THERE can be no lasting interest in any form of sport unless some definite end is kept in view, some problem finally worked out, some purpose accomplished. There is no amusement in shooting arrows aimlessly into the air, or in carelessly knocking tennis-balls over a net. The archer is intent on seeing how often he can hit the gold; the tennis-player tries to put that ball over in such a way that his opponent cannot return it. The score, the game - something is the object.
Now, skating is one of the oldest and most popular of winter amusements, and yet how many of the thousands of boys and girls who anxiously await the hoisting of the "red ball" know anything more than the merest beginnings of the art? The vast majority of skaters are perfectly satisfied with being able to progress in an aimless, desultory fashion up and down the ice, and keep out of the way of the hockey-players. And I may add that, good game though it is, hockey is not skating, in the real sense of the word; and it can never help you to anything better than the ability to keep your feet (and your temper) in a rough-and-tumble scrimmage after a little block of wood or a rubber "puck." And yet there is something better.
Aside from speed-skating, in which few can hope to excel, there is figure-skating, as it is popularly called. It is generally supposed to be very difficult, and in some respects it is so. To attempt it without the assistance of a teacher requires unlimited pluck and perseverance. There are a number of books on the subject, illustrated with elaborate diagrams, and everything made easy in theory. But the actual thing in practice - that is very different! It is like "French at Home, in Six Easy Lessons," or, "The Violin without a Master." The hard work does pay in the end, if persevered in; but the beginner generally gets disgusted after the first few failures, and goes back to tag and hockey. Perhaps that has been your experience - you have tried, and found it of no use; and yet you do envy the expert skater, who glides past you on the "back cross-roll" so easily and gracefully that you are certain that it must feel like flying. Well, that is exactly what it does feel like, and I am going to suggest a plan by which you may secure that delightful sensation for yourself at the expense of comparatively little time and trouble. After you have once known the fascination that there is in true figure-skating, you will probably feel encouraged to take up again the explanations and diagrams of the discarded text-books.
Hand-in-hand figures are among the prettiest things that can be done upon the ice from the spectators' point of view, and they are easiest for the performers. You have the assistance of your partner at every critical moment; and movements such as the forward-rocking turn, which require weeks of practice to do alone, can be executed hand in hand with comparative ease. In individual figure-skating you are obliged to advance very slowly in order to preserve correct form; in hand-in-hand skating the "form" is of less importance, or, rather, it seems to come of itself.
Let us take the "Mercury," or 3-scud as the English call it. If you will analyze the movements in the "Forward Mercury" (Fig. 3), you will see that there is first a glide on the left-foot outside edge backward (L.O.B.), then a glide forward on the right-foot outside edge (R.O.F.), and finally a cross-roll on the left-foot outside edge forward (L.O.F.), which finishes in a little backward turn on the same foot, leaving you in position to repeat the movement with the right foot on the outside edge backward (R.O.B.). Examining in like manner the detail of the "Backward Mercury" (Fig. 4), which is done by your partner at the same time that you are performing the "Forward," you will notice that it is exactly the same, except that there are two backward glides and one forward, while in the "Forward" there are two forward glides and one backward.
It is necessary, then, that both you and your partner should be able to skate the outside edge forward and back and make the little curl-like turn, and also that one of you should be reasonably proficient on the cross-roll backward. It sounds very difficult, but remember that I am not asking you to attempt all this alone: the secret lies in the fact that you will help each other.
Fig. 1. The Dutch Roll.
Fig 2. Backward Cross-Roll.
The outside edge forward is the first movement to be attempted. Try it with hands joined and crossed, and endeavor to make the stroke together - that is, in the same time. Lean boldly outward, and make the curve as long as possible. Try it again, but this time hand in hand, that is, with one hand free. It will be well to change sides occasionally.
Now for the same edge in a backward direction. To put the first question in the catechism to a very practical use, and to simplify the explanation, I will assume that you are M and that your partner is N. Join hands (not crossed), and let M try the outside backward on alternate feet, while N keeps both feet on the ice and simply squirms along in a serpentine line, and helps M to preserve his balance. M can then perform the same kindly office for N.
The only difference between the outside forward and the corresponding cross or Dutch roll (Fig. 1) is that the unemployed foot, instead of being put down alongside of the employed, is swung entirely over, and set down in front of the foot on which you have been gliding, and which is then immediately taken up. Join hands (not crossed), and let N skate backward, keeping both feet firmly on the ice. M will then follow on the outside forward, remembering to cross the unemployed foot just at the end of the glide. After the unemployed foot is swung over and put down, lift the other quickly and let it swing gently out over the ice, and then bring it in ready for the next cross. You will soon find that you will not have to push off as you did on the ordinary outside edge; the swing of the unemployed leg is quite sufficient to bring you around.
On the Ice. (From the painting by J. Scalbert.)
Now for N's part, the backward cross-roll (Fig. 2), which is not quite so easy. As before, M will keep both feet on the ice, so as to give his partner a firm support. Join hands (not crossed), and let N take several backward steps as though he (or she) were walking, but crossing his feet alternately, the one behind the other, and turning the skate so that the outer edge is the one placed on the ice. After seven or eight steps, press the blade firmly into the ice as you set it down so that you can feel it "bite." Now give the unemployed leg a swing as you take it up; let it come all the way around, so that you can put it down (on the outside edge) well crossed behind the employed foot. Lean out as you do this, and let the skate that is on the ice move freely. Your partner can help you immensely if he will lift up on your hands, and at the same time gently force you over in the proper direction. It will seem impossible at first; but the knack will come all in a flash, and you will realize that it is the twist of your shoulders-and the swing of the unemployed leg that is doing the work. It is very necessary to get these forward and back cross-rolls as perfect as possible before attempting the "Mercury" proper. Unless you can do them, the pace quickly gets too fast and dangerous, and the figure is spoiled.
The Forward Mercury.
The Backward Mercury.
There is only one thing more before we begin to put our material together, and that is the little turn on the same foot, which is technically called a "3." This particular turn is very easy, and is the natural one that everybody uses. Make the end or tail short, and practise on each foot forward and back.
As soon as M can be sure of his forward cross-roll, and N of the corresponding backward movement, we can try the whole figure. We will suppose that M has learned the "Forward," and N the "Backward." If anything, the "Backward" is the lady's step, as her partner should do the steering. Join hands (not crossed) and stand facing each other. Endeavor to take the strokes together in exactly the same time. You will find it of advantage to count one, two, three, as in learning the waltz. For instance, in the "Backward," begin on the right outside forward, and turn a "3" (count one), drop on the left outside back (two), cross the right foot behind, and continue on the right cross-roll backward (three). If, now, you are looking over your left shoulder, as you should on a right outside back, you will be ready for the left outside forward, ending with a "3" (one), the drop on to the right outside back (two), and the cross-roll backward on the left foot (three). The counting is the same for M, who does the "Forward;" but he (or she) should be particular to see that his cross-roll forward (in which he makes the "3") is done in exactly the same time that N is doing the cross-roll back. The steering can be brought to as high a degree of perfection as in a ballroom. A variation of this figure, called the "Flying Mercury," is sometimes skated, the difference being that the skaters do not make the little turn or "3," but jump from one edge to another. It is very much more difficult, and should not be attempted without long practice on the regular figure. After you have become proficient in skating the "Mercury" with a partner, you can do the two movements by yourself. The "Forward" is particularly effective when done alone.
There are many other hand-in-hand figures, such as "Double Mohawks," "Q Scuds," and "Rocking Turns," which look well, done hand in hand. If you once learn the "Mercury," and get a little insight into the fascinating mystery of figure-skating, you will be anxious to look them up in the books, or seek the assistance of some friendly expert.
If you have a file or the bound volume of Harper's Young People for 1892, look up the article on figure-skating, under date of March 8. It contains some valuable hints on skate-fastenings and foot-gear. Above all, don't use straps, or you will never be able to skate with confidence and freedom. It is not strength, but suppleness of ankle, that is required; and any ankle that is strong enough to walk on without turning is strong enough to skate with. Straps cramp the muscles and stop the circulation. Use heel-plates and a key-fastening at the sole, unless you can set aside a pair of shoes for skating only; in this case the foot-stock should be permanently attached to the boot by ordinary screws.
BY W. G. VAN T. SUTPHEN.
Front Harpers' Round Table. Copyright, 1895, by Harper & Brothers.