I don't remember when I first put on a skate; I wish I did. My parents tell me that it was a Sunday afternoon when they had taken me to the Rockefeller Center rink in New York for a few hours of exercise. I don't remember how it felt to me either; I think it was a confusing and somewhat overwhelming experience. For I had found the art that was to be my life and I was only five years old.
Perhaps all sports enthusiasts are alike in that they enjoy their sport for the fun and pleasure they get out of it. For me, skating has been more than that. It has given me friendships, travel and wonderful memories. For the sake of skating, I have spent days sewing 12,974 bugle beads on an exhibition dress; I have changed into skating costumes in a bar filled with exuberant Italian soldiers and then gone out and skated for them in 20-below-zero cold; I have skated in four Italian cities in two days. I've practiced an artistic exhibition number in a Paris arena with a motorcycle pacing a bike race 50 feet away. It sounds crazy; I'm still one of thousands of skaters who are going down to the rink tomorrow, who are praying for the pond to freeze or breaking in their new Christmas skates.
It isn't an easy life. When I joined the Junior Skating Club of New York in Madison Square Garden, I was a once-a-week skater. I remember very clearly how it expanded to twice a week, three times a week and finally became a daily routine, with the alarm clock ringing at 5:45 every morning so that I could get in an hour and a half's practice before school. When I started competing, I skated at summer schools as well, from Schumacher, Ontario to Lake Placid, N.Y. In the years since, I have trained and skated in more than half a dozen different countries, from Canada to Italy and Scandinavia, watching and working with the best in the world.
FROM CRUDE BEGINNINGS
Knowing the skate is fundamental to the beginner. It has developed over centuries from a crude runner of bone, wood, or, later, iron to a finely tooled instrument of polished steel. The basic pattern of the modern figure skate emerged in 1850; it was first hollow-ground in the 1870s and has remained virtually unchanged since then. The blade has a slight curve from toe to heel and is sharpened to two fine edges, with a shallow groove between. On the toe of the blade are two rows of teeth which, to the advanced skater, are almost as useful as the edges themselves.
The edges are all important to the skater. A skater must skate on the edges of the blade—they provide the forward motion—or backward, as the case may be—when the skater exerts pressure on them by leaning on the inside or the outside edge. The pressure thus exerted on the edge of the curved blade causes the skate to move in a gentle arc. A series of these arcs, depending on which edge of the blade is used, are called forward outside or forward inside edges. In skating backward, they are called backward inside or backward outside edges. These four edges constitute the fundamentals on which figure skating is based.
NO DOUBLE RUNNERS
There is a close relationship between the foot and the edges of the skates—the outside edge pertains to the outside of the foot, the inside edge to the inside. This is one reason why it is important to start skating on single-blade skates, not the double runners so often given to their children by overanxious parents. From the very first venture on the ice, the skater must get the feel of his skate, the way it works together with his foot, and that vital sense of balance which only single-blade skates can give him. The double-runner skate gives the beginner a false sense of balance and a sledlike motion, both of which have to be corrected later. And the weak ankles which most beginners blame for their tendency to tip over on the sides of their feet are often not weak at all—they can usually be corrected by boots which fit properly over a thin pair of woolen socks, and blades which are set properly on the boots.
For their first attempts on the ice, novice skaters should be helped by a teacher or a friend—or even the always-handy railing around the rink. Each beginner must find his own sense of balance; and, just as in learning to ride a bicycle, it will be found. Once this is acquired, skating becomes fun, and the beginner is ready for more serious instruction. Many skaters are content to have learned this much; to them, skating has become a pleasure and a social diversion, like dancing. Others like myself, however, will find that it is an absorbing art, a passion which they cannot leave but must develop—and for them there is a long road of hard but rewarding training ahead.
School figures (above, left) are the first which must be learned. The major portion—about 60%—of all figure skating competition is school figures. They consist of the four fundamental edges extended into full circles which may incorporate turns such as threes, loops, brackets, counters and rockers. The advanced figure skater must master all 68 of the recognized international figures to compete in the major competitions, such as the National Senior, the North American, the World and the Olympic championships. And school figures, as easy as they may seem, can only be learned by practice which finally makes their execution almost instinctual.