Skating by Miss May Balfour
I propose in this article simply to give my own personal views on the
subject of skating in general, and to say what I consider to be the best
method of attaining proficiency in the art. As what I have to say will
be rather jottings from my personal experience than anything in the
nature of a formal treatise, I hope I may be excused if my remarks are
of a somewhat scrappy and discursive character.
In England at the present time, the art of skating is passing through a
transition stage, and it is quite possible that what to-day is regarded
as a necessary condition of good skating, will in a few years' time be
discarded as obsolete and old-fashioned. I think it therefore wiser, not
to formulate any theory, or lay down any general rule on the subject,
but to confine myself to giving my readers a few hints gathered from my
own experience, which may prove useful to those who wish to attain a
certain measure of proficiency in the art.
My earliest skating experiences were probably similar to those of most
English people, that is to say, I was limited to the very short periods
of frost that occur in English winters, and I had none of the advantages
of regular instruction from competent teachers which it is easy now for
anybody to get. I learnt to keep my balance, not on ice, but with roller
skates on asphalte, and this was sufficient to enable me to go forward
with a certain amount of ease when I first skated on ice. I remember
vividly the first time I attempted the outside edge. This is a grand
epoch in the life of any skater, and the sensation of accomplishing it
for the first time, however clumsily, is never to be forgotten. I may
say here, that I consider a real mastery of the outside edge the only
foundation for all figure skating, and I believe it would be a mistake
to attempt such accomplishments as going backwards, or turning a three,
without first being fairly steady on the outside edge. Another point
that I early learned to be of great importance, was to approach as near
as possible equality on both legs, to attain which of course it is
necessary to give one's weaker leg—in most cases the left—double
The next advance I made was to turn a three from the outside edge. For a
long time I practised this on my right leg alone and neglected my left,
which of course was extremely unwise, and resulted in my being much
weaker on that leg than on the other. The ordinary turning of a three is
a comparatively simple matter, but the difficulty lies in being able to
do it to a centre on both feet. Yet this accomplishment is absolutely
essential to anyone who would attempt combined figures. In my opinion
there is more enjoyment to be gained, both for performers and
spectators, from combined figures gracefully and neatly done, than from
far more difficult turns performed alone. I will not go into details as
to particular figures, because they can be learnt so much better from
the innumerable books that have been written on the subject.
Hand-in-hand skating is another most delightful branch of the art, and
has been very strikingly developed in the last few years in England. A
number of new scuds have been elaborated by the ingenuity of experts,
many of which are most fascinating to do, and in many cases they have
the great advantage of being performed either with one or two
companions. The advance in this department of the art is largely due to
the number of covered rinks that have been started lately in England and
France, these being particularly adapted to the practice of this style
Another accomplishment, to which the practice of covered rinks is
specially suited is waltzing on skates—which merely consists in a
series of turns of threes, and outside-edge forwards and outside-edge
backwards. The important point to remember about waltzing is, that the
partners must accommodate their steps, and the woman must take care not
to drag. When gracefully and neatly done by two people, well used to
each other, and to the sound of a good band, this sensation surpasses
anything that can be enjoyed in ordinary dancing.
For my own part I have concentrated my energies on combined figures and
hand-in-hand skating, and have never given much attention to the great
variety of difficult turns that are to be done alone, though I do not by
any means wish to depreciate the beauty of these, or the skill needed to
perform them. But, under the conditions that prevail in England, it is
difficult to get enough space in which to practice elaborate figures
alone, so I am inclined to think that my course has been a wise one.
SKATING IN HOLLAND.
From an unpublished Drawing by A. Van de Velde, Circa 1650, A.D.
(By permission of Lawrence B. Phillips, Esq.)
I mentioned above, that skating in England is in a transition stage, and
by this I mean that the last few years have witnessed the introduction
of what is called the foreign style of skating in England. At the
present time most of our instructors are foreigners, or Englishmen who
have thoroughly imbibed the foreign method, and the result is that
beginners are induced to purchase foreign skates and to base their style
on foreign models. The main difference between the two styles is, that
the Englishman is taught to keep his unemployed leg close to the other
and to be always erect, not to bend his knee, and in general to keep the
body rather stiff and quiet. The foreigner, on the other hand, as might
be expected from his more lively temperament, allows himself much more
freedom in swinging and bending about. He thus gives the impression of
enjoying himself more than the Englishman, and, in consequence, is more
attractive to watch. To my mind, the ideal skater is one who combines
the excellencies of both styles, that is one who, to the firmness and
unobtrusiveness of the Englishman, adds the easy pace and brilliancy of
the foreigner. The followers of both styles have a great deal yet to
learn from each other, and, therefore, the blending of the two methods
in England at the present day, is certain to lead to most beneficial
A few words now on the important subject of skates. Enormous
improvements have been effected in them of late years, but in my opinion
we are still very far from possessing the ideal skate. The main object
of the best English skates (for instance the Mount Charles, or the
Dowler) is to enable the wearer to hold long edges, whereas the foreign
blade is especially adapted to rapid turns. What is wanted is some
invention that would combine in one skate the special merits of both
these kinds, so that the long firm edge and the sharp turn may be
equally possible. At present this is only a dream of the future, and in
the meantime I should be inclined to advise a modified form of the
French skate, as on the whole the best adapted for all purposes. I
should strongly recommend everybody to keep their skates permanently
fixed to one pair of boots. This is a practice however so generally
adopted that it may seem superfluous to mention it. Laced boots should
be worn specially made for skating, with thick soles and high in the
leg, so as to give as much support as possible round the ankle.
OUR SISTERS IN CANADA.
In the matter of dress women have a distinct advantage over men. Our
skirt both conceals deficiencies in style, and makes it easier to be
graceful, the man with his closer garb being sadly exposed to the fierce
light of criticism. The only essential for us, is to have a skirt short
and well cut so as not to drag, and with this precaution we can indulge
in as much variety as we choose.
In conclusion let me say, I know of no exercise more exhilarating and
healthful for women than skating in the open air, though, I am bound to
say, this cannot be said of the exercise in covered rinks, as one is
liable to get very hot and then to catch cold. The combination of hot
air above and the cold current rising from the ice, does not tend to
produce a very healthy atmosphere. But as we should not make such rapid
progress, or have the advantage of seeing together so many good skaters
of all nationalities, if we had not the covered rinks, many of us will
not be inclined to complain.
I am afraid my remarks are very disconnected, but the subject is a
difficult one to treat from a general point of view. I shall be
satisfied if what I have said should inspire even one of my readers with
a greater devotion to the beautiful art of skating.
It is natural that the art of skating should come to us from the North,
for it is in the land of ice and snow that the problem of traversing the
frozen surface of the snow-covered ground and the ice-bound water would
have to be solved. With the Greeks and the Romans indeed, the great
ruling nations of the South, there was no word to designate the
exercise—a conclusive proof that it was unknown to them. But from
Scandinavia we have an old war song which tells of the progress of the
God of Winter over the water, supported on the bones of animals, and
this shows that the skates of those early days were made of bone, though
they were, as might be expected, of most primitive structure. It is
generally agreed that the necessity of crossing the enormous fields of
frozen snow during the long Scandinavian winters led to the fashioning
of snow-shoes, and that from these were made the smaller skates, by the
aid of which the frozen waters could also be crossed, locomotion thus
being made possible.
The early form of the bone skate was brought to England by the Northern
tribes which settled in our midst, though it was to our Dutch
neighbours, at a much later period in our history, that we owed the
introduction of the wooden skate bound with iron, which is the prototype
of our skate of to-day. From the earliest efforts with the primitive
bone skates to the graceful evolutions now possible on a modern Mount
Charles there is a marvellous change, and the art which has a history of
nearly two thousand years behind it, is entitled to a place among the
time-honoured pastimes of the world.
A beginner in this, as in all other pursuits, is met at the outset of
her career, when she is without practical knowledge to guide her in the
choice, by the difficulty of selecting a proper instrument. She must
then trust to others. As the choice however is not large, she can
scarcely do wrong in investing in a Mount Charles, which should be fixed
to a well-fitting-boot with low heels, a fairly thick sole, and laced
But the first efforts will, if she is wise, be made on roller-skates,
for though the tide of fashion has set against this form of skating, and
it is only in far-off Simla and a few scattered places that it still
holds its own, it is unrivalled as a means to the end of skating on ice.
On roller-skates the learner can follow up her study systematically day
after day, independent of weather conditions, and can acquire the two
primary essentials of successful skating, viz., balance and confidence.
When these have been acquired you may then make your first attempt on
ice with every prospect of success. With steady practice you will soon
learn to manage your skates, but never forget during these early days
that you must ever be on your guard against the countless tricks which
beset the beginner at every stage of her progress. Some people will
indeed advise you, when you first put on your skates proper, to walk
about a carpeted room with them, while others will tell you to make your
first efforts on the ice itself. In this you will probably be guided
partly by the age at which you begin the pastime—whether, that is to
say, a fall is a serious matter or one to be disregarded with the
smiling carelessness of youth—and partly by the degree of confidence
you have acquired on the roller-skates.
In any case, when you find yourself on the ice for the first time, you
will endeavour to walk forward on your skates with short and careful
steps. If you have assistance to prevent you from the inevitable tumbles
that will otherwise be your lot, your progress will be safe but slower
than if you take your courage in both hands and carry out unaided the
good old nursery maxim of "try, try, try again," till the delightful
foretaste of success comes to you, in the first quivering glide forward
without a too sudden descent at the end.
Remember, when making these first efforts at walking, that the foot on
which you are resting on the ice should have both the ankle and knee
kept stiff, or you will find your ankle twist sideways. You must also
take care to keep the feet well under you, as until you have found your
balance they will have an inclination to slide apart, and thus render a
fall imminent. After a short experience of this tottering effort after
equilibrium, you will probably almost instinctively begin to slide
forward with both feet, and for the moment you will find sufficient
pleasure in movement of any kind. I have indeed seen quite a rapturous
expression of triumph come over the face of a middle-aged beginner, when
she first managed the smallest of small slides without it ending in a
catastrophe, or in a wild clinging to her guide. The good lady doubtless
saw in the dim future the end in view for which she was willing to
expend so much patient effort, and so shall we, and in a shorter time,
if fewer winters have passed over our heads before we make our first
A few hours at least should be devoted to this preliminary experience,
and then you will probably be able to try the inside edge forward, which
is the first step to master. With your feet turned at an angle of 45°,
you will press downward with the ball of your left foot, so that you may
have a secure position from which to start, and you will slide forward
with your right foot only on the inside of the skate, balancing
yourself entirely on that foot. You will then bring the left foot
forward from the position it has held with the toe of the skate held
just off the ice behind the right foot, and pressing the inside edge of
the skate under the ball of the right foot into the ice, you will slide
forward with your left, striking out farther and farther as you find you
can keep your balance during the stroke. The position of the body should
be slightly sideways, with the face in the direction of progress.
To perform a half-circle and a circle will then be your aim, until you
can succeed with a perfect figure of 8. By the time you have mastered
this, you will be ready for the turn on both feet and the backward
stroke of the inside edge, after which the forward and backward stroke
of the outside edge will be your study. In all backward movement the
head must be turned in the point of direction, while the weight of the
body is thrown on the back part of the skate, instead of on the front
part as in a forward movement.
As soon as complete mastery of both edges has been gained, and that the
fate of the immortal Winkle may not be yours, you have learnt the art of
stopping, you will find all the simple figures within your powers. Do
not, however, be hurried into trying any combination, however simple,
until you have acquired the art of easy and graceful motion on the
inside and outside edges, both forward and backward.
The Hand-in-hand Figures are much in vogue among women in all countries,
and these are pretty and effective, as well as simple to execute by
anyone who has thoroughly grounded herself in the rudiments of skating.
The more usual way of executing these figures in this country is for the
partners, generally a man and a woman, to stand side by side, joining
their right hands underneath the left, which are also clasped sideways,
though occasionally what is known as the Austrian mode is adopted, viz.,
by the woman standing in front of her partner and bending her hands
under and backward at her side, when they are taken in the clasp of the
It is to the daughters of the inventor of the Plimpton roller-skates
that we are indebted for the various fascinating forms of hand-in-hand
skating now in vogue, and for the effective movement known as "a pass,"
we are equally beholden to Miss L. Cheetham, who was, I believe, the
first to put it in practice. For the many varieties of Scuds and Rockers
now constantly to be seen at the much patronised covered rinks,
reference may be made to Mr. Maxwell Witham's book "A System of Figure
Skating," in which are to be found diagrams of some very simple figures
taken originally from the archives of the Oxford Skating Society. These
will be well within the powers of all, and in the case of the stronger
and more enthusiastic women skaters will form a fitting prelude to the
execution of the more elaborate "Club Figures."
In Figure 1, the skaters take up their positions facing one another upon
each side of a square, the start being made by each skater with the
right foot, on a curve of outside edge, continuing this for half a
circle when the left foot will be put down and the stroke taken, either
in the ordinary way or from the cross, and the whole circle of outside
on the left foot skated. This will bring each skater into the original
place of the other and the movement can be repeated.
The figure can also be skated backward, in which case the position for
starting will be with the backs instead of the faces of the skaters
towards each other.
Figure 2 is very similar to the former. The skaters take up their
positions facing one another at four points of the inner circle,
skating off on a curve of outside edge with the right foot and going
round the inner circle. The left foot is thus put down and the stroke
taken in the ordinary way or from the cross, another circle of outside
edge being skated on the left foot. This will bring the skater to the
inner circle again when the movement can be repeated, and the whole
figure can be skated backwards.
A variation of this figure can be made thus: "The skaters only go
three-quarters round the centre circle, so that the outside circle
described always lies immediately behind the one on which each skater
last travelled round. The skaters thus changing their positions has a
"Arrived at the common circle the movement is repeated, each skater
taking her partner's hand (the four hands being thus crossed) which is
retained until the whole circle, which all have in common, has been
skated, when each again branches off as before described."
In all skating, neatness, precision, and an easy, upright carriage are
the things to be aimed at, and as you feel yourself getting at home on
your skates, remember it should be your object to disguise your stroke
as far as possible, so that your progress may have the smooth, graceful
ease of apparently unbroken motion.
Shortly, the great points to be attended to when learning are:
1. An upright carriage without stiffness.
2. Straightness of the knee of the employed leg.
3. Approximation of the feet.
4. A slight sideways position of the body, with the face in the
direction of progress.
5. Equality of power on either leg, to attain which extra practice for
the weaker leg—generally the left—will be needed.
When these have been acquired the full delight of the health-giving
exercise of skating will be open to you.