What is Mabrouk: a slalom variant of Grapevine

Mabrouk is a slalom variant of a figure skating move called Grapevine. The Grapevine skating pattern is described and diagramed as early as 1880 by Vandervell and Cox in “A System of Figure-skating”. The slalom version is presumably named after Swiss slalomer Eddy Mabrouk. Both Mabrouk and Grapevine employ the same exact 4 components, namely forward/backward criss-cross, and forward/reverse eagle.

While Mabrouk emphasizes four curved slalom footwork around equally spaced cones. Grapevine strives to have the skater move in a streamline without giving explicit thoughts to slalom components. This difference can be seen in patterns they trace on the ground as presented below.

Pattern traced by Mabrouk (top) compared to Grapevine (bottom)

While the two diagrams look very similar, in actuality these two moves are skated with distinct attitudes and goals. To skate Mabrouk, one has to keep the cones in view and constantly adjust skating patterns accordingly. On the other hand, Grapevine is skated more freely, with the eye trained in the general direction of body movement, despite the 180° turning of the hip from side to side. A skater primarily moves in a streamline in Grapevine. Thus the gliding skate will trace a slightly flattened slalom curve as there are no cones to avoid.

Daniel skating Mabrouk
Naomi skating Grapevine

Like Grapevine, Mabrouk is also skated exclusively on outside edges. This when done to perfection appears to an onlooker as if a skater had Jackson’s moonwalk power, and could effortlessly propel herself indefinitely around cones, while turning forward and backward, without ever lifting any skates from the ground.

I have previously written much about Grapevine already. I started by trying to learn the ice skate version Grapevine, even before I could skate much. That journey was documented in Learn to Skate the Two-foot Grapevine Analytically. But I never quite managed to sustain the move indefinitely on ice, even though I understood intellectually how it would be done. I subsequently tried to skate Grapevine on inline skates. This turned out to be even more difficult, due to much stronger friction between wheels and pavement, compounded by my unfinished Grapevine training. However, instructions from Naomi Grigg on toe pivots and heel pivots proved to be enlightening, as I recounted in Learn the Two-foot Grapevine on Inline Skates. While I still couldn’t sustain Grapevine indefinitely on pavement, I was finally able to do so on ice by applying these pivots.

It wasn’t until I followed a great YouTube video on Mabrouk from Daniel of SkaMiDan fame that I truly managed to string all four component moves of Grapevine into a continuous sequence. In other words, the Mabrouk way of looking at the same four components was eye-opening. Breaking the sequence into four distinct and common slalom components allowed me to learn to cleanly transition from one component into the next. It taught me how to inject energy into the sequence at every one of these four components. I finally had a mental model for how to articulate these transitions, and to string the four components into a single sustained flow.

This article is part 1 of a series of articles that together document my learning journey for anyone in the same position. But first, go watch Daniel’s video, and subscribe to his channel. Daniel has gracefully allowed me to use his excellent video as a source material for illustration in this article. Thanks, Daniel!

Daniel’s video on Mabrouk

Before we launch into details, I’ll point out that unlike my previous articles on Grapevine, this article on Mabrouk uses the “counterclockwise” version of the move as sample illustrations. By counterclockwise, I mean that the skater’s body turns counterclockwise at the symmetric distribution point s2, with a forward eagle spin around a cone, as will be explained shortly. Daniel skates primarily this way. And I’ve learned that I too now favor this direction of turn. Most diagrams on this article should be read from right to left, as indicated by a yellow arrow. But in the future, at the conclusion of the series, I’ll have an article that repeats all pictures, diagrams and videos for folks who favor the clockwise version of Mabrouk.

Many beginner skaters would want to master Grapevine or Mabrouk, after watching someone skate it at a rink. This is in fact how I got seriously into skating. This series of articles will be useful to you, only up to a point. Glance through videos, pictures and diagrams here. You may even try to learn it, as long as you wear proper protection equipment. But know that you can’t skate a graceful Mabrouk or Grapevine without first mastering many prerequisite skills, none of which can be learned in a day or a week. Follow How to Inline Skate and Inline skating as rhythmic falls and recoveries to hone your basic skills first. As you master every basic skill, you’ll find that you do Grapevine a bit better. Or at least that was my experience.

This long article and its sister articles in the series each consists of individual sections that discuss different aspects of Mabrouk. These articles and their sections may be best read sequentially. You will probably find it easier to progress by following these sections linearly. But that is only a suggestion. You can read and practice different aspects out of order – everyone’s needs are different. Also, you don’t have to master one section before you head to the next. In fact, if you are like me, you won’t be able to do that. Trying to master Mabrouk is like attempting to “master” playing Bach Cello Suites. Most people are never going to “master” it the way true masters do. But we can first attempt to learn components of it separately, in order or out of order. Then we string some of these components together. Once we can play the whole thing, we try to make each component flow into the next. And we revisit components that require additional attention. Then we try to make the whole thing flow even more, iteratively. Slowly but surely, we thus inch closer and closer to our idealized perfection.

Table of Contents

Four slalom components of Mabrouk

Following is a segment taken from the above video from Daniel, showing the full glory of Mabrouk from various angles. The clip loops automatically by default. See if you can identify the four components of Mabrouk from this video. Focus on the cones, and how the two skates go around them. How many different ways do the skates skirt these cones?

Mabrouk seen from various angles

While that amazing zig-zagging camera work was excellent for cinematic effects, it was not conducive to your identification of component moves. Here is a video clip from earlier showing a single Grapevine move from a static camera angle. I slowed it down a bit so you can better differentiate each of the four components.

Mabrouk in slow-motion

Here is another slow-motion capture of Mabrouk, from the opposite viewing angle.

Mabrouk in slow-motion (opposite camera angle)

Following is a filmstrip showing the four slalom components of Mabrouk, from right to left: forward criss-cross, chapi – forward eagle, backward criss-cross, and chapo – reverse eagle. The cycle then repeats. In the film strip, components are identified by labels s1 through s4, where “s” stands for symmetric distribution points. But you can also think “slalom” component. Don’t worry too much about symmetric distribution points for now. I will talk about these later.

Filmstrip: 4 slalom components of Mabrouk & their corresponding symmetric moments s1 to s4

Here is a pattern diagram showing traces left by the two skates on the ground, as a skater performs the four slalom components. In this article, the left skate, the left leg, and traces made by the left skate are illustrated in blue. The right skate, the right leg, and traces made by the right skate are illustrated in red. Most diagrams should be read from right to left, as indicated by a yellow arrow. Compare the filmstrip above to the diagram below. Match Daniel’s stance at every symmetric distribution point in the filmstrip to its equivalent part in the diagram.

Pattern diagram: 4 slalom components of Mabrouk & their corresponding symmetric moments s1 to s4

In the filmstrip and pattern diagram shown above, yellow cones mark criss-cross components, and pink cones mark eagle components. The two criss-cross components, when performed forward and backward in a sequence by themselves, form a slalom move known as Crazy. The two eagle components, when performed forward and reverse in a sequence by themselves, form a slalom move known as Chap-Chap (or Chapi-Chapo). In Mabrouk, Crazy and Chap-Chap are broken down to individual components, and remixed into something even more remarkable.

How Mabrouk differs from Grapevine

I’ve briefly discussed in the introductory section how Mabrouk is a more formalized move than the freestyle Grapevine. Mabrouk is a slalom move, where a skater skirts around cones without knocking them down. Most slalomer will trace similar Mabrouk patterns on the pavement. On the other hand, there are myriad variations of Grapevine out there. Every freestyle skater freely interpret and vary how they skate Grapevine as there is no cones to follow nor avoid.

With that said, I found Mabrouk to be much better at teaching the 4 common components used in both Mabrouk and Grapevine, as I already mentioned earlier. But my goal is to eventually perform graceful Grapevine moves and variations. Here is a variation of Grapevine that Redditor u/Apprehensive_Tap1334 gracefully allowed me to use for this article. The video shown below right is a slow-motion version of the same.

Grapevine variation
Grapevine variation – SLOMO

This skater skates a Grapevine move closer to how freestyle ice skaters do, as I described in Learn the Two-foot Grapevine on Inline Skates. However, he incorporates toe pivots and heel pivots that Naomi discussed in Learn the Two-foot Grapevine on Inline Skates. The end result is captured by the pattern diagram shown below.

Patterns traced by a Grapevine variation (u/Apprehensive_Tap1334)

As the diagram clearly shows, this freestyle variation of Grapevine minimizes both forward and backward criss-cross components. The near-elimination of criss-cross reduces the use of outside edges at these steps, for some skates. As will be shown in this series, outside edge actually helps a skater skate required slalom components and make transitions between them. For a skillful skater who has mastered the move however, outside edges are optional for the free skates. They have gained total control over their body balance such that they can use weight shifting to induce necessary curves, without needing help from deep outside edges at all times. Moreover, the forward and reverse eagle components are executed with very tight spins, heel-to-heel and toes-to-toes respectively. These are incredibly hard to learn on pavement, for beginners who can’t even do basic chap-chap with a wide radius.

Four symmetric distribution points of a Grapevine variation

Sustaining continuous Grapevine with such tight spins and subdued slalom components is hard, on pavement, compared to ice-skated versions. Increased friction is one reason. This is again why I believe Mabrouk is the right introductory stepping tone for a beginner to eventually learn to skate Grapevine. A beginner will have an easier time internalizing Mabrouk, by learning to skate its amplified and round slalom components.

Pattern traced by Mabrouk (top) compared to a Grapevine variant (bottom)

Two-foot skating, symmetric distribution points, and balance moments

Grapevine (and therefore Mabrouk) is famous for being a two-footed skating move. This is in contrast with most skating moves found in competition figure skating where except for occasional mohawk moves, a figure skater is almost always gliding on a single skate. In pure ice skating, a leg currently gliding on ice is called the gliding (or employed) leg. Similarly, a leg where the skate is not touching ice is called the free (or unemployed) leg. Consult the following article for additional info on two-foot vs pure skating: Learn the Two-foot Grapevine on Inline Skates.

In pure skating, most footwork can be described as a a sequence of falls and recoveries. A skater glides on the gliding skate, indicated by a blue line in the picture below, while leaning his body away from the gliding skate to initiate a fall. He then moves his free skate. indicated by a white line, towards his new projected center of gravity. Finally, he plants the free skate down to recover from the fall. The newly-planted skate thus frees up the previously-gliding skate, which now becomes the free skate.

Projected center indicated by yellow circles in pure skating (cross rolls)

The above filmstrip is from the article Inline skating as rhythmic falls and recoveries. It uses a different set of annotation colors which are different from how this article annotates filmstrips.

Contrast the pure skating above to key moments of Mabrouk shown below. In the below filmstrip, I have included balance moments b1 through b4, as defined in the falls/recoveries article, which serve as transition steps between symmetric distribution points. Note how no skate ever leaves the ground. Through Mabrouk, both skates are gliding skates. This is what “two-footed” means.

Filmstrip showing the four slalom components s1 to s4, with balance moments b1 to b4 in between

In Mabrouk, no skate ever traces a straight line. The two skates are always weaving and turning in different directions. The two skates never remain locked with each other at a fixed angle. If the two skates appear to skate in parallel as observed at s1 and s3, they do so only for a split second, before they go their separate directions. If the two skates appear to be moving at 90° angle to each other as observed at b1, b2, b3 and b4, they do so only for a split second. All these weaving and turning of skates create the iconic pattern Mabrouk and Grapevine are known for, shown below.

Patterns traced by two skates moving in wild and changing directions in Mabrouk

In two-footed skating, a skater must constantly turn her hip and torso to induce changes in the two skates. Otherwise she will trip, because two non-parallel skates gliding without varying their incident angle will soon skate away from each other, past the limits of human anatomy. Even though both skates are on the ground at all times, they do not shoulder body weight equally. Throughout a Mabrouk move, a skater leans her body in different ways, to shift her weight from skate to skate. Usually, the skate bearing more weight glides, while the other skate pivots on a wheel.

“Balance moments” mark times when a skater’s body weight is mainly placed on one skate, making that skate glide. There are four such moments in Mabrouk: b1, b2, b3 and b4. These balance moments in pure skating are when a free skate plants down on the ground in a recovery, and swaps role with the currently-gliding skate. In Mabrouk no skates leave the ground completely, but the same concept of shifting weight from one skate to another applies. In the picture below, projected center marked by a yellow circle indicates how a skater shifts body weight to the left skate at b1 and b3, marked in blue. Similarly, at b2 and b4, the skater shifts body weight to the right skate, marked in red.

Yellow circle indicate new center of gravity shifted onto a new skate at the 4 balance moments

There are brief moments in Mabrouk where the two skates shoulder a skater’s body weight equally in the middle of a balance transition. At these points, legs and skates form symmetric shapes, with a cone marking the center of symmetry. I called these “symmetric distribution points”. At a symmetric distribution point, the projected center of gravity is at, or near a cone that the skater maneuvers around. These points can be used to name the four components of Mabrouk, because these symmetric stances are hallmark postures of Mabrouk. From the right to the left as shown below, these components are: forward criss-cross (s1), chapi – forward eagle (s2), backward criss-cross (s3), and chapo – reverse eagle (s4).

Symmetric distribution points are found midway between balance moments

When balance moments and symmetric distribution points are shown together in a filmstrip, with projected centers marked by yellow circles, then balance transitions from skate to skate becomes obvious. Follow the blue left skate starting at b1 on the right side of the picture below. It starts off bearing body weight at b1, and glides forward. At s1 the left skate has ceded half of body weight to the red right skate. At b2, the blue left skate no longer shoulders body weight, and instead the red right skate has now taken over, and is thus gliding forward.

Yellow circles indicate how body weight is transitioned from skate to skate between balance moments

Mabrouk deconstructed

I have now taken the filmstrip shown earlier, and added even more intermediate steps between balance moments and symmetric distribution points. Now you can follow any skate clearly from a balance moment to a symmetric distribution point, and then onto the next balance moment. At every balance moment, not only does the skater shift body weight onto a new skate, but he also shifts his focus onto a new cone of obsession. For instance, right before b2, he is obsessed with a yellow cone which is behind him. At b2, he now shifts his mind to the pink cone in ahead of him, so he could skirt around it with a forward eagle at s2. When he gets to b3, he shifts his weight to his left skate, changes focus to the next yellow cone.

Mabrouk deconstructed into fine-grained steps in a filmstrip

And here is a fully-annotate diagram summarizing everything I’ve discussed so far about Mabrouk. This one adds annotations for balance moments. Instead of projection centers, this diagram uses vertical blue bands and pink bands to show when the left skate and the right skates are gliding alone as the primary bearer of body weight. Thus, the blue left skate can be seen bearing weight and gliding around balance moments b1, and later around balance moment b3. The red right skate can be seen bearing weight and gliding around b2, and later around b4.

Summary diagram showing key ingredients of Mabrouk, a slalom variant of Grapevine
Key frames of Mabrouk, for comparison to the summary diagram above

Similarly, the filmstrip above illustrates a full Mabrouk sequence, incorporating both slalom components s1, s2, s3 and s4, and balance moments b1, b2, b3 and b4. Remember to read them from right to left, as indicated by the yellow arrow showing the direction of body movement. At every component and moment, the projected center of gravity is indicated by a yellow circle on the ground. Slalom components are labeled in white – they are symmetric distribution points where both skates shoulder body weight equally. Balance moments are transition steps where one skate shoulders all body weight, colored blue when the left skate carries body weight and glides, and red when the right skate does so.

Who are you to teach me Mabrouk?

I do appreciate the fact I am a learner writing a deep-dive analysis of Mabrouk. It’s fair for folks to ask, “who are you to write about Mabrouk at this detail level bordering useless?” The truth is that no one who is already skilled at Mabrouk would write such a thing. Once someone has mastered the move, it becomes muscle memory, and there is no need for the mind to worry about pattern diagrams, balance moments, symmetric distribution points, balance transitions, and energy injections. The analysis is only useful for either academics, or a learner attempting to master this move without an expert helping them in person.

It took me more than three months to generate diagrams, edit pictures/videos, and write part 1 and part 2 of this series. When I started this article in May 2022, I could barely string the four slalom components of Mabrouk together, and only if I launched into Mabrouk with enough momentum from a running start. I could not sustain the move past one cycle. I also couldn’t do the sequence in a straight line. I kept missing cones. Even when I managed to move in a straight line, I kept knocking cones over. By the middle of the writing, I could sustain the move indefinitely without knocking cones over. But I was already starting to forget key insights that allowed me to incrementally improve my move. In a way this series records a process that is no longer useful to me. As a learner, however, perhaps you will benefit from my detailed recording of my own learning experience.

Yours truly managing, for the first time, an awkward but sustained Mabrouk, mid-learning

My learning process was unnecessarily complicated, because I tried to fly before I could crawl and walk. I’ve never done slalom skating before. So a part of this series actually describes how you learn to criss-cross and spin around cones. I took it for granted that I could do these slalom moves, because I could do related moves without cones. In retrospect, this was a good example of the Dunning-Krugger effect. Skating around cones with precision and consistency is harder than it looks. In retrospect, I could have first started with grade one slalom moves as documented here at Pagophilia. Then I would only have to learn to transition between the four slalom components of Mabrouk. Your mileage may vary.

Next steps

Again, this is just part 1 of a series on learning Mabrouk, and thus Grapevine. After working on this series for 3 months, I decided to break it up into parts. Part 2 dives into the four slalom components of Mabrouk in excruciating details. Part 3 will take a detour from academic discussions, and instead document how I actually learned Mabrouk, focusing on refining transitions between slalom components. It will recount how, in the process, I became proficient in related slalom moves, and finally in Grapevine.

About Xinhai Dude 辛亥生

The name Xinhai Dude 辛亥生 is a pun in Chinese, as it means both “he who was born in Xinhai” as well as “he who studies Xinhai”. I had an ambitious plan to write something about the great Xinhai Revolution of 1911, thus my blog https://xinhaidude.com. But after an initial flurry of activities the initiative petered out. One day I will still carry it through. But for now, this website has turned into a conglomerate of my work on various topics of interest to me, including travel pictures, RC model airplane flying, inline skating, ice skating, classical music composition, science fiction short stories, evolution and atheism.
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