This article is from the Recreational Figure Skating FAQ, by Karen Bryden with numerous contributions by others.
FREESTYLE SESSION is a period of time when the only skating allowed is
"freestyle". .... jumps, spins, footwork, Moves in the Field, spirals,
etc. This usually means that skaters have at least begun to do some
freestyle moves .... such as the first jumps and spins. Some rinks
distinguish in levels allowed on particular sessions. My rink has "low
test" and "high test" sessions, and sometimes even some "middle test"
sessions. Division into levels is made both in the interests of safety
(low test skaters tend to be more oblivious to traffic, less able to
get out of the way, etc.) and the interests of convenience -- it's
easier to gauge your moves if everyone on the ice is within a known
range of competence. The number of skaters allowed on the ice at one
time may differ from a low test to a high test session. At freestyle
sessions skaters may play their program music, and while their music
is on they have the right of way. At some rinks the person whose music
is playing may wear a ribbon or "pinney" to help other skaters know
whose way to stay out of.
You may also encounter these terms:
DANCE SESSION: A period of time in which only ice dancing may be
practiced. This includes isolated moves or entire patterns. When a
particular dance is playing, those skaters doing that pattern have the
right of way -- because these are primarily compulsory dances, there
may be any number of skaters, either singly or in pairs, doing the
pattern at the same time.
OPEN SESSION: A period of time in which any type of FIGURE skating
(this usually means Freestyle or dance) may be practiced (but not
hockey or speed skating). Again, the person whose music is playing has
right of way.
PUBLIC SESSION or RECREATIONAL SESSION: A session in which freestyle,
dance, hockey, or speed skating may be practiced -- provided you can
find the space to do it -- in which the number of people allowed on
the ice at any one time may be quite high. Only in very uncrowded
public sessions can skaters expect to be able to skate their programs
or their dances, and owing to the very different skill levels and
skating types represented, they must expect to have to abort a pattern
or program at any moment to avoid collision.
PATCH SESSION is the same as FIGURE SESSION. It is a period of time on
the ice when the only skating allowed is practice on "school figures".
Each skater is assigned a "patch" of space on the ice and may not
stray outside its boundaries. Because figures are no longer required
in competition, most rinks and clubs do not offer them any more.
Skaters wishing to practice figures must look for uncrowded regular
In all sessions but patch sessions, skaters share the ice equally, and
all must watch out for the others. Some general rules of conduct in
the non-public sessions (in addition to "the skater whose music it is
has right of way") include: Better skaters need to watch out for
slower skaters; skaters taking a lesson have right of way over skaters
practicing on their own; skaters engaged in a pattern (dance pattern,
or Moves in the Field) have right of way over skaters practicing
All rinks have their own "cultures", so what escapes without comment
in one place may be regarded as bizarre in another. Ask.