Thursday, April 10, 2014

Historical Thursday; Charlotte Hayward

I got curious as to just who this "Charlotte" person was, so I did some digging. Wikipedia shows her as Charlotte Oelschlägel, aka Charlotte Hayward. "Charlotte" was her stage name, as she performed skating shows at the New York Hippodrome. (Chalk one up for my historical theatre research!)

I have diagrams for fully fledged power generators in the old Paris opera,
but an indoor ice rink in the early 1900's?
She was a talented figure, playing a host of musical instruments in addition to being one of the most talented skaters of her day. Her physician advised her to to figure skating as a way to treat her "nervous and growing problems." The wikipedia entry doesn't go into detail about what that means, but speaking from experience, most of the people who cause you anxiety are reluctant to venture onto the ice with you.
No Street Shoes on the ice, please.
I also found a skating book written by Charlotte herself; "The Hippodrome skating book: practical, illustrated lessons in the art of figure skating" It's a free download, available here:

I highly advise getting this, it's incredibly helpful even though it was written nearly 100 years ago. Charlotte's voice practically leaps through the years, making this book better than more recent texts on the same subjects. She speaks honestly and practically, which made me feel less like a noob and more like I am undertaking something of importance. Which I am.

Charlotte begins with equipment (claiming her skates weigh only four ounces) and what to wear (with a calf-length skirt being a bit daring, but try it anyway) and the starts right in with forward outside circles. "Start with the idea that good skating is a hard thing to acquire. It is." And also, "Graceful skating implies perseverance and determination."

This is harder than it looks.
So, she seems to have never forgotten just how hard even the simplest of things can be. Which is apparent as you read on. She speaks with a candor and honesty that's refreshing from many other skating books I read, where jumps are covered in Chapter Three like I'm baking a cake and not risking my neck. She mentions falling, saying, "Just let go and sit down as meekly as you can, smile and look about helplessly and some chivalrous American is sure to hurry to your aid."

Well, I'm not so sure if "chivalrous Americans" exist anymore, but the "just let it go" part is good advice, albiet hard to follow.

But Charlotte gets skating; "Skating is a matter of will power after all and not at all a matter of strength." Which is truth. The dirty little secret of skating is that just about anyone can do it, given enough time and determination. It's not magic.

She takes us through the basic figures and change edges in the first few chapters, then moves on to threes, counters, rockers and brackets. She focuses on the School Figures, saying that she doesn't consider anyone a real skater unless they can do school figures with proficiency. She doesn't even cover jumping or spinning in this book, except to say that they are a part of her "theatrical skating," not "real skating."

While edges and circles are not as flashy as jumps, it becomes clear who's good on their edges during takeoffs and landings.

Right, Ashley?
Trust on back edges only comes from doing them repeatedly, which is boring to watch. (Just ask any of the disappointed observers who watch me from the windows, only to get angry that I'm working on edges and basic figures that day. I had a mom with her toddler declare that I wasn't a real skater when they decided to crash one of my edge sessions, hoping I'd do something more interesting I guess.)

All this is comforting to me, as a part of my practice schedule involves a lot of time on edges. I like edge work. I could do edges and figures all day if given the chance. Edges are deceptively hard, especially backwards. Getting and maintaining balance on a back edge, inside or outside, requires some courage. Charlotte agrees with me on this point; "The art of skating backward requires pluck and courage. When one attempts the full backward circles without a helper it is an occasion to mark in one's diary."

I will do this one day if it kills me. 

Hell, getting balance on a back flat requires some "pluck and courage." I remember doing backwards laps, just trying to get balance on one foot backwards for weeks. The backwards motion alone is unnatural, doing it at speed is plain terrifying until you get used to it. One of my new drills involves skating backwards on a flat, free foot out forward, then slowly putting the free foot backwards brushing the skating foot while also rotating arms and shoulders at the same time. This exercise has been driving me insane for weeks.

She gives advice for the "good side/bad side" phenomona experienced by most skaters; "If one foot is harder than the other to manage, it must be skated with more often until equal skill is attained.." My own coach has me do edge pulls on the bad side first, bad side twice, then I'm allowed to work on the good side.

The best quote out of the book makes Charlotte one of my favorite people, where she responds to would-be critics who accuse her of breaking the rules of skating:

"My pet philosopher says that rules were made for slaves."

Indeed, Charlotte. Indeed. And I'd have to apply this not only to the given rules, but also the rules which others arbitrarily apply to you.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome! Thanks for providing the link for the download. I'm definitely checking this out.