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Why is the Ice Skating Turn "Mohawk" Named After an American Indian Tribe?


Drawing of a Mohawk Turn

Drawing of a Mohawk Turn

Drawing Courtesy of Artist Larisa Gendernalik
Question: Why is the Ice Skating Turn "Mohawk" Named After an American Indian Tribe?
Why in the world is the figure skating move, the mohawk turn, named after American Indians?

In Lynn Copley-Graves' book, Figure Skating History: The Evolution of Dance on Ice, the author writes the following about the origins of the ice skating term "mohawk":

    'In the 1800's the British were fascinated by stories of American Indians. A few American Indians had been brought to England to entertain the British with war dances. Some skaters who saw them thought the spread-eagle pose done in Indian ceremonies resembled the turned-out position of a turn they did on ice. The tracing made by that turn resembled an Indian bow, so they named the turn the "mohawk" after the visiting tribe from New York State. This analogy fits the inside-to-inside mohawk. Skaters practiced mohawks in repetition on a circle eight. Maxwell Witham and H. E. Vandervell compiled the rules of English style in the first comprehensive study of figure skating in any language in their book, A System of Figure Skating, first published in 1869 and revised in 1880. In the 1880 version, they illustrated and described the outside-to-outside mohawk, as done in the Foxtrot today: "A very pretty combination of the outside forward with the outside backwards has lately come into vogue, and it can be skated by every one who is capable of turning out his toes sufficiently, so as to get into the spread-eagle position. This figure was last year introduced into the Club figures on ice and christened by the name of Mohawk." According to Earnest Jones, writing in The Elements of Skating in 1931, the name "mohawk" for this turn was derived from a cut-like step used by the Mohawk indians in their war dances. Two editions later Max Witham described the choctaw, named for another Indian tribe: "A variation of the Mohawk has lately been introduced, and is called a Choctaw ... the skater goes from the outside forward of one foot to the inside back of the other." '
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