THE CHARM OF FIGURE-SKATING.
TWENTY, nay fifteen, years ago, the name of Monier- Williams was familiar enough as that of a distinguished Oxford Professor and Orientalist. To-day, though the Pro- fess 3r and Orientalist is still remembered, it is not too much to say that the name is associated, in the minds of a far
larger number of persons, with the skate, the skating, and the skating books of his son. Seriously minded persons may, no doubt, find in this fact matter for a lamentation over the prevalent craze for athletics, and the development of a whole literature around a minor pastime. But apart from the fascination which proficiency in any exercise exerts, figure- skating has certain peculiar charms and merits of its own. For it is not only one of the healthiest recreations, one of the most delightful modes of locomotion, and one of the most artistic pastimes in existence, but it is entirely free from the taint of professionalism, of betting, or of gambling. Perhaps the best non-athletic parallel that can be thought of is that of concerted chamber music. The figure-skater is like a, player in a quartet, a sextet, or an octet. Like him, he has his part, and he must execute it in strict time and in accordance with the individuality of his leader. The figures of a skating set may often be compared to a„ theme with variations, but there is this difference, that, whereas in a piece of chamber-music the players follow the precise indications of the composer, the best figure- skating often partakes of the nature of an improvisation on the part of the leader. The " calls " have all a precise meaning, but in their combinations, devised on the spur of the moment, there is scope for almost endless variety. In illustration of our meaning, we need only point out for the benefit of the lay reader that, given the two feet, the two edges, and the forward and backward movements, the raw materials of figures consist not only in the changes of edge, but in the tarns, which can be executed from every one of the four edges in four different ways,—either as in the simple three, or by the rocking-turn, the counter-rocking turn or the bracket. In the " rocker " and "counter" the turn is made from any given edge in either direction, to the same edge in the contrary direction ; but whereas in the " rocker " one pivots clockwise as in the ordinary three, in the "counter " one pivots counter-clockwise. The bracket-turn is so-called from the resemblance which it bears to the symbol, and it has the peculiarity that unlike the ordinary three, it has the cusp on the outside of the arc. There remain the various means by which fresh impetus can be derived by a change of foot—English figure-skating being always one-footed—a diversion which can be executed in a variety of ways. We may, however, especially note the admirable use which has been made of late years of the "Mohawk," which is nothing else than the old "spread eagle" in solution. Here, then, to continue our musical metaphor, is the figure-skater's scale, out of which,. given a mastery of the turns and changes mentioned above, he evolves, in company with his fellow-votaries, all manner of enchanting arabesques.
A very rudimentary acquaintance with the art suffices to infect most persons with a burning desire to master its transcendental developments. You cut a three ; you learn to drop on to the outside back edge of the other foot, and then you are hopelessly enslaved. Perhaps the most tragic case of all is that of the middle-aged skater who acquired, some twenty or more years ago, a mastery of the combined figures as they were then executed, before unconscionable professors like Mr. Monier-Williams introduced "rockers," " counters," and " brackt-ts " Into the repertory. For after thirty-five a bad fall on the ice becomes a more serious affair, and a mastery of those elegancies is not to be attained without falls, both many and serious. It becomes a question, then, of "to rock or not to rock." The " rocker " is, after all, not so difficult; but the "counter "—especially the "back counter "—requires nerve as well as agility, while the "back bracket," unless mastered in early youth, ought not to be attempted by the father of a family. And yet,. when executed by some of our best amateurs, these turns look so provokingly easy that the middle-aged skater casts all caution to the winds, and in all probability goes home with a bump the size of a pigeon's egg on the back of his head. The fact is that whereas in the simple turns, and even in the "rocker," correctness of carriage is the principal factor in achieving the desired result, in the " counter " and.
" bracket " a certain effort and even a slight wrench is necessary to get clean on to the second edge. And if at the crucial moment the skater gets his blade into a crack, or loses his hold on the ice, the somewhat strained attitude which he is forced to adopt materially adds to the seriousness of the Still, even if the aspirant, from age or lack of nerve, abandons these difficult turns, the number and com- plexity of the figures that are still open to him are sufficient to satisfy all but the most soaring ambition. It is the greatest mistake, again, to imagine that skating is all done on the ice. New combinations can be thought out any- where, as the wives of figure-skaters will readily testify. Here, again, our former parallel is applicable; for just as a musician can compose symphonies and concertos without a piano, BO the skater, without ice or skates, can compose the most elaborate concerted figures in his head. Furthermore, attitude being quite half the battle, cases are on record of crystallomaniacs who, with the help of their wives' cheval- glasses, have derived great profit from practising deportment at home before the arrival of the frost and in the intervals of thaw. This devotion, however, has its drawbacks. An en- thusiast has been known, on paying a visit, to reply to the servant who asked his name, "Inside twice back ; " such was the obsession exerted by his favourite pastime. This anecdote will, we trust, dispel the notion—if it should anywhere exist —that figure-skaters are persons of a frivolous and trivial disposition. One has only to look at his costume to be con- vinced of the contrary. On the rink of the London Skating -Club, black coats and tall hats are the almost invariable rule. At the Wimbledon Club greater laxity prevails, and this year a very fine skater actually appeared in a tweed suit, with cap to match, and a pair of pipeclayed cricket-boots, without the Riot Act being read. As a matter of fact, the pursuit exer- cises a peculiar fascination on men and women of intellect. A Bishop has been seen skating on the club inclosure at Wimbledon Lake. One of our foremost composers, Dr. Hubert Parry, is, if we mistake not, still a member of the London Skating Club ; and amongst the votaries of the art may be reckoned ex-Cabinet Ministers, Regius Professors, Senior Classics, Queen's Counsel, eminent physicians, and members of the London County Council. Mr. Balfour, we regret to learn, indulges in hockey on the ice,—a pastime which the earnest figure-skater holds in low repute. But as a set-off, we may note that Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, an admirable specimen of the intellectual athlete, has of late been paying assiduous attention to the cult of the rocking- turn.
While maintaining its old characteristics of reserve and .repose, English figure-skating has undoubtedly been influenced, and on the whole most healthily and artistically influenced, of late seasons by those exponents of the art who have prac- tised it in the Engadine. The St. Moritz and Davos skaters have a school of their own, and a very fine school it is. ,Strength, confidence, and swiftness are its chief characteristics : the curves are skated very large ; while in executing the turns and dropping on to the "backs," certain peculiarities are manifested which enable a student of the game at once to recognise the Engadine training. Amongst recent developments, a gain, one should notice the great advance in popularity of the hand-in-hand figures, an arrangement which lends itself with peculiar effect to the exhibition of the rocking-turn, the " Q," and other evolutions. Considerable variety can be introduced by the way in which the skaters join hands. For this may be done by the cross or double grip, or by linking hands at arm's-length, or finally in the " tandem " fashion, in which two skaters advance in single file. It is in this department of combined figures that the grace of ladies' skating is most happily exhibited. In the detached figures skated to a centre many of them now take part with conspicuous ability, but in a mixed set, unless the men purposely skate rather smaller, there is always a certain sense of effort about the evolutions of their fair partners. In conclusion we may point out that the peculiar attraction exerted on an appreciative bystander of a fine sextet or octet on the ice, in virtue of its continuous motion, can never be reproduced in a picture or a photograph. But it would lend itself admirably to the methods of Mr. Edison's kinetoscope.