jo skates

Skating in the key of life

The magic slide


“Slip Slidin’ Away” is a Simon and Garfunkel song with really depressing lyrics, which might lead us to believe that slipping and sliding are not particularly positive qualities. In the past, I’ve put slipping and sliding on ice on the list of “do not dos,” particularly on my push from forward right to left edges.

But I’m quickly learning the perils of thinking in absolutes (as I tend to do). There are some things that I have long thought of as always being “don’ts”; these include the following:

  • Don’t let your hips release back (anterior pelvic tilt)
  • Don’t be a noisy skater: don’t go “crunch, crunch, crunch” or “chatter” on your blades.
  • Don’t slip or slide from one edge to another.

But now that I have these mantras down, I’m realizing that there are uses for these things previously relegated to the “no, no!” category. Like releasing your hips back, which you do have to at the very end of an edge in order to allow the free leg to extend back fully. (You have to bring your hips back under you for the next push, of course.)

And then there’s the noise thing. Good edge pulls actually generate that little “ripping” noise each time the blade deepens into the ice. I’ve been practicing edge pulls trying to get that satisfying sound on each pull (“let her rip!”). Ari also gave me a forward cross roll exercise in which I keep the free leg slightly bent and relaxed; each cross roll includes a little rip-roaring edge pull. The trick is to use your ankle and knee to generate this action, not your upper body.

Slipping or sliding from one skate to another is another example. It is something I have consciously tried to eliminate in the past, since I tend to slide my feet instead of actually pushing (like on progressives). But now I have developed major slip-slide-avoidance syndrome, and I am realizing that I do not slide when I need to.

This became clear when Ari gave me an exercise that involved both edge pulls and sliding. This began as an embellishment of a familiar exercise: inside mohawk, outside three. There were some corrections that felt pretty manageable. (For the inside mohawk, bring new foot in heel first; skating side arm more around on entry; more speed; on the counter-clockwise inside mohawk, get the free hip down on the exit edge. On the entry for the back outside three, get your skating hip underneath you on outside edge, rotate upper body and head, bend knee after three.) But then Ari added two short inside edges in between each repetition, and the whole thing went to the dogs, as they say.

The problem was that I couldn’t do the inside edges properly. They are supposed to be simple: just transfer your weight to the new edge and do an edge pull. I kept making them hard, with a push to the new inside and a swing that mimicked the edge pull. At one point, Ari said “I don’t know why this is so hard for you,” to which I replied, “Because when you do them, they look like magic.” I am not usually so snarky on lessons, honestly.

It took a good part of the lesson to break the magic down. This inside-inside transition does not involve a push, but is rather a simple matter of coming up on two feet and transferring your weight over to the new inside edge. The old foot (now the free foot) slides forward while you bend into that new inside edge. Then you do an inside edge pull to generate a little speed.

I had the hardest time with that slide-transfer thing. It is something you are supposed to learn early on, but somehow it just wasn’t something I could do. I spent much of the rest of the session working on this and on another sliding action in the forward cross step behind.

In the past few weeks as I’ve started to work on the Kilian and the Viennese again, I’m realizing that my forward cross step behinds are MIA or AWOL. In this cross step behind (or “tuck behind,” as I used to called them), you place an inside edge right behind an outside edge, crossing your legs below the knees. On the first (outside) edge you bend your skating knee and ankle to allow the other foot to come in right behind (your skates are touching). Then your first foot shoots out ahead, slipping forward into a nice extension over your skate.

This is what happens in seconds 4 – 6 on this video.

Unlike Maya Usova, I was not doing this step correctly at all. Instead, I was placing my second skate vaguely in back of the first one. As a result, my edges were not continuous; I would drop onto the new skate and hope for the best. You can imagine how much time and effort it took for me to get on a good inside edge (far more time than dances such as the Kilian allow).

Both Laurie and Ari have broken this down for me: you need correct placement of the new foot (toe angled slightly in so the new blade can come in parallel), knee and ankle bend (or you can never get your feet neatly together), and hitting a good inside edge with your free foot over the tracing (rather than falling to the inside of the circle). Again, though, I have the most problems with the slide-transfer of weight from outside edge to inside edge.

There are several lessons to be learned here. One is about (surprise!) alignment. The past few weeks (since I got these new blades) have been a real wake-up call about how much I use the force of my hips and upper body to create edges, rather than really being over my edge and using my ankles and feet. When I hit a properly aligned position, it’s easy to  create depth and direction in those edges with a little change of pressure. But I have gotten so used to what we might call the “brute force method” that I have been doing a lot of the work with the wrong (inefficient and limited) movements.

Two is about neglecting things that might seem fairly easy. It’s very tempting to focus on harder moves (like the Kilian choctaw) that upstage these fairly basic steps. But faking these steps (or thinking you know how to do them when you don’t) makes the entire process harder. At some point it catches up with you, and you are left wondering where the magic went.

Three is that the rules of “dos and don’ts” are there only to be built on and expanded as necessary to keep up with the “cans” and “can’ts” of skating. No magical thinking for me, but I hope my list of “can-dos” soon includes those magic slides!



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 “The magic slide

  1. I love the sound of the “rips” that (correct) edges make. I’m still working on that too, as I often get a nasty toe pick sound when I skate. ARGH!


  2. I feel your pain, Eva. Because I have dance blades with “muted” toepicks, I have to be doing something really awful to get that sound. But it happens nonetheless! Arghh, indeed!


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