jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Simple gifts


There are certain edges and movements that I tend to forget about, like the back inside edge coming out of the three-turn, or the back cross behind (I think we called them “tuck-behinds” when I first learned them), like in the Fiesta Tango (or the Kilian, or a number of the gold dances). They are not that difficult, so it’s easy to just pass them up in favor of other things that seem more glamorous (okay, I’m laughing now, but it’s true!) like choctaws or twizzles.

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from ice dance, it’s that it’s important to celebrate the simple things. Like those basic edges that can carry us so far and add so much to our stability and style. And it makes me happy to think about other details of form as well, like rising up on the knee at the right time. Or using the pinky toe to help with three-turns. Or gauging my edges by thinking about which side of my thankfully well-padded boot is cutting into my ankle (thank you, Ari!).

Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote a wonderful poem “Pied Beauty”(1877) that is simply a list of ordinary things that are beautifully spotted (“dappled”). This was a man who had episodes of terrible sadness and doubt, but who supposedly said on his deathbed: “I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life.”

I like lists (as you can tell) but because I cannot write something nearly as beautiful (even without using “sprung rhythm” as Hopkins does), I’ll share some of my favorite songs about simple things.

  • The Shaker song “Simple Gifts” never gets old. Here’s a version by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Kraus.
  • Simply beautiful. Bach’s aria “Sheep May Safely Graze” BWV 208. Piano version by Egon Petri, played here by one of my favorite pianists. 
  • “Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. There are some very beautiful versions of this song, including the original 1971 production number sung by a 26-year-old baritone Alan Titus; this was the version that captivated me as a kid when I saw it on television. Mass was commissioned by Jackie Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. But here’s an even simpler version, just piano (and a little flute) and voice by Marius Sverrisson, that I found today.

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.

4 thoughts on “Simple gifts

  1. Definitely celebrate the little things! They make such a huge difference!


  2. I’m struggling to regain the tuck behinds for the Rhythm Blues. I had them and then my new boots and blades took them away! I’m not a flashy skater–I’m always “down in the mine” working on foundation skills; hoping not to go backwards…


    • Always glad to have company down in the mines! I haven’t tried the Rhythm Blues in a while, but I would think that the tuck behinds for that dance are even more challenging than those in the Fiesta, because it’s so tempting to do them on flats rather than actual edges. I’ve been working on the angle of my new foot (turning it in) as I set it down, and that helps create the new edge pronto, but it is also a stretch for me since I’m not used to it. Hope your new boots feel better soon-that always takes a while.


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