V. STARTING THE SCHOOL FIGURES

If you have had sufficient patience to proceed step by step with me to this point, you will, I'm certain, already have mental understanding and bodily control enough to transcribe a mod­erately accurate forward figure eight right away. As we study the four eights together, you will realize that there are certain fundamental principles basic to all skating. Just as in mathe­matics, these are axioms that apply to every facet of the sport, free skating and dancing as well as all the figures, advanced as well as elementary. My early years of study under some of the finest instructors in the world combined with my more recent years of teaching thousands of pupils from beginning to Olym­pic caliber have led me to work out a system of movement in such a way that everything learned at a starting level can be retained and built on right to the Gold Medal or championship level of performance. There are other techniques, other systems that have had signal success; I do not claim superiority for this one. In fact the limberness involved for mastery of this particu­lar technique may make it more difficult at first, but I do feel that, once the fundamental positions are learned, the tremen­dous control acquired produces better skating faster and easier for a majority of skaters.

So on to the eights, as important to a figure skater as scales to a pianist or barre work to a ballet dancer. It is from the eights that all positions and controls necessary to solo free skating, pair skating, and dancing emanate.

My first teacher used to say, "Show me your outside forward eight and I will tell you just how fine a skater you are," and as I have watched skaters over the years since then, I have come to realize ever more strongly the truth of this statement. Hours should be spent acquiring complete control and fine form on this edge; champion or tyro should practice it daily with un­remitting attention to detail. Well skated, it is one of the most beautiful of all figures, and every truly great skater works hard to perfect it in his or her own individual style.

Like the larger waltz eight, all eights are so designated be­cause they are formed by two contiguous circles skated from a "center," or starting point, in such a way that they are di­vided evenly lengthwise by an imaginary straight line called the longitudinal, or long, axis and crosswise by the transverse, or short, axis, an imaginary line drawn at right angles to the long axis at the point where the two circles meet.

The mark that your skate leaves in the ice is called the "tracing" or "print." The tracing itself and the way in which it is made—in other words, the "form" of your bodily move­ments while you are skating—constitute the two chief criteria of your school figure skating. Every wobble, every sub-curve, every deviation from the true circular edge is a definite fault in a figure. Good school figures are as symmetrical as the native ability of man, unaided by a compass, can make them.

A controlled yet vigorous pushoff, which sends the body cor­rectly onto the line of travel from the very start, is the most important factor in maintaining the one true curve of the circle. As it was for the waltz eight in the preceding chapter, the start of all eights is at the exact center where the long and short axes cross. Stand in T-position with your right toe on the center, your right foot along the short axis, and your left foot, instep to right heel, parallel to the long axis. In other words, your first pushoff mark from this left skate will be one skate length from the exact starting point where your right edge first shows on the ice.


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