faith, that it would not exist. Guess who turned out to be right.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    In terms of metaphysics, both science and theology attempt to get to the hard truth of the reality of this universe, but there’s a fundamental problem. The problem is that existence, whether created or automatically self created from zero causation, is too close to Plato’s wall of shadows, which was partially influenced by Socrates’ testimony that a muse/spirit informed Socrates of what was righteousness, wisdom, knowledge, etc.

    The simpler version is that spirit controls matter, and the human body is a physical construct that a spirit downloads into to accomplish a purpose. This is why neuroscience can’t figure out why the brain can contain more information than it should be able to hold and other questions of neuro consciousness and quantum consciousness. The brain is a radio, instead of picking up EM signals, it is picking up the soul and the spirit. It doesn’t produce the EM signals and music, it merely interprets it and feeds a reply back. Destroying the brain doesn’t shut off the signal, but practically that is what it looks like to the audience.

    What people are studying isn’t a solid matter of the material realm, it’s more like the shadows cast on the back wall of a cave. The true ideal and the true object, is in some other place, realm, or dimension.

  19. Ymar Sakar Says:

    It wasn’t until quantum mechanics became real and verifiable, that it became rather easy to see quantum phenomenon in the scriptures.

    The easiest example would be Jesus of Nazareth claiming that the name of the Father is in him and vice a versa.

    Quantum entanglement, no longer a phenomenon limited to microscopic dimensions/realms of the sub particle, but with macroscopic consequences, as I have always attested. Given the existence of quantum computers, only the truly stagnant keep holding to the old views.

  20. Molly Brown Says:

    Neo, thanks for the explanation. Evey skater will tell you they don’t know why they don’t get dizzy – they just don’t! Lucinda Ruh’s spinning was really extraordinary. Although I understand she feels it has caused her health problems. Another amazing spinner is Alissa Czisny, here’s her long program from 2009 World Championships, the final spin is just exquisite. You will be interested to know that Alissa trained ballet alongside skating and I think it really shows. Her jumps were not always dependable but the rest of her skating was just gorgeous. Hope this links

  21. Molly Brown Says:

    Sorry, can’t get the link to work. Check it out on Youtube if you will.

  22. Nick Says:

    Dancing started below the Equator, where the Earth’s rotation makes clockwise rotation more natural. Skating originated in the North.

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