jo skates

Skating in the key of life



Well, it’s Friday evening, just after dinner, and I am already ready for bed.

I remember when I had my first full-time job. Between a heavy teaching load, advising and committee work, and trying to get some research and writing done, I pretty much worked all the time. But Friday afternoons after work a few of my colleagues and I would go get Thai iced coffee and snacks (loved the mee grob). And then I would go home, take a bath, unplug the phone, and go to bed at 8:30 p.m.

That was my idea of a really great start to the weekend.

That, and skating whenever I could. One of my skating friends (who was from Korea) was George (not his Korean name). George was a competitive ice dancer, but between partners, so he and I did some social dancing just for fun. One of the dances we played around with was the Yankee Polka. Since George was a strong skater, and I was doing lots of free skating at the time, this dance had the perfect amount of bounce for both of us.

I’ve been trying to learn this dance again, a fun project with my friend Doug. We’ve tried this a few times at the end of sessions after we are both done with more dutiful aspects of practice (Doug is working with Sonia towards next year’s AN). Today we finally got through an entire pattern (though I think I probably left out several steps along the way).

Oof! I’m reminded that I don’t bounce like I used to. So that’s why I’m ready for bed before the sun has set!

Here are the two parts of the Jimmy Young class on the Yankee Polka (long videos, but very useful when you’re learning steps):

Lesson notes:

  • outside swing rolls: really work on those consistent upper body positions in sync with the swing (opposite arm lead, then reverse).
  • inside swing rolls: turn free toe out from the get go
  • inside rockers and brackets: make sure you are not sticking your hip out on that inside edge; tight free leg and upper body position (these are forced edges/turns, unlike three turns); don’t rotate entire body–just skating leg; keep free foot close
  • sequence 1: back mohawk (like a back choctaw, but onto an outside edge), forward outside three, push back, repeat on other side
  • sequence 2: forward outside three, back inside rocker, touch/push, inside swing roll, forward inside three, back outside rocker, touch/push, outside swing, repeat.
  • sequence 3: back choctaw, forward inside counter, step forward on outside edge, outside three, immediately push back (like Westminster), repeat in opposite direction.
  • sequence 4: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three (more push!, more stretch!)
  • sequence 5: double inside three, more speed, don’t pitch forward 



No blood on these blades

So earlier this week while I was pulling my skate out of my bag, it momentarily caught on something. I tugged and it popped out and nearly took my nose off. Luckily, no blood; it just resulted in a minor scratch on my face. Phew! I have a hard enough time explaining any aspect of skating, never mind accidental self-mutilation, to folks outside the skating world.

Apart from trying to injure myself even before I step onto the ice, skating is going well. Doug headed back home yesterday, but before he left we managed to get in a series of lessons stressing pattern, staying on edges, body position and lean, and partnering. And though we had a few falls and some blade-clicking, no blood was shed there, either. Hooray!

To those who don’t ice dance, it sometimes looks as though skating with a partner is easier than skating by yourself. In general, I’ve found soloing vs. skating with someone to be equally challenging. Sometimes it is helpful to have someone there to steady you, and in the pattern dances your partner’s steps helps you figure out where to go.

But woe betide the hapless ice dancer who leans on her (or his) partner! That kind of pressure is way worse than the occasional fall. Imagine a sailboat slowly tipping over, with all the terrified passengers scuttling about in a futile effort to right the boat. Those passengers are like my body parts! Where’s the Coast Guard? Arghhh!

No, it’s super important not to be the weak link in the great skating chain of Being. I am happy that my two years of solo work has really helped with my alignment and posture. While Laurie pointed out that some of my edges are still tentative, I am getting better at correcting this. And my left side is much stronger than it has been.

In the past couple of days going solo, I am back to lots of circles and alternating patterns up and down the ice. I am really working on finding a really good gliding position: keeping my hips aligned and moving forward, knee/ankle bend, and my weight father back on my skates. And I am starting to work on how to use my free side extension more effectively to create momentum rather than inhibit it. Finally, I think I will really focus on my feet for the coming month, trying to see how this affects my balance over the skate. I am working on this off-ice as well, so will post more later.

But here are some things about the pattern dances that I need to continue to practice solo:

  • Foxtrot. Opening tuck behind needs to stay on curve (practice bringing foot in and not letting outside edge shoot off the circle). Lobe curves around so that my three is headed towards the boards. Nice big engaged edges on the progressive and after.
  • Tango. Don’t flatten or change edge too soon: the change happens on the one beat edge, not at the end of the two beat. On the cross three, continue to push yourself through the cross in the same direction (deepen, don’t flatten through the cross push). The end of the swing roll accents the rhythm and should be one of the highlights of the dance. Nice steep hill into the mohawk and then remember the down up down.
  • Paso. Extensions and push through the entire opening section. The forward leg should be completely extended on the slide-slide (this is near-impossible when I have my right leg forward, since I have a hard time pointing my toe). Extension and push in the steps following the breakout. Extensions and push on forward sections. Hip alignment on crosses; again, do this with definite weight-transfer and immediate ankle bend onto the new skating foot, not by extending back.

I got some practice time in at the university ice rink (home of the Minnesota Gophers). Was happy to run into some old and new friends there! George pointed out that it’s hard to see the captions on these pictures, but just try putting your cursor over the picture.





Whew! Glad that’s over!

In my neck of the woods, many of the public sessions are really great: just the friendly regulars, pretty good ice, very affordable. Add a little mellow pop music playing in the background and you couldn’t ask for a better time.

But school is out, the weather’s turned cold and snowy, and parents are suddenly thinking that taking the entire family (even the kids who don’t want to skate) to the rink is a good idea. And then they let them loose! Even the music is drowned out by the screaming, which could be either delight or terror. Either way, I got off the ice feeling like I’d been on an episode of Survivor: The Ice Rink.

Now that I’m safely off, I can spend some time thinking about skating rather than holding my breath waiting for the crash (and the crunch of tiny bones). So this post is going to be a series of notes that I can read next week when I get back on the ice (after I come out of my food coma). Hopefully the rink will be back to its normal state.

To begin with, I still need to be really careful about my posture and left side alignment. I am proud to say that this has improved so that on occasion I actually feel stronger on my left side. But I still need to think about really being over my left side, rather than ever-so-slightly shifted towards the right.

Some of this has to do with my upper body now. I tend to have my left shoulder slightly forward and/or tensed up. This really complicates skating with a partner.

Another related issue is that I sometimes still drop my free hip down into moves. This is particularly true of cross strokes and cross steps. The result is that when I do alternating crosses (as in the Paso Doble), my hips rock from side to side–and then my shoulders also move in order to compensate. Too much shimmy when shimmy is not what we want! When it is done correctly, it looks like the legs just replace one another, rather than constantly moving side to side to shift weight.

Finally, I need more work on my ankle and foot strength. I am still having trouble pointing and flexing my right ankle, which makes certain things much harder than they need to be.

Lesson notes:


  • partnering on cross three (aim for the man’s right arm rather than trying to cross tracing.
  • bring feet together on syncopate (down up down)
  • feet together on three
  • more knee bend (lilt)
  • posture in foxtrot position (forward arm directs, no weight on back arm)

Paso Doble

  • cross steps on paso doble (no extension, immediate shift of weight onto new foot)
  • new introduction (two additional steps after my three turn to set up circle)
  • straighten front knee on slide-slide (weight on back leg)
  • work on extensions in opening, break-out section, and forward section


  • don’t flatten cross steps
  • cross three: sideways push



Woof, I got this!

I’ve never been all that confident about my sense of spatial awareness. In grade school we had to take a number of aptitude tests, and I remember getting less-than-impressive scores on those tests in which the main task was to guess how imaginary paper cutouts would fold into imaginary boxes.

Luckily I managed to get through school regardless, and am now working in a profession in which this is not a requirement. (The only placement I worry about on a regular basis is where to put the comma.) And I still like origami, by the way, although making those jumping frogs is probably the best I can do these days.

So in the past I have never been crazy about the “pattern” aspect of “pattern” ice dances (though the term “compulsory” sounds even worse, like something they could paddle you for not doing correctly).

Another confession: I could never really follow the strategies behind soccer. You know, when the coach draws little arrows and circles and x’s to indicate how the play is going to go. Send the ball here! Send the ball there! To me, it just looked like a bunch of running after a rather unpredictable ball. And kicking, yes, there’s kicking.

But the times they are a-changing. I am rethinking my spatial sensibilities for the positive this week as Doug and I are working on the foxtrot, silver (Harris) tango, and paso doble. Who says you can’t teach an old dog!

That does not mean that I am now doing rulebook-ready patterns. Not even close, in some cases. But it does mean that I am able (a) to understand better why these patterns are laid out in the ways that they are, and (b) to look at an ice dance pattern on paper and imagine myself moving on the ice.

The secret is to think of the pattern as a way of distributing energy around the different lobes. This sounds quite mystical, but really what it means is that the pattern helps regularize the edges so that pushes, knee/ankle bends, and applications of force happen steadily all along the dance, rather than being concentrated at certain moments.

This is what distinguishes ice dance from free skating, in which some of the edges are in preparation for a jump or spin. Rather than using crossovers or preparation edges to gear up for a particular move, the edges are featured in and of themselves. So I am no longer thinking of pushing myself through or along an established pattern. Rather, the movement is the pattern: I can develop, expand or contract parts of my pattern rather than always trying to trace some set of ideal imaginary lines with my skates.

I’m going to post a few lesson notes after each of the patterns.



  • Placement of cross-behind along the boards.
  • Man’s three is easier if both people lean correctly.
  • Lady’s cross three happens going back towards the boards.
  • Lead the back progressive along the boards and down the rink: open it up!
  • Mohawk at the top of the lobe.


  • Nice big lobes. Remember placement of circles (change of lean happen in the first two cross steps).
  • More articulation and sharp movement (Ari likes down up down.)
  • Tracking/partnering on man’s rocker.
  • My cross three will be easier if I actually bend my skating leg and push, rather than trying to kick through with my free side.
  • Swing roll (think of this as diagonal, not pulled around).
  • Articulation on that inverted progressive. And on the swing before the mohawk.
  • The mohawk happens on a steep uphill, not on a diagonal across the ice. Again, go for down up down.

PasoDobleWomen.jpgPaso Doble:

  • Make sure you skate down into the ice to generate more power and grip.
  • Partner hold more side to side. I have to make my arms/shoulders into a kind of spring.
  • The man has a challenging set of moves involving the torso and arms on that change of edge in the breakout.
  • I have to lead the pattern much more openly first towards the boards and through the change of edge.

More on these dances and other (alignment) issues to come!


Back to compulsories

Thank goodness for Daylight Savings Time, I always say. The only downside is that by the time the year rolls to a close, it feels like it’s getting dark around four in the afternoon. That’s high tea in low light! Anyway I am happy to have an extra hour of sleep, especially after a long evening practice.

I have been working on pattern dances again: the Paso Doble, the Harris Tango, the Foxtrot, and the most dreaded European Waltz, for which I feel a deep combination of affection and loathing. The others feel like old friends that I haven’t seen in a while: vaguely familiar at first, but then after a pattern or two, it’s as if we’ve never left off.

I am working with a new partner, Doug. He is from the Seattle area, but comes into town periodically for extended visits with his family. We will have a few weeks this month and next spring to practice for Adult Nationals 2017.

The competition will be in North Carolina, and a number of us here have been considering boycotting the event because of the state’s recently-passed House Bill 2 that eliminates anti-discrimination protection for GLBTQ people and prevents municipalities from passing anti-discrimination policies. If this is not repealed, I will have to think hard about whether or not to travel there. Sigh.

In the meantime, training begins.

And it is training indeed! I have forgotten how much work it is to go around the rink more than once. Or even once, if it is the Tango with all those steps. After a few patterns, though, it all started coming back to me.

The real challenge will be how to maintain my new and improved alignment in these dances. Everything from the hips down feels really different–and mostly better–than it did two years ago. I can tell by all these tired day-after-skating-hard muscles, though, that partnering takes a lot of upper body strength that I haven’t been maintaining. Maybe I will finally get those Michelle Obama arms I’ve been hoping for. If only!

Speaking of arms, here’s fellow skater Tam showing off his marvelous moves. Pretty amazing, huh?


Lesson notes:

  • “pivot” edges: counter with free leg, head and back “spiral” around
  • “spiral turnout” on mohawks
  • tuck behind (really getting on the inside edge), heels in correct position


There will be cake

So I went in to get my skates sharpened this week, and when my regular skate technician got to my right skate, he paused and checked the blade several times. Then he went “hmmm.”

Uh oh, I thought. That’s not good.

He said that the outside edge was way high: probably a mistake from the last time he sharpened them.

Now, I had been having some trouble on my right side (which I felt odd since, that’s usually my strong side). Twizzles, for instance, have been really wobbly lately. But I thought that was due to something I was doing wrong. But lo and behold, after he redid my skates, I got back on the ice and everything felt way better. So it was the blade after all.

That one change immediately made me feel better about skating in general. This immediately made me feel better about other things too. I will just digress for a moment here. Things at work have been insane. I feel like I need to be in five different places at once. I have never wanted a body double (a Jo-clone) so much! And at home there’s seeing my high school senior through the final stage of college applications. (What’s that whooshing sound? Yes, it’s all that money getting ready to be sucked away for tuition…) Or shuttling my younger son to different engagements. Or taking the car to the shop or remembering that we’re out of milk or realizing that in a moment of mom-guilt I volunteered to help with another event or rehearsal.

But at least that blade runs smoothly underneath me. And a good thing too, since I’ve got all kinds of exciting challenges ahead of me, skating-wise.

Challenge one is continuing to work on good alignment and keeping my body in working order. I still have trouble at times with certain basic positions, and really have to thinking about not “sitting in the hip” or as Ari would say, “hanging off the hip.” In technical terms this is when the pelvis drops down contralaterally into relative hip adduction. But while that’s really fun to say, honestly, that doesn’t help me correct it. Some dance sites do talk about this problems, with advice like lengthening through the hips or imagining air in the joints. This positive thinking is helpful, but I tend towards the more cynical reality of what becomes terrifying when I hang off my hip. Here’s a brief list:

  • Outside edges. I have begun serious work on doing a better outside edge into a strong pivot position, forwards and backward, with my body turned out of the circle and my torso and back leaning into the circle and my head in the right direction.
  • Turns of any kind.
  • Cross steps. If I hang off my hips, there is no room for my new foot and I become a pretzel on a wild ride. As of this past week I have started trying to do these backwards (as in the cross-step into that one-beat outside edge after the slide-slide on the paso doble) and realized that I totally have missed the boat on these.
  • Inside edges.

Okay, that’s pretty much my entire skating life, now, so I need to move on. Challenge two is skating faster. Challenge three will be not panicking when I am skating faster.

Time for happy birthday cakes for Laurie and lesson notes!


  • Left inside, hips as spotlights (don’t let left hip lead too much).
  • Choctaw sequence in kilian with “pulsing leads.”
  • Euro/Starlight three turns.
  • Pivoting outside edges, forwards and backwards. Start with hand to opposite hip, turning out standing as well as free hip/leg, and leaning entire torso in circle
  • Inside mohawks with turnout.
  • Blues choctaw. Deep inside entry edge, and bend further until the new foot contacts the ice (there shouldn’t be an abrupt transfer of weight or push–yet). Change body lean in anticipation of the turn (not during or after the turn). Don’t touch down!
  • Tango mohawk. More speed, new foot comes in behind (fourth position, not heel to heel). Count: 2 beats push and extension, 2 beat swing, turn mohawk, 2 beat outside forward extension, 2 beat backwards extension.
  • Paso Doble exercise on the section after the slide-slide. First spot to watch out for is (1) the first cross step to the left outside edge, which should immediately curve towards the boards. Sickle foot on the back cross, and don’t hang on your right hip on that inside edge leading into the cross. (2) Second possible trouble spot is the right inside-outside change sequence. Don’t rise for the change of edge. Keep looking out of the circle and turn in your left free leg. Simply bend the free leg and draw in so that you can push.




I feel it in my ankles

I feel it in my toes!

I’m not certain who remembers–or wants to remember–the Troggs, the English rock band from the mid-1960s, originally called the “Troglodytes.” But of course you remember this song:

Their big hit was “Wild Thing.” Boy, just a few bars can really take you back to a groovier time when all you needed was a guitar, bass line, and a catchy phrase or two.

You know I love you, I always will
My mind’s made up by the way that I feel
There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end
‘Cause on my edge you can depend

Did I say “edge” and “depend” in the same sentence? No, that wasn’t a mistake. My edges are feeling stronger than ever. I still hit the wobbles sometimes, especially on those left back inside edges. But, I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.

Every thought seems to come with its own soundtrack! That is, if we’re lucky.

I have certainly enjoyed being back on the ice this week. Saturday was grooving to oldies (Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, Norah Jones) and watching Sonia do a teeny tiny tango. So cute!


Monday I decided to test my stamina by stroking around the rink for a while. Okay, just four laps. My stamina is. . . not so good. Whew!

Today’s lesson was on the Kilian and the Starlight Waltz. I can’t believe all the things that happen in one pattern around the rink. My pea-sized brain was having trouble processing it all, so here’s just a couple of points before the list.

  1. Keep hips aligned. Amazing how much unnecessary movement happens on even simple moves like cross behinds.
  2. Upper body lean. Especially on the left outer edges.


  • lean in on progressives (upper body) and outside-outside
  • cross behind, keeping neutral hip position; right foot extends immediately
  • scoop (edge pull) into choctaw


  • introductory waltz three: lean into circle, lifted free leg
  • same lean into first chassé, reverse lean for next chassé, reverse again for final chassé
  • strong outside edge: for change of edge, just come up and bend ankle (don’t drop in!)
  • same lean and arm position into back swing
  • lean into back outside edge, head and nose arc up and around for step forward
  • step forward into left shoulder, don’t let left arm keep moving around circle