Irene Maguire Muehlbronner, 86, of Blue Bell, a skater who, with her husband and partner, Walter Muehlbronner, gave an early lift to the art of ice dancing in America, died Sunday, April 10, at Normandy Farms Estates.
The cause of death was congestive heart failure.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mrs. Muehlbronner first showed an interest in skating at age 8. She was a singles skater when she met Walter Muehlbronner at the Brooklyn Skating Club, she told the Broad Street Review in February 2014.
He was just back from a military posting to London, where he had learned ice dancing in the English fashion. "The British were the forerunners," Mrs. Muehlbronner told the Review. "The American style was more stilted."
Combining her strength and technical prowess with his elegance on ice, they developed a smoothly romantic style that won silver medals at two U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Their success was not without stumbles.
At one championship performance at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society rink in Ardmore, no barrier separated the audience from the performance space. As Mrs. Muehlbronner skated backward, her blade caught a blanket that had found its way onto the ice. She fell, but immediately got up and raced to rejoin her partner.
"I made it there just in time for the final lift," she told the Review. "We got a big hand for that."
In 1950, the two represented the United States in its first major international competition in London. Although the couple had no coach, choreographer, corporate backer, or costume team - Mrs. Muehlbronner's mother made her skating dress - they still placed third, she told the Review.
In the early days, ice dancing was beautiful but relatively simple. Over the years, it would become increasingly difficult while still appearing seamless, a point not lost on Mrs. Muehlbronner. "Nothing starts and finishes," she said in the interview. "It just keeps going, keeps flowing."
After 1950, the Muehlbronners retired from competition because they could not afford to continue as amateurs, she told the Review. They headed for Philadelphia to take jobs as skating instructors.
They married in 1951 and taught briefly before accepting a professional contract with the Ice Follies, similar to today's Ice Capades.
From 1951 to 1958, they skated as "Walter and Irene." "The Follies was like a family," Mrs. Muehlbronner told the Review. "It was a wonderful experience."
In 1958, they left the ice show and moved to Glenside. She began teaching at the Philadelphia Skating Club. The following year, she had the first of four sons.
Mrs. Muehlbronner joined her husband, who was a professional skating teacher at the Wissahickon Skating Club, in 1960. She continued in that role until retiring in 1990.
She and her husband enjoyed tennis, golf, water skiing, and spending time with their grandchildren. He died in 2005, three years before the two were inducted into the Professional Skaters Association Coaches Hall of Fame.
Mrs. Muehlbronner was known for her zest for life and her generosity of spirit. As she wrote in a farewell to family, "My life has been extraordinary, and you are all extraordinary. Carry on. I'm in the cheering section!"
She is survived by sons Richard, James, Peter, and Walter Jr., and seven grandchildren.
A 9:30 a.m. visitation Friday, April 15, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass, both at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 259 Forest Ave., Ambler. Interment is in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
Contributions may be made to the American Red Cross, 2221 Chestnut St., Philadelphia 19103, or via www.redcross.org.