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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Bigfoot

So one of the changes that I’ve noticed with my new skates is that my feet feel longer. Some of this has to do with the fact that the skates themselves are a half size longer (and a good deal narrower). I got this different size because my old skates kept pushing against one of my toes. I realized that I needed a tighter-fitting heel as well.

Also, as my feet have gotten stronger, they seem to be lengthening. Some of this probably has to do with having a better arch, but it is also that the alignment of my foot-bones has changed. While I still have some issues with the left foot, I think that overall my feet both feel much better than they have in a long time. Thank you, foot exercises! Hurray for happy feet!

While I know that they haven’t actually gotten that much longer, if at all, it reminds me of the feeling of longer skis. I didn’t learn to ski as a child, but went a number of times in my twenties, so I remember well the feeling of switching to a longer, faster pair. Gangway! Aaaahhhh!

I think that since I am trying to get more speed in my skating, having the feeling of “longer” skates can make a difference. In particular, I am trying to keep my weight moving constantly forward as I rise and press down on edges, rather than the down/up/hiccup/try to balance feeling that I have been been struggling with.

In other words, my big feet can help me make sure my body keeps moving forward as they create “bigger” and faster edges.  And the rise and fall of the knee/ankle bend should be smooth, no sudden drops or popping up.

Which of these waves best describes my skating knee action this week? Stay tuned!

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Okay, I need an aspirational song here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Whgn_iE5uc

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Asal and I make it through another crazy public session!

Lesson notes:

  • two foot slalom, work on immediate edges and knee action after turn
  • double threes: set up on axis, BIG circles
  • perimeter stroking: work on backwards especially

 

 


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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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Well, blow me down!

Skating has been really awesome on the days that I’ve been able to get there. For those of you outside of the state, Minnesota has had its snowiest February ever, with 31.7 inches so far. And the month’s not over yet.

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My husband took this picture in a school parking lot.

Oh well, at least it’s February and not like April 14 of last year. So far the snow this year has yielded several kinds of cookies, gluten-free apple muffins, banana bread, chocolate pound cake, and the latest, a Japanese-style cheesecake (my second try at making one, here’s the recipe I used).

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Fluffy Japanese cheesecake

When not whipping egg whites into soft snowy (argh, not more snow!) peaks, and covering my kitchen counter with powdered sugar, I have been trying to keep up with skating.

I am happy with my new skates, which are now fully functional. So functional, in fact, that I can’t use them as an excuse when Ari says “bend your ankle.” But I confess that much of what I’ve been working on these past couple of weeks feels like physical therapy on ice. Here’s the list (everything is about posture):

  • weight on correct part of blade (especially when skating backwards, when I tend to be too far forward on the blade)
  • bend ankles, not knees (this will help keep the weight there)
  • “skating hip flat and forward”
  • use hip muscles (gluteus medias) on skating side to keep from dropping free side
  • use feet on inside edges

The other day at my lesson I was lamenting the fact that I tend to try to barrel through things rather than to figure out what is really going on. Laurie came up with a really great quote, something about “there’s more in the toolkit than just a hammer.” I laughed and told her I wanted to quote her on that, only by the time I went to write the quote down, it was gone–except for the hammer part. Darn!

So I went online looking for similar quotes, and only found “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Good quote, but not quite the same.

Anyway, I am trying to expand my range of skating skills, not my list of pithy quotations. (Though Laurie also had a good one about digging around in the weeds, ’cause that’s where all the tasty stuff is. . .okay, it’s a metaphor!)

Okay, time for an inspiring and totally kid-friendly video: from the thoroughly enjoyable Zootopia. My favorite parts (aside from the lyrics about falling and getting back up again) are the sloths and the back-up singers. I hope that on the ice I move like the latter, not the former!

 


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Life is good!

Nothing like a polar vortex (minus 28 degrees F was the worst for us here in the metro area) to make me grateful for temperatures above zero.

Nothing like several bouts of white-knuckle driving through fog and snow and ice to make one appreciate being at home.

Nothing like several days of shoveling to make me appreciate some clear and sunny days.

And skating again, ah . . .

Several other things that are making me happy. First is that my new skates and I are getting along great. They are still stiff (what a great feeling to take them off after each practice!) But I have now switched over 100%. I find that they (a) provide much more support, and (b) make it much easier to turn, which shouldn’t surprise me, given how worn out my old skates were.

Another plus is that the new skates are slightly longer, which means that my right middle toe no longer gets cramped up. Given that I am trying to use my feet more, I need all the toe-help I can get!

Second is that I have started do more regular bouts of off-ice exercises and stretching, and even added some weights to this mini-workout. I think this will help my skating, too.

Third is my son’s college auditions are over (fingers crossed!) and I think (hope) that I have finally finished some of the busywork that has been taking up room in my email in-box. ‘Tis the season!

I tend to worry when things are going well (you never know when the next snowstorm is going to hit) and I know that my email in-box will fill up again, probably by tomorrow. But I’m trying to just enjoy these moments. Life is good!

 

 

 

 


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Happy new skating year: 2019!

So happy to be back on the ice after yet another break for a family vacation. This week-on, week-off thing really is not very effective for getting in any kind of skating condition–or in breaking in new skates.

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Yes, here they are! All mounted with new blades and ready to roll. Don’t they look stiff?

It has been a while since I did the new boot thing, though I replaced my blades a few years ago. I’m hoping that this will not be too bad. I have been been in them on four different days. Day 1 was 10 minutes, day 2 was 15 minutes, day three 3, 20 minutes. But today I only lasted 15 minutes, so I seem to be retrogressing.

I’m still skating in my old faithfuls for most of the session so I can get through at least some of my moves. I’m sure the new ones will break in much faster once I take the plunge into wearing them for longer, but for now, I’m trying to ease into the transition. It’s like the sloooow walk into the cold water; at some point you just wind up diving in.

Okay, time for 2019 skating resolutions!

  1. Break in new skates without whining.
  2. Skate as much as possible.
  3. Master the art of the “flat hip” (meaning not breaking at the waist) and other useful positions.
  4. Assertiveness training: no more “nice” wimpy edges.
  5. Build some endurance/aerobic training back into skating.
  6. Rock those inside edges!
  7. Cover more ice (as Ari says, “You’re not that short!”)
  8. Oooh, lots of turns. Fun, fun, fun!
  9. Get back into patterns: dances, moves.
  10. Enjoy good skating company. Here’s a sample!
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Jeff, Brenda, Jo

Happy New Year, everybody!


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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.