jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Once more, with feeling

So I must be back in some kind of presentable shape, because this week both Laurie and Ari are telling me to up my game.

Ari assigned me the backward double three (Intermediate MITF) and eight-step mohawk (Juvenile MITF) sequences, complete with introductory and exit edges. The objectives are to skate an actual pattern rather than just do edges in isolation. To that same end, Laurie gave me some exercises to try to get me just to move more confidently and to think about choreography rather than just basic technique. These involve basic edges and turns, but with different arm and upper body movements. Once I started doing some of them, she reminded me that I used to do things like that all the time.

So the fact that both coaches are getting sick and tired of watching me skate tiny circles in a tentative fashion is probably a good sign, even though I have been enjoying my leisure-filled, perspiration-free skating. Okay, I guess break time is over. Sigh.

Some years ago, back when I was still competing in Adult Nationals, Ari used to say, “You’re better than that!” as a way of getting me to skate harder. This past week I heard that again from him, and it reminded me that so much of this process of learning is mental as well as physical. It’s amazing how lazy I’ve gotten, even while I feel like I’ve been working hard.

Some of this is, of course, because I wasn’t really on some of my edges, and had some wonky muscle imbalances. But because those issues have improved so much, I can’t really use this as an excuse. It’s no longer the case that I’m incapable of skating faster and on deeper edges without falling over. It’s just that it’s, well, scary.

I never thought of myself as lacking in confidence, unless you count skating in a dress (that’s a whole ‘other kettle of fish!). When first I started skating, I would jump into things with heedless abandon (and I do mean literally). Now that I’m older and wiser, I have to unlearn some of that caution.

Just to get the adrenaline moving, here’s Cipres and James at the recent Grand Prix Final:

Okay, wish me luck. Woohoo, here I go!

Lesson notes:

  • edges pulls on outside edge: think about drawing skating side hip back to finish off edge pull (practice on outside to inside edge transitions)
  • outside three turns (use the skating hip to do the three)
  • in circle, with arm movements: outside three, back outside; inside three, step forward
  • with arm movements: alternating outside threes (use turned-out free leg and step forward behind)
  • backward double three (Intermediate MITF); both starting with outside and then inside back three; weight back more on crossovers
  • eight-step mohawk (Juvenile MITF)


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Back in the groove

The past few weeks have been busy with visiting family and work travel, so not a lot of skating. I finally got back on the ice this past Monday after what seemed like forever.

Could it be that I’ve forgotten how to skate? I certainly remembered a lot of my bad habits, like dropping my free hip down on outside edges. I’m beginning to wonder whether all those years of poor form have lodged themselves into areas of the brain that I normally don’t use.

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I am glad to be back, though. I did finally take the step to upgrade this blog so that there are no more ads, which I hope readers will appreciate.

Anyway, both lessons this week did a lot to remind me of how quickly I can fall back on old (bad) habits. But to my credit, I can recognize (with a little help from my coaches) that something is not right. I can even (with a little more help) correct it.

For instance, I have this tendency to drop my weight from one skate to another, rather than transferring weight over by pushing from one skate to another. I also tend to try to hang out over my skate rather than actually being on an edge, which makes it hard to use my edges in any purposeful way. I also sometimes still break at the hips, which means that my positions do not remain stable.

I could go on and on, but I have better things to do with my precious blog time rather than catalogue all my flaws. I’m hopeful that now that I’m back in the groove, I’ll have lots of positive things to report on in weeks to come.

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So here’s a piece that has been running through my head quite a bit lately.

Plus lesson notes!

  • Outside edge. Really be on the edge (work glutes on skating hip to get free hip higher).
  • Work on push (let inside edge on pushing foot move to outside of circle). Transfer  weight to new edge without falling forward (breaking at hips).
  • Remember that the back inside edge falls on the outside of your midline.
  • Forwards and backwards: 3 cross strokes and deep circle edge. Turn out free side against strong skating side. Going backwards: keep skating arm slightly bent and relaxed, don’t reach forward.
  • Back inside 3 (toe to toe, turn on heel), forward inside three (heel to toe, turn in middle). Check body position in glass.
  • Deep power pull swing roll, three turn, push back, repeat on other side. Do the swing roll with a deep knee bend and use your skating side to push into the ice. Don’t do the swing roll by swinging your free side around.

 


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My “toddler” free hip

Today I’ll start with the music: a medley of songs from Charlie Chaplin films, played by a group called Ensemble Vivant, that I heard on the radio this morning. I really like their version of “Smile” (just about 6:00)

Chaplin’s films always have that wistful moment that makes you want to cry even when you’re laughing.

Skating, on the other hand, has the opposite effect, at least for me. Some of my more pitiful practice sessions involve one hilarious move after another. Like when I push from a right back inner edge to a left back outer edge. Wah! There goes that arm again! It’s endless slapstick out here–and I don’t mean hockey.

It’s impossible for me to feel truly sad about my skating these days. I am finally figuring out how to lick some of those habits that have held me back, and making good progress on basic skills.

I am going to talk about three “big picture” things that I’m trying to do differently these days, two of which involve the relationship of the free side to the skating side.

One is to keep my free side engaged and free hip “closer” to the skating hip. I have this tendency to drop my skating hip, which pulls me off my edge. This can be very subtle, just enough to make the edge less efficient.

Picture taking a walk hand-in-hand with a toddler who seems very happy to go with you, but then suddenly goes all reluctant and limp. That’s my free side, throwing a tantrum. Nothing to be done–except pick it up and carry it lovingly around.

Two is to keep my weight over the pushing side longer, rather than dropping immediately to the new side. This involves continuing to support my body through the skating hip (again, the toddler analogy applies) even while bending and pushing. I find that that I have the most trouble doing this when pushing from my right side. This is probably related to . . .

Three, which is to put more oomph into my right side. I’m only now discovering that I’m not really over my right side edges some of the time, or if I am, I’m not really engaged and into the ice. This is especially true on that funny right back inside to left back outside push, when my push goes limp. (Another way to think about it, courtesy of Ari: I shift my weight and pick up my old leg, rather than actually pushing onto a new edge.)

All three things are not new, but seem like particularly good things to be doing right now, plus learning how actually to cross my legs (more on that at a future date). I’m actually using my right foot to push backwards now.

So exciting. Learning to skate = discovering  body parts that you didn’t know could be so fun! Like this happy baby.

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And these happy skaters!

 

Lesson notes:

  • basic idea: where does your free leg goes on forward outside edge? (illustration with dotted line).
  • cross rolls, using that concept.
  • Starlight Waltz, introduction through chassés. On cross roll to American three, keep weight over right at the end of the roll, then bend and set down new foot on same circle (don’t drop in for the three).
  • Chassés: use foot to push directly onto new curve (not flat). Good edges throughout!
  • back inside on circle with straight free leg: work on maintain circle and speed and not wobbling.
  • back outside eights: practice moving free leg and head in precise 1/4 stages.
  • forward inside three, back outside three on circle.  Practice threes with free leg crossed in front
  • forward mohawk, push (keeping free leg in front), back outside three. Use feet to push and allow rotation on new edge.
  • mohawk, back outside three in circle. Strong check out of back three.

 


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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.

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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