This past Sunday, I was teaching my smart and diligent 12 yr-old Courtney how to do a scratch spin which is an upright spin- one of the first spins that figure skaters learn. I demonstrated the spin so she can see how a proper scatch spin is done and told her that once she masters this basic spin, she can then learn variations including a camel spin, sit spin, and layback spin. As I demonstrated all these different spins to her, Courtney asked a real simple but smart question- ‘How do you spin without getting so dizzy?” I stood dumbfounded by my young student’s question. I paused and thought about it for a couple of minutes but had no idea why I never get dizzy and simply replied ‘I’m use to it’. Well, it was clear that my student did not like my answer because she looked confused and persistently asked, ‘How do you get use to it without crashing to the ground from spinning so fast?’
I knew there was a scientific answer to this question and it had to deal with the principle of inertia. But I’m not a science person and will not take physics until my senior year next year. I was certain my student would ask me the same question next week when I review our spin lesson and since it’s a question I feel I should definitely know the answer to, I immediately googled this baffling question when I got home. This is what I learned…
When you spin, you get dizzy because there are fluids which get sloshed around. There are three tubes that are filled with fluids in your inner ear and each tube is aligned with a different motion- up and down, left and right, and side to side. The sensory nerve cells in the hair lining of the ear canal carries signals to your brain which gets interpreted as movement. When you stop spinning, the fluids continue to slosh around in your ear and so your brain still thinks you’re spinning but you’re really not and that’s why you get dizzy.
Figure skaters and ice dancers have the same tubes and fluids in their ears like all of us and their fluids also get whipped around. So then how come they don’t get dizzy and disoriented when they spin or twizzle?! Even if you’re not an elite skater, there’s no way to avoid not getting dizzy- you can’t even disguise your dizziness. The answer is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and more PRACTICE! If you practice spinning over and over many times then your body is trained to get use to it and gradually overcomes the dizziness. Aha!, so I was actually 100% correct when I told Courtney that I just got use to spinning and don’t get dizzy! It’s because I’ve trained intensely for so many years that I can recover from a spin with grace without feeling at all dizzy. There was no scientific reason after all.
Skaters train hard to make their moves look so effortless!
I did learn from my research that there are strategies and/or tricks that a skater can do to help suppress dizziness.
Maintain a uniform speed. If you can control your spin and keep it at a constant speed then you only experience dizziness when you accelerate or slow down.
Keep your feet in one spot. If you stay on a mark and not move across the ice when you spin then you can help control the dizziness.
Lock your eyes on a fixed point when you slow down or come out of a spin. By fixing your sight on a landmark, it helps orient yourself even though the fluid in your ears keep spinning. I think this is similar to what ballet dancers do. I remember when I took ballet many years ago, I was told to practice a technique called ‘spotting’ in which I pick something and fix my sight on that one thing as I turn. But of course, skaters can’t ‘spot’ because their heads are not facing forward when they turn, and they spin way too fast to be able to ‘spot’. However, they can ‘spot’ on a fixed point as they slow downor come out of a spin to lessen the dizziness.