jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Checking in

This post can’t be about skating, obviously, so it’s just a way of checking in. I miss all my friends and fun at the rink. Here’s hoping we can all be together again soon, and that everyone stays healthy and safe.

Here’s also a moment to celebrate all the great songs that Bill Withers left us with. I had a really hard time deciding which one to share here. Lean on me? Ain’t no sunshine? I finally went with his collaboration with Grover Washington, Jr., “Just the Two of Us.” Just listening to the first few bars without any words takes me back to a happy time.

Crystal raindrops, shining sun, rainbows, and castles in the sky. Just what I need right now.

Classes at our university were moved online over two weeks ago, and I’m getting used to teaching virtually. I’ve been asking students to post thoughts and questions on an online forum and then writing up materials based on what they say. The first lecture took  until well past the midnight, the second only five and a half hours. So I’m improving.

At least I can wear my comfy slippers! And there’s lots of yummy snacks at home. When I’m not stressing out about getting the next lecture posted on time, I’ve been doing a lot of baking. In the past few days it’s been muffins, naan, and I just started some no-knead pizza dough for deep-dish pizza tomorrow.

Luckily my son is back home from college, so there’s an extra person around to help eat all those stress-produced carbs. So much for our empty nest! He’s filling the house with cello music, which is an incredible gift these days.

I have been doing a lot of yoga online, which hopefully will keep my balance and strength up for when I can finally get back on the ice. Just taking it day by day around here.

Here’s some pictures from the past few weeks. A few are from the last skating sessions before rinks were closed, and some of my neighborhood walks.

I was supposed to visit my cousins in D.C. this past week, but of course that was cancelled. Cousin Charles took pictures of the cherry blossoms for me. So beautiful!


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Keep calm and skate on

It’s a crazy time, that cannot be denied. Luckily, there’s Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin to remind us why people write songs in the first place.

And there’s an extra-large “brookie” pie that I made for my son’s studio class tomorrow.

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And there’s skating to keep me happy.

Between my work schedule and other conflicts, lessons have been on and off. But when I’ve had them, they have been really helpful. I’ve figured out how to maintain a better edge through some of my transitions as well as turns, and I’ve been having a good time working on my basics.

Even if life in general isn’t in balance, my skating has improved. I have a much better sense of where I am on my blade. I’ve been spending time working on maintaining a consistent edge as I come up (straighten the skating knee). I’ve worked on this before, but never really felt like I was getting anywhere. But at last, here it is.

Lesson notes (these are from a while ago as well as last week):

  • Introduction to the Starlight (double push, progressive, cross, swing): continuous motion through edge; think about the rhythm. Generate extension through push, not just by extending free leg.
  • American waltz threes: isolate stages. Set up rotation from the push onwards; don’t do that “extra” rotation at the end of your edge. Make sure you come up fully on the knee and maintain the edge. Free foot comes directly in, not around.
  • Alternating back chassés: think about the edge pull in between.
  • Change of edge: don’t rotate upper body (continuing looking in direction of “partner,” not travel).
  • Back outside to forward inside counter, touch and push back to repeat on other side.
  • Back to front outer- outer choctaw, change edge mohawk.
  • Mini Bauer back cross step forward inside and repeat in other side.
  • Inside Mohawk push back double three use ankle stretch.
  • Inside toe turn step forward tuck behind inside repeat on other side.


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Teeny tiny rink?

The N.Y. Times ran an article today about these small plastic rinks that you can set up anywhere because they are made of “glice” and don’t require refrigeration. I wonder  whether my living room area, if I cleared out all the furniture, might serve as a homemade rink?

Certainly this would be convenient. I could wear those purple tights that I’m too shy to wear anywhere else. I could take selfies of myself in one of my old competition outfits, doctor them up, and then post “landed that new triple!” pics on Instagram.

I would miss some dimensions of skating in the world outside. I wouldn’t miss having to drive to the rink (always leaving five minutes later than I’d like). Nor would I miss the crowds. And the adult skaters who carry their babies and toddlers around the ice in that scary way are better off without my terrified glances.

But it’s probably better for me to skate in an actual rink, especially since I am constantly having to remind myself that I need to cover more ice (i.e. actually push, rather than just placing my feet down and hoping I’m on an edge). Plus I’m supposed to be checking my posture in the boards so I can make sure my shoulders aren’t hiked up and I’m not pitched forward. And during the week when school is in session, our public sessions are usually pretty quiet: anyone lucky enough to be able to skate during lunchtime.

So the fantasy of having my own teeny tiny rink will remain unfulfilled. Still, when I’m daydreaming and doing those skating moves in my mind, it’s like I have that teeny tiny rink to myself–and I’m rocking those purple tights!

 

Lesson notes:

  • Outside swing rolls: work on keeping a consistent hip and arm position and staying over the edge through the transition (outer to inner). Stay on the circle and don’t change early. Push!
  • Inside swing rolls: remember that your weight (and body line) falls inside, not outside the circle. Don’t create the edge by pushing your hip out of line.
  • forward cross roll exercise: cross free leg over and push under to inside edge, tuck behind to new inside edge and repeat (this is especially hard for me clockwise)
  • back cross rolls: make sure to begin push when the free leg is still extended forward and continue to push through the entire transfer to the new outside edge, rather than just stepping the new foot down
  • forward inside three, cross in front, back inside three: allow the inside edge to come around naturally (rather than pushing/ skidding into the edge to create the turn), hold the back outside edge after the inside three before crossing.
  • Basic ideas: work on a more natural hip position on the inside edge. Mark this out by putting your inside edge foot down on the ice right next to an outside edge. Create the inside edge with your ankle, not by putting your inside edge outside the body and forcing an edge.
  • forward inside three, cross in front, toe, step to inside three on the next foot (alternate).
  • forward inside three with free leg in back, toe, toe half- turn, cross in front, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • back inside, forward inside (brackets in a semi-straight line), step down and repeat on other foot. Navel faces direct of first turn; learn to turn with the ankle and hip rotation, not by swinging upper body.

 

 

 


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Happy Year of the Rat!

First of all, Xīn Nián Kuài Lè and Happy New Year of the Rat! I was born in the Year of the Rat, so I’m looking forward to some good luck and financial gain in the months to come.

I hope that luck and money will mean that I also have another good skating year. In the past few months, I feel like I’ve finally turned a corner in terms of actually improving the quality of my body alignment. While I know I still have quite a ways to go (as my lessons this week showed), I feel like I’m closer than I’ve ever been to keeping my edges real (rather than faking edges).

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Jeff and Jo

Our semester has started up, and this past week was a bit touch and go. But I did manage to get some quality practice as well as a few lessons in. It was super fun to run into my friend Jeff, who I haven’t seen in a while. And while not all of my plans came to fruition, I did make some excellent cheesy biscuits (rats like cheese!) and found this incredibly catchy piece of music.

Lesson notes:

  • Push on forward progressives and back chassés: engage hip muscles for stability and proper (easy) “grip” on the inside edge.
  • Swing rolls with methodical arm positions, make sure your hip is under you.
  • One basic principle: your skating hip should always be slightly towards the inside of the circle you are making (not stuck out either way).
  • Back inside three, inside choctaw (forward inside to back outside), back cross, front in front to inside, repeat on other side. Start this pattern with a back crossover to a back inside edge.
  • Inside rocker, back inside, step forward onto forward outside edge, repeat on other side.
  • Mini swing roll, outside rocker, two back cross strokes, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • Practice back outside edges, checking posture in boards: use “flat front of hip” and correct pelvic tilt on skating side in order to stay over the correct part of blade.


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Eternal mysteries of the skating mind

How is it that I’ve skated for so many years without really being on an edge?

How can something so difficult, frustrating, and exhausting also be so exhilarating and addictive?

Why is it that I would brave a half-hour drive on icy roads to get to the rink when I am too lazy to go downstairs to make a piece of toast?

Why is it called a power pull if I’m supposed to push rather than pull?

These are mysteries that are just too deep for me to solve these days. I just go with the flow. And I do have flow, because I have figured out at least one or two things that seem to help with everything I do.

One thing is that I need to stay on the “uphill” part of my blade. It’s amazing how much easier it is to push and glide from there.

Another thing is that I still need to work on transferring my weight more effectively. I still tend to “fall” from one skate onto another, rather than actually pushing. This is especially true when I am pushing from right to left. An old injury on my right ankle has made it so I favor that side and don’t really engage the inside edge (or the glutes that are supposed to push).

Laurie told me to think about my skates as being like two canoes side by side. To get from one to the other safely, you can’t just jump or tumble or dive; you have to push smoothly and allow the force to be transferred into the new canoe.

I’ve been working on this off the ice as well, especially as I do lunges: glutes engaged on the “pushing” side as I move the other leg forward, then the same thing in reverse as I move back off the forward leg.

All this sounds a little abstract, but it works for me. I’ve been trying to keep the weight over the pushing side longer, and to make sure I am really grounded and pushing from that side, rather than simply releasing into the new side. It seems to be working, but it’s certainly far from consistent. It’s using all kinds of different muscles (including mental muscles), so by the end of the session, I’m pretty much wiped out.

It’s taken me many years to learn to do it the wrong way–hopefully correcting it will take far less time. At any rate, it’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun contemplating skating’s many mysteries.


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Happy 2020!

Happy New Year to all! May this year bring peace and joy and positive changes both on and off the ice.

I’ve been feeling really happy lately, especially about skating. During the holidays, I was mostly off for a week, except for a (gasp!) public session complete with loud music, wild children, disco lights, and (ack!) rental skates. But get this: even that was fun. My niece and younger son went with me, and afterwards we rewarded ourselves with homemade hot chocolate. And I congratulated myself on not getting blisters and not getting taken down by a stray child. 

Once I got back home, my regular public session was there to welcome me back. Though there were still plenty of people, it felt empty in comparison. And my regular skates feel like luxury vehicles with cruise control and heated seats and state-of-the-art sound systems, and . . . you get the picture.

I am also happy that the corrections I was working on before leaving on vacation are still   making a difference. I am working on making some basic changes consistent (these are all related to one another):

  • making sure I actually am on an edge rather than just balancing on top of my skate.
  • getting on the correct part of my blade. This means keeping my ankles flexed and shifting slightly forward through the ankle so that I can actually feel my arches engage.
  • pressing my shins forward.
  • getting my tailbone to rotate more downwards, and elongating the front of my hips. This means that my lower abdominals engage.
  • making sure my leg bones are firmly in my hip sockets, and not twisting in or out unconsciously.
  • keeping my upper body from tightening up unnecessarily.

This sounds like a lot to keep in my head. But because everything is connected, just fixing one thing (like where I am on my blade) makes everything better. I’m starting to feel like I’m actually skating rather than just shuffling my feet around on the ice.

My son just sent me a video of Cory Henry, who can keep an amazing number of strings going at the same time. Hats off!

Here’s to making something so complicated sound so easy. Can I finally make all these body parts work in harmony? Perhaps getting this holiday mug was a good sign.

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Here’s hoping for lots of skating in 2020!

 

 

 

 


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Feeling good, moving well, repeating myself

Scientists have been studying the way people learn new skills, and some believe that practicing different variations on a task, rather than just repeating the same task over and over, helps you learn better. This is due, they think, to the ways in which the brain recalls and processes its memories.

If any scientists out there has funding to study this with adult skaters and needs a test subject–I hereby volunteer!

So at my lesson last week, Laurie told me that my upper body is still moving around in rather random ways. She told me that I should avoid being one of those inflatable figures they use to advertise car dealerships and mobile phone stores. You know, the kind of thing that attracts your attention through flopping around in unpredictable ways.

 

Inflatable

Inflatable man?

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Or pillar of the community?

Some of this unwanted motion was definitely in response to being uncertain about my edges as well as alignment. I’ve been working on getting a much more solid connection between what’s going on in my blades and what I’m doing with the rest of my body.

Yesterday I went to a rather crazy public session and spent most of my time trying to figure out the optimal spot on my blade for edges.

Today I was inspired by Mary’s post at FitandFed reminding me of Ben Agosto‘s term, “glankles,” in which bending your ankles also fires the gluteal muscles.

This “theme and variations” strategy seems to be working. I’m feeling way more stable this week. Hopefully this will last through the upcoming holiday season.

Some Bach–even with all the times this has been repeated, it’s still beautiful.

Lesson notes:

  • Outer edges from push back: don’t scrunch left side of torso.
  • Lunges: practice basic positions. Also practice just deep knee bend on two feet with feet parallel and not allowing knees to fall inwards.
  • Outside edges: think about where your ribcage is. Turn in new skating foot slightly to grab edge from the beginning.
  • Back inside edge: make sure you are on the correct part of the blade.
  • Progressives: think about what is going on in the skating hip (slight turning in, turn out as the free leg elongates, then the action of the free leg coming in makes it turn in again)
  • Edge pulls, generating speed as you go.
  • Inside and outside mohawk: allow hips to “soften” when the free leg comes in. Work on exit edge
  • Swing roll with edge pull, change edge mohawk: continuous action. Don’t touch down! Do swing roll into skating arm; then arm stays in same place to allow mohawk to turn.
  • Extra work on right swing roll: allow free leg to come around (not directly in or kicking through). Use the straightening of the skating leg to put pressure into edge. Keep hips under.
  • Inside mohawk, push back, toe to heel, back outside three; alternating: foot immediately in front on back edge, mini-edge pull.
  • Inside Mohawk, triple three
  • Three turn, change edge, cross in front, change edge, step forward and repeat on other side: use that back inside edge power pull!
  • Inside counter, back choctaw: work on just allowing the back edge to come around on the back choctaw and just “sliding” off it.
  • Rocker, immediate back three (flat).