jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Foxtrot futility

It’s been a rather stressful week, beginning with a loose temporary crown last weekend,  an infected earlobe (dang earring!) a couple of days ago, and a skating fall/bruised knee yesterday (gosh, dangnabit!). But the kicker was on Wednesday, when I was out on the tandem bike with my husband and we hit a patch of ice and went down. I whacked my elbow, pulled a muscle in my neck, and hit my head on the pavement.

Luckily, my helmet held up just fine. I didn’t get a bump on my head, or feel like I was dazed in any way. We got back on the bike and headed home, grateful that nothing worse had happened.

A few hours later that day, I had a skating lesson. The first part went just fine; I didn’t feel any effects of the fall (the neck pain didn’t kick in until the following day). We worked on allowing for more hip displacement on some of my basics (this really helped both my warmups and progressives). And then we moved on to the first part of the Foxtrot.

The idea behind this is to get me to put different moves together in a more challenging way by soloing some of the compulsory dances. The Foxtrot should be a fairly painless way to do this, since I learned this dance many years ago and have done it a lot since. I passed it standard level (with a solo) and even spent three seasons competing it in different Adult competitions.

But as we went through the first sequence of steps, I started to go all over the place. I thought that it might be because I haven’t really worked on the solo for many years, and it’s never been one of my favorite dances anyhow (though it’s not as bad as the European Waltz. By the end of the lesson, I was frustrated and ready to throw in the proverbial ice dancing towel.

It wasn’t until I got home and was just sitting at my desk feeling a bit nauseous that I realized that I probably had a mild concussion. Not enough to register, but enough to throw me off the Foxtrot wagon.

Though I felt way better by the evening, I took it easy for the next couple of days, just in case.  And I’m happy to say that things seem to be back to normal: no more muscle pain and the dentist glued the crown back on so I can eat crunchy things again. Even my earlobe is better. Hooray!

And one thing that I did figure out  when trying to do the tuck behind on the Foxtrot is that I have been thinking about the inside edge–and especially my free hip position–all wrong!!!

More on that later once I’ve gotten this all sorted out. But for now, time for a nice cup of tea and a sigh of relief that the week is over.

Nothing but mellow, feel good music, please.

 

 

 

 


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Gosh, dagnabit!

So I have been making what I thought was great progress on improving edge control and alignment on my right side. But after a lesson in which it was revealed that I am still not really pushing off my right foot (especially when going backwards), I am indeed humbled.

Well, not really. Gosh, dagnabit!

One might say that there are so very many other things in the world to worry about, and that is 100% correct. But this particular small thing in the world is something I–and only I –care about and have the capacity to improve.  It’s nice to be in a place in life where so much irritation, effort, and time can be spent on something so trivial.

Anyhow, back to the real matter at hand: getting to the heart of why I don’t really push. Some of it has to do with my right ankle, which while is much more mobile than it used to be, is still pretty stiff on the ice. I also don’t use my right foot fully; while the foot itself is fairly strong, I have compensated a lot for the ankle by pronating and have to think a lot about using my arch and not just dropping my ankle in to create an inside edge.

This is totally connected to the larger issue is how I am not really over my inside edges. I am sort of there, but not really always in the “sweet spot” of edge pressure, control, and alignment.

Last week was getting a better “back dimple to kidney” ratio (basically lengthening my lower back). This week I am still working on the BDKR, but have added this other part to the mix. I am back to doing lots of back chassés just to work on that problem push, but trying to incorporate this into, well, everything.

So if you hear the occasional “gosh, dagnabit!”–don’t worry. It’s just me, having fun.

Speaking of fun, I was on a public session with only a couple of other adult regulars, and a gianormous kids birthday party. Kids everywhere, screaming, crying, and flinging themselves on the ice. But we survived! And by the end it was just us!

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Victory for Jo and Asal!

So for the musical selection of the week, here’s a lively set of Gershwin pieces arranged for cello and piano: Nick Canellakis and Michael Brown.

Don’t you wish you always had that kind of energy? Gosh, dagnabit!

Lesson notes:

  • Inside Mohawks: think about what your free leg is doing. Activate motion of bringing free foot into instep without changing weight or balance on skating foot. The rotation happens naturally.
  • Backward chasses: push from back inside edge, don’t put new foot down too early, and send energy of push horizontally rather than upwards
  • Power pulls: try to gain speed/ Don’t allow free foot to sneak down or just hang, and use the free leg and side to define the edges rather than just hanging over your skate.
  • Inside mohawk, back outside three turn, inside edge pull. Work on push and placement on axis.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, power pull. Work on control after three turn, and keeping hips forward (aligned).
  • Three back power pulls, back outside three, repeat on other side.
  • Outside/outside mohawk (like Rocker), cross in front, step forward inside, short inside to repeat on other side. Think about the axis and placement of edges.
  • Double three: rotate shoulders before moving free foot forward.


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The half-life of edges

This past month has been a challenging skating month. I’ve been away from the ice for a week or so at a time, and on this last trip I came back with a bad cold that still seems to be hanging on. Ugh.

But the skating I have done seems to be moving in a really good direction–literally! For one, I am much more aligned than I have been for a long time (more on that in a minute). I also feel like I have much more awareness of what’s going on in different parts of my body. Rather trying to balance in a hit-or-miss fashion, I am actively moving  over my skate.

Instead of hitting an edge and then having it slowly decay underneath me, I am using knee and ankle bend to change depth or even accelerate. I don’t have perfect control over this process, but it’s a start.

The other exciting development this month came after a lesson in which Laurie told me that I was still pitching forward a bit. This definitely was more subtle than the bobbing bird thing I used to do, but still there nonetheless.  We talked about trying to keep my core more stable and ribcage lifted, and I suddenly remembered something that PT Sarah has us do in her Pilates class: to create space, or lengthen the space, between the “back dimples” and the kidneys.

Despite my having a sister who’s a nephrologist, I was only vaguely aware of where my kidneys were before Sarah kept talking about them. If you’re like me, this diagram might help. They’re roughly the same plane as the bottom ribs in the front.

kidney-location-861x1024

Anyway, thinking about lengthening this space in the lower back really helps to stabilize my core while skating. In fact, it puts me into a much improved skating position overall.

I have done two practice sessions now focusing on this back-dimple-to-kidney ratio (BDKR) as well as trying to maintain flow over my edge. And do you know what? The half-life of my edges is now really, really long. I can just keep going and going and . . .

Sort of like the opening of this Ray Chen video (love the eyes)–just when you think the music has died away, it takes off.

Lesson notes:

  • inside loops: don’t try to make them so deep, or allow the skating foot to move away to the outside of your body (don’t fall into the circle).
  • back crosses: stabilize core and don’t allow shoulders/arms to dip
  • inside threes: work on timing and pressure of inside edge, don’t over-rotate or fall into circle

Pictures of my friends!


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Heh, heh, heh. . .one more

Two thoughts for the week.

First, whew, I’m really tired! Every practice session lately seems to use muscles that I don’t use normally. Since I haven’t really added any new moves, this must be due to my new practice resolutions (a.k.a. Major Edge Reassessment Goals Evermore, or MERGE–or maybe Major Edges Hello!, or MEH!)

Some of this is definitely because of my week-on, week-off practice schedule (taking some out-of-town trips this month). But some of it is because I am only now figuring out how to do these edges correctly–and I do mean correctly, with all of my body on the optimal part of the skate, nicely lined up on an actual edge (with lean), and maintaining pressure into the ice through the entire edge.

Do it right, and the skate actually works properly. Do it wrong and I’m in the zone of “duh, I think something’s wrong here but I don’t know what,” or worse, “warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson!”

Second, I still seem to have some basic issues to fix, especially on (a) my right side (with ankle/heel/blade placement), and (b) my back outside edges (with not opening my free hip/side in an effort to force the edge–weird how I’ve developed that habit.)

But I do think things are way better than they were before, especially with my right side. Today I tried thinking about my heel placement (shifting it slightly over to the outside of where it was), which seemed to make a difference. I also have been trying to maintain a strong and engaged skating side, which really makes a difference, though it’s exhausting!

I read some of a thesis that my son’s cello teacher shared with me about one of his teachers, the great André Navarra. It had a line in it that went something like this: “Before you become an artist, you first have to become an artisan.”

If you go to around 3:40 on this video, you’ll see what I mean. If Elmo can do it, so can I!

 

Another fun video–something much newer! This is from the recent Finlandia Trophy: Marie Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac skating to Bruno Mars. Enjoy!

Lesson notes:

  • “ice theatre” warmup (forward): really bend (release hips), do arm movements after lunge; get upper back and head in correct shape (not tipped into circle)
  • “ice theatre” warmup (backwards): really bend, allow inside hip to displace, ribcage to move into circle (don’t tip in), and outside leg to stretch out
  • back outside edges: don’t contort hips to push, simply turn out foot and push, engage turnout muscles on skating leg, don’t allow body and free hip to open (keep hips parallel)
  • inside three turns: maintain pressure into inside edge all the way into the turn


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Bite-size

What will it take for me to be truly bilateral?

These days I am trying to spend at least a third or more of each practice session holding myself accountable. Actually, it’s probably more than that–or at least it feels that way, given how tired I’ve been when I finally stagger off the ice.

By “accountable,” I mean that I have not really been fully pushing off my right blade. Nor have I really been “over” that side. And I don’t fully rotate into clockwise turns.

Do I sense a pattern here? I suspect that given my history of injuries to my right leg and ankle, I have been backing off and releasing pressure on that edge without even realizing it. That was fine in the past, given that I wasn’t particularly aggressively pursuing either edge. But now that I have become Jo the Edge Monster, it is really important to strengthen and build the right side now.

Though it’s definitely improving, it still feels like a daunting task. On certain moves (like pushing from the right back inside edge) I’m still encountering a particular combination of (a) muscle weakness, (b) lack of flexibility, (c) compensation (usually by doing some very strange things with my left side), and (d) terror.

This week I’ve been working a lot on forward and backward edge pulls to see if I can get that “bite” into the ice, especially on that right side. I’m trying to “bite” into the ice whenever I push too, just to make sure I’m really pushing and not just falling onto my edges. And I’m working on loops (outside and inside) to try to figure out how to keep the pressure going into the edge.

There’s a lot of ice-crunching going on at my rink these days. Hopefully by the time my favorite apples come into season, there will be progress!

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Mmmm. . . Fireside apples!

So before the month is over. . . . Earth, Wind, and Fire. Yeah!

Lesson notes:

  • push onto inside edge: the opening will be flat as you are keeping weight on the pushing foot.
  • forwards and backwards “ice theatre” warmup (stretch up, bend, push): I am not really pushing from my right inside edge when going backwards, or my left forward inside edge when going forwards (huh…that’s odd).
  • backwards push off right inside edge.
  • outside loops: maintain pressure through second half of the loop, practice the power pull exit with an extra power pull.
  • inside loops: figure out how to balance over inside edge in aligned way.
  • Variation A: back inside three, outside mohawk, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side. Learn to turn with blade rather than turn entire body, use knee and ankle action to get on correct part of blade.
  • Variation B: back inside three, forward outside bracket, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side.
  • Variation I: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, step forward to repeat on other side. Continuous rotation after mohawk; if you have to pause, do it after the cross behind.
  • Variation II: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, back outside three to immediate inside mohawk on other side, repeat rest of sequence on other side.
  • Variation III: inside mohawk (to start), step down, cross behind, back outside three, forward inside three, cross behind, double three on other side.
  • forward outside three, edge pull (bend, extend). This is like the three-step pattern, only with an additional sub curve.
  • inside mohawk, push back, back outside three: watch placement on circle, really accentuate strength of inside edges coming out of the three.

 


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No news, good news

So I have to go to the airport at midnight tonight to pick up my husband and son. It’s not even ten-thirty. Since I usually am asleep way earlier, I am left with some tough choices.

Should I lie down for a quick nap? (Bad idea, since then I’ll have trouble getting up.)

Should I do some more reading for work? (Nah, since I won’t remember any of it tomorrow.)

Should I go downstairs and have another coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie?

Or should I finish this blog post?

I started writing this but then deleted what I wrote. It just felt whiny and repetitive. Just to give a sampling: “big puzzle,” “problem areas,” “moving target,” “a piecemeal patchwork of, uh, mess and chaos.”

Okay, it’s good to vent. But this earlier draft was not really representative of how I feel about skating these days. Skating is actually going pretty well. I’m getting regular practice sessions in, I’m enjoying seeing all kinds of friends that I haven’t seen much of this summer, and I feel like (sharp intake of breath, this is so exciting) I’m actually doing some good things out there. I just haven’t been as good about writing down the good news.

Like today, I actually felt like I could get through a pattern of the Starlight Waltz. Not at tempo, and not at speed. But nothing wobbled and nothing felt awkward.

And I was actually able to follow directions on my lessons, rather than just stare vapidly at my coaches. Laurie and I worked on forward inside loops, and she told me to use my skating hand to “draw” the inside loop. And voilà! (I love “voilà,” it’s almost like “viola” but easier to play around with.)

She also told me to think of my “free hip weight” as being directly underneath me. This is a much more difficult concept than “voilà,” but it really helps me keep my hips aligned.

Other good news: my off-ice ankle mobilization (stretching and massage) seems to be having a positive effect. And I think that there is less swelling (though that might just be wishful thinking on my part). My right ankle feels less stiff, and I am able to sense where my heel is on that side now. This is really helpful on the ice.

One positive side benefit was that during yesterday’s recent downpour, I was able to sprint through the parking lot to my car without limping. Okay, I did get soaked anyway, but no pain!

Are these achievements as gloriously accomplished as this performance of the beautiful Mendelssohn Plan Trio by these three worthy gentlemen?

Absolutely not. But are they worth sharing as good news? You got it!

Friends skate with friends!

Lesson notes:

  • feet parallel and next to one another: try to get your knees apart next.
  • swing rolls: stretch free leg, hip weight directly underneath you
  • back swing rolls: think about the direction your body is headed as you push
  • inside loops: draw loop with leading hand (strong leading side, don’t bend forward)
  • two-footed rockers: make sure you go to an immediate edge after the turn (then try on one foot)
  • inside mohawk, back outside three: push, more speed
  • back outside-forward outside mohawk, outside-inside choctaw (like Quickstep), push back to repeat on opposite side
  • “ice theatre” warmup with stretch upwards (legs out, towards boards), bend down, then side lunges
  • inside mohawk, edge pull/change edge, cross in front, step forward, swing roll, repeat on other side

 


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Core twist-in-progress

I’ve been paying a lot of attention this week to my core: more specifically, to my navel. I realized after a lesson on brackets that I wasn’t really twisting my core enough (like wringing a towel, they say). So after trying this, I realize that this movement is entirely lacking in most of the things I do.  This includes swing rolls and three turns and loops as well as other moves. Once I tried actually turning my navel in the direction of travel, it was like magic.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. How have I failed to do this for so long?

It’s probably because this is a fairly subtle motion. Now, if it were a full twist of the spine, I might have picked up on how important this was. For instance, if I were a cat, it would be really important to know to twist so I could land on my feet.

cat-righting-reflex

Cats instinctively develop this sense, and it works beautifully even when they are being tortured in zero gravity.

I find watching that video pretty traumatic, mainly because I identify strongly with that floating cat now. I know that I’m supposed to rotate my core but I’m not necessarily sure how much or when.

And I’m sure I’ve had this lesson before. But who knows where or when?

Sometimes you think you’ve lived before
All that you live to day.
Things you do come back to you
As though they knew the way.

Oh, the tricks your mind can play!

Lesson:

  • slide chassés: make sure your pushing hip doesn’t fall behind, keep feet really parallel and even so you can just slide the foot forward without keeping weight on it.
  • back right to back outside left edge (back chassés): think about elongating and staying strong through left side on new edge so you have something to push to; don’t “crunch” side.
  • brackets: don’t “overturn” upper body–use core twist instead; remember that everything faces out.