jo skates

Skating in the key of life

My kinetic potential


There are some things that I feel I am naturally good at, but ice dancing is not one of them. I don’t have the right build, plus I have legs that tend to turn in rather than out. Couple that with a rather impatient disposition, and a tendency to push my partner around rather than follow, and it can quickly become my own series of unfortunate events. Oh, and did I mention that I have a misaligned hip?

Then again, the first time I saw ice dancing on television (watching Carol Fox/Richard Dalley and Judy Blumberg/Michael Siebert) while hanging out with my friend Pete in college, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The speed, the edges, the music, the way teams moved in perfect unison: all of this has made me a true fan ever since.

I started ice dancing at the advice of my first skating coach, Barbara, with whom I started freestyle lessons from during my senior year of college. She felt that I needed serious work on my edges, and there wasn’t enough available ice time for figures. And then I moved to Princeton for graduate work, and there was a very active ice dance crowd there. This made ice dancing really fun.

I sometimes wish I could have bottled up some of my twenty-two-year-old self (goofball though she was) so that I could access some of that zip, pep, and wide-eyed enthusiasm. And definitely, definitely that feeling of potential. Something’s coming, something good.

Which brings me to today’s topic: potential vs. kinetic energy. I was watching a video on “The Physics of Jumps in Figure Skating,” which talked about how both kinetic energy (the energy of things in motion) and potential energy (the energy an object has due to its position or configuration) are used in an axel jump. There is maximum kinetic energy in the takeoff edge and as the free leg comes through; there is then maximum potential energy when the jump reaches its highest point. More speed on the takeoff edge and in bringing the free leg through means more height in the jump.

So my axel days are over (goodbye, twenty-two-year-old self! I’ll miss you!) But I started thinking about how potential energy is so useful in that jump and other jumps. Going higher means you have more potential energy that can then translate into kinetic energy: greater speed on the landing edge as well as more time for rotations in the air.

And then I realized that there is much more basic form of potential energy in skating, one that I sometimes miss because I think of ice dancing as moving forward, not so much up and down. I am not consistently rising up and then sinking down in my knees. I have the sinking down part, but sometimes I never make it to the “fully risen” stage, especially on my left side.

Proper stroking means not only moving forward (kinetic energy), but also rising up to a fully extended skating leg (potential energy). This fully upright position then uses gravity to help generate more force into the push and the next edge. There is a lovely up-and-down motion as the skating leg straightens and the extended free leg comes in, and then both knees bend for the push.

You can see this on Kseniya and Oleg’s basic stroking video (which I didn’t have in my twenties, so is a good reason to be grateful that I’m still skating!)

When I tried coming all the way up on my skating knee, it made a big difference, giving me more flow and a more natural transition to the next edge. Oh, and remember my last blog post on my unbalanced threes? Coming up fully for the three turn is another way of making sure that I am aligned for the turn. It’s like gathering up all my body parts so that they don’t fly around wildly, scattering my hard-won energy (which I’m trying to conserve, since I am not twenty-two anymore!)

Maybe I was mistaken about being all wrong for ice dancing. Maybe I have potential after all. And it’s nice to know that I can realize some of this potential simply by straightening my knees!

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.

6 thoughts on “My kinetic potential

  1. The whole bit about straightening one’s knees is hard!! I have a similar problem – I bend too much and my knees are too bent during jumps. Wonder if there are good off-ice exercises to help us bend, then explode off into straight legs?


    • Not sure if it’s possible to bend too much, it’s just, as you say, getting straight again afterward! My dance coach always wants more bend, but also for me to fully straighten. And it is all about, as Jo says, creating the potential energy! I’m really working now on ‘bend first, then push,’ which is a basic that I’ll likely never stop hearing about from my coach.


  2. Good question, Eva! I have seen skaters working on body positions in the off-ice harness: very straight knees provides maximum rotation. I tend to bring in my free leg too soon, so that my skating leg is still bent when the free leg comes in. That might relate to the jumps as well.


  3. Bottling the 22 year old self, yes, don’t we all wish! Not just the body able to take stronger, longer workouts but as you say, the sense of potential, the time to develop new skills and talents, whether in skating or in other pursuits. But we have to work with the body and time we have now, which could certainly be less, so I guess be grateful for what we have.


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