jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Blurry perceptions of horizontal velocity


So yesterday I went to get my eyes examined. As part of this routine checkup, I had dilating drops put in my eyes. My eyes were still pretty light-sensitive by the time I got to the rink. I contemplated wearing sunglasses to skate but ultimately decided against it (not cool enough).

So everything was blurry, and I could not look up at the lights (so no cheekbone tanning today!) It was the oddest sensation, which made me realize how much I rely on my vision to establish my positions in skating.

But after about ten minutes or so, I realized that my blurry vision forced me to go by feel: that proprioception that I sometimes don’t emphasize enough when my eyes are directing. I tend to “steer” my edges, trying to make them go where I think they should go. This can be a necessary skill, but I also don’t pay enough attention to what the rest of my body is doing when my eyes are in the driver’s seat.

So there I was doing my new exercise (chassé, swing roll, change mohawk, hold inside edge, step forward to repeat up the rink, then do it on the other side).  And I realized that what I love so much about this exercise is that inside edge after the mohawk. Ari is having me stretch up on this edge, and when I do it correctly it feels like I am just flying across the ice.

This sensation of the uninterrupted edge has to do with moving forward on the edge (fast) even while leaning into the center of the circle and gliding on the part of the blade where there is a minimum of friction (not the toepick!).

There, I’ve just described it beautifully. When I stand here in my pajamas it seems to work pretty well. So why is it so difficult to get this sensation consistent (and not just with this particular edge, but for all of them)? Maybe it’s a chicken-egg problem. It’s not just a question of being positioned correctly, but of moving dynamically. These actions can’t really be done without actual motion, and the motion is hard to grasp without actually doing it.

So back to the ice on this one, but here’s a thought that may help. I think some of the problems I’ve been having, not just on this but on other edges as well, have to do with all the little movements of my body that take away from the constancy of my edges. When I strike out on an edge, there is a motion not just forward and along a circle (forward momentum and angular momentum) but also extension of the free leg. Add to that the up-and-down of the knee and ankles, and that is a lot of movement to keep track of!

Some of these motions are welcome (Pac-Man ankles) and some are not (bobbing bird), Among the many radical changes I’ve had to make in the past year is correcting how I use my free leg (I was dropping the free hip down or using it to pull me around circles). But even the welcome ones might take some doing; as I start to emphasize more knee and ankle bend, I notice that I get better push but sometimes have trouble maintaining speed through my edges.

Like guests at a dinner party, it would be fun to serve them all. But for now, I have to remember that alignment trumps everything. Having bigger extensions means nothing when the rest of you is not balanced.

Here’s a video that was put out for the last Olympics by the National Science Foundation on “Figure Skating Physics.”  I think the coolest part of that video is when they describe how projectile motion works, and show how pair teams can do things like lateral twist lifts. One of the principles here is that both skaters maintain constant horizontal velocity. So even though the woman is going up and down (and around), the man stays underneath her.

This thought has some value for ice dancing as well.  How else can you do a twizzle and still wind up in a partner hold?

Even though I’m not doing these moves, I can use this idea in an even more basic way. The rising and falling action of the knees and ankles should not slow down the run of the blade. I am, in essence, my own pairs’ partner; I need to move forward in constant speed in order to be in the right place to catch myself.

Even though my Pac-Man ankles are going chomp-chomp-chomp like crazy, my horizontal velocity should remain constant. And if it doesn’t stay constant, Houston, we have a problem. And it’s not my blurry vision!

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 “Blurry perceptions of horizontal velocity

  1. While your vision was blurry, did you find yourself looking down at the ice more or less often? I know that the eyes usually dictate where your head goes. If we can learn to control our eyes, then we’d have fewer issues looking down (like your cheekbone tanning analogy).


  2. While I was probably looking down more, I don’t think it was as bad as focusing on the ice all the time. I did catch a number of glimpses of myself in the plexiglass, which meant I was looking straight ahead. But everything was blurry, so I looked like a big blob!


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