jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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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.

 

 


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Belly up!

The following is something that I wrote several weeks ago, and never posted. After I wrote it, I took several trips and was away from the ice and lessons (and this blog) for what seemed like ages. So now I’m ready to write a different post, but didn’t want to hit “delete” on this one.

So here’s what I wrote (on approximately January 21):

Okay, maybe saying “Belly up!” gives the wrong impression, as I m neither drinking nor dying right now, and certainly not on the ice. But I am reminding myself that I need to engage my core muscles. And not just any core muscles (though I know there is an awesome six-pack hiding down in there somewhere) but those around the lower spine, hips, and pelvis that will help stabilize my skating moves.

I have written about this before, but there are also a number of dance/Pilates sites that describe which muscles I’m talking about, like this one from Goulet Ballet.

After several years of Pilates, I am getting pretty good about isolating and exercising these muscles on the floor. But on the ice, that’s a different story. I feel like my head gets taken up with different things, and while everything is improving, I am still lacking the confidence and trust in those stable positions.

It helps to think about lifting the lower belly as well as lengthening the lower back. So I’ve been doing this a lot off the ice as well as on. Wish it would become an ingrained habit so I wouldn’t have to think about it so much, but there you are.

It is pretty hard to acknowledge that this is still where I’m at, skating-wise. One of the reasons I haven’t really done this is that these are small and sometime hidden movements that have been difficult to register, especially in comparison to the large motions of the free leg and upper torso that are easier to feel.

But as in the rest of life, sometimes it’s the little things that make the most difference. So I’m taking advantage of this time when transitioning to my new skates (up to 45 minutes! almost ready to switch completely!) to make sure that I’m really in a good place.

My lesson notes are truncated this week, but that’s not because I didn’t learn anything–it’s just that there is so much to do on all. Belly up!

  • Push to outside edge (particularly left outside). Really check your position and prepare for it ahead of time. Get on immediate edges.
  • Three turns. Make sure you fully rise and use your core twist. Check position.
  • Back crossovers. Don’t cheat either push.
  • Deep inner edges, forwards and backwards. Use your feet.
  • Inside counters.

 


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(S)hipshape

First, an homage to the ingenuity of this skater over at Lake Minnetonka, whose video caught the attention of Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins.

We are into the thick of winter now. I am starting my sessions skating in turtlenecks, fleece, and down jackets. But I warm up quickly these days, since I’ve been determined to  begin the session with things that feel particularly challenging: double threes, power pulls, that eight step mohawk pattern, the Kilian and reverse Kilian so that I am equally terrified in both directions, skating with my arms moving through positions (not flailing around).

Oh, and figure eights. Backwards and forwards, inner and outer, then with three attached. I never realized how difficult it is just to hold a proper edge. This past week Laurie and I worked on not “sitting” into my hip. I realized that I’m actually supposed to rise up on my knee and use the edge to accelerate as I do so. (I tend to just sink lower and lower and let the edge devolve into chaos.)

This is so basic that I can’t believe I haven’t figured this out earlier. But I’m just chalking it up to getting back into ship-shape: though in my case it’s hip-shape (groan).

Okay, that was so bad that I have to redeem myself by posting pictures.

Lesson notes:

  • edges: don’t sit into skating hip.
  • three turns: working on loading the foot (knee bend, pressure and twist) and checking.
  • progressives: don’t allow the force of the push to cause unnecessary upper body motion.
  • back inside edges: finish the rotation.

 


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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.

10_%_brain_myth_before

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.

10_%_brain_myth_.jpg

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.

Happy-baby-playing-with-his-feet-1080x675

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.