True Story: Once upon a time, I was a competitive figure skater. And, like I do with most Awesome Things I Totes Just Discovered Are Awesome, I read about the sport. A lot. And I learned two things:
1. Most books about figure skating are surprisingly gossipy, and
2. It is possible to save quite a bit of money on personal trainers and things of that sort if one obsesses over the right books.
This is not to say, of course, that you can learn to skate without a coach. You can, but your chances are excellent to certain that you’ll learn some crucial basic skills wrong and have to spend twice as much time and energy un-learning them as you spent learning them in the first place. Trust me. I know.
That said, there are some excellent books out there that every skater should know. My personal top five are these:
1. Dancing Longer, Dancing Stronger: A Dancer’s Guide to Improving Technique and Preventing Injury, by Andrea Watkins and Priscilla Clarkson (ISBN: 9780916622985)
Yes, it says “dancing” and not “figure skating” in the title, but figure skating is, simply, dance on ice – and when it comes to avoiding injury, improving turnout and range of motion, and skating well for years past your prime, this is the best reference guide out there, bar none.
Dancing Longer, Dancing Stronger uses simple exercises developed by physical therapists to focus on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that dancers (and skaters) tend to blow out easily because they’re constantly using them, but most stretching and strengthening programs don’t provide the kind of support necessary to develop these body parts at the same rate they’re being blown out on the ice. Among other things, this book helped me resolve that nagging tendon pain in my right hip that resulted from years of jump landings. I love it.
2. Figure Skating With Carlo Fassi, Carlo Fassi and Gregory Smith (ISBN: 9780709188254)
Carlo Fassi was one of the world’s best figure skating coaches, and it shows in this book. One of the few things this book does exceptionally well that most skating books don’t do at all is shows each step in executing a certain move correctly – everything from crossovers to triple jumps. The images are sketches, not photographs, but they’re very well done. If you have the capacity to learn by comparing photos or video of yourself to images of people executing moves correctly, this book is an invaluable help.
3. The Dancer’s Survival Manual: Everything You Need to Know About Being a Dancer…Except How to Dance, Marian Horosko and Judith R.F. Kupersmith, M.D. (ISBN: 0060961996)
Yes, this one also has “dancer” and not “figure skater” in the title, but it’s another great resource, even if you’re not taking ballet lessons to supplement your ice time (and if you’re not, shame on you, unless you have no plans of (a) executing skating moves correctly or (b) competing). This handbook truly lives up to its name. It covers lessons, auditions, body care, stress management, relationships, and how to prepare for a career as a professional dancer (which is not unlike preparing for a career as a professional skater). A bit of the information doesn’t translate, but since there is no comparable figure skater’s manual, this is still the best book of its kind for skaters who want to progress – and perhaps make a lifelong commitment to – their art.
4. Choreography & Style for Ice Skaters, Ricky Harris (ISBN: 0312054017)
This book is also a great reference for dancers (it’s almost as if dance and figure skating were overlapping disciplines!). Its main focus is, of course, the basics of choreography, including body shape, poise, efficient and inefficient movement, and how to interpret elements such as dynamics (changes in music volume), tempo, and style. Warm-ups specially designed for skaters and instructions on how to choose, edit, and interpret musical pieces round out the book. This book taught me more about what I was really doing during a skating program than any other book – or coach – ever did.
5. The Complete Book of Figure Skating, Carole Shulman (ISBN: 0736935486)
This book comes last because it doesn’t quite live up to its name – but then, I’d like to see the book that could live up to a name like “The Complete Book of Figure Skating.” This book does, however, give a good, thorough overview of the sport, including singles, pairs, and ice dancing; basics, footwork, grace elements, spins, and jumps; and how to choose equipment, music, and costumes. It would make a great gift not only for beginning skaters, but also for anyone who lives with or loves a figure skater. (For instance, I have had more than one boyfriend benefit from perusing this book.)
A comparable online guide is http://www.sk8stuff.com, which provides exhaustive detail about current and upcoming competitions, video clips demonstrating various elements, and sections on adult skating and synchronized skating.
In addition to these, U.S. skaters will want to invest in a copy of the most recent U.S. Figure Skating rulebook(s) for their disciplines, though synchronized skaters can probably skip these. Copies of the test patterns and updates are usually available at the U.S. Figure Skating official website, http://usfigureskating.org.