Introduction

This little book on figure skating is subtitled a "primer" because it is expressly designed to teach the ABC's of a fascinat­ing sport and a new art. It is for all of you who, after seeing the latest ice show, may have decided that skating looks like wonderful fun and you'd like to try it. You may never have been on a pair of skates in your life, or at any rate you may never have been on a pair of figure skates. You may not even know that there is any difference between the kind of skates used for figure skating and those used for plain skating and hockey. Or perhaps you are an ex-hockey player who is finding it difficult to line up other members of a team, or again maybe you are a parent who wants to see your children off to a correct start in this most beneficial of pastimes. At any rate, it is for you, the enthusiastic novice, that this book is mainly written.

However, beyond the description of correct equipment and the right way to take your first few strokes on the ice, there are descriptions of the fundamental figures of skating that should prove useful not only to the beginner but to every student of the sport, no matter how advanced.

A figure skater, even a champion, is no better than his mastery of the primary edges. Teaching thousands of skaters, beginners in groups as well as World and Olympic competitors, has convinced me over and over again, in the twenty-two years that have elapsed since I taught my first pupil, of the incontro­vertible truth of that statement. Even though a skater may do double-revolution jumps in the air and spin faster than a whirling dervish, he is not a true skater unless he has the gliding stroke, the effortless speed, the "soft" knee and ankle, the graceful form, and the correct way of putting his skate upon the ice that come only from a thorough education in basic stroking and the first few fundamental figures.

Choppy steps and an unnatural style are usually the result of trying to become an advanced skater too soon. Once the fundamental figures are mastered so that they are done with control, even speed, and correct form, the advanced figures come twice as quickly and they will then automatically be done with control, even speed, and correct form. Walking comes before running. A good primary figure comes before a good advanced figure, and, conversely, a half-mastered primary figure means many half-mastered advanced figures. Therefore, although the figures and moves described in this book are only a small part of figure skating as a whole, they are by far the most important part.

If you learn these primer figures well (and anyone, no matter what age, can learn them well), then, depending to a certain degree on your physical limitations but much more on your own capacity for practice, you can become a really accomplished skater capable of giving yourself and others much pleasure by your ability. I am often asked by beginning students: "How long will it take me to feel at home on my figure skates?" "When will I be ready to try dancing?" "How long before I'll be able to jump?" Of course there can be no set answer to such queries, but many times I have taught a class of absolute neophytes, who could practice no more than twice a week, to master forward and backward stroking, the crossovers, the basic edge positions, and the simple turns well enough by the end of one season to warrant their starting the preliminary test figures and the simplest of the many ice dances plus, for the young or the daring, the rudimentary jumps.

The hardest part of skating comes within these pages, yet the progression from your first stroke to your first figure and on to your next figure will be so fascinating and so natural that you won't think of it as difficult—you'll just think you're having a wonderful time. For figure skating not only looks like fun, it is fun. Interesting and exciting as watching it in shows or on television may be, skating yourself is much more interesting and exciting.

It is first of all a sport, a highly technical sport which is at once healthful and social. Unlike many other sports, you need no partner to enjoy it; if you have a partner, you will have the double fun of pair skating; and if you have many partners, you will be able to dance in turn with all of them. Indeed, it is because dancing on ice is more rhythmic and lilting than danc­ing on a ballroom floor that a majority of you will don figure skates in the first place and then will keep on skating year after year until your old bones refuse to move any more. As proof let me cite the case of Oscar L. Richard who performed a solo in the New York Skating Club carnival in Madison Square Garden at the age of ninety, or that of Philip Sharpies of Cambridge who skated a Dutch waltz with his young partner of fifty in the forty-eighth annual Skating Club of Boston "Ice Chips" show in Boston Garden when he was a spry eighty-seven!

Figure skating, like ballet dancing, has its own tenets and strict technicalities. These tenets and technicalities have changed and broadened greatly since the modern, or "international," style of figure skating was adopted in this country approximately fifty years ago. Though ever greater latitude of movement has developed until specialties that would have been frowned on as overly "acrobatic" twenty-five years ago are commonplace today, the fundamentals of figure skating remain unchanged, and it is within them that the greatest artistic expression is possible. The roots of figure skating always have been and, despite the popu­larity of professional shows, undoubtedly always will be solidly planted in competition, where correct methods of execution and beautiful innovations of movement are retained and fostered.

Figure skating is divided into two parts, the so-called "school figures" and "free skating." School figures, as their name im­plies, are the basic edges, turns, and changes of edge of which free skating is composed. The figures are two-lobed or three-lobed eights skated alternately on the right and left foot around to a center or starting point. There are forty-two figures in all, including the elementary and the advanced. Nine of these figures are described in this book.

Free skating means long edges—or "spirals"—dance steps, big sweeping turns, jumps, spins, and spread-eagles skated over the whole surface of the ice and in rhythm with music. It is this part of skating that is nearest to the dance and may be made a medium for expressing the skater's individuality and person­ality, whether he skates alone, in pairs, fours, or carnival groups. This is the part of skating that you as a spectator have enjoyed at exhibitions and shows, and it is the part that you eventually will enjoy to the fullest as you sweep down the ice in your own speedy spirals or leap from the ice in a high, controlled, rhyth­mic jump.

Perhaps you will never be young enough to do much in the way of jumping or spinning and perhaps you will never have the time or the inclination for any sort of competition, but you will have just as much fun as the jumpers and spinners and the competitors, for you will do all the lovely skating dance steps alone or with expert partners and you will enjoy every minute on the ice.

Back at the beginning of the century Mrs. Edgar Syers of England, the first lady figure skating champion of the world, wrote: "Skating is an exercise fitted for both old and young. It may be taken as an exacting art or merely as a pleasant diversion; but for those who intend to practise for competi­tions, it has endless attractions. Its difficulties make it all the more interesting. There are always new fields to conquer. From the point of view of health, there are few if any exercises to compare with it; and it has the advantage of being equally fascinating when practiced alone or in the delightful form of pair-skating."

What this great lady figure skater claimed for her sport dur­ing the early years of its international organization is even truer today.


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