To assume an absolutely correct position on this edge requires limber hips. Such limberness is most effectively acquired from diligent practice of a basic free skating move called the spread eagle (Illus. 14). Not only is it beautiful in itself when done easily at high speed and with distinct lean all around the ice surface, but it is fundamental to most skating positions. The ability to turn out the hips, legs, and feet on a 180 degree arc with a lean from the blades in a straight body line makes just that much easier all the positions of skating requiring a free leg elegantly turned out from a flat hipline. Many of the school figures, elementary as well as advanced, are easy or hard in direct ratio to the skater's facility in spread-eagling.
At this stage of learning I recommend it to all pupils, adults as well as children. Some find it difficult, some find it not so difficult; most skaters can't fall into a spread eagle immediately and naturally, but for almost no one is it an impossible feat. Although the model for this illustration has now one of the most gravity-defying spread eagles in skating, he was by no means one of the lucky "naturals." It took him five years to acquire the necessary limberness to perform it all ways, to the right and to the left, on the outside edge and on the inside. His facility today has paid him dividends far beyond the effort originally expended. Most adults demur at trying what at first they consider a refined form of torture (one of my protesting pupils even constructed wooden slots to hold his skates out in an arc of more than 180 degrees—a device he named "the torture board"). To doubters I cite my mother, who learned a quite respectable spread eagle in one season at the age of forty-five. My older daughter's partner is another who assured me he had tried for years and would "never" be able to do one; yet at the end of a full season of diligent, correct practice, the pair were able to incorporate facing spread eagles into their championship program. Let's hope you are one of the lucky naturals. But if you're not, done with protests, prepare for a few aches and pains now and a lot easier skating later on.
Hold onto the barrier (if at a rink) or a friend's hand (if on a pond) and slide both feet, toes first, out to each side. Press your toes out and around as far as you possibly can at the same time pressing your heels out forward. Keep both knees bent and "drop" both ankles strongly over onto the outside edges until the outsides of the boots touch the ice. Now straighten your knees slowly and pull your derriere up under you.
Keep your ankles "dropped" and be sure not to arch or pull in your back muscles; this will result in a swayback position that will do you great harm. Just stay as straight as you can and concentrate on the straightness of your knees and the turnout of your toes. Push yourself along the rail, or have a friend push you, until you get the feel of balancing in this position.
The same instructions apply when you try the spread eagle in motion. There are two elementary ways of getting into it. One is to pick up speed, glide on both feet, and then with a sliding motion try to force either your left or right foot (whichever feels easier) in front while your other foot flips quickly, toes out, into a straight line behind it. As your feet slide out, your body must naturally turn sideways. Press your leading shoulder back and let your following arm and shoulder come forward around the curve. You will probably make a straight line at first—or even a reverse curve to the one your skates should be transcribing. Unless you are a natural, you must hold your ankles partially dropped over on the outside to maintain the position, at least until you are limber enough to curve to the outside with speed enough to lean from the edge of the skates.
A more effective method, but one which takes a bit more courage at first, is to skate an outside forward edge on whichever foot you want to lead and then swing the free leg and foot first forward and then back with a vigorous turnout so that it takes the ice behind but slightly outside the line of the leading skate. This placement of the trailing foot, especially if the heel is forced as far forward and the toes turned as far back as possible, will force the skates to start a proper curve to the outside. Again keep the ankles "dropped" until you have enough speed to lean the whole body to the curve. Be careful not to place your feet too far apart, as this puts undue strain on the knees. Depending on the length of your legs, of course, approximately 2 feet is the right distance between your heels. Pull up on all your muscles, especially those of your abdomen and diaphragm.
Remember: Only with speed can you do the spread eagle correctly with a straight body lean from the edge of the blades, with no break at the ankles or the back. Concentrate on the outside spread until you have mastered it. Contrary to popular belief, a large
inside spread eagle is far more difficult than an outside one; a small inner one does you almost no good as far as limbering goes. Remember, too, that only daily practice maintained off the ice if you can't skate every day will give you the requisite ease. If you skip a practice because you ache, you will only ache worse the next time. A fine spread eagle is not only useful; it is great fun to do and it is an A-l confidence builder. Once you can lean to its curve, no other lean in skating will give you the slightest qualm.
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