jo skates

Skating in the key of life

The magic spiral


I know what you’re thinking. But I’m not going to talk about the beautiful spirals of Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen (or Lisa!) Nor will I do more than mention (for all you skating history buffs) the three different death spirals introduced by Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov: backward inside (Cosmic spiral), forward inside (Life spiral), and forward outside (Love spiral).

No, I mean the “magic spiral” that has to do with turning out your leg at the hip, and how you get this to happen. Years ago when I started working with Ari, I remember a lesson in which he realized that I had inward-turning knees. He gave a  little sigh (or maybe I just imagined hearing this) and then he said, “Well, we’ll just have to work with what you’ve got.”

Now, years later, I’m realizing that I have even less turnout on the left side than I did before. Part of this is that I’m still figuring out the new position of my left hip and leg. Here’s the status update on my left side:

  • I can actually feel my left hip underneath me much of the time. Hooray! I can actually balance on the left side to do “tree” position, which is very useful not only for yoga but also for putting on skating tights in a narrow bathroom stall without falling over and risking serious off-ice injury.
  • My hips actually feel closer together. I’ve never exactly been narrow-hipped anyway, so this is really quite a change. (Pencil skirts, here I come! Whee!).
  • Most days, I am actually able to stand on tip toe on the left side (well, not a full tip toe, but close) with only a little stiffness and pain. Another milestone. Not a lot of walking yet, but at least I can wear regular shoes for some period of time.

So my left leg has rotated to where the knee points forward (most of the time) rather than inward. So I’ve started thinking that I would take advantage of this new circumnavigation (okay, rotation, but I love that word “circumnavigation”) of my femur, and try to get some more turnout on my left side.

My physical therapist has warned me against static stretching, which might destabilize my hip again. So I’ve been figuring out other ways of doing this. Laurie suggested the idea of the “magic spiral” that ballet dancers use: imagining a spiral force starting above the hip and winding down counterclockwise around the left leg down through the foot. Here’s an image from of this with the right side:


There are a lots of blog entries on turnout, mainly from dancers and dance teachers who caution that the wrong kinesthetics can really ruin your alignment. This one, which is from a dance professor and the mother of an Irish step dancer, goes into the whole turnout process in detail. It includes some useful exercises (including my favorite, the “clam,” which after watching the video I realize I’ve been doing incorrectly for some time now). So two things that I must keep in mind on my turnout adventure.

  • Simply rotate, don’t force. My tendency when faced with anything that feels anatomically impossible is to try to clench my muscles into position.  This is incredibly counter-productive at this point. The clenching of my buttock muscles, while it may help me achieve the “buns of steel” that I am known and loved for (just messing with you), actually impedes turning out. According to what I’ve been reading, turning out involves six deep muscles attached to the back of the body. The glutes kick in to stabilize and maintain this rotated position. (There are some nice diagrams as well as a thoughtful explanation on that dance prof’s blog. Thank goodness for professors, huh?)
  • Pass through this position in a dynamic motion. Because I am not sure of this turned-out position, I try to hold it for too long. For instance, on outside mohawks I get stuck in what feels like a ridiculous position with both knees (okay, a right knee and half a left knee) turned out–and then I can’t move, let alone do the dang mohawk. If I think of constant movement from one leg to another–push to outside, rise, turn out and bring the new foot in–it seems to go a lot better. Or at least I don’t prolong the agony.

I’ll end on a positive note: even a little more turnout from the hip seems to improve the balance on my left side immeasurably. That “magic spiral” just puts the hip in the right place and allows me to feel more centered over my foot and blade. Even though I just got my skates sharpened, those left twizzles were still there today. This is going to be another major change in the way I do things.

By the way, the opening image is of the M74 Spiral Galaxy, which according to a 2013 CU-Boulder study using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, is bigger than they thought. There are majorly magic spirals happening everywhere!

Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

2 thoughts on “The magic spiral

  1. Wow – I never realized the intricacies of a spiral! You have given me a lot to think about.


  2. Thanks for commenting! Here’s wishing you magic spirals too!


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