Partnership Skills

Have you ever wondered what could happen in an instant if the person you depended on to keep you both upright let go of your hand? This is brought back to us, especially during the Winter Olympics as we watch Pairs Figure Skating or Ice Dancing Competitions.

If you’ve watched competitive pairs figure skating (Olympic or otherwise), you may have seen couples perform this movement. Its name: The Death Spiral. Aptly named!

In it, both the lady and the man (technical terms, I know) achieve some very complicated steps to complete the entire movement, which, to our eyes, seems like one fluid movement. I’m going to walk you through each of their parts, and then what they must accomplish together to execute a good Death Spiral. To understand all these pieces together, I enlisted the help of esteemed Figure Skating Expert Jeanine Johnson.

First of all, the Man:

  • Confidence
  • Trust
  • Full pivot position, rear cannot be higher than bent knee
  • Toe – anchored
  • Center of balance over pivot toe
  • Fully extended arm hold
  • Same arm holding lady as extended foot
  • Exiting requires guidance, a shift of weight, and bending his arm at the elbow
  • Exiting requires slight pulling before a push of the lady
  • Exiting requires pushing the lady outward onto the exiting edge of her skate


The Lady:

  • Trust (note that Trust and Confidence are reversed for the Man, although both must have a good measure of each)
  • Confidence
  • Circling partner on a deep skate edge (inside or outside edge depending on the type of Death Spiral)
  • Edge control
  • Body almost parallel to the ice
  • Her arm fully extended as she circles around the man
  • Head close to the ice surface, but not touching it (hair may)
  • Exiting requires a complementary pull on the man’s and her own arm after he bends his elbow
  • Strong exit edge



  • Perfect timing
  • Perfectly attuned speed
  • Sharp blades
  • Upper bodies straight
  • Upper body strength
  • Core strength
  • Must be consistent when practicing and practice to be consistent for competition
  • At least one revolution for any points at all


The Risks (Google “Figure Skating Falls and Fails” for some unfortunately epic falls):

  • Physical: One or both partners fall
  • Physical: Head injury and concussions
  • Physical: Stress fractures to the foot or spine (most commonly)
  • Physical: Stress reactions, such as shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome
  • Physical: Ankle sprains or fractures
  • Physical: Dislocated patella or shoulders
  • Physical: Achilles tendon tears or tendonitis
  • Physical: ACL or meniscal tears
  • Physical: Labral tears of the hip
  • Physical: Blade cuts/lacerations
  • Emotional: Score “0” points – a failed program and knocked out of competition
  • Emotional: For Olympians, years of sacrifice, practice and hard work down the drain with another chance in 4 years, if at all
  • Emotional: Distrust of Partner
  • Emotional: Fracture of Partnership
  • Emotional: Distrust of Self


Partnerships in business or in life aren’t much different. There are different parts that each of us will contribute that are separate and distinct, but there are also parts that we must act on together. Both partners need to rely on themselves AND their partners for their partnership to work. But when trust and confidence in yourself or your partner erode, taking a closer look at what happened can save you both from having it happen again. It can also actually strengthen the bond of the partnership. You are both human; humans make mistakes; mistakes can usually be mended, albeit some are more painful than others in the mending. Forgiveness should always be a part of life – for business or the Olympics.

Going through this cycle of learning and re-learning how to trust each other can strengthen future collaborations. It can also help us become more psychologically safe with each other, which we are finding is one of the key elements to understanding whether a partnership or a team will be able to develop into maturity.

Next time you watch Pairs Figure Skating or Ice Dancing competitions, remember that the beauty of the movements belie the hard facts of what each person must contribute and control for the whole of the partnership to be successful. The need to uphold our own end, as well as relying upon that of our partners to perform their complementary movements, brings insight into the beauty of what we are creating. We can bring that same goodness into whatever partnerships we are creating when we accept each other as-is and work to make our partnership activities even better – especially when we have some falls.