jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Intelligent repetition


So I was on the verge of skipping skating one day earlier this week, but my 13-year-old son, who has been diligently doing his daily regime of scales, etudes, open strings, and repertoire, said to me: “But if you don’t practice, you won’t get better. And then your coaches will be mad at you.”

That’s one way to think of it. So out the door I went.

It’s a bit of a haul to the closest open rinks to where I am staying in Brunswick, Maine. We are here for the Bowdoin International Music Festival again. My son is studying cello with the legendary Peter Howard, who gave yet another terrific masterclass this week. Last year, I wrote an entry about some of Mr. Howard’s principles that also apply to skating. Once again, I was reminded that “Mr. Howard’s rules” are helpful not just for learning cello, but also for any practice that requires long-term dedication.

Mr. Howard emphasizes having a really solid foundation, breaking down the biomechanics of the bow hand (right) and the spacing of the left, and getting rid of unnecessary movement. All notes, no matter how short, deserve a full sound. Posture is really important. These aspects of learning to play the cello–foundation, biomechanics, efficiency of movement, edge quality, posture–are all true of my “instrument” (as Annemarie Autere would say) as well.

Attention to this level of detail requires a certain kind of practice. Repetition is important, but this repetition has to be “intelligent” rather than mindless. We all make mistakes–that is a natural part of the learning process. But, as Mr. Howard says, most students stop when they finally get something right, which means they’ve only done it right once or twice. The idea is to practice the correct way as many times as we’ve done it the wrong way, so the right technique becomes the habit.

If the long-term goal is to reach a certain level of proficiency, it means that one has to practice with full attention, focusing on the things that one has not yet mastered. Easier said than done!

I had one really good practice session this week. The focus that day was really working on core rotation using some of the lower core muscles and adductors, using Autere’s pushing-off techniques (so useful!), and thinking about Barbie doll hips (my next entry will explain). The ice (in Portland) is fast, which I love, and the time just flew by.

But the next time I was on the ice, I found my concentration slipping as much as my blades. This was my first time skating in Falmouth, and it took me a little time to find the rink (tucked behind a Walmart). The ice was really hard and had ridges in it, and even though the website said it was an adult session, there were a lot of kids free skating and doing pairs. I found myself doing the drills that I can now do well (back cross, change edge, one of my favorites) and rushing through the things I am trying to improve at the moment.

So as penance, here’s my laundry list of some of the must-be-intelligent-about-next-time exercises and elements and what being intelligent means for each of them. (Gentle readers, there are happy pictures after this list if you want to skip ahead).

  • Push into left b. outside edge. This is getting better, but I still need to work on body position on the left side. I tend to lock up and jerk onto the edge rather than doing a smooth transition. This is where the comparison to using the cello bow correctly comes in handy!
  • Back outside to forward outside transition (like in between those European three). After getting a good push onto the back outside edge (see previous bullet point), I need to keep my head in the correct position until it is time to turn.  Then the head is the first thing to release, and needs to come all the way around as I push into the forward outside.
  • On forward outside as well as a back outside edges, I’ve been trying to find the correct body position on the left side. Laurie went over another variation of the “hug a ball” idea, and told me to think about shaping my back over a ball; she gave me some helpful exercises where I trace out a candy cane or head for the boards, only to veer off suddenly.
  • Head and body position are also important for my back outside and inside threes, in which I tend to look with only my eyes (like one of those haunted mansion portraits) rather than allowing the head and spine to turn.
  • Three step mohawk patterns, thinking about where my spine (and shoulders) are, rather than turning by letting my hips go out. Get rid of that glitch! It’s helpful again of thinking of a music-making analogy; I’ve been interrupting the continuous flow of my blades at the point of the turn, whereas the goal is to have that transition not skip or burp.
  • New exercise: forward inside swing, inside three, pull back outside, repeat on other side.  I really need to concentrate on hip and core rotation on the left side.
  • The “tight feet” exercises. If there is one goal I have in life, it is to have neat feet and have these crosses be higher on the “Ari-scale” (his are just a thing of beauty). The exercise is forward cross, back tuck behind and the same thing backwards (or you can do back cross, back progressive).  Backwards is much harder, and reminds me that my left side body position is still insecure. I find Autere’s advice to push off “with focus on creating space between the legs and the pelvis” to be very helpful here.

Whew, that’s a lot of stuff! But I am woman, hear me roar.

Happy picture time. There is a really friendly group of adult skaters here, and I’ve enjoyed seeing folks again. Here’s last year’s blog entry with a picture of Norma and Jo. Jo just passed several preliminary dances!

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 “Intelligent repetition

  1. Being a musician myself (a flute player), I definitely see the parallels between music and skating. My coach has mentioned how disciplined I am, and it is partially due to the fact that I have a musical background. We know that in order to become proficient, deliberate repetition is key. It helps build muscle memory so that the “hard” stuff becomes engrained and is easy. Have fun at the music festival!


  2. Thanks, Eva! Your musicality comes through in your programs. The great thing about being a woodwind (I’m a clarinetist myself) is that we know the importance of good breathing–which is also good for skating programs!


  3. Okay, so clearly I come here for the skating, but…wow! What your son is doing sounds fantastic. No one in my family is musically inclined, so I always admire people who have the gift of music. Beautiful!


  4. Thanks, Michelle–he has far surpassed all of our family in terms of musical ability, so I have a lot to learn from him. If he were a skater, he’d be putting in those early hours–luckily cellists can sleep a little later.


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