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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.
I. EQUIPMENT - 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.
II. FIRST STROKES - Now that you are properly shod and clothed for the ice, the next step is on the ice itself. But wait—there is one more set of instructions before you stroke off on that gleaming surface. There is a right way and a wrong way of lacing up your boots, so pause an extra moment on the sidelines and make sure that yours are done up right. Many a first-time skater has come off the ice after a few minutes complaining of cramps in his legs or feet merely because he didn't know that there was a special art in boot lacing for comfort.
1. First Time - At last you are quite ready for your first skate. Step onto the ice with the aid of a rail or a friend's hand and stand still in a relaxed position, your feet parallel about 6 inches apart, with both ankles upright and your weight evenly distributed. Now bend both knees and both ankles forward, making sure that your pelvis stays forward over your feet and the rest of the body upright with your back straight but not arched, your shoulders easy, and head erect.
2. Double Sculling - When you have gained a bit of confidence from baby stepping, it is time for you to try propelling yourself over the ice alone. To keep your confidence high the first exercise is a two-foot maneuver called double sculling (Illus. 5). Beside taking you across the ice on your own, this will teach you the vital part your knees play in making your skates glide.
3. Pushing Off - With confidence gained from sculling and baby stepping by yourself, you are ready to try a real stroke. But first it is important to learn the push from standstill (Illus. 6). Place your feet in a perfect T, so that your left foot is behind the right and the heel of your right skate sets into the instep of your left foot at a 90 degree, or right, angle (6-1). Keeping your body upright and your knees straight, put all your weight on your left leg and turn your left ankle strongly in so that the skate is firmly anchored against the ice.
4. Forward Stroking - Now for a fine series of forward strokes in movement (Illus. 6-4, 5, 6, 7, 8). This time, as you make your T-position push off onto your right leg, lean your entire body from the edge of your blade to the top of your head in an unbroken line to the right—unbroken, that is, except for the forward bend of the knee and ankle of course. This lean will mean that you are no longer gliding on the flat, or both edges, of your blade but on the outside edge.
5. Stopping - But stop. Why talk about falls and such? Let's learn to stop effectively instead. The easiest stop—and one you've probably discovered for yourself by now—is the "snow plow." Skate along, slide on both feet, and then turn both toes in (as in the finish of the forward double scull) and skid against your feet, with firm ankles. Be sure to keep your body upright and knees well bent to prevent pitching forward as you come to a dead stop.
6. Forward Cross - Right now is the time to learn two vital maneuvers—skating backward and crossing-over forward (commonly known as "cutting the corner"). Because you must feel at ease going backward as soon as possible, I want to start you double sculling, and then we'll swing into the forward cross-overs.
The "backward double scull" (Illus. 8-1, 2, 3) is just the reverse of the forward and is actually easier. Place your toes together, heels out in a V, skates on the inside edge but ankles firm.
7. Skating Backward - While you are working to perfect your cross-overs forward, you must progress from the back sculls to a strong back skating stroke (Illus. 8), preparatory to adding backward cross-overs to the front ones. Surprisingly enough, even advanced skaters often don't know how to stroke evenly backward in a racing stroke around the ice. Crowded rinks make it difficult to practice safely, but pond skaters should have no trouble.
8. Backward Cross - To cross-over backward (Illus. 11), again reverse all the movements of the forward version, maintaining the same principle of a constant lean to the circle. To cut clockwise, stroke onto a strong LOB (11-1, 2) with free leg well extended in front. Then draw this right leg back and way over in front of the right to the inside of the circle on a strong inside backward edge (11-3, 4).
III. FOUR BASIC EDGE POSITIONS - When I use the word "spiral," a new skater immediately visualizes a position with the body bent way forward and the free leg very high in back. That is indeed a spiral position, but it is an arabesque spiral and not the classic variety that I want you to learn at this point in your skating education.
A spiral is neither more nor less than one of the basic four edges skated on either the left or the right foot, held in upright posture with good speed for at least a full circle, and preferably longer.
9. Inside Spiral - The first and easiest spiral to learn is the "inside forward" (Illus. 12). Stand in T-position with your right foot leading. Face your body squarely ahead over your right foot and hold your left arm forward, at the same time pressing your right shoulder and arm back. Your free arm should be held at about waist height, gently curved, and with the hand following out the line of the arm. The palm of the hand should be toward the ice, neither raised from the wrist nor drooped down from it.
10. Outside Spiral - Next on our list is the outside forward spiral (Illus. 13)—in my opinion, the most important edge in skating. Once you have mastered its sideways body lean, all skating will seem easier to you.
Again stand in T-position, right foot leading so that you will progress around a circle clockwise. Stand with your back to the center of the circle you are about to skate, with your skating hip and shoulder leading and your free hip and shoulder directly behind.
11. Spread Eagle - 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.
12. Outside Spiral - Back to the spirals—backward. Do four or five strong crossovers in a counterclockwise direction and hold the push onto the ROB edge. After a few counts in this plain stroke position, move the free leg, foot, arm, and shoulder backward in a close passing movement, at the same time moving your skating arm and shoulder forward and turning the head outside the circle over the free shoulder.
13. Inside Spiral - Backward cross-overs are again the logical means of getting into the inside back spiral (Illus. 16). After gaining speed moving in a clockwise direction, cross strongly over onto your RIB and allow your free leg and foot to move into a leading position on the curve. If you hold your arms and shoulders as previously directed for the cross-overs, you will be all set for the IB spiral, skating shoulder forward and free arm and shoulder pressed back.
14. Inside Mohawk - While you are perfecting your eight spirals, it's time to learn the first and simplest of the turns from forward to backward. This is the inside forward mohawk (Illus. 17), a turn made from an inside forward edge on one foot to the inside backward edge on the other foot. A mohawk may also be made from outside forward to outside backward, but this is quite difficult to do well and comes at a later stage in your development.
15. Outside Forward - Now for a one-foot turn, the outside forward three (Illus. 18 and Illus. 29-1, 2, 3, 4), during which you turn from an outside forward edge to an inside backward edge, rotating in the direction of travel. The pattern your skate leaves on the ice will look remarkably like the numeral 3. This is at once the most famous and infamous turn in skating—famous because it is the essence of the ice waltz, infamous because, when badly learned or learned too soon, it can produce more skids, scrapes, and uncontrolled "whip" than any other figure. Wags have quipped that "only God can make a three," but with detailed understanding of the technique involved and painstaking practice, anyone can cut a fine figure of this turn.
16. Exercises - As you must realize by now, the same directions keep running through skating instruction. They concern certain body movements that require understanding the muscular action involved. Over my years of teaching I have found that pupils do not automatically know what I mean by what seem to me the simplest directions. For instance, "pressing a shoulder backward" means always to press that shoulder blade into the backbone, using the latissimus dorsi muscles. It does not mean to exert pressure on the top of the shoulder in any way; in fact, you must be careful not to raise or tighten those muscles, as it will give an unpleasant look of tension to your skating.
IV. THE FOUR ROLLS - With all your spirals and the basic turns under your belt, you are now ready for more formal figure skating, that is, the preliminary figure test and simple free skating. Of course, in a sense the spirals and turns are simple free skating. As for the preliminary test, even if you live in an area where there are no accredited United States Figure Skating Association judges to put you through it, I believe you should learn it to regulation test standard, as the control gained thereby will lead you straight into good dancing and better figures.
17. Outside Rsoll - A graphic method is to draw a straight line along the ice with the heel of your blade. Now to do the outside forward roll (Illus. 19), stand in T-position so that the toe of your right skate is touching the line at a right-angle while your left foot is parallel to it. Put your arms, shoulders, and hips in position for the outside forward spiral you have already learned. Push off onto a firm, leaning ROF edge (19-1). After you have held thus (in a position which many skating teachers designate as the number 1 position of the OF edge) for three counts, slowly pass your free foot and leg close forward (19-2) in front of your skating foot and at the same time reverse your arms with a close passing movement.
18. Inside Roll - The inside forward roll (Illus. 20) is started in the same way. Push off into the number 1 position of the RIF spiral (20-1) (most starts in skating are made to the right foot) and reverse your free leg and arms at the halfway mark (20-2) after counting 1,2, 3, etc. The same bend and rise, the same upright posture. The hips face squarely forward throughout. In the number 2 position (20-3, 5) feel your weight on the skating shoulder, with your skating hip "hollowed" in under you.
19. Outside Backward - The outside backward roll (Illus. 22) is done exactly as you did the OB spiral from the crossover stroke. The only difference is that this time you must start from rest. The standing back starts (Illus. 21) are tricky at first, but if you take care to do the foot movements, the balancing, and the timing as I outline, you will soon have a smooth and powerful pushoff.
20. Inside Backward -The inside backward roll (Illus. 23) has an identical pushoff except that this time you stand with your back to the direction of travel (23-drawing) and you strike a firm inside backward edge right away with your skating toe turned in, as though it were "pigeon-toed." I like to count in a l-and-2 rhythm all back pushoffs for exact timing of weight transference.
21. Waltz Eight - With the waltz eight (Diagram 1) you will at last feel that you are really dancing on the ice. This is a figure eight on a fairly large scale with three segments (meaning three pushoffs) to each circle. The first segment consists of an outside forward three, the second of an outside backward roll, the third of an outside forward roll (minus the change of arms).
22. Mans 10-Step - Along with the waltz eight—and even before—I always teach the man's ten-step to beginners. This is also part of a bona fide dance, which can be done by couples. However, just for itself it is fun to do alone and has many uses as an introduction to spirals and jumps. So, while you are perfecting all you have learned to date, here is one more item for your fast-building repertoire.
V. SCHOOL FIGURES - If you have had sufficient patience to proceed step by step with me to this point, you will, I'm certain, already have mental understanding and bodily control enough to transcribe a moderately accurate forward figure eight right away. As we study the four eights together, you will realize that there are certain fundamental principles basic to all skating.
23. Outside Eight - Before you start, visualize the circles on both sides of you (Diagram 2). Look along the long axis and determine the top of each lobe. Planning the radius and diameter of both circles ahead of time is a powerful influence in determining the speed and the angle of lean with which you will skate them. (In general the diameter of each circle should be approximately three times your height.)
24. Inside Eight - The geometry of this eight and the placing of the push offs are exactly the same as for the preceding figure (Diagram 3). The position of the body, however, is diametrically opposite, just as for the IF spiral. Whereas the outside edge starts with hips and shoulders parallel to the skating foot, this edge is skated with hips and shoulders square, or at right angles, to the line of the circle. While standing in T-position for the start (Illus. 26), try to make your hipline as square as possible above your right foot (Diagram 3-1; Illus. 26-1).
25. Preliminary Test - At this point you can, if you are so inclined, take the official United States Figure Skating Association preliminary test. You have all the technique necessary. Even if you don't live where accredited judges are available, it is well, as I said earlier, to get friends with sufficient knowledge to give you a judging onceover. In a sport as exacting as this, to meet a definite standard at the start is a real help.
26. Backward Eight - Depending on how well and confidently you have learned to skate your back rolls you will find this eight either very difficult or just moderately so. At any rate, getting the requisite power and balance at the start to carry you evenly around a full circle will take a bit of practice. Diligent application toward perfecting now the technique of the push off and start will pay you dividends for all your skating life and will make the complex backward figures later on much more fun.
27. Forward Change - This figure, far less difficult for the beginner than the preceding one, is merely a combination of the first two edges you learned, namely the outside forward and the inside forward. It is made in the form of a three-lobe eight (see Diagram 5). "Change of edge" means that at the halfway mark of the first circle (d3) you come up on the flat of your skate from your right outside forward edge and then shift to the right inside forward edge (d4), starting a new circle which you then hold steadily back to the point where you made the change of edge.
28. Threes-to-Center - I consider this one of the most important figures of all. In my early competitive days it was in the international schedule (in fact, I made my international debut at the Winter Olympic Games of 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, by literally falling flat on my face through the soft ice while skating it for the judges!), and I sometimes feel our competitors today would achieve a higher average of school skating if they had to keep it in practice beyond the first test level.
29. U.S.F.S.A. First Test - Having learned your figures thoroughly thus far, you are ready for another test of your ability. The preliminary test is a useful starter, but it is with the first test that the United States Figure Skating Association gets down to the serious business of determining how good a skater you are. There will be seven more of these proficiency examinations until the eighth, or Gold Medal, test is passed.
30. Inside Backward Eight - The very fact that this eight has a factor of 2 indicates that the authorities consider it a more difficult edge to form into matching contiguous circles than the preceding three. It is—and no doubt about it. The difficulty lies primarily in achieving a powerful, accurate start and a firm finishing curve that closes in to the center without straightening, sub-curving, or changing edge before the pushoff (Diagram 7).
31. Outside Threes - In general outline, this figure is the same as threes-to-center —that is, a three turn facing straight down the long axis occurs at the apex of each circle. I feel the inside forward three is the easiest turn in skating—it practically makes itself—but the outside backward turn presents a few interesting problems of rotation control in both the upper and lower body (Diagram 8).
32. Backward Change -This figure's formation is identical to that of the forward serpentine, except that where the outside and inside edges were forward there, they are backward here. The placing is the same (Diagram 9). Again let me warn you not to attempt it unless your two backward eights are really secure; if you have the slightest doubt, go back and take one more lick at the back edges by themselves. The combination figure is admittedly difficult at this stage of skating, so don't hurry on to it. A hasty start now will mean much wasted effort later on.
33. Inside Threes -The eight is formed by a plain forward three for the first circle and a reversal of the forward turn (that is, a three turned from the inside back edge onto the outside forward edge, in the direction of rotation) for the second circle. This means that, just as in threes-to-center, you are going to make a regular ROF three to RIB which you hold back to center (Diagram 10-5); then instead of making that complete outward rotation of the free hip onto the LOF which you found difficult in your first test diagram, you are going to turn out your left heel and pigeon-toe for a push directly onto your LIB, as in the IB eight.
34. Basic Theory - Now seems a logical time to review the basic theory, those axioms of technique, which I mentioned earlier. You have enough mastery of the four eights, the two serpentines, and the four three turns to realize that certain principles run through all the figures studied so far. Those same principles will apply to all your future skating, no matter how advanced it may become or how elaborate some of the turns and movements
VII. FREE SKATING - How to tell you how to free skate? That is something I'm afraid the written word cannot completely accomplish. Written instruction can teach you much and help you greatly, it is true, but after a while precept and example plus your own native ingenuity will be necessary. A thorough treatise on free skating, even for beginners at the art, could easily occupy a whole volume by itself, while many wonderful free skating moves cannot be written down, for the simple reason that they have not yet been invented.
35. Basic Spirals - As I pointed out back in Chapter III, the spirals you were learning are the classic edge positions, extended in a large curve. Everyone can do them, and they are not only great fun for the skater but, when done with speed, freedom and real style, are beautiful to watch. These same spirals may be done with a change of edge, so that you are covering a large amount of ice surface with your original momentum.
36. Dance Steps - Dance steps, for solo, pairs, fours, and larger groups constitute one of skating's never ending fascinations. New steps, new rhythms for old steps—no one skater will ever exhaust all the possibilities. It has been proved that audiences enjoy dance steps set to music as much as the skaters themselves; soloists and pairs who specialize only in well-timed steps with unexpected twists and turns and rhythm emphasis have won as much applause as the more spectacular performers.
37. Basic Spins - Spins are fun if you don't get dizzy and no fun at all if you do. Dizziness, however, can be overcome in almost all cases; in reality few people get really dizzy once they learn a handful of spinners' tricks. Most novices look down or look up when they start to spin; either one guarantees giddiness. Look straight out at eye level as you go round and let your eyes focus as normally as they can.
38. Basic Jumps - Many youngsters seem to think that jumps are practically the whole of figure skating, which you by this time realize is hardly the case. On the other hand, jumping, whether from a springboard, a ski run, or a pair of skates, is about the nearest to flying the human body ever comes, and it is a wonderfully exhilarating feeling.
To get this feeling of flying, you must take off from a speedy edge and get plenty of elevation. Long, low jumps, "skimmers" as they are called, may be technically all right, but they are not so thrilling either to watch or to do. A second of poised suspension in the air, where for a breathless instant the skater seems to be held up by an outside force—that is the jumper's ideal.
39. Construction - Without doubt, at this point you have sufficient ability to construct a program of continuous free skating that will give you a thrill to perform. More important, it will give a great deal of pleasure to those who watch you. Once a small degree of mastery is attained, skating should not be an introspective, self-centered exercise. It has inherent qualities of theater, and these you are now ready to explore.
VIII. FOUR ICE DANCES - As was intimated in the introduction, ice dancing is the reason many figure skaters take up the sport in the first place. To such an enthusiast all the practice of the basic edges and turns is just the means to the end of becoming a really good ice dancer. There is no doubt about it—good dancing is good fun.
Even those who know nothing about skating, who have never in their lives had on a pair of skates, know that an ice waltz is a thing of rare beauty. The fame of the waltz is universal and justly deserved. Fortunately or unfortunately, according to whether you are a purist or not, the waltz is wonderful fun for everyone who skates it.
40. Dutch Waltz - This is a simple dance for beginners, consisting of forward steps only, with the partners skating side by side. Once you have mastered your outside forward rolls alone, find yourself a partner of equal or, preferably, greater proficiency. The steps are so deliberately simple that you will be able to concentrate on getting the feel of unifying your steps with another skater in rhythm to the music.
41. Fiesta Tango - This, too, is a side-by-side dance in which the partners execute the same steps at the same time, but it has a turn involving a slight change of position and more rhythm variation to make it exceedingly enjoyable. It is outlined in Diagram 12.
The man is this time on the lady's right at the start, in the same position as in the Dutch waltz but on the opposite side holding opposite hands. Count the tango tempo carefully and make sure you stay on the beats indicated in the diagram, as this is what gives the dance its distinctive character.
42. Fourteen Step - Skated to 6/8 or 4/4 time, this is a bright dance—and it is the first one you have encountered where the partners do different steps. It is skated in regulation ballroom position, with the lady starting backward facing the man. So the first thing to learn is a start (Diagram 13) that puts the lady in place for the opening steps.
Stand side by side, the lady on the man's right, his right hand clasping her left. Both stroke a ROF roll (4 beats), with the man making sure he follows his partner (his tracing tracking hers) as they swing their free legs forward.
43. American Waltz - Of course you have been impatient to try the waltz. Every new skater always is. Any man who did his preliminary test waltz eight with real control is ready to learn the pattern, for the steps are identical without addition or subtraction. Ladies, however, must be sure they have truly strong OB rolls and must practice the outward transitions to OF threes on both feet before having the temerity to attempt skating them with a partner.
IX. GOOD SKATER - 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.