jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Drawing the alphabet


It’s been a rough few weeks at work; I took on some extra administrative duties this term (sucker, I know) and every time I think I’m caught up there’s some new request or complaint in my in-box. So here’s my Friday afternoon dilemma: should I try to answer some more emails? Catch up on paperwork (a.k.a. write more soul-sucking administrative prose)? Finish that book review? Or post another blog entry?

Ha, that’s a no-brainer.

Skating has been challenging this week. I’m tired and my legs and ankles feel stiff and a bit sore. And my foot hurts. The difference in my leg stability remains marked; my left hip still goes out and my right side drops when I don’t consciously think about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m learning to skate all over again (which is to some degree true). One moment I think I’m making progress and then wham! I realize that I’m still pitching forward and breaking at the hips, and that my head is totally in the wrong place, and I’m not really on edges.

To sum up with a joke: what happened when the elephant stepped on the grape?

It let out a little whine.

Okay, I’m the grape today, I confess. Still, I’m nowhere near the end of my rope, at least skating-wise. Even at its toughest, skating remains far superior to just sitting around adding more soul-sucking prose to the world.

Plus, I have a new favorite off-ice exercise: standing on one leg and drawing the alphabet with my free leg. This was suggested as physical therapy for my foot, but I’ve found out that you can do it with your entire leg to develop better mobility and balance. I’ve been doing this at random times during the day–while my tea brews, at the bus stop, while the Zamboni finishes its last round–as well as during my morning and nighttime exercise routines. My balance is much better in the morning than late at night (no surprises there).

And hooray, I made it up to “Z” today on both legs.

(If you want to try this, here’s a warning: it’s helpful to have something close by to grab onto in case there’s a tricky letter or two.)

I’m especially hoping that this leg-alphabet will help me learn to isolate and control the motion of my free leg, and help me learn to move more fluidly and easily. I think the hardest thing (and I got a lecture on this from Ari at my lesson today) is not to try so hard that I wind up muscling my way through different moves. (If you are on an edge, three turns are supposed to just rotate on their own; you’re not supposed to have to make them turn, unless you are going a mile a minute, which I most assuredly am not.)

Sometimes to let things go, though, is harder than to make them go. Sometimes–especially if you’re using to working hard on everything–you have to discover ways to make yourself release those muscles. Drawing the alphabet with your free leg is impossible to do if you clench your leg muscles.

Here’s another such idea. The other day on the three-step outside mohawk (14-step/Viennese mohawk) exercise, Ari told me to bring my free leg around by thinking of using the muscles on the underside of my leg rather than the quads on top. This made quite a difference. I read on this ballet blog posting that you are not really using hamstring muscles for this–but what it does is to allow the quads to release rather than “pull” the leg upwards. It is much easier to support the free leg in this way as it comes around for that outside mohawk.

And it will really help in those compulsories where the leg does do a high extension (grand battement), like in the Blues or Westminster Waltz. Here’s the ballet teacher’s perspective again.

In my classes, I typically try to encourage this release by asking students to imagine energy or breath flowing down the spine, the back of the leg, and out from the toe in a “J” shape as the leg lifts in grand battement. When the focus is on this rather than pulling the leg upward, I find most students let go of some of that excess tension.

That floaty free leg is a thing of beauty. Here’s a picture of Lauren Nohe and Justin Koleto from the 2004-05 Junior Lake Placid competition.


Good thing they don’t have to draw the alphabet while they’re skating the Blues.

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 “Drawing the alphabet

  1. What an interesting exercise! I am surprised my physical therapist didn’t have me try these last summer when I was injured. Hope next week goes better, Jo!


  2. Thanks, Eva! Hope your skating goes well this week too–no more accidents!


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