jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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More about leaning in

So I have been trying to get myself to lean more into my skating circles.

Throughout my years of imperfect alignment, I have been trying to deepen my edges by pressing down on the blade through my foot, scrunching down on my skating side, or counter-leaning. In case you’re wondering, none of these work!!!

I was trying to find some images that could convey the degree to which I’ve been fooling myself, but I couldn’t find any, even of myself in past skating sessions. That might be because I’ve learned to compensate so well that it actually looking like I’m doing something right.

Nor could I find pictures of other skaters who look like they have the same problems. Perhaps that’s because those compensations are so anti-intuitive that nobody else has this problem; or because no one wants to leave hard evidence of having done this.

I did find some nifty diagrams from this page on the physics of circular motion:

What I’ve been missing is that “inward component of force.” I am so fixated on the up and down that I totally forget about the inward feeling. You can’t achieve the needed degree of “tilt” without allowing your body to move inwards toward the center of the circle.  It just doesn’t work.

While leaning into the circle is definitely the way to go, I’ve had a hard time allowing my body to go there. But I’ve found that one way for me to get myself to do this is imagine that someone is pulling me towards the center of the circle.

Yup, you got it!

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Of course, if anyone actually suggested that I learn to do a death spiral, I would probably laugh in their face (or run screaming off the rink, ’cause they’re crazy!)

So don’t expect any actual pictures of me doing that anytime soon. For now, I’ll only post pictures of (a) my happy skating friends, and (b) skaters who are leaning happily into the circle on their own (maybe someday that will be me!)

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(a) Marianne and Sonja, a.k.a. Happy Skating Friends

 

Speaking of “how do they do that?” here’s a favorite piece of mine: Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Be sure to listen for the cello solo at 8:30. So good!

Lesson notes:

  • back eights: outside and inside (these have improved!) Really hold yourself accountable to be on a real edge.
  • threes on half circle. Think about how to get the turn in the right place (where is that foot pointing before it turns?)
  • inside mohawk. Think about where your new foot goes.
  • back inside edges. Hips forward. What does that actually mean?
  • Outside threes in circle. Legs straight and together before the turn. Don’t open up on the back outside edge before stepping forward.

 


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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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From this moment on

So at the end of my lesson this week Ari and I were talking about my left inside edge. Well, actually, it started out being about my left inside edge and then progressed to some words of wisdom about other things in skating, and then became a conversation about life in general.

Usually on my lessons there’s not much time for philosophy. But this week I had a lesson later on the session, which meant that I had already been skating hard for close to an hour beforehand. By the time my lesson got going, I was already feeling a bit tired, and by the last ten minutes of the lesson I was ready to get into conversation mode.

Okay, I admit that talking while doing some leisurely laps is not a good use of my limited time on the ice. But it actually was a very helpful conversation.

I am still working really hard these days is (no surprise to you regular readers!) on consistently maintaining strong edges on my left side. I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually figure out how to make this happen much of the time on outside edges (especially if I shift my ribcage towards the left rather than scrunch my left side and don’t over-rotate the edge). And I am beginning to feel it on inside edges as well, especially if I think about engaging those inner thigh and glute muscles so that I hit the edge immediately.

But perhaps an even greater challenge is letting go of old habits that feel right just because I’ve done them so many times. These include trying to balance over my skates rather than actually doing an edge, and letting my hips go out. Oh, and not actually pushing onto an edge, just because in the past there hasn’t really been an edge to push onto. (Chicken or egg? Chicken or egg?)

So here are some words of wisdom, paraphrased from Ari.

In skating, you have to let yourself try to do things you haven’t done before (like skating faster, or really leaning, or really using edges). You can’t let the fear of doing it wrong stop you from doing it at all. Don’t get stuck on getting the perfect position. You just have to keep moving. Don’t worry about “hitting the right edge”–just push and make it happen.

There are no records of what you did before; no one is watching and judging and video recording each moment. So don’t worry about what you did in the past; just think about what’s happening now.

Okay, too much talking! From this moment on, only hoop-de-doo songs and classic Bob Fosse choreography.

 

 

Lesson notes:

  • outside edges using the ribcage shift to help create lean (rather than “scrunching”).
  • outside-outside mohawk exercises: practice just placing new foot down (like a T-stop) in the correct position.
  • three turns: maintain curve on entry and really refine the twist.
  • inside mohawk: think about the curve in and out being equal, and move core underneath your body; don’t turn your entire body into the turn.
  • back inside edges: think about keeping your push in front of your new foot (pushing directly back rather than sideways).
  • changes of edge: learn how to move your skate underneath your body with those edge pulls.
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three, inside edge change to outside, tuck behind, repeat on other side. Work on getting that edge pull
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, step forward, outside three, step forward, outside three in the other direction, step forward, repeat. Make sure your feet are together after the mohawk.
  • Inside mohawk, change of edge (want to hear it!), cross front, change of edge the other way, cross front, step forward and repeat.

 

 


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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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My missing step (b)

So I had another lesson on outside-outside mohawks this past week, and Laurie pointed out that the turn is much easier if you:

(a) establish a good outside edge first,
(b) bend your ankle and use the foot to press into the edge without deepening the curve, and then
(c) just do the turn.

Where mine went awry was step (b). I would either slide my old foot out instead of pressing into the edge, or hook the edge inwards in a frantic attempt to maintain the outside edge. Either way, this was a tortured mess.

Once I figured out step (b), I realized how much easier this whole skating deal could be. Laurie  used the metaphor of the loaded gun, which will go off instantly with when you touch the trigger. Once you take the safety off and the edge is “loaded” properly, the turn just happens.

A violent metaphor, but here’s my realization of the week: either I skate like a human pretzel, or I do things the easy way.

The easy way is if I make sure that I’m doing step (b), not just on mohawks, but on oh-so-many things. Before three-turns, brackets, rockers, choctaws, and heck, yeah, on cross rolls and stroking and pushes. . . oh my.

I’m sure that at some point I’ll overdo this latest find, but for now, it’s really made a difference in achieving my better body position.

That’s the exciting news. The less-happy news is that I seem to have injured my left foot again. Same area (mid foot, towards inner arch). Last week I was running across the street after a yummy dinner with friends at our regular Chinese restaurant (such is the bittersweet nature of these unfortunate events) and felt a sharp pain. After a few days of rest it was much better but then I had to walk my bike home after a flat tire, which seemed to re-aggravate it.

Am doing light stretching and trying to take it easy. Luckily skating doesn’t seem to bother it too much, so hopefully this too will pass.

In the meantime, I’ll press on (haha!) It’s trigger-happy Jo!

How about a little tap dancing by Paula Abdul?

Lesson notes:

  • perimeter stroking, forwards and backward: make sure your inside edges are “real” and cover a quarter circle; check posture; make sure you push (especially on the underpass).
  • Alternating double threes (starting with back outside), back crossover: think about where your axis is, push onto a good edge (don’t rotate three too early–step b will help here)
  • Alternating double threes (starting with back inside), back crossover: better back inside edge position is crucial here.
  • back inside edge basics: get on an edge with good lean immediately (not “over” your skate). Let it go!
  • forward inside edge basics: head and upper body position so that weight is in the circle
  • outside-outside mohawks and bracket: think of how to press the edge (without changing the circle) so that you “load” the turn.

 


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Putting my “best” hip forwards

So at my lesson on brackets this past week Laurie noticed that I couldn’t shift my left hip  forward of my right without changing the level of my hips or the position of the rest of my body. We spent quite a bit of time just trying to get the right hip forward while skating on a forward outside edge.

Once again, I realized that the actual turn isn’t my problem: it’s the edge into the turn. If I can maintain a good edge, the turn is a piece of cake. I also realized that I still do a lot of skating (and other things in life) with my left hip slightly forward of my right, which benefits certain edges but screws up others.

If I try to force my right hip to move forward, all kinds of things go awry. I immediately start changing the rest of my body. Mostly I compensate for this by twisting slightly towards the left, so that I have the illusion of being neutral.

Once I tried to “encourage” my left hip to move forward, it seemed to help a lot. And this was not just true of brackets, but of many of the things I’m doing.

The lesson really made me think about how far I’ve come in understanding how my body works. I will continue to focus on getting my hips to move more “organically” as well as using more ankle bend for a better position over my skate. I also am trying to push down into the ice more to get more flow. I feel super-positive about these and other improvements that I hope to make. The new skates are working out great, and I have really been enjoying my regular time on the ice and having a chance to work at this.

The weather here has turned much warmer and the snow is melting! Spring is hopefully on the way.

Here’s my son’s suggestion for some super “chill” music to enjoy while I contemplate this new turn in my hips and hopefully the rest of my skating:

Lesson notes:

  • Brackets: hip position; remember that both entry and exit are “forced” edges so they need more attention to correct position.
  • Power pulls:  “sewing machine” action, with equal pressure into both the inside and outside edges. Also, think about keeping body on the axis, and making the edges equal on each side by pushing “outside” and away from the body.
  • New lunge exercise: forward three, push back lunge, push back lunge on the other side, turn into forward lunge, push forward lunge on the other side; repeat. Really push (don’t just two-foot); make sure you can hear those pushes.
  • Variation one: forward three, change edge, push back (really push and bend free leg in; make sure you are looking in the right direction), back three, toe through, repeat.
  • Variation two: forward three, change edge, push back , choctaw, toe through , repeat
  • In circle: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three. Don’t extend after the inside mohawk!
  • Inside three, toe push, inside edge, repeat on other side.


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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.