Thursday, May 1, 2014

Historical Thursday: It's "Figure" skating, after all.

I like reading crazy old skating books. They're usually written by some stuffy Harvard Dude who starts off by telling you about his knickers and then graduates into quotes from "The Tempest" before going into minute details about rockers, counters and change edge figures. I like to try the Backwards Change Edge figures when I have some spare time on the ice, and they are a challenge. I usually end up miles off course on a flat, free foot off to my side as I scramble for balance.

The commonality of all these books is that just about all of them written by older men. The Illustrations are of older men and sometimes women, but none of these people look under twenty. I began to wonder just what happened here: When did this sport get taken over by kids to the point where adults are now the anomaly?

I have parents of skaters tell me they can't stand up on the ice, much less do what their daughters do. Nonsense. Skating is not much more than time, patience, muscle memory and money. With enough of these four things, you can skate. But it seems that the overpopulation of Young Girls out there has either frightened off or convinced all the Adults that they can't skate, and if they can, there's only "so far" you can go.

Horseshit. It's not a question of distance, but direction.

All these skating books written by adults feature edges, figures, turns. We're talking difficult figures that are every bit as challenging as the Salchow I'm working on, if not moreso. Most of these books don't even mention jumps, but wax poetic about body position, free foot holds, and leans into hard turns. Think it's easy? I once cut a deep gouge on a stupid FO3 turn, an easy turn I keep thinking I've finally mastered. I still screw it up royally from time to time.

This book is one of my favorites on Olde Timey Skating, and the diagrams in this one have proven maddeningly fun. It also has the actual diagrams for writing in cursive on the ice.

I had an Adult Skater tell me that she would never get past Freestyle, simply because she had a firm rule that her feet would never leave the ice. Total nonsense. This woman could study Patch and School Figures, and bested the kids every damn time, because the kids just don't care about Figures. Adults are being sold on the Jumping Bill of Goods, and if they aren't jumping well or at all, then they aren't skating.

Historically, this is completely inaccurate. The whole Jumping/Spinning/Gymnastics thing didn't really come into play until this chick came along. Before Sonia, figure skating was precisely that: Figure Skating. People out with friends for a quiet afternoon of tracing complex and difficult patterns in the ice, and any jumps or spirals they did were gravy. One book even advises you on what lunch to pack. I can't think of a better way to spend a free afternoon. A lot of Figures from these books involve two, three and four people, with a "Caller" who tells everyone when to turn. I can't even imagine how much fun this could be, given that skating can be such an isolating sport. (You'd either all be fast friends or kill each other by the end of it.)

I once got told that if I couldn't spin, "you should just quit now." I'm not joking, I wish I were. My spin might be my most troublesome element, but I'm not giving up on it. (Did that person really want me to quit? Maybe, but Fat Chance!) More than that, even if I never learn to spin or jump well, I don't have to quit skating. I can switch disciplines and every day can be "Edge/Turn/Figure" day. Does this mean I'm not really "Skating?" Of course not. But Coach assures me that the spin will happen, so I'm holding on to that at present.

People ask me what I'm going to do when I'm too old to skate. That day won't ever happen, because Skating doesn't equate with jumps and ice aerobatics. When I get old I plan on bringing my orange with me to "mark my center" as I learn this "Forward Once and Back" thing, and try to figure out how to write my name in the ice. I might even wear my silk bloomers and a big feather hat when I compete.
Actually, I think I can do this now...


  1. I totally agree with you that adults are discouraged from doing jumps and spins. But on that same note, I think that to some extent kids are discouraged from working on edges and figures, too. You're bound to get a look of disdain if you say that you're going to focus on moves, and I know only one person under the age of 18 who's working on figures. In my opinion, it seems like a missed opportunity; figures will only serve to help your overall skating skills. They increase edge control, body awareness, balance, timing.... all of which happen to be very important in jumps. The patterns that one learns in figures are, quite literally, the fundamentals of our sport.

  2. If you want to practice the old style combined figures (with caller), we still perform them during club sessions of the Royal Skating Club (oldest in existence).