#Unearthed: How Skating Is Taught

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's gem is an article that first appeared in "The Sketch" on March 13, 1895 called "How Skating Is Taught". It is an interview with two French skating instructors who came to England to teach at the Niagara Hall skating rink.


There is just now no prettier and cheerier sight in London than the Niagara Skating-Rink. All day long a happy crowd of skaters disport themselves on the artificial-ice lake, an occasional tumble only adding to the fun, which upper and lower galleries are filled with a seething crowd of spectators and not unkindly critics. It was among the latter (writes a representative of "The Sketch") that I found M. Léon, the French skating-master, who lately, together with his compatriot M. Plumet, had the honour of being sent to Buckingham Palace to act as instructor to the Marlborough House royal skating-party.

"Although I came here," observed M. Léon, "from the Pôle Nord - of course, I mean the Paris North Pole," he added parenthetically - "I first learnt skating at Hamburg, where I had been sent by my father to complete my education; but, as a skater, I claim to belong to the Viennese school, which is the best in Europe where our art is concerned."

"And in what way, Monsieur, does the Viennese differ from 'other forms'?"

"It is far more graceful, and the figures are infinitely better than those taught or acquired elsewhere," he answered promptly. "I myself studied for a considerable time with the famous Austrian skater, Alexander, of Vienna; but I do not consider," he added, smiling, "that I have yet exhausted the possibilities of this, my favourite form of le sport, for I am always learning and studying new figures and combinations of figures."

"And in how long a time do you and your fellow-instructors undertake to turn out a first-rate skater?"

"Well, some people take to it as ducks do to the water, others seem to find it as difficult as flying; but most of my pupils can begin to try the outside edge after a month's constant practice."

"Have you any view on the vexed question of costume?"

"Mais certainment!" he cried quickly. "Gentlemen should wear knickerbockers, and ladies short neat skirts and jackets. Those who persist in trying to skate in ordinary afternoon-gowns run a serious danger, especially when engaged in outside-edge skating. I may tell you," he continued, "that all the Princesses' costumes are thoroughly sensible in this respect, and it is a pity that royalty's example is not more widely followed. I myself consider a short skirt, neat jacket, and a small toque the ideal ice-costume for a lady. There should be no furbelows or trimming save what is quite flat and close to the figure."

"To become a good figure-skater must take up a great deal of time?"

"Yes, indeed; when one of my pupils can execute what I call the double-eight, I consider him perfect."

"Do you consider that men or women make the best skaters?"

M. Léon laughed gaily: "The ladies," he answered diplomatically, "always look more charming on the ice, even when they are not really so sure-footed as their brothers and gentleman friends."

"Do Londoners take as kindly to the art as Parisians?"

"Yes, indeed; and there are, no doubt, some splendid skaters over here; but, though French women take longer to learn, they, as a rule, end by becoming better skaters than the English women I have seen. By the way, I went down to Stowe House the other day; the Duke d'Orléans and his sister, Princess Hélène, are both admirable skaters."

"Did you get any open-air skating during the frost?"

"Yes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly; but I think that the music we have here greatly helps the skaters."

"May I ask you an indiscreet question? A general impression has got abroad that artificial ice is far harder than Nature's product, and that beginners run a greater risk of hurting themselves on a rink?"

"A tumble is always unpleasant, but I assure you there is no difference between artificial and real ice. I have had considerable experience of both, and so speak with knowledge. I am sure that, since the opening of the Pôle Nord, in Paris, many Parisians, and especially Parisiennes, have found their health and personal appearance improved by the steady exercise. Not only does it act like a tonic, but, what is, perhaps more important to ladies, it conduces to a bright and clear complexion. You see, it is not necessary to attempt figure-skating; it is possible to be an excellent skater for all practical purposes without having any knowledge of the higher forms of the art."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.