jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Pillars, sevens, and engaged free sides


Our summer sessions are just an hour, which means that when I have the first lesson (as I did today) there is no warm up time on the ice. If I do some jumping jacks and frantic waving of the legs off-ice beforehand, the lesson usually goes a little better; still, it’s tough to get on and then have to launch into a lesson, especially one that is full of step sequences (as mine often are).

Today Ari said that we would start with something easy, a five step mohawk sequence: forward inside edge, mohawk, back inside edge, push back outside edge, step forward, slide chassé. After we worked on this for a while we added a back outside three after the push back.

For those of you who know the moves in the field tests, this sequence is in the standard pre-juvenile USFS test. But while it is not really advanced, I didn’t find it particularly easy. I am still having trouble on the back outside edges on my left side, and on the step forward. However, I was able to improve by thinking about two things:

One–on the back outside edge, I have to keep my back leaning into an imaginary column or pillar. This is especially important so that my weight remains in the circle as I make the transition to the forward outside edge. It also helps keep me from pitching forward (or diving out of the circle).

Two–on the back outside to forward outside, I should use that “seven-push”: using the push to trace an imaginary 7 on the ice (I mentioned this in an earlier post.) I should also keep the new skating arm forward to secure the forward outside edge.

We reviewed a sequence I got last week: forward swing roll, change edge, inside mohawk, push back outside, step forward outside (two short pushes); repeat on other side. Again, the “back against the pillar” and the “lucky seven” were useful with this one too. I even got a “good job” from Ari (hooray!)

Good jobs and good times, alas, always come to an end. We then moved on to my “creepers“; these have improved, but I still couldn’t quite figure out how to move my free leg correctly when skating on my left side. After I turned my forward outside three, my free leg would pulled me out of the circle and then it was all downhill from there. I couldn’t bring my free leg in easily, and it became a millstone around my body. Then I was, as Ari so eloquently put it today, “dead in the water.”

But something also clicked when I was working on these (and it wasn’t my joints!). I realized that my free leg wasn’t coming in because I wasn’t actively engaging the right muscles to bring it in. In other words, I’ve been focusing on the stability of the skating side, but forgetting about that free side, which has just been hanging loosely out there and making me fall into or out of my circles.

Readers of this blog will know that there are a lot of gears that need to turn in order to get my left skating hip underneath me. My left femur has to be snuggled up into the hip socket, which means my adductors and glutes are engaged.  But today I realized that my right free hip need to be snuggled up in its socket too. So idea number three is to engage the muscles of the free leg so that they are working to help the skating leg, not just dangly bits that pull me out of my circle as I rotate around edges.

I might go back to the hips pushing into each other idea that I thought about last year with respect to the Kilian (and then promptly forgot until now). What’s nice about recalling this is that now I have a much better sense of how to engage all those muscles to get the hips feel like they are working in tandem. Staring at this picture of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, I am thinking ” Wow, look how wonderfully both hips are stabilized within their hip sockets!”

2014 European Figure Skating Championships (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

2014 European Figure Skating Championships (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Okay, just another way of looking at ice dancing.

The last part of the lesson was spent on doing the Man’s European Waltz side pattern, only without cross strokes (three turn, outside edge into another plain vanilla outside edge, three turn). Ari pointed out that I have a bent free leg, and my free foot is not coming in properly.  To do a real “dance three,” the free leg extends fully, and the foot comes in slightly turned out to the instep. This elegant looking three turn is only possible if I have an engaged free leg with “feet together” rather than “knees together.”

(Aging geek alert! I’m imagining Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard right now, saying “Engage!” in that authoritative manner that only former RSC actors can manage. No wonder my children are too embarrassed to read my blog!)

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 “Pillars, sevens, and engaged free sides

  1. Ah yes, the 5-step Mohawk pattern. Before I started working on it for my MITF test, I thought it was easy. Then I realized I wasn’t using any edges at all and it became my hardest move! The slide part is the hardest because the judges expect that to be a push and not just a lazy step.


  2. You are right about that deceptively easy slide! It’s easy to sit there on that inside edge and think “oh, I’m done.” What, I have to push? Ack!


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