Starting skating later in life, as I did, has its ups and downs. The ups are that I now have the means to do it, at least in terms of access to rinks and excellent coaches and a very supportive skating community. And I have lots and lots and lots of motivation, and nobody to fuss at me about how I’m spending my money and time. And I can drive myself to the rink. Ah, the joys of being a grownup!
And my left three turn is now a thing of beauty (on a good day) and my knees still work okay. So I should just stop here before describing the downs, right?
Never shy away from the dark side, I always say. Especially when it provides an opportunity for a quotation or two from Eric Franklin’s Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery.
Towards the end of his book, Franklin takes on the idea of “pulling up” in dance or yoga, in which you try to maintain alignment by lifting the ribs, sucking in the abdomen, and tucking the buttocks under. The problem is that this desirable posture (“high chest” for dancers) is achieved through a constant activation of “voluntary control,” which leads to rigidity, poor breathing habits, and a lack of full spatial awareness.
When I read this, I realized that this has been me all over. I have been achieving a degree of alignment in skating through being a control freak: muscling through my edges and turns, rather than figuring out how to skate in a more efficient way.
According to Franklin, our emphasis should be on the proper conditioning (especially of the abdominals), placement, and technique to allow for “dynamic stability”: “the ability to maintain or to return to a position after a disturbance.” Skating is really “just” that: a series of dynamic positions. Our muscles work to absorb forces (up and down, forward and backwards, round and round), counter-balance (ankles press forward, free leg extends), and produce speed for the next position.
Certain muscles deep in the core really help with more efficient stabilization. (Other books I’ve read stress this as well; for instance, Annemarie Autere has described these inner muscles in The Feeling Balletbody.) But until this past year I haven’t really been thinking about how to use those. Instead, I have been trying to shore up instabilities and perturbations in my positions through tightening other large external muscles. I have been trying to lift parts of myself, rather than just figuring out how to lean in, bend in, and sink in. It has been like trying to defy gravity, rather than thinking about it as something that could be beneficial.
Franklin also thinks of gravity as his BFF: “If you join with gravity, you will be much more successful in the end.” He talks about achieving good posture through using our body’s response to gravity’s pull downwards, using “the ground reaction force as efficiently as possible”:
Guide this force up through your body (primarily through the bones). Liberated from their tasks of superfluous gripping, the muscles begin to create optimal alignment and lift. The nervous system becomes more alert, the reflexes more nimble. Freeing the muscles eliminates any controlled precipitation of weight down into the knees and feet. When you feel your weight, you gain control.
Franklin mentions that certain alignment problems happen when older dancers have adopted “cool” postural habits that they then don’t feel that they have the time to change. This feels so true of some of the things I have been doing inefficiently. They seem to work so well–up to a point! But I realize that I have been working way too hard. And honestly, I’m too old for that.
Plus I’m too old to waste any energy feeling sad about being too old to waste my energy. Ha! So the trick is not only to learn more efficient ways of doing things, but also to allow myself the mental time and space to let go of these former muscular habits.
Here’s where “skating like a kid” comes in. I love watching those skinny little kids fly around the rink, doing their footwork and their twizzles and their triple what-nots. You can tell when they’ve figured out the proper technique; they just seem to float over their skates. There is minimal extra force generated by large muscle groups. Those tiny little bodies have so little muscle to begin with!
So yesterday, I decided that I needed to do a skinny little Kilian pattern or two. Okay, this is just imagery; I missed the “skinny little kid” phase entirely. But it is possible to think about how skating would work if I were just a stick-like figure, rather than a supple and curved adult who can bend any which way (okay, that’s a fantasy too, but maybe closer to my twisted reality of late).
Three things that I noticed.
- One is that the Kilian has become a compulsory that I just mess around with for fun. Wow.
- Two is that efficiency and laziness are connected; it takes relatively little energy to do the Kilian in this way, so I can then go off and see what my skating friends are up to.
- Three is that my alignment is much better overall.
Hooray for that skinny little kid in all of us!