I. EQUIPMENT NO SUCH THING AS WEAK ANKLES
Correct equipment is the first and most important element in the making of a good figure skater. You are keen to learn to skate but you have no skates? Or perhaps you'd love to figure skate but you've tried skating a couple of times on a rented or borrowed outfit and have found that you have "weak ankles"? Then you must pay strict attention to the type of boot and skate to buy. Read the following few instructions carefully and follow them out just as carefully.
Don't allow any salesman to persuade you into buying boots that don't fit you. Unfortunately many salesmen in our sporting goods stores still know very little about the proper fit of a boot for figure skating, and, because it is easier for them or less expensive perhaps for you, they will let you walk out of their store with a much too large outfit or a completely unsuitable one which has been fitted over a heavy sock.
Remember this: The common excuse of weak ankles is not a valid one. It has been proved that not one person in a hundred really has weak ankles if he has properly fitting boots. On the other hand, anyone will have weak ankles in a boot that is too large in the heel and instep. Those of you who have tried skating only in a low, ill-fitting hockey boot and a high hockey skate and who became discouraged because you could not hold your ankles upright must not be discouraged another minute. With a high, close-fitting boot and a low figure skate you will find balancing on the steel runners ever so much easier. After a few turns around the rink you will find that you can hold your ankles in place with a minimum of effort, and after a session or two you will have no difficulty at all.
A figure skating boot is much higher and gives more support than the common hockey boot. A man's boot is about 9 inches high, and a woman's about 8 inches. It must fit so snugly that your heel does not slip up and down the least bit, even when the boot is only loosely laced. The fit through the instep and ankle up to the back of the big toe joint must be equally tight. There should be no wrinkles from the instep back to the heel over the anklebone and, most important, there should be a wide spread of 1 inch to l1/2 inches between the lacings over the instep, even when the boot is laced up tight. This wide spread allows for the inevitable stretching of the leather and ensures a good fit for many years of wear. Don't buy a boot with an ankle strap. This really tends to be weakening.
There is one part of the boot, however, that should not be tight—and that is the toe. If possible, see that your boot has a round or square toe; never buy a pointed model. There should be enough space from the big toe joint forward to the end so that you can wiggle your toes freely inside the boot at all times. Tight toes stuffed with heavy socks are the most common reason for cold feet during outdoor skating.
Never have your skating boots fitted over a heavy sock. Women should wear only silk stockings for a fitting, while men should wear their ordinary, everyday socks. For some reason or other would-be skaters and skate salesmen feel that boots fit better and feet will keep warmer with heavy socks. This is far from the truth. In the first place, a boot must fit so well that it feels like a part of your foot after a little while. It is impossible to get this accurate, snug fit over a heavy sock, whereas a boot that has been well fitted over silk stockings will always take a thin sock or tights later on, if desired. In the second place, just as a sock may fill up around the ankle it will also fill up the toe, preventing proper circulation. I have been warm skating outdoors at 20 degrees below zero in a pair of thin tights and a round-toed boot, while skaters around me have rushed inside with numb feet—and, later, painfully burning toes—because they mistakenly thought a heavy sock would give added comfort! A good rule of thumb is: Skating boots should be a half-size to a whole size smaller than your walking shoes.
The question of buying boots for children needs special attention. While it is true that most children in the growing stage cannot wear more than one year a pair of skates and boots that fit anywhere near correctly at the time of buying, it is also true that children progress toward good skating faster than their elders, and it is hardly fair to handicap them with ill-fitting equipment. Figure skating, whether outdoors or in, is one of the most healthful and beneficial of all sports for children. It is not too strenuous for their young muscles, yet it gives them complete exercise for almost every muscle of the body, expands the lungs, and develops good posture and fine power of concentration.
Though new outfits yearly may seem expensive on first thought, it is a shame to start children off on boots and skates so large that they lose interest in trying to control their ankles. I have seen this happen to many eager children, and it,is too bad. I have also seen that there is almost always a ready market for children's outgrown outfits. If you buy little John a pair of boots and skates that really fit him this year and he has outgrown them by next fall, you will find that Mrs. Smith will be only too delighted to buy a still good outfit for less than she would have to pay for a new one in the stores. At many of the rinks skate shops and professionals conduct a regular barter and exchange counter for youngsters' outfits. If you don't live near a rink, I think you'll find it easy to set up your own exchange.
Now that you've been fitted properly to your boots, skates are the next consideration. Strangely enough, your skates, while important, are not so important as your boots. A pair of low figure skates of the correct size and shape does not have to be expensive or even moderately expensive to be perfectly satisfactory for a long while. I skated for several years and learned all my fundamental figures on ordinary five dollar figure skates, which today would cost approximately ten dollars.
So that you will know for yourself whether you are being sold the right blades, pick up the skates on the counter and examine them carefully. Ask for a hockey skate and hold it in your left hand. Now ask for a figure skate and hold it in your right hand. The first thing you will notice is that the hockey skate has a plain pointed end in front, while the figure skate has a series of "teeth," or "picks." Hold the plate of the skates in your hands with the blades facing upward, and turn the blades to the light. You will notice that the hockey skate, in your left hand, has an absolutely straight narrow blade—that is, the length of the blade is straight from heel to toe and the width of the blade is perfectly straight across. Now look at the figure blade. You will notice that from heel to toe the blade is set on a slight curve. This is called the "radius" of the skate, and most figure skates today are set on a 7-foot radius.
Look at and feel the blade itself. (Illus. 1). You will notice that there is a hollow ridge down the center of the skate, leaving two higher edges at each side of it (see insert). This hollow ridge is called the "concave" of the skate and is what is meant by the term "hollow-ground" as applied to figure skates. The sides of the hollow ridge are the so-called "edges" of the skate, and when you have your outfit on, the edge of the skate that is nearest the inside of your foot is called the "inside edge," and the edge nearest the outside is correspondingly called the "outside edge." It is well to memorize these terms, for the actual skating figures are named according to which edge of the skate you use to trace them.
To get back to the skates you are holding in your hands-grasp the blades firmly, with the skates perfectly level and near together. You will immediately notice that the shoe plate of the hockey skate is higher than that of the figure skate, and if you look more closely, you will see that the two upright pieces that join the toe plate and the heel plate to the blade (in other words, the "stanchions") are much higher on the hockey skate than on the figure skate. This is important. The higher your foot is from the ice, the harder it is to keep your ankle upright. It is much the same principle as stilt walking; the lower your center of gravity, naturally the easier it is to balance.
Therefore it stands to reason that it is easier to learn to skate on the low figure skates than on the high hockey skates. Even if you are not sure you ever want to try figures, even if you think you will be content to plain skate round and round the village pond or city rink, you will find it ever so much easier to learn to navigate over the ice on figure skates. You can play everything except top drawer hockey on figure skates, but you can never trace even the simplest figures correctly or dance an ice waltz on hockey skates.
One last important item: See that your skates are fastened to your boot slightly inside the center line that runs from toe to heel. (Illus. 1) This puts the skate where the body weight is greatest and also will enable you to skate on the outside edge more easily later on. Buy skates of such a length that the toe plate comes forward exactly to the end of the boot. Skates made all in one piece, with the teeth fastened to the toe plate, are strongest. Unless your skates come already fastened to the boots, it is well to have an expert do the attaching. If the skates are already attached to the boots, as is the case in most department and sporting goods stores, make sure that they are attached by screws, not rivets. This is vitally important. The placing of a riveted skate cannot be changed without ruining the sole of the boot; a skate that is screwed on can be changed at any skate shop to adjust to your individual balance. Most factories set the skate on the sole of the boot in the wrong alignment, and it is necessary to change in the majority of cases. Screwed on skates, not riveted, please.
Another item that should be purchased at this time is a good skate guard of wood, rubber, or plastic. It won't matter how fine an outfit you have if you step on anything but ice in your skates. Concrete, steel, even wood unless it is clean, will ruin the edge of your blade in a second or two. Wear your guards to the ice and when you leave the ice, put them on right there. Rust is likewise an enemy of your skate. After each use wipe your blades carefully (a chamois is best), and do not put them back in your guards again until you are certain the inside of each guard is completely dry. Sharpening should be done at a skating rink or wherever a skate shop has the right type of grinding wheel for figure skates. Beware of the average hardware or sporting goods store; they rarely have the correct sharpening equipment. At any rate, make inquiries before handing over your skates. One more caution: Never have the teeth removed.
I have left the vital question of price to the last. Figure skating, long regarded as an expensive sport, is becoming less expensive all the time. Stores are stocking better and cheaper equipment every year. Furthermore, even an outfit that seems expensive at first will last so long, if it is well made of good materials, that the cost in the end will seem negligible. If you are to be the run-of-the-mill type of "weekend" skater, who skates for fun and relaxation only, a good pair of boots and skates will probably last you most of your skating life. This is particularly true of men's black boots. Even women's white buck or calf boots will last many seasons. I strongly advise buying the best outfit you can possibly afford, because it is economy in the end.
However, if you don't want to spend much yet for a sport you're not sure you're going to like (though of course you will!), it is possible to get a satisfactory outfit for as little as twenty-five dollars for adults and fifteen dollars for children—satisfactory, that is, so long as you are particular about the fit. If you are one of those people whom no cheap boot will really fit properly, do pay a little extra for a better cut boot which comes in a greater range of sizes and widths. You will find that you are more than repaid in comfort and pleasure. If you can not be fitted by any ready-made boot, it is wise to pay for the best custom-made pair you can get. I say again, and I can't emphasize it too strongly, that the fit of the boot is the most important factor in your first season on the ice.
After you have acquired your boots and skates, your thoughts will turn naturally to the clothes you will wear for your first appearance. Make no mistake about it, a smart costume on the ice is half the battle. If you are a man, you will probably decide to do your first skating in long trousers plus an ordinary coat or sweater, and that is all right. If you are a woman and an absolute beginner and expect to do a certain amount of rail clinging for a while, you will probably think you will be less conspicuous in a long skirt, a sort of modified street costume. There you are wrong.
For a woman the traditional costume is as set for the ice rink as it is for the tennis court or the ski slope. A long skirt will make any woman stand out like a sore thumb on any ice surface, just as a long black skirt would make her an object of special attention on any tennis court. So remember this when you buy your costume: if you want your first few wobbly strokes to go as unnoticed as possible, be sure to dress in the accepted mode. If you dress like a reasonably expert skater (whether you are or not), you'll find that people are much too preoccupied with their own edges to pay any attention to yours.
The accepted style for skating skirts and dresses has a full circular, gored, or pleated skirt which flares from the hipline. Plenty of stores now have the most chic, correct, and practical costumes imaginable—and at very small cost. In fact it is because the stores are putting out such attractive and becoming figure skating outfits that lots of young girls are taking up the sport!
As for the rest of the costume, good sense and a certain amount of fashion should dictate. Sweaters with skirts are always good, but if you are going to an indoor rink, don't make the mistake, as one of my friends did, of wearing a heavy sweater, a stocking cap, and fur-lined mitts. Most rinks are heated nowadays, so it is well to inquire first. On the other hand, trim windbreakers, parkas, and turtleneck sweaters are perfect for pond skating. Big hats are out of place on the ice. The closer fitting the cap, the trimmer the appearance. Streamlining is as suitable to the skating figure as it is to an automobile chassis.
Anything that doesn't contribute to an impression of speed and freedom of movement is undesirable. That is why the bodices of skating dresses should be molded to the figure. That is why trunks should never be large and bulky—but, contrariwise the too tight, too high little panty that some good skaters are now affecting is ugly, too. Trunks should as a general rule match the skirt and be as inconspicuous as possible. Excellent nylon tights are available at most stores, while wool and nylon tights may also be procured. The latter are fine for outdoor skating in cold climates.
Many beginners don slacks for their first appearances on the ice. This is a practical costume, but as ability increases, a skirt gives not only more freedom but a great deal more grace.
Be sure that your skating dress is made with a gusset under the arms to allow full latitude of movement and at the same time a tight fit in the bodice—and the sleeve, too, if desired. One of the most satisfactory of all costumes for both indoor and outdoor skating is the knitted dress. Jersey is also good for free and easy movement.
Simplicity of line and effectiveness of color are the important items in a successful costume. Any decoration should enhance rather than clutter the line of the skater's body. A good rule of thumb for skirt length is this: Bend forward from the hips with both legs straight under you and have your hemline marked at the exact point where your upper leg meets your derriere.
For men there are now well-cut, tight-fitting trousers on sale at most stores. Some rinks make the wearing of coats compulsory, but sweaters are best outdoors. As with the ladies, men should aim for the trim, uncluttered line, comfortable through the arm and shoulders but, please, not baggy or sloppy anywhere—pants leg, waistline, or neckline. Clothes may not make the man but on the ice they certainly help to make a better-looking skater.
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