Figure Skating




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Elon Jessup

Why is it that one person becomes expert in certain sport while another who tries just as hard for greatness always remains in the "beginner" stage?  You will find this true of almost any sport: golf, tennis, swimming. And it is especially true of skating.  The rank and file of us, of course, are beginners and there is no disgrace attached to the fact.  But merely through the simple process of adding a little more head work to our footwork efforts, it is safe to say that there would be many more experts among us.

The main difference between the expert and the beginner is evident in the fact that the expert never attempts fancy tricks until he has thoroughly mastered the simple fundamentals of his game.  He knows that a building cannot be erected without a foundation.  And during every movement while practicing the fundamentals and later while making fancy figures, he knows every moment exactly what he is trying to do.  The beginner, on the other hand, approaches his problems with somewhat muddled ideas as to what he is trying to get at.  He becomes panicky and substitutes much aimless physical exertion for headwork.

Then comes a certain amount of confidence and the far advanced fancy tricks appeal to his imagination, so he takes a whirl at these instead of devoting conscientious practice to the fundamentals upon which the advanced work is built.   Just as the golfing beginner who attempts the spectacular full swing before mastering the minor shots which lead up to this will never become an expert golfer, so the skater who spends much time trying to master fancy figure "eights" without having had the necessary preliminary practice in the fundamentals upon which these are built will never become a skater of fancy figures.  Neither one knows what he is trying to get at.

The fundamentals of all the three hundred odd movements in the art of skating are as follows: straight ahead skating, straight backward skating, turns to right and left, skating on the outside edge forward, skating on the inside edge forward, on the outside edge backward and on the inside edge backward.  I will explain the meaning of "edge" skating shortly. 

After you have mastered these few movements you are entitled to call yourself an expert at skating.  Each of the many dozens of fancy figures that comprise the knack of figure skating are direct applications of one or more of these movements.  

The first three of these movements I will only mention briefly.  As regards these, very likely you can handle yourself creditably already.  In which case, you know that the secret of skating is balance.  This applies with equal force to plain, straight ahead skating and the most intricate fancy figure.  So it is wise to develop a fine sense of balance early in the game.  Note how easily a wrong movement may completely cripple and destroy balance, watch expert skaters and see what an important role the movement of the shoulders plays in skating, how a bent skating leg gives easy spring to the body.  

It might also be worth while to make a mental note of the difference between walking and skating.  While walking, you progress by means of the foot upon the ground, but in skating all impetus comes from the foot which has just left the ground.  In walking, the ball of the foot does the steering and the body follows, but in skating when you wish to turn to the right or left, the shoulders and hips do the steering and the foot follows suit.  It is because of lack of knowledge of this difference that many skaters have difficulty in making turns.  And one can never be a figure skater without first being expert at turning. 

The knack of the plain forward and backward strokes and the turns are readily acquired by the average skating beginner in a few days or weeks.  There are those who through this accomplishment consider that they have reached the summit of the art of skating and make no attempt at further advancement.  Perhaps a few stray attempts are made into the realm of figure skating but these prove so unsuccessful that no further efforts are made to master it.  Figure skating is by no means easy.  It requires long and painstaking practice.  But first of all it requires a knowledge of what one is getting at and the manner of going about it.  Or, in other words, the ability to grasp new principles and combine these with the fundamentals which have been learned in plain skating.

 Let us take up these new principles.  In ordinary forward or backward skating the position of the skate during the greater part of the time is vertical.  That is, the width of the blade is resting flat upon the ice.   But if you will observe closely the movements of an expert figure skater as he swoops gracefully around in a circle you will note that his body is tilted and also the skate underfoot is tilted so that it runs on edge instead of being flat.  Only by tilting the skate in this way is it possible for him to describe the circle.  

The type of skates which this expert wears is another important element. Only with skates of the rocker or figure skating model is it possible to make progress in the art of figure skating.  Although the hockey skate has come into quite general use for ordinary skating and serves very well in this respect, it is wholly unsuitable for figure skating.  The blade is too flat.  It is impossible to make satisfactory curves with a flat bladed skate.  Hockey skates are all right at any time for plain forward and backward skating, but when one ventures upon the "edges" so necessary to figure work, the model should be changed.   

In your ordinary straight ahead skating, it is quite likely that you have been unaware of the presence of edges on your steel blades.  If so, the importance of these is the first thing to be learned when you begin to think about figure skating.  On each skate there are two edges, the inside edge and the outside edge.  The inside edge is the one on the inner side of the foot while the outside edge is that on the outer side of the foot.  When a skater is progressing on the right foot in a curved direction to the right he is on the outside edge.  When he is gliding on the right foot in a curved direction to the left he is on the inside edge.

We now come to the remaining four fundamental movements which are the basis of all figure skating.  As previously mentioned, these are, skating on the outside edge forward, skating on the inside edge forward, on the outside edge backward and on the inside edge backward.  Indeed, while performing any of these movements you can with perfect truth call yourself a figure skater, for any one of these might be classified as a figure.

The most logical step by way of introduction to this edge skating is a movement known as the "outside edge roll forward."  This is similar to ordinary skating in that one proceeds forward across the ice, but differs from it in that every stroke is made upon the outer edge of the skate and the marking left upon the ice is quite different.  In ordinary straight ahead skating the mark left after a stroke is the arc of a small segment of a very large imaginary circle.  With the "outside edge roll" movement, the marking left is a full half circle of smaller diameter. 

We will suppose that it is the left skate which gives the "kick off" for the necessary impetus which starts this movement (the kick off should always be made with the edge of the blade instead of the point.)  The right skate tilted on its outer edge has started to describe a half circle to the right from this impetus.  The weight of the body is thrown forward on the right leg and this leg is bent at the knee.  At the same time, the body is tilted toward the inside of the half circle which is being described.  And of great importance, the left shoulder should be pressed well back.  The left foot is carried behind, raised about a foot above the ice. 

While this half circle is being described on the right foot, the left foot is gradually swung forward, but not past the right until the time comes to bring this left into action.  Then, as the end of the half circle is reached, the weight of the body is shifted to the left foot, the left skate goes on its outer edge and describes another half circle off to the left.  During this second stroke, of course, the position of the body and shoulders is reversed.  The left side of the body leans toward the inside of the circle, the fight shoulder is pressed back and it is the right foot which is carried behind.  

As the end of this second half circle is reached, the right foot with its respective direction and positions again takes to the ice.  And so on one alternates from right outside edge to left outside edge as long as he pleases.  The figure of a skater swooping across a stretch of ice in  this manner is an extremely graceful sight. 

The next logical step in the education of the fancy skater is the "inside edge roll forward."  As in the movement just described, one proceeds forward across the ice, but in some respects its execution is quite the opposite.  Obviously, in this case the skating is confined to the inside edges of the respective skates.  

As in the former movement we will suppose that it is the left skate which gives the kick off.   Similarly again, the right skate is about to describe a half circle.  But at this point there enter important differences.  The curve is described on the inside edge of the skate and inward I toward the left instead of outward toward the right.  Note also the different position of the shoulders.  In this case it is the right shoulder which is pressed backward.  The body leans toward the inside of the circle and the left foot is carried behind.  

The left foot is gradually brought forward and as the end of the curve is reached it takes to the ice and assumes the weight of the body.  Another half circle is now skated, this time on the inner edge of the left blade.  The position of the shoulders, of course, is reversed.  It is now the left shoulder which is pressed backward.  This inside edge movement, like the former outside edge movement, can be continued across the ice for as long a time or distance as it suits one's fancy.

The next two steps in skating are the "outside edge roll backward" and the "inside edge roll backward."  It is hardly necessary to enter into a description of these, for they are in all essentials a duplication of the two forward edge movements except that they are skated backward.  With the foundation acquired through learning the plain backward stroke of ordinary skating and the two forward edge strokes, the backward edge strokes follow fairly easily. 

In the above mentioned four "roll" movements, the marking left on the ice after each stroke is that of a half circle.  But the figure skater must be able readily to describe a full circle.  Indeed, he must be able to make a complete circle in four different ways: that is, on the outside edge forward, inside edge forward, outside edge backward and inside edge backward (these, of course, are performed as separate units and not in conjunction with the roll movements).

The practice which the skater receives in his four "roll" movements familiarizes him with the manner of handling the edges of his skates, and as a full circle is but a continuation of a half circle with a little more original impetus it is not a very difficult matter for him to acquire the knack.  Plenty of practice in describing large circles both forward and backward, on outside and inside edges, is necessary before one is in a position to tackle some of the more intricate figures of fancy skating.  Either a half circle or full circle is a fundamental element of every fancy figure skated. 

At about this stage of the game, one can launch forth upon the figure "eight" with some manner of success.  An "eight" consists merely of two attached circles performed on the same edge of the skate, but with a change of feet.  In fact, it would be quite similar to two consecutive strokes of the "outside edge roll forward" movement except for the fact that it consists of two full circles instead of half circles. 

The figure "eight" can be skated in four different ways: that is, on either of the two edges forward or either of the two edges backward.  Let us suppose that you wish to use the inside edge forward method.  Describe a complete circle on the inside edge of the right skate, carrying the left foot behind free of the ice.  When about two-thirds through, bring the left foot slowly forward and at the end of the circle the inside edge of the left skate takes to the ice and makes a duplicate circle, which completes the "eight".  The balance of the body is shifted, the edge of the skate turned and the remainder of the stroke is completed on the inner edge skating backward. 

Another figure which is skated throughout on one is the "rocker."  This is something like a three, with one of its half circles turned toward the wrong way.  The first half of the "rocker" is skated forward and the last half backward, but in both cases on the same edge.  If you start this figure on the right outside edge forward you skate the last half on the right outside edge backward.

The "change of edge" is a figure well worth learning.  This consists of three circles in a row: an "eight" with another circle added to it.  The method of skating this is as follows: First describe a half circle on the right outside edge forward and then prolong this into a complete circle on the inner edge of the same skate.  At the end of this circle change to the left foot and skate for a half circle on the inner edge of this.  Then prolong this stroke into a complete circle on the outer edge of the same skate. This brings you back to the starting point after having completed three circles.

A more simple figure to execute is the "anvil."  This is skated throughout on the outer edge of the skate.  First make a half circle forward, then a straight line backward and follow this up by making another half circle forward in such a way that the two arcs intersect.  Four of these "anvils" skated from a common center leave on the ice the markings of a very fancy figure known as the Maltese Cross.

These few figures which I have described are especially popular among followers of figure skating. These are probably warranted to keep any ambitious fancy skater reasonably busy for some time to come.  But after he has mastered these he need not complain that there are no new worlds to conquer for there are scores of other figures awaiting the signal from his steel blades.  And let him always bear in mind that each one of these numerous figures is but an application of the few fundamental movements mentioned earlier in this article.  The obvious moral is that it is wise to learn thoroughly the fundamentals. 






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.