|IX. YOU ARE A GOOD SKATER NOW
It seems a long way, doesn't it, from your first boot fitting and your first few hesitant edges to the present moment? But think of all the fun you have had along the way and how much more fun you are going to have. For you are a good skater now.
Indeed, if you have learned to the best of your ability all the figures set forth in this book—and even a portion of the free skating and dancing—you are a very good skater. I would like to present a special graduation diploma to you, marked "Elementary Figure Skating—Cum Laude," for you are now eligible for intermediate, advanced, and graduate study of the never-ending complexities of this sport. You have a solid foundation of real knowledge from which you can go on to first-class standing; and even if you never learn another figure, you know enough now to be able to master all the dances, simple pair skating, advanced fours skating, and to hold your own in show groups, no matter how complicated.
Perhaps it has seemed discouraging once in a while and you have felt that you would never be able to do a certain edge or turn or step properly? Everyone who takes up this beautiful, exasperating, baffling, fascinating sport feels like that from time to time. There is nothing to do but persevere, practice, and above all think what may be the trouble. For days you may be annoyed at a stubborn figure that simply will not seem to fall into line, and just when you are about to give it all up and present your skates to the nearest urchin, you get it! It seems amazingly simple then, figure skating is the most satisfying thing in the world, and you begin your next figure with a burst of confidence. This is how it should be. This is how it will always be so long as you glide on steel runners. As you go on, you will find that a step or a jump that you could do perfectly yesterday is gone today—the timing is all wrong—and then miraculously tomorrow you have it again. This happens in the best of skating families.
Good skating takes great stick-to-it-iveness; but wayward figures, like a wayward horse, after a period of skittish-ness always give in to a strong master.
Pair skating, as illustrated by the couple on the title page of this book, requires separate study because of the many possible combinations and the specialized problems of technique involved. Only the most elementary remarks can be made here. It is eminently satisfying to skate in perfect harmony with another person; many people consider it the height of the skating art. But as in marriage so in pair skating, the harmony must be complete in every respect. Not only must you choose your partner for suitability of skating style but for temperamental compatibility as well.
A tall, long-legged skater who covers the ice with great sweeping strokes should not pair with a short-legged partner whose movements are naturally quicker, "choppier," and less gliding. Similarly you should determine beforehand whether you are going to get along companionably with your partner. Arguments, ceaseless differences of opinion over who shall do what and why, practice squabbles and performance smiles make an unpleasant relationship which defeats the main purpose of sport, no matter how expertly two people may skate together and how much the public may like them. If skating a pair is not enjoyable in every aspect, it is not worth the trouble; on the other hand, if partners have a thoroughly good time skating together, it won't matter to them whether they win competitions and give frequent exhibitions or not. I know one couple who have been pair skating together several nights a week for over twenty-five years; no champions of the world could possibly have more fun on ice than this middle-aged man and woman who, having worked out over the years their own "specialties" in a highly individual style, skate them with a constant smile of pleasure on their faces.
Comparatively seldom are two skaters of absolutely equal ability matched. While the weaker skater should strive constantly to improve, the stronger should not include in their program moves which only he or she can do confidently. A pair routine should be based on the ability of the weaker skater, for there is far more pleasure in seeing two skaters do simple moves perfectly than in sympathizing with the partner who can't seem to keep up with the other. Never, needless to say, try moves that are beyond both skaters.
Pair programs incorporate the spirals, dances, and jumps of solo free skating, plus adagio-type lifts in which the man raises the lady in graceful posed positions. The latter should be made in movement and the lift should be one continuous up-and-down motion. It should not be held so long that it seems to be merely a weight-lifting act. The lady, who
generally holds her partner's wrists or his shoulder, springs and then stiffens her back and her arms while the man lifts her to a full extension and then lowers her gently
to the ice. Pair spins should be done together as a rule. It is almost impossible for two people to spin separately for exactly the same length of time at exactly the same speed of rotation, and, as complete unity of movement is the chief essential of pair skating, anything that disturbs it should be avoided.
Dance steps may be done hand in hand, either facing as in the waltz and fourteen-step or side by side as in the fiesta tango or Dutch waltz; they may also be done by the two skaters separately, side by side, or facing, close yet not touching. If done separately, the technique is called "shadow" skating; it requires perfect timing and is highly effective if done in absolute unison, with the legs, arms, head, and body of each skater moving at the same instant at exactly the same angle. Separating moves, in which the partners go off into an individual step or jump and then meet each other in a dramatic joining, lend necessary variety to the composition. A separating figure should be so evenly spaced that the meeting seems natural and effortless yet by some subtle turn or twist the onlooker should be made to feel that there is an element of danger or difficulty involved. The separation should never be so far apart that the eye of the watcher cannot conveniently take in both skaters at once. If that happens, either one skater or the other is the focus of attention, and the feeling of unity is lost.
Much dancing with your partner is excellent pair practice, and so is the side-by-side practicing of all the rolls and even of elementary figures. The rhythm of perfectly timed steps and arm movements is the chief beauty of pair skating, and both dancing and school figures are excellent means to this end. A program is most enjoyable when both skaters have a hand in composing it; yet in the actual skating the lady must always follow the man (even if he's wrong!) with seemingly no will of her own. A pair in which the lady looks as if she is putting her partner through his paces is a jarring sight.
Figure skating competition is open only to members of the United States Figure Skating Association in juvenile, novice, junior, and senior divisions for singles contests; junior and senior divisions for pairs. Age is a qualifying factor only in the juvenile class, where skaters twelve years of age (or under) who have passed their 2nd test may enter. In all other classes only the passing of higher tests is a prerequisite, with the Gold Medal test a requirement at the national senior level.
The annual skating club carnival, gymkhana on skates, or whatever the ice show may be called, is an integral and enjoyable part of most club schedules. Even if you do not earn a starring role, the graduate of this book has sufficient skill to take part in any of the group numbers that form the back-bone of such a show. In fact, you are qualified for such a part in one of the many touring professional ice shows that have been popular over the country for the past twenty-five years. Many a young skater finds this an enjoyable way to earn a good living while seeing the country and indulging in his favorite sport at the same time.
Group skating, whether in the advanced category of mixed fours, eights, and twelves, or in the relatively elementary class of drills, large dance ensembles, etc., demands above all an ear for the beat of the music and a sense of "guiding" to keep your place by regulating the length of your stroke to the others. There is great satisfaction in being an integral part of a moving rhythmic whole that glides over the ice in perfectly timed formations.
All skating is becoming more and more interpretive. I foresee the day when hundreds of expert skaters, not just a few super-stars, will, by their mastery of ice movement and mimicry, be able to evoke in the onlooker the same emotions as the other forms of dance artwhen choreography on the ice stage will hold its own with any other stage.
For this reason I advocate that any talented child who decides to run the gamut of figure skating competition from the preliminary test to the Gold Medal should add the study of music and of all forms of dance to the study of skating. To the parents who constantly ask me about supplementary ballet for their children, my answer is invariably, "Yes, but correct ballet, and they must learn to skate first." A child should acquire the "feel of the ice," with a real glide and a "soft" knee, before any other type of movement is superimposed.
Whatever category of skater you may be when you have completed the grammar school course this book comprisesrecreational, club, or competitivethere are still more fields to conquer, more figures to learn, more steps to work out, more spins, more glide and assurance to gain, more style, more poise, more fun.
As the seasons slide by, you will try to learn always more about this inexhaustible subject of figure skating. You may not be able to do everything; but you will surely want to know as much as possible. There is one rule that seems to apply to every one of us who takes up the "art sport" in all its many aspects: Once a skater, always a skater.