jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Skate loose, skate happy

What a difference a couple of weeks make!

Laurie has regularly pointed out that my shoulders go up whenever I’m doing something I don’t feel good about (like back crossovers clockwise). And when this happens, I can’t really feel my edges. It’s like I’m carrying a tray of teacups way high over my head. As soon as I get my shoulders down, my weight goes back down into my blades.

These past two weeks I realized that I’ve been carrying all kinds of tension in other parts of my body. In particular, I have been hiking up my right hip most of the time, in a sometimes unconscious and usually unsuccessful effort to get my weight over my left side. 

I’ve been working hard to let my right hip sink down to where it feels below my left. The first time I tried this, I could feel all kinds of muscles (hip flexors, for instance) stretching out in unfamiliar ways. It became way easier to stand on my left leg and lift my right leg. While this actually helped just walking around, it also made a big difference in skating. I could feel how my basic balance and edges changed for the better.

Best of all, this didn’t take any additional physical effort. The only effort it took was mental, since I had to think about relaxing the right side down (or just not holding it up).

A lot of yoga websites talk about how emotional tension is stored up in the hips and that stretching those joints helps you let go of fear, anxiety, and anger. I can certainly see how this might be true of me in this case, since it’s clear all kinds of balance issues have been created by this hip tension. Letting go of it means that my legs aren’t working at cross purposes.

This frees me up to concentrate on other basic aspects of my skating. Like making sure my upper body and head are lifted. Or that my pushes run outside the circle (more on this later). Or that I am properly lined up rising up on my back outside edges. Or that my back inside edges are not just a figment of my imagination.

It also makes me think that I’ve been spending a lot of energy (physical and emotional) trying to force my body into impossible positions on the ice. Sometimes it’s better to just trust that my body will just hold itself together if I don’t try too hard.

So last week my son’s string quartet did the junior division of a chamber music competition. There were lots of wonderfully talented players playing all kinds of complicated and impressively technical pieces. In the midst of the angst-filled music, one senior group played this slow movement of a Haydn quartet. It was like a long, cool drink of water after an exhausting marathon.

While this is not the video of that particular competition, and the sound quality is not the best, I wanted to remember this as the group that moved me to tears. Next to the terrific performances of my son’s wonderful Odyssey Quartet, this was my favorite piece of the entire competition.

Back on the ice again!


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It’s alive!

Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’ but Alice felt she could not go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.

The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. ‘I wonder if all the things move along with us?’ thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, ‘Faster! Don’t try to talk!’

When she falls through the looking glass, Alice goes running with the Red Queen, who keeps telling her to go faster and faster. But Alice realizes that she is not moving. After a while, they stop to rest, and Alice is surprised to find that they have been under the same this tree the entire time. She tells the Queen that “in our country” if you ran very fast for a long time, “you’d generally get to somewhere else.” To which the Queen replies, “A slow sort of country!”

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

This past week, I realized yet again that I skate in ways that make me seem lazy, even though I feel like I am running as fast as I can.

In an ideal skating world, all my edges would be very much alive. What this means is that instead of just hanging out and “riding on top” of the edge, I would be actively pressing into the ice (using my lower leg, ankle, and foot) to control depth and generate power.

The other day, I did a little double-checking of each of my edges to see where I was at. What I found is that most of them were only (gulp!) half alive.

  • right forward outside: alive most of the time, but I have to think about this on the swing roll.
  • left forward outside: alive most of the time
  • right forward inside: alive if I think about proper alignment
  • left forward inside: alive if I can get a good push off the right
  • right back outside: alive and kicking
  • left back outside: I think I can, I think I can. . .
  • right back inside: comatose
  • left back inside: uh. . . .

The good news is that I can fix this fairly consistently (and when I do, the added edge control feels great) by getting over my skate (proper alignment) and using my foot. This feels completely different from what I was doing before. Aside from my ankles, I feel like my body is moving way less than it was. At the same time, I know I am moving faster than I was.

The bad news is that I have to keep poking myself (mentally) . This involves some work to slide my “ankle mortise” forward rather than just dropping my upper body forward and my butt back. And this has to happen immediately. I’ve gotten into the habit of just sitting on the back of the blade. It’s probably a lot like my sitting in a chair all day.

While these wake-up calls are not easy to face, at least I’m making progress. I caught a glimpse of myself in the plexiglass doing a back outside swing roll, and honestly, it didn’t look half bad. So I’m not entirely a skating zombie!

My new goal (at least for the next few weeks) is to make my edges (hey, at least they are half-alive!) consistently dynamic, vital, bursting-with-life force goodness. Wish me luck!

Everyone’s getting their spring look in gear!

 

Lesson notes:

  • Inside three, change to inside, to push onto inside roll (this is to develop the needed outside-inside transition after the outside edge).
  • Back inside edges (make sure body is shifted over).
  • Back chassès clockwise (don’t lift shoulders, settle into the left outside edge).  Alignment is looking pretty good–hooray!
  • Quick, continuous pushes on progressives (like the “run” in the Viennese)
  • Inside three, back outside three, work on push.
  • Outside cross in front to outside edge (this looks like it’s some kind of evil clown trick).
  • Outside three, push back, back outside three, push through to repeat on other side.
  • Outer edge, inner edge, change edge and repeat on other side (make this deep).


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From this moment on

So at the end of my lesson this week Ari and I were talking about my left inside edge. Well, actually, it started out being about my left inside edge and then progressed to some words of wisdom about other things in skating, and then became a conversation about life in general.

Usually on my lessons there’s not much time for philosophy. But this week I had a lesson later on the session, which meant that I had already been skating hard for close to an hour beforehand. By the time my lesson got going, I was already feeling a bit tired, and by the last ten minutes of the lesson I was ready to get into conversation mode.

Okay, I admit that talking while doing some leisurely laps is not a good use of my limited time on the ice. But it actually was a very helpful conversation.

I am still working really hard these days is (no surprise to you regular readers!) on consistently maintaining strong edges on my left side. I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually figure out how to make this happen much of the time on outside edges (especially if I shift my ribcage towards the left rather than scrunch my left side and don’t over-rotate the edge). And I am beginning to feel it on inside edges as well, especially if I think about engaging those inner thigh and glute muscles so that I hit the edge immediately.

But perhaps an even greater challenge is letting go of old habits that feel right just because I’ve done them so many times. These include trying to balance over my skates rather than actually doing an edge, and letting my hips go out. Oh, and not actually pushing onto an edge, just because in the past there hasn’t really been an edge to push onto. (Chicken or egg? Chicken or egg?)

So here are some words of wisdom, paraphrased from Ari.

In skating, you have to let yourself try to do things you haven’t done before (like skating faster, or really leaning, or really using edges). You can’t let the fear of doing it wrong stop you from doing it at all. Don’t get stuck on getting the perfect position. You just have to keep moving. Don’t worry about “hitting the right edge”–just push and make it happen.

There are no records of what you did before; no one is watching and judging and video recording each moment. So don’t worry about what you did in the past; just think about what’s happening now.

Okay, too much talking! From this moment on, only hoop-de-doo songs and classic Bob Fosse choreography.

 

 

Lesson notes:

  • outside edges using the ribcage shift to help create lean (rather than “scrunching”).
  • outside-outside mohawk exercises: practice just placing new foot down (like a T-stop) in the correct position.
  • three turns: maintain curve on entry and really refine the twist.
  • inside mohawk: think about the curve in and out being equal, and move core underneath your body; don’t turn your entire body into the turn.
  • back inside edges: think about keeping your push in front of your new foot (pushing directly back rather than sideways).
  • changes of edge: learn how to move your skate underneath your body with those edge pulls.
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three, inside edge change to outside, tuck behind, repeat on other side. Work on getting that edge pull
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, step forward, outside three, step forward, outside three in the other direction, step forward, repeat. Make sure your feet are together after the mohawk.
  • Inside mohawk, change of edge (want to hear it!), cross front, change of edge the other way, cross front, step forward and repeat.

 

 


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My missing step (b)

So I had another lesson on outside-outside mohawks this past week, and Laurie pointed out that the turn is much easier if you:

(a) establish a good outside edge first,
(b) bend your ankle and use the foot to press into the edge without deepening the curve, and then
(c) just do the turn.

Where mine went awry was step (b). I would either slide my old foot out instead of pressing into the edge, or hook the edge inwards in a frantic attempt to maintain the outside edge. Either way, this was a tortured mess.

Once I figured out step (b), I realized how much easier this whole skating deal could be. Laurie  used the metaphor of the loaded gun, which will go off instantly with when you touch the trigger. Once you take the safety off and the edge is “loaded” properly, the turn just happens.

A violent metaphor, but here’s my realization of the week: either I skate like a human pretzel, or I do things the easy way.

The easy way is if I make sure that I’m doing step (b), not just on mohawks, but on oh-so-many things. Before three-turns, brackets, rockers, choctaws, and heck, yeah, on cross rolls and stroking and pushes. . . oh my.

I’m sure that at some point I’ll overdo this latest find, but for now, it’s really made a difference in achieving my better body position.

That’s the exciting news. The less-happy news is that I seem to have injured my left foot again. Same area (mid foot, towards inner arch). Last week I was running across the street after a yummy dinner with friends at our regular Chinese restaurant (such is the bittersweet nature of these unfortunate events) and felt a sharp pain. After a few days of rest it was much better but then I had to walk my bike home after a flat tire, which seemed to re-aggravate it.

Am doing light stretching and trying to take it easy. Luckily skating doesn’t seem to bother it too much, so hopefully this too will pass.

In the meantime, I’ll press on (haha!) It’s trigger-happy Jo!

How about a little tap dancing by Paula Abdul?

Lesson notes:

  • perimeter stroking, forwards and backward: make sure your inside edges are “real” and cover a quarter circle; check posture; make sure you push (especially on the underpass).
  • Alternating double threes (starting with back outside), back crossover: think about where your axis is, push onto a good edge (don’t rotate three too early–step b will help here)
  • Alternating double threes (starting with back inside), back crossover: better back inside edge position is crucial here.
  • back inside edge basics: get on an edge with good lean immediately (not “over” your skate). Let it go!
  • forward inside edge basics: head and upper body position so that weight is in the circle
  • outside-outside mohawks and bracket: think of how to press the edge (without changing the circle) so that you “load” the turn.

 


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Putting my “best” hip forwards

So at my lesson on brackets this past week Laurie noticed that I couldn’t shift my left hip  forward of my right without changing the level of my hips or the position of the rest of my body. We spent quite a bit of time just trying to get the right hip forward while skating on a forward outside edge.

Once again, I realized that the actual turn isn’t my problem: it’s the edge into the turn. If I can maintain a good edge, the turn is a piece of cake. I also realized that I still do a lot of skating (and other things in life) with my left hip slightly forward of my right, which benefits certain edges but screws up others.

If I try to force my right hip to move forward, all kinds of things go awry. I immediately start changing the rest of my body. Mostly I compensate for this by twisting slightly towards the left, so that I have the illusion of being neutral.

Once I tried to “encourage” my left hip to move forward, it seemed to help a lot. And this was not just true of brackets, but of many of the things I’m doing.

The lesson really made me think about how far I’ve come in understanding how my body works. I will continue to focus on getting my hips to move more “organically” as well as using more ankle bend for a better position over my skate. I also am trying to push down into the ice more to get more flow. I feel super-positive about these and other improvements that I hope to make. The new skates are working out great, and I have really been enjoying my regular time on the ice and having a chance to work at this.

The weather here has turned much warmer and the snow is melting! Spring is hopefully on the way.

Here’s my son’s suggestion for some super “chill” music to enjoy while I contemplate this new turn in my hips and hopefully the rest of my skating:

Lesson notes:

  • Brackets: hip position; remember that both entry and exit are “forced” edges so they need more attention to correct position.
  • Power pulls:  “sewing machine” action, with equal pressure into both the inside and outside edges. Also, think about keeping body on the axis, and making the edges equal on each side by pushing “outside” and away from the body.
  • New lunge exercise: forward three, push back lunge, push back lunge on the other side, turn into forward lunge, push forward lunge on the other side; repeat. Really push (don’t just two-foot); make sure you can hear those pushes.
  • Variation one: forward three, change edge, push back (really push and bend free leg in; make sure you are looking in the right direction), back three, toe through, repeat.
  • Variation two: forward three, change edge, push back , choctaw, toe through , repeat
  • In circle: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three. Don’t extend after the inside mohawk!
  • Inside three, toe push, inside edge, repeat on other side.


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Put up more speed!

So when I was little, we lived at the top of a really steep hill. It’s hard to imagine now that I live in the flatlands, but this must have been at least 2-3 blocks of a really steep grade.

I’m not making this up. Wikipedia says that North Bergen, NJ, is the US city with the second-most hills per square mile–and second only to San Francisco.

Anyway, my sister and I would be in the backseat of our family car, our ’66 (?) Plymouth Valiant. As the car would make its way laboriously up the hill towards home, we would pretend to step on our imaginary gas pedals and yell “Put up more speed!” We thought this was hilarious.

Anyway, you’d think that growing up on those hills I’d have the strongest legs in the world. Wrong! Skating demonstrates that I indeed have retained my imaginary sense of putting on the gas. I am doing much better in terms of lining myself up over my blades, but I am going putt-putt-putt-gasp rather than cruising along at warp factor one.

Ari told me that I had to try to go at least 5 mph. I’m not quite sure what that means, so I’ve been looking at the speedometer when I’m driving through town. That doesn’t seem to help.

No magic needed here. I think what I need to do is just, well, go faster. Bend my ankles and try to push into the ice whenever possible. Resist the temptation to just hang out over my skates.

Luckily, rinks are not built on hills! So here I go–5 mph or bust! Good thing I have plenty of fuel (a.k.a. pies) and friends to share the hilarity with.

Okay, and music! I seem to be on a “Broadway productions I’ll never see” kick. Here’s Kelli O’Hara in a revival of a Cole Porter classic. I love her voice, but it seems a touch slow. Dare I say it? Put up more speed!

Lesson notes:

  • ankle bend and shin action. Progressives are good!
  • back crossovers–emphasize push on outside edge
  • three turns–free leg pushes out to side.
  • inside mohawks–turn out on forward inside hip so that new edge can be set onto same circle
  • outside mohawks–remember “J” curve and be careful about the placement of the new foot (not outside circle)
  • alternating forward inside change to outside, cross stroke–remember to bend and rise (push into ice to get more power)
  • back inside change to outside, cross in front, step forward, inside mohawk, repeat on other side–turn free leg in on inside edge (to really get over that edge), bend and rise (more power!)
  • forward mohawk, back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side–SPEED, PUSH!
  • forward inside bracket, back inside, step forward outside, repeat on other side–think about the axis of the bracket turn, use core twist and heel to turn (not flinging), watch posture.


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And the boot goes on

So according to this Minnesota Public Radio article, Lake Superior is over 94% covered in ice now. They’ve built “The People’s Rink” by shoveling off the snow in a serpentine pattern. If it weren’t almost three hours away, I’d be tempted! After all, that’s what winters are for,

There is a lot of outdoor skating around here, but I confess that I’ve become a real prima donna when it comes to my ice time. I like it climate controlled, Zambonied (or should that be “Zambonified”?) on a regular basis, and preferably marked with clear lines so that I can be lazy about marking an axis for my warm-up circles. Music, but not too loud or too soft or too angsty. Oh, and not more than ten other people unless they’re total beginners and therefore clinging to the boards. Three if they are working on doubles or higher.

This is very funny because those conditions don’t affect me in the least. I have plenty of room to skate at most of my sessions–more than I need, in fact. I am not trying to get programs or patterns in, and I’m usually the most random skater out there. There are a few regulars who are quite serious about getting through their practice routines, but I pretty much know who they are.

Much of what I do these days is still focused on trying to get my body to move more efficiently and naturally on the ice. Skating these days pretty much feels like a physical therapy workout: isolating certain edges and movements that don’t feel right and then trying to figure out how to improve them.

This past week I have spent quite a bit of time just trying to get my boots on right. Let me explain. During one of my lessons I was having trouble doing a deep forward left outside edge. I tried adjusting my hips, pressing my knee forward, leaning my upper body. None of that really helped. Ari then asked me which side of the boot I felt pressing into my ankle. I replied the left side, which seemed to make sense to me since I was trying to “tilt” my skate over more to the left.

Wrong. As it turns out, I’ve been going about this all wrong.

If you take a look at these doctored speed skating photos, you’ll see what I mean. First the outside edge:

outside

It’s a bit hard to see, but I think you can tell that the pressure generated by the tilt of the blade is actually on the top inside of the ankle.  I had been trying to shove my weight onto the outside edge not by pressing down on the outside of my foot but by loading the top of the boot in the wrong direction.

You can see this principle working more clearly on this picture of an inside edge. The outside top of the boot is really pressing into the ankle.

inside

So since this discovery, I have been going through a major reassessment of all my edges. My right side seems to do this more naturally; my left side needs constant. . . well, encouragement. But the good news is that a little bit goes a long, long way.

Okay, finally got this post done (after several re-dos). Last thing to add is a song. This one is from the musical Waitress. Lots of great versions out there (including one by Sara Bareilles herself) but I find this one particularly moving.