Maribel Vinson, winner of 15 national titles, explains the ABCs of a fast-growing pastime
December 22, 1958

Every Wednesday a number of housewives gather at the Boston Arena, lace on their skates and advance confidently across the ice for a lesson with Maribel Vinson. Most of these women never had skates on before, yet by now they are gliding as gracefully as the teen-ager at right. A few of Miss Vinson's pupils come to work off excess pounds, but most just want to join their families in the fun of skating. They could hardly find a better teacher, for Maribel Vinson has trained half a dozen champions, including the incomparable Tenley Albright, and 3,500 recreational skaters in the last 15 years. Now, on the following pages she explains the simple steps that can enable anyone to enjoy themselves on the ice. Then, in the January 5 issue, she shows how to mold these basic steps into the delightful art of pair skating in which any two people of average ability can have more than twice as much fun by skating together.


To make the fastest progress and get the most pleasure out of skating you must have boots which give plenty of support to your heels and ankles. Contrary to a commonly accepted notion, it has been proved over and over again that there is no such thing as "weak ankles" when you have properly fitting boots. You may have to spend a few dollars more, but there's no point in trying to stand upright on a thin edge of steel without support. Good readymade boots cost between $18 and $25 and the blades are $10. To insure a proper fit follow the instructions carefully and begin by insisting that the salesman allow you to try the boots on without the blades. Since you need a boot that fits snugly, throw away the heavy socks, for they won't keep your feet warm and will only cramp your toes: women should wear their nylons and men their ordinary socks.

Slip into the boot and lace it up as shown in the illustration below. Make sure that even though you lace the boot very tightly over the instep, there is a gap of 1½ to 2 inches between the holes, for the leather eventually will stretch. When you stand up, your toes should lightly touch but not press against the end of the boot, and there should be enough breadth across the toes so that you can wiggle them easily. Keeping your heels on the floor, bend your knees and ankles as far forward as you can. Check to see that there are no pronounced bulges or wrinkles around the ankle and across the instep, then rise up on your toes and make sure that your heels do not budge out of the heel pocket. If the boot is correctly made you should experience a strong feeling of support along the inside of the ankle and through the heel.

Now you are ready to have the blades attached. They are quite different from hockey-skate blades, which have a flat surface. A figure blade is ground with a hollow groove down the middle. It is the edges, ground like a fine cutting tool, that border this groove that facilitate turning and allow the skater who masters them to trace precise patterns on the ice.

Skating has a language of its own, and it will save you a lot of confusion if you learn it before stepping out on the ice.

First, the skating foot is the foot on the ice; the free foot is the foot in the air. Dividing the body down the middle, each part of the body corresponding to the skating foot is called the skating arm, the skating shoulder, the skating hip, etc. Each part corresponding to the free foot is labeled the free arm, the free shoulder, the free hip, etc.

Second, as is shown in the illustration below left, the edge of the blade that corresponds to the outside of the foot is called an outside edge; the other an inside edge. Remember, you've got a right and left foot, therefore there are really four edges on a pair of skates. These are a right and left outside edge and a right and left inside edge.

Third, the term forward or backward when applied to the edge of a skate means the direction in which you are going. When applied to a member of the body, forward means toward the front of the body, backward means behind the body. If we state that the skating arm is forward, we mean that regardless of the particular direction in which you are moving the skating arm is in front of the body.

In the more complicated figures these movements are often designated by combining the three factors and abbreviating. For example, the letters ROF mean that the skater is on the right foot, outside edge,-moving forward. For the simple steps shown in this lesson, however, each word will be spelled out fully. On the page opposite, we show how to take the first uncertain steps. Then, on page 46, you begin your first skating strokes.

Blades and lacing
Skate plate shown at left is set off center so that blade is closer to inside of foot where weight of body is greatest. Teeth at blade point are used only by advanced skaters for pivots, spins and jumps. Drawing at right shows proper way to lace boot. Lace first four holes fairly loosely, then very tightly through circled area and tie at this point with surgeon's knot (hold one lace and wrap the other around it twice). Above knot, tie the boots very loosely (to avoid leg cramps), hooking the laces through the eyelet hooks above the ankle bones to top of boot. Test looseness at top by slipping finger between shin bone and tongue of boot.

Take it easy. Don't rush
Step out on ice using rail or friend's hand, or both, for support, as shown above. Balance first on one blade and then the other, trying hard to keep ankles upright and knees flexible. Pick up feet gently, keeping them close to ice. Propel yourself along rail by hand, gliding first on one skate and then the other. Then push off parallel to rail and attempt short forward glides on your own. Once you feel secure, go ahead with the forward scull sequence as shown at right. Point toes out (1), then slide feet out diagonally (2), keeping your weight evenly divided and on the back of the blades. Straighten knees, force toes in (3 and large figure) and slide feet together (4). Glide along for a moment, then repeat the maneuver, counting rhythmically from one to four until you work up continuity and a fair amount of speed. Ten such sequences should carry you about 100 feet or more down the ice.

Stretch that tendon!
Did sculling make your legs ache? Probably a rebellious tendon. Exercise it by bracing toes against rink barrier, as above, or use rungs of a sturdy chair. Pull up slowly.

Limber up those hips!
Ability to turn legs out is vital in most skating maneuvers. Spread feet, secure blades against barrier (above), straighten knees and pull up, keeping derrière tucked in.


First, get in position
With the sculls mastered, you're ready to start stroking off onto one foot. Always keep in mind the fundamental position of skating, shown at left. Actually, it's a position of walking, except for the exaggerated forward bend of the ankles, which place the knees just ahead of the point of the skates. Arms are relaxed and kept low. As you move along, swing them naturally as in walking. The back is straight and the weight of the body is directly over the skates. To avoid tripping on skate teeth and pitching forward, keep weight slightly to back of blade (black dot, above right) when you try your first strokes. Conversely, when you learn to skate backward you will want to keep the weight toward front (above left). Begin to skate with the push-off shown in detail drawings on the opposite page. The force of the push is what makes you go, so start out with as strong a thrust as possible.

Next, the cycle of forward stroking
So far, we've been practicing "flat-footed," i.e., with each blade's two edges in contact with the ice. Now we must learn how to get on one edge or the other so that we can transcribe circles and more complicated patterns, which are what make figure skating different and more fascinating than just plain skating. The sequence above shows you how to skate on two of the primary edges and also how to change feet by mastering the stroking combinations. As you push off (figures 1 and 2), you will find that you can get on the outside edge of the skating foot by leaning the whole body to the right. Keep the free leg straight out behind until you are ready to make the next stroke. Then bring free foot forward smoothly (3 and 4) until it is parallel to and touching the skating foot but not the ice (5 and inset A). Now, to prepare for next push, turn toe of skating foot out to 45° angle (B) and shift skate to inside edge. At the same time start moving body from a right lean to a left lean. Straighten right knee (6 and 7), at same instant complete shifting of weight to outside edge of left skate. When you finish the sequence (8), you'll discover that you are in the same position as in figure 2 except that you're now on the opposite foot.

Now, try the push-off

With knees nearly straight and body erect (1), place heel of right foot at 90° angle to instep of left. Put weight on left foot and turn the ankle strongly inward for anchorage. Bend knees deeply with weight still on left foot (2). Push hard by quickly straightening left knee, and at the same time shift weight from left foot to right foot (3). Glide as far as you can on right foot with left leg fully extended and skate held about four inches off the ice. Also practice same maneuver using right foot as anchor and pushing on to the left foot. You should be able to start equally well on either foot.

The stroking cycle is now complete, and you just keep going left, right, left, right, until you begin to tire and your strokes get ragged. Then stop and rest. Note that at all times the arms change smoothly with the change of the feet, just as they would if you were walking. Try to keep each right and left stroke the same length so that you do not unconsciously favor one foot or the other. To stop, turn both feet sideways by swinging your heels evenly to the right, bend both knees, skid against the blades and throw your left shoulder forward as seen in the three figures at the right. As you slide to a stop, straighten your knees and body to standing position.


Stroking backward
It's just as important to skate backward as forward and not as hard as you might think. Don't be afraid of falling. You won't if you prepare for backstroking by practicing a backward scull with weight on the forward part of the blades, as illustrated by the first four figures at left (bottom of page to circle). Start scull with toes together (1) and when you get up good sculling speed (2, 3 and 4), turn right heel out (5), push away from inside edge (6) while shifting weight to left foot. Sit hard over left foot (7), leaning left to get on outside edge. Extend right foot and arm directly in front of skating foot. Keep weight over front portion of blade and look back inside of curve over left shoulder. To continue backstroking, bring right toe down until it touches left toe. Then push again by turning left heel out, straightening left knee as you shift weight over to right outside backward edge. When your backstroke begins to work smoothly, you can flow right into the next step, the back crossover shown below, which teaches you how to lean in toward the center of a turn.

Back crossover
Starting with backstroke, begin crossover by bringing right foot across in front of left foot to inside of circle (first figure). Shift weight to right inside edge. Left foot glides off ice outside circle (second figure). Bring left foot in behind right (figures three, four). Repeat cross in steady rhythm from right inside to left outside, crossing right foot in front each time.

Forward crossover
Lean heavily into the circle just as in the back crossover. Bring left foot down close to and past right foot (first figure) and push off onto a left stroke (second figure). Maintain strong left lean around the circle, then bring the right foot up close (third figure) and cross it wide over the left as in the last figure. Shift weight to right inside edge, glide a moment and repeat through full circle.


Start with the outside forward edge
The only way to make unbroken circles or patterns is by skating on one of the four edges. The most important edge, since it teaches you the confidence of a sideways body lean, is the forward outside. Start by getting up speed with a series of strong strokes and strike off onto a right outside edge by leaning the body to the right, i.e., toward the middle of the circle. Keep the left leg extended behind, with the toe over the tracing cut on the ice by the right skate. The heel should be just inside the tracing. Carry the right arm in front of the body. Press free hip and leg well back, with hips on line of circle.

Now the inside forward
Try this edge first if you like. It's easier. The body faces straight ahead and leans to the inside of circle, hips and shoulders straight across the line of skating. Carry left leg with knee slightly bent so that heel is over tracing but foot itself is just inside. This time left arm should be in front of body. Keep shoulders level through turn.

Next, the outside back
Get into this one with a strong backward stroke out of a back crossover. Keep hips square to tracing, even though shoulders, head and upper body turn in direction of circle. In making an edge, never allow hips to rotate in direction of circle, or skates will skid or cut inward sharply. For this edge only, look toward outside of the circle.

Finally, the inside back
Most beginners find this one the hardest to learn. Establish a strong backward stroke. Then lean body into circle. As in outside forward, hips are parallel to circle. Look backward over left shoulder to the inside of circle. When you have mastered edges with right foot, switch to left and practice until you can control both feet equally well.


The moment of the turn
If you are skating forward and want to turn around and go backward, the Mohawk turn is the easiest way to do it. Come into the turn on a left inside edge, leaning your body into the circle as in the figure at left. Keep your right shoulder pressed back and your left shoulder in front of you until the moment of the turn. Then quickly switch the shoulders, drawing the left shoulder back and thrusting the right shoulder forward. At the same instant shift your weight onto the right foot. Warning: don't try to hop onto the right foot (see below). Keep the motion smooth, and let the shoulders do the work.

The movement of the feet
Start by drawing the right foot in toward the left until the back of the right boot lightly touches the inside of the left heel (1). Weight is on rear of left foot as indicated by dot. Then, keeping toes turned out as far as you can (2), with both knees bent, you are ready for the instant of the turn. Now, using the shoulder action shown at top, ease the weight quickly down onto the front of right skate. Slide the left foot out (3) and glide backward with left leg fully extended. Small figures at right show full pattern of movement in the Mohawk before and after exact moment of turn.


First of the fancy figures
The three is the first of the fancy turns. It looks tricky, but if you time your movements correctly it will be as smooth and easy as the Mohawk. Practice the three carefully. It is the basic maneuver for the flowing waltz which Maribel teaches in Part II.

Shoulders follow the feet
The three turn is a quick movement, takes a fraction of a second and about 18 inches of space. Start with a right outside forward stroke as shown in first figure (left), with free leg back and free shoulder forward. Skating hip is forward and free hip pressed back along line of circle. When you want to turn, bring free leg close behind skating foot to form T position, as in second figure. Then increase backward pressure on skating shoulder and shift your weight onto forward part of skating foot. These two movements will start pivoting action of the turn. At instant of turn (third figure) allow body to swing around with skating side as axis. As soon as you feel your back inside edge grip the ice (last figure), quickly reverse your shoulders, press back hard on the left shoulder, keeping same inward body lean.

The four small figures set on the clocklike circle above show that the three turn itself actually takes place at 9 o'clock, exactly opposite to the pushing start at 3 o'clock.

Shift weight quickly
Coming into turn (right) bring free leg in behind skating foot but keep it off the ice. As you approach the turning point, shift weight from back of blade to ball of foot. At pivot point, back half of blade lifts completely off ice to allow body to swing around in a full 180° turn. Ride out turn, gliding backward, with weight on forward part of right foot.



In the Jan. 5 issue, Maribel Vinson takes the basic strokes and turns she has explained, adds one vital ingredient—a partner—and blends them all into the graceful art of pair skating.