Saturday, 25 April 2015

Telling It Like It Is: The Infinite Wisdom Of Charlotte Oelschlägel


Who's ready for another trip in the time machine? This one will take you all the way back to 1916 and the cost of the book that I'll be quoting from today was a paltry (by today's standards) twenty five cents. That's right... a quarter. Try taking your quarter to Chapters and seeing where that gets you. The book in question is the "Hippodrome Skating Book: Practical, Illustrated Lessons In The Art Of Figure Skating As Exemplified By 'Charlotte', Greatest Woman Skater in the World" and as described, it is an instructional skating book authored by none other than the German professional skating legend Charlotte Oelschlägel, whose story was chronicled in detail in this April 2014 Skate Guard blog.

The recent blog offering some very sage advice from U.S. Champion Maribel Vinson-Owen was full of some wonderful timeless advice. As was the case of Maribel, Charlotte's voice is going to jump off the screen and resonate with you in very much the same way. I know it did with me. At times authoritative, humorous, delightfully old-fashioned and downright blunt, get ready for today's skating lesson from the one and only Charlotte:

"The arms should not be held close to the body nor should they be flung violently about. If the former position is taken the skater looks stiff and awkward. If too wide reaching out of the arms is permitted the skater appears to be grasping at imaginary straws like a drowning man. Both extremes are bad but of the two it is better to allow the arms freedom of poise and carry them gracefully extended than stiffly hung to the sides of the body. Fencing and interpretive or folk dancing furnish interesting examples of the right use of the arms during vigorous action. The individuality of the skater is often revealed by the carriage of the arms as much as by the tracing of the figures."

"The men ought to be told that there is nothing more ungraceful or unsuitable for skating that long trousers. Knickerbockers are tight fitting coats with just a bit of military cut are the right costume for the men who would skate well and look well. The best European skaters among the men all skate in woolen tights, but they are a little theatrical and do not always increase one's admiration for the wearer."

"Jerkiness and noticeable pause in the execution of the figures are bad form. The momentum should be continuous and even. Unless it is, the figure will be badly done and the balance interfered with. The whole print of the complete figure should be in the mind of the skater before he starts. Room for its execution should be found and even a clear idea of where the prints are to be made on the ice should be in mind."

"Do not be ashamed to ask questions of those who skater better than you do. Make pencil sketches of figures that interest you and write down the correct carriage of balance foot and arms until you have learned them."

"The plunge is the main thing in learning to skate backward. Make up your mind some fine morning that you are going to practise outside edges backward or inside edges backward all of the skating session of that day. Then do it. Skating is a matter of will power after all and not at all a matter of strength. I took up skating just because I was not strong and the doctors said it was outdoor life or a little narrow box for me."

"There can be no comparison between the delight of waltzing on ice and waltzing on a ballroom floor. There is an exhilaration and rhythm about ice waltzing which nothing equals."

"Certain programmes are generally followed in free skating. Starting with a series of running steps, to get momentum, then a long spiral and a spectacular jump, toe spins; large figures in the form of an eight, dance steps, a spectacle figure to time of music; finishing with a spectacular spin on one foot, crouched down close to the ice with the other foot curled about the skating foot in front: this makes a combination which suggests what can be done. The spread-eagle is another important figure to introduce into free skating programmes."


"Jumps and pirouettes, done by both partners or by one are also pair skating possibilities. One of the most spectacular pair skating jumps consists of a leap by the lady from the outside forward edge to the outside backward edge around her partner, or sometimes almost over his shoulder. This is done at high speed and is very pretty as well as very daring. This is true skating and at the same time acrobatic skating of the most difficult character."

"Encourage games and races and figure skating competition. Get up moonlight skating parties on the ice. String lanterns about and have a costume skating carnival. If the circumstances permit make a gigantic bonfire and provide hot coffee and other refreshments. In some parts of northern Europe large parties of young people skate great distances on the rivers, stopping at various towns for lunch and dinner and returning by train."

"Theatrical skating, such as I do, has to be fast and sensational."

"The selection of judges is most important. These should be themselves good skaters, familiar with the style of skating now generally accepted all over the world as correct... They should be encouragers of skating and do everything in their power to interest the competitors and the public in the event. Much of the interest in future depends upon the judges. No sport can long carry the handicap of unfair or biased judging."

Skating's Nostradamus? Perhaps Charlotte was. Her thoughts on judging do seem to be almost prophetic in a way in light of the judging scandals that would eventually rock the sport so incredibly that the IJS judging system would be adopted. I think her and I would be on the same page with regards to disagreeing with anonymous judging though, as she went on to say "The judges' cards should be carefully kept and shown afterward on demand." That said, I TOO would be absolutely fine with men skating in shorter pants. I hope Charlotte's musings on the art/sport have brought the same amused smile to your face that they have mine. As in life, some things change, but some things never go out of style.

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