jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Keep calm and skate on

It’s a crazy time, that cannot be denied. Luckily, there’s Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin to remind us why people write songs in the first place.

And there’s an extra-large “brookie” pie that I made for my son’s studio class tomorrow.

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And there’s skating to keep me happy.

Between my work schedule and other conflicts, lessons have been on and off. But when I’ve had them, they have been really helpful. I’ve figured out how to maintain a better edge through some of my transitions as well as turns, and I’ve been having a good time working on my basics.

Even if life in general isn’t in balance, my skating has improved. I have a much better sense of where I am on my blade. I’ve been spending time working on maintaining a consistent edge as I come up (straighten the skating knee). I’ve worked on this before, but never really felt like I was getting anywhere. But at last, here it is.

Lesson notes (these are from a while ago as well as last week):

  • Introduction to the Starlight (double push, progressive, cross, swing): continuous motion through edge; think about the rhythm. Generate extension through push, not just by extending free leg.
  • American waltz threes: isolate stages. Set up rotation from the push onwards; don’t do that “extra” rotation at the end of your edge. Make sure you come up fully on the knee and maintain the edge. Free foot comes directly in, not around.
  • Alternating back chassés: think about the edge pull in between.
  • Change of edge: don’t rotate upper body (continuing looking in direction of “partner,” not travel).
  • Back outside to forward inside counter, touch and push back to repeat on other side.
  • Back to front outer- outer choctaw, change edge mohawk.
  • Mini Bauer back cross step forward inside and repeat in other side.
  • Inside Mohawk push back double three use ankle stretch.
  • Inside toe turn step forward tuck behind inside repeat on other side.


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I rib you not!

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A number of years ago I posted this picture on this blog to remind myself of what was going on with my hip imbalance. I’m finding it useful to address a related issue that has to do with my spine and the ways that I can’t turn easily towards the right.

Back then, I realized something was wrong when I had a bone scan that revealed that my back was crooked (something like what you see in the picture above). I had this done even before I started having the foot issues that started me on this journey.

Even though I think I’ve addressed a lot of the hip imbalance issues over the past few years (she said proudly, patting herself on the hip), I still have to think really carefully about what’s going on when what I do on the ice doesn’t quite feel symmetrical.

These past few weeks I’ve been focusing on what it feels like to turn my torso and head towards towards the right, and I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. If your back is effectively scrunched up on one side (left, in my case), it’s almost impossible to twist towards the other side freely.

I also realized that I don’t fully commit to my right-side edges, meaning that my weight doesn’t easily shift in and over that edge. This makes the problem even worse.

I’ve been working on consciously elongating my left side as I shift my weight over or before I try to turn towards the right. This feels like the right side of my ribcage actually moves over. Not a lot, but enough to engage my entire right side more than it has been. This makes it easier to twist towards the right, plus I feel like my balance is way better overall.

I’m mindful that I could easily overdo this, but at the moment it feels really, really good. No lessons for the next week or two (too much work), but hopefully the coaches will agree.

Here’s a really impressive performance of Dvorak’s cello concerto by a young cellist, Pablo Ferrández.  Not a piece that one might skate to, but it’s inspiring and beautiful in and of itself.

 


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No more stiff ankles!

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So in rock climbing there are two ways to go. The first is to use your strength and timing and technique to climb up the mountain like a spider, with grace and agility. The other is to just ram a bunch of pitons into the cracks in the rocks and then haul yourself up by force, one piton at a time.

Never tried climbing, so I’m probably totally wrong. But as a metaphor for skating, this is totally obsessing me right now. Both my coaches and I talked this week about bending my ankles more so that I can (a) have a better edge, (b) be on the correct part of my blade, (c) absorb the force of transferring my weight from one side to another without losing speed and energy, and (d) actually create “lilt” through my flexible ankles.

Skating with good ankle flexion is like climbing the mountain in the most beautiful and organic way possible. Unfortunately all too often I tend to put my new skate down on a stiff ankle and try to force my way onto an edge.

No, no! Don’t want to be Pegleg Jo!

After focusing on developing more ankle movement in my lessons, I spent some practice time applying this principle to different moves. This was super useful! Everything seems much more efficient and I’m able to find the “sweet spot” on the blade much more easily for turns.

After reviewing one of my earlier posts on ankles, I found some useful things to revisit, like the way my talus bone rolls forward and slides backward when my ankle flexes. I realized that it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point of mobility where the ankle and foot are concerned,  I’m still pretty stiff in my right ankle (all that scar tissue) but at least it doesn’t make that dreadful ratchet-wrench sound anymore. And my left foot still feels somewhat misaligned and can’t take more than a couple of miles of walking, but it is much stronger.

Goody, progress. I love skating, no matter what, but it’s really so much more fun now that I’m not just jamming those pitons into the rocks and doing the “heave-ho” thing. Just call me Spidey-Jo!

Enjoyed seeing all my friends at the rink this week! And working on some new exercises.

Lesson notes:

  • Inside three, cross in front. Think about the direction of travel for the inside edge and giving yourself enough time to deepen the edge before the turn.
  • Inside mohawks. Bring free leg and hip weight up alongside before turning. Practice setting the new blade down in the correct spot.
  • Ankle action! Swing rolls and progressives.
  • Back outside to forward inside, counter, touch and push back to repeat on other side.
  • Back outside to forward inside, step inside mohawk, push back and repeat on other side.
  • Back outside to forward outside, change edge into inside mohawk, push back and repeat on other side.
  • Ina Bauer, back cross,  step forward inside and repeat on other side.
  • Inside mohawk, push back, double three, stretch and set forward to repeat on other side. Use your ankles!
  • Inside toe turn, step forward, tuck behind, inside edge, repeat on other side.


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Teeny tiny rink?

The N.Y. Times ran an article today about these small plastic rinks that you can set up anywhere because they are made of “glice” and don’t require refrigeration. I wonder  whether my living room area, if I cleared out all the furniture, might serve as a homemade rink?

Certainly this would be convenient. I could wear those purple tights that I’m too shy to wear anywhere else. I could take selfies of myself in one of my old competition outfits, doctor them up, and then post “landed that new triple!” pics on Instagram.

I would miss some dimensions of skating in the world outside. I wouldn’t miss having to drive to the rink (always leaving five minutes later than I’d like). Nor would I miss the crowds. And the adult skaters who carry their babies and toddlers around the ice in that scary way are better off without my terrified glances.

But it’s probably better for me to skate in an actual rink, especially since I am constantly having to remind myself that I need to cover more ice (i.e. actually push, rather than just placing my feet down and hoping I’m on an edge). Plus I’m supposed to be checking my posture in the boards so I can make sure my shoulders aren’t hiked up and I’m not pitched forward. And during the week when school is in session, our public sessions are usually pretty quiet: anyone lucky enough to be able to skate during lunchtime.

So the fantasy of having my own teeny tiny rink will remain unfulfilled. Still, when I’m daydreaming and doing those skating moves in my mind, it’s like I have that teeny tiny rink to myself–and I’m rocking those purple tights!

 

Lesson notes:

  • Outside swing rolls: work on keeping a consistent hip and arm position and staying over the edge through the transition (outer to inner). Stay on the circle and don’t change early. Push!
  • Inside swing rolls: remember that your weight (and body line) falls inside, not outside the circle. Don’t create the edge by pushing your hip out of line.
  • forward cross roll exercise: cross free leg over and push under to inside edge, tuck behind to new inside edge and repeat (this is especially hard for me clockwise)
  • back cross rolls: make sure to begin push when the free leg is still extended forward and continue to push through the entire transfer to the new outside edge, rather than just stepping the new foot down
  • forward inside three, cross in front, back inside three: allow the inside edge to come around naturally (rather than pushing/ skidding into the edge to create the turn), hold the back outside edge after the inside three before crossing.
  • Basic ideas: work on a more natural hip position on the inside edge. Mark this out by putting your inside edge foot down on the ice right next to an outside edge. Create the inside edge with your ankle, not by putting your inside edge outside the body and forcing an edge.
  • forward inside three, cross in front, toe, step to inside three on the next foot (alternate).
  • forward inside three with free leg in back, toe, toe half- turn, cross in front, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • back inside, forward inside (brackets in a semi-straight line), step down and repeat on other foot. Navel faces direct of first turn; learn to turn with the ankle and hip rotation, not by swinging upper body.

 

 

 


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Happy Year of the Rat!

First of all, Xīn Nián Kuài Lè and Happy New Year of the Rat! I was born in the Year of the Rat, so I’m looking forward to some good luck and financial gain in the months to come.

I hope that luck and money will mean that I also have another good skating year. In the past few months, I feel like I’ve finally turned a corner in terms of actually improving the quality of my body alignment. While I know I still have quite a ways to go (as my lessons this week showed), I feel like I’m closer than I’ve ever been to keeping my edges real (rather than faking edges).

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Jeff and Jo

Our semester has started up, and this past week was a bit touch and go. But I did manage to get some quality practice as well as a few lessons in. It was super fun to run into my friend Jeff, who I haven’t seen in a while. And while not all of my plans came to fruition, I did make some excellent cheesy biscuits (rats like cheese!) and found this incredibly catchy piece of music.

Lesson notes:

  • Push on forward progressives and back chassés: engage hip muscles for stability and proper (easy) “grip” on the inside edge.
  • Swing rolls with methodical arm positions, make sure your hip is under you.
  • One basic principle: your skating hip should always be slightly towards the inside of the circle you are making (not stuck out either way).
  • Back inside three, inside choctaw (forward inside to back outside), back cross, front in front to inside, repeat on other side. Start this pattern with a back crossover to a back inside edge.
  • Inside rocker, back inside, step forward onto forward outside edge, repeat on other side.
  • Mini swing roll, outside rocker, two back cross strokes, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • Practice back outside edges, checking posture in boards: use “flat front of hip” and correct pelvic tilt on skating side in order to stay over the correct part of blade.


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Feeling good, moving well, repeating myself

Scientists have been studying the way people learn new skills, and some believe that practicing different variations on a task, rather than just repeating the same task over and over, helps you learn better. This is due, they think, to the ways in which the brain recalls and processes its memories.

If any scientists out there has funding to study this with adult skaters and needs a test subject–I hereby volunteer!

So at my lesson last week, Laurie told me that my upper body is still moving around in rather random ways. She told me that I should avoid being one of those inflatable figures they use to advertise car dealerships and mobile phone stores. You know, the kind of thing that attracts your attention through flopping around in unpredictable ways.

 

Inflatable

Inflatable man?

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Or pillar of the community?

Some of this unwanted motion was definitely in response to being uncertain about my edges as well as alignment. I’ve been working on getting a much more solid connection between what’s going on in my blades and what I’m doing with the rest of my body.

Yesterday I went to a rather crazy public session and spent most of my time trying to figure out the optimal spot on my blade for edges.

Today I was inspired by Mary’s post at FitandFed reminding me of Ben Agosto‘s term, “glankles,” in which bending your ankles also fires the gluteal muscles.

This “theme and variations” strategy seems to be working. I’m feeling way more stable this week. Hopefully this will last through the upcoming holiday season.

Some Bach–even with all the times this has been repeated, it’s still beautiful.

Lesson notes:

  • Outer edges from push back: don’t scrunch left side of torso.
  • Lunges: practice basic positions. Also practice just deep knee bend on two feet with feet parallel and not allowing knees to fall inwards.
  • Outside edges: think about where your ribcage is. Turn in new skating foot slightly to grab edge from the beginning.
  • Back inside edge: make sure you are on the correct part of the blade.
  • Progressives: think about what is going on in the skating hip (slight turning in, turn out as the free leg elongates, then the action of the free leg coming in makes it turn in again)
  • Edge pulls, generating speed as you go.
  • Inside and outside mohawk: allow hips to “soften” when the free leg comes in. Work on exit edge
  • Swing roll with edge pull, change edge mohawk: continuous action. Don’t touch down! Do swing roll into skating arm; then arm stays in same place to allow mohawk to turn.
  • Extra work on right swing roll: allow free leg to come around (not directly in or kicking through). Use the straightening of the skating leg to put pressure into edge. Keep hips under.
  • Inside mohawk, push back, toe to heel, back outside three; alternating: foot immediately in front on back edge, mini-edge pull.
  • Inside Mohawk, triple three
  • Three turn, change edge, cross in front, change edge, step forward and repeat on other side: use that back inside edge power pull!
  • Inside counter, back choctaw: work on just allowing the back edge to come around on the back choctaw and just “sliding” off it.
  • Rocker, immediate back three (flat).


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Gratitude

A few weeks ago I went on vacation (the beautiful island of Kauai), and the day I got back to skating was pretty rough. I had been off the ice for nearly two weeks and went to the rink only a few hours after  a long flight back. When I started my feet were all swollen, and I could barely get my skates on, let alone feel my edges.

But as the week went on and I gradually got over jet lag and back into the skating groove, I’ve been realizing how much my skating has improved in the past few years.

To begin with, I am much more in control of my edges. Instead of a brief delay every time I got on a new edge (this was often very brief, but I still could feel it), I feel like I know how to get right on the edge. What’s more, I can actually deepen and accelerate edges at will. While I’m not able to use every edge to generate power (you’ll see from my lesson notes how much this is a priority!) I’m getting better at this.

Aside from post-vacation euphoria, what is going on? Well, several things that seem to be working in my favor.

One is a postural correction. In my Pilates class, PT Sarah has been telling me to “bend your knees without really bending your knees”: imagining that my thighs are moving forward as if my knees were starting to bend, but not actually bending at the knees. This makes my lower abdominals and glutes engage as if I were tucking my hips under (posterior pelvic tilt). But the important thing is that I’m not actually changing my hip position that radically.

Instead, I’m trying to learn how to turn those stabilizing muscles on without allowing the hips to go out from under me, whether forwards or backward.

Hip-posture

Another is that this improved posture actually allows me some more mobility in the hip joints. I am actually figuring out how to use the hip joint not only for stability, but also to do turns and deepen existing edges.

Laurie suggested that on cross strokes and progressives, I think about my free leg as folding in and helping to deepen the edge. This seems like a small change, but it makes a world of difference.

So just (a) the right amount of sunshine and snorkeling, plus (b) better posture through the hips, plus (c) hip movement and mobility, plus (d) free leg helpfulness equals one happy skater! Add some friendly skating buddies and there you go! You don’t need to ask me what I’m grateful for this year.

I’m usually a “glass half empty” kinda gal, but I can’t resist.

Lesson notes:

  • Progressives. Be aware of movement in the hip joint.
  • Powerpulls. Watch position of free leg on inside edge (not too far over in front of skating leg).
  • Back chassès. Work on the direction and stability of the inside edge push. Connect this to the action in the hip joint (leg turns in but then moves back to neutral or even turns out).
  • 3-step pattern with inside mohawks. Work on establishing third position before the back inside to forward inside. Stronger forward inside edge.
  • Forward cross strokes. Bend free knee to allow weight to deepen into the skating foot. This is also important on forward progressives; make sure you do this on both the outside and inside edges.
  • Forward inside three, cross over front, back inside threes (in circle).  Work on establishing a stronger inside edge into the three, rotate in hip joint, try to get rid of the skid, hold back outside edge longer before crossing.
  • Creepers.
  • Swing roll (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, quick step to change feet, push forward to repeat on other side.
  • Inside three, back cross, outside three-mohawk (continuous action), repeat on other side.
  • Different entry edges twizzles. Keep skating hip slightly open, skating side leads on entry (rather than letting body swinging around), ankles together.
  • Inside counters. Use inside edge pressure to “jump” the turn.
  • Forward power pulls (inside, outside, inside), inside mohawk, back power pulls (inside, outside, inside), step forward, repeat on other side.
  • Swing roll, (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, power pull, step forward on outside edge on other side, repeat.
  • Outside rocker, cross in front to back outside (change arms at the same time), back cross stroke.
  • Forward choctaw, power pull, step forward, tuck behind, repeat on other side.
  • Three step outside-outside mohawk. Do this on pattern. Make sure your free side stays elongated.
  • Inside mohawk, power pull, back outside to forward inside (choctaw).