jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


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Foxtrot futility

It’s been a rather stressful week, beginning with a loose temporary crown last weekend,  an infected earlobe (dang earring!) a couple of days ago, and a skating fall/bruised knee yesterday (gosh, dangnabit!). But the kicker was on Wednesday, when I was out on the tandem bike with my husband and we hit a patch of ice and went down. I whacked my elbow, pulled a muscle in my neck, and hit my head on the pavement.

Luckily, my helmet held up just fine. I didn’t get a bump on my head, or feel like I was dazed in any way. We got back on the bike and headed home, grateful that nothing worse had happened.

A few hours later that day, I had a skating lesson. The first part went just fine; I didn’t feel any effects of the fall (the neck pain didn’t kick in until the following day). We worked on allowing for more hip displacement on some of my basics (this really helped both my warmups and progressives). And then we moved on to the first part of the Foxtrot.

The idea behind this is to get me to put different moves together in a more challenging way by soloing some of the compulsory dances. The Foxtrot should be a fairly painless way to do this, since I learned this dance many years ago and have done it a lot since. I passed it standard level (with a solo) and even spent three seasons competing it in different Adult competitions.

But as we went through the first sequence of steps, I started to go all over the place. I thought that it might be because I haven’t really worked on the solo for many years, and it’s never been one of my favorite dances anyhow (though it’s not as bad as the European Waltz. By the end of the lesson, I was frustrated and ready to throw in the proverbial ice dancing towel.

It wasn’t until I got home and was just sitting at my desk feeling a bit nauseous that I realized that I probably had a mild concussion. Not enough to register, but enough to throw me off the Foxtrot wagon.

Though I felt way better by the evening, I took it easy for the next couple of days, just in case.  And I’m happy to say that things seem to be back to normal: no more muscle pain and the dentist glued the crown back on so I can eat crunchy things again. Even my earlobe is better. Hooray!

And one thing that I did figure out  when trying to do the tuck behind on the Foxtrot is that I have been thinking about the inside edge–and especially my free hip position–all wrong!!!

More on that later once I’ve gotten this all sorted out. But for now, time for a nice cup of tea and a sigh of relief that the week is over.

Nothing but mellow, feel good music, please.

 

 

 

 


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Gosh, dagnabit!

So I have been making what I thought was great progress on improving edge control and alignment on my right side. But after a lesson in which it was revealed that I am still not really pushing off my right foot (especially when going backwards), I am indeed humbled.

Well, not really. Gosh, dagnabit!

One might say that there are so very many other things in the world to worry about, and that is 100% correct. But this particular small thing in the world is something I–and only I –care about and have the capacity to improve.  It’s nice to be in a place in life where so much irritation, effort, and time can be spent on something so trivial.

Anyhow, back to the real matter at hand: getting to the heart of why I don’t really push. Some of it has to do with my right ankle, which while is much more mobile than it used to be, is still pretty stiff on the ice. I also don’t use my right foot fully; while the foot itself is fairly strong, I have compensated a lot for the ankle by pronating and have to think a lot about using my arch and not just dropping my ankle in to create an inside edge.

This is totally connected to the larger issue is how I am not really over my inside edges. I am sort of there, but not really always in the “sweet spot” of edge pressure, control, and alignment.

Last week was getting a better “back dimple to kidney” ratio (basically lengthening my lower back). This week I am still working on the BDKR, but have added this other part to the mix. I am back to doing lots of back chassés just to work on that problem push, but trying to incorporate this into, well, everything.

So if you hear the occasional “gosh, dagnabit!”–don’t worry. It’s just me, having fun.

Speaking of fun, I was on a public session with only a couple of other adult regulars, and a gianormous kids birthday party. Kids everywhere, screaming, crying, and flinging themselves on the ice. But we survived! And by the end it was just us!

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Victory for Jo and Asal!

So for the musical selection of the week, here’s a lively set of Gershwin pieces arranged for cello and piano: Nick Canellakis and Michael Brown.

Don’t you wish you always had that kind of energy? Gosh, dagnabit!

Lesson notes:

  • Inside Mohawks: think about what your free leg is doing. Activate motion of bringing free foot into instep without changing weight or balance on skating foot. The rotation happens naturally.
  • Backward chasses: push from back inside edge, don’t put new foot down too early, and send energy of push horizontally rather than upwards
  • Power pulls: try to gain speed/ Don’t allow free foot to sneak down or just hang, and use the free leg and side to define the edges rather than just hanging over your skate.
  • Inside mohawk, back outside three turn, inside edge pull. Work on push and placement on axis.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, power pull. Work on control after three turn, and keeping hips forward (aligned).
  • Three back power pulls, back outside three, repeat on other side.
  • Outside/outside mohawk (like Rocker), cross in front, step forward inside, short inside to repeat on other side. Think about the axis and placement of edges.
  • Double three: rotate shoulders before moving free foot forward.


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The half-life of edges

This past month has been a challenging skating month. I’ve been away from the ice for a week or so at a time, and on this last trip I came back with a bad cold that still seems to be hanging on. Ugh.

But the skating I have done seems to be moving in a really good direction–literally! For one, I am much more aligned than I have been for a long time (more on that in a minute). I also feel like I have much more awareness of what’s going on in different parts of my body. Rather trying to balance in a hit-or-miss fashion, I am actively moving  over my skate.

Instead of hitting an edge and then having it slowly decay underneath me, I am using knee and ankle bend to change depth or even accelerate. I don’t have perfect control over this process, but it’s a start.

The other exciting development this month came after a lesson in which Laurie told me that I was still pitching forward a bit. This definitely was more subtle than the bobbing bird thing I used to do, but still there nonetheless.  We talked about trying to keep my core more stable and ribcage lifted, and I suddenly remembered something that PT Sarah has us do in her Pilates class: to create space, or lengthen the space, between the “back dimples” and the kidneys.

Despite my having a sister who’s a nephrologist, I was only vaguely aware of where my kidneys were before Sarah kept talking about them. If you’re like me, this diagram might help. They’re roughly the same plane as the bottom ribs in the front.

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Anyway, thinking about lengthening this space in the lower back really helps to stabilize my core while skating. In fact, it puts me into a much improved skating position overall.

I have done two practice sessions now focusing on this back-dimple-to-kidney ratio (BDKR) as well as trying to maintain flow over my edge. And do you know what? The half-life of my edges is now really, really long. I can just keep going and going and . . .

Sort of like the opening of this Ray Chen video (love the eyes)–just when you think the music has died away, it takes off.

Lesson notes:

  • inside loops: don’t try to make them so deep, or allow the skating foot to move away to the outside of your body (don’t fall into the circle).
  • back crosses: stabilize core and don’t allow shoulders/arms to dip
  • inside threes: work on timing and pressure of inside edge, don’t over-rotate or fall into circle

Pictures of my friends!


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Bite-size

What will it take for me to be truly bilateral?

These days I am trying to spend at least a third or more of each practice session holding myself accountable. Actually, it’s probably more than that–or at least it feels that way, given how tired I’ve been when I finally stagger off the ice.

By “accountable,” I mean that I have not really been fully pushing off my right blade. Nor have I really been “over” that side. And I don’t fully rotate into clockwise turns.

Do I sense a pattern here? I suspect that given my history of injuries to my right leg and ankle, I have been backing off and releasing pressure on that edge without even realizing it. That was fine in the past, given that I wasn’t particularly aggressively pursuing either edge. But now that I have become Jo the Edge Monster, it is really important to strengthen and build the right side now.

Though it’s definitely improving, it still feels like a daunting task. On certain moves (like pushing from the right back inside edge) I’m still encountering a particular combination of (a) muscle weakness, (b) lack of flexibility, (c) compensation (usually by doing some very strange things with my left side), and (d) terror.

This week I’ve been working a lot on forward and backward edge pulls to see if I can get that “bite” into the ice, especially on that right side. I’m trying to “bite” into the ice whenever I push too, just to make sure I’m really pushing and not just falling onto my edges. And I’m working on loops (outside and inside) to try to figure out how to keep the pressure going into the edge.

There’s a lot of ice-crunching going on at my rink these days. Hopefully by the time my favorite apples come into season, there will be progress!

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Mmmm. . . Fireside apples!

So before the month is over. . . . Earth, Wind, and Fire. Yeah!

Lesson notes:

  • push onto inside edge: the opening will be flat as you are keeping weight on the pushing foot.
  • forwards and backwards “ice theatre” warmup (stretch up, bend, push): I am not really pushing from my right inside edge when going backwards, or my left forward inside edge when going forwards (huh…that’s odd).
  • backwards push off right inside edge.
  • outside loops: maintain pressure through second half of the loop, practice the power pull exit with an extra power pull.
  • inside loops: figure out how to balance over inside edge in aligned way.
  • Variation A: back inside three, outside mohawk, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side. Learn to turn with blade rather than turn entire body, use knee and ankle action to get on correct part of blade.
  • Variation B: back inside three, forward outside bracket, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side.
  • Variation I: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, step forward to repeat on other side. Continuous rotation after mohawk; if you have to pause, do it after the cross behind.
  • Variation II: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, back outside three to immediate inside mohawk on other side, repeat rest of sequence on other side.
  • Variation III: inside mohawk (to start), step down, cross behind, back outside three, forward inside three, cross behind, double three on other side.
  • forward outside three, edge pull (bend, extend). This is like the three-step pattern, only with an additional sub curve.
  • inside mohawk, push back, back outside three: watch placement on circle, really accentuate strength of inside edges coming out of the three.

 


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No news, good news

So I have to go to the airport at midnight tonight to pick up my husband and son. It’s not even ten-thirty. Since I usually am asleep way earlier, I am left with some tough choices.

Should I lie down for a quick nap? (Bad idea, since then I’ll have trouble getting up.)

Should I do some more reading for work? (Nah, since I won’t remember any of it tomorrow.)

Should I go downstairs and have another coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie?

Or should I finish this blog post?

I started writing this but then deleted what I wrote. It just felt whiny and repetitive. Just to give a sampling: “big puzzle,” “problem areas,” “moving target,” “a piecemeal patchwork of, uh, mess and chaos.”

Okay, it’s good to vent. But this earlier draft was not really representative of how I feel about skating these days. Skating is actually going pretty well. I’m getting regular practice sessions in, I’m enjoying seeing all kinds of friends that I haven’t seen much of this summer, and I feel like (sharp intake of breath, this is so exciting) I’m actually doing some good things out there. I just haven’t been as good about writing down the good news.

Like today, I actually felt like I could get through a pattern of the Starlight Waltz. Not at tempo, and not at speed. But nothing wobbled and nothing felt awkward.

And I was actually able to follow directions on my lessons, rather than just stare vapidly at my coaches. Laurie and I worked on forward inside loops, and she told me to use my skating hand to “draw” the inside loop. And voilà! (I love “voilà,” it’s almost like “viola” but easier to play around with.)

She also told me to think of my “free hip weight” as being directly underneath me. This is a much more difficult concept than “voilà,” but it really helps me keep my hips aligned.

Other good news: my off-ice ankle mobilization (stretching and massage) seems to be having a positive effect. And I think that there is less swelling (though that might just be wishful thinking on my part). My right ankle feels less stiff, and I am able to sense where my heel is on that side now. This is really helpful on the ice.

One positive side benefit was that during yesterday’s recent downpour, I was able to sprint through the parking lot to my car without limping. Okay, I did get soaked anyway, but no pain!

Are these achievements as gloriously accomplished as this performance of the beautiful Mendelssohn Plan Trio by these three worthy gentlemen?

Absolutely not. But are they worth sharing as good news? You got it!

Friends skate with friends!

Lesson notes:

  • feet parallel and next to one another: try to get your knees apart next.
  • swing rolls: stretch free leg, hip weight directly underneath you
  • back swing rolls: think about the direction your body is headed as you push
  • inside loops: draw loop with leading hand (strong leading side, don’t bend forward)
  • two-footed rockers: make sure you go to an immediate edge after the turn (then try on one foot)
  • inside mohawk, back outside three: push, more speed
  • back outside-forward outside mohawk, outside-inside choctaw (like Quickstep), push back to repeat on opposite side
  • “ice theatre” warmup with stretch upwards (legs out, towards boards), bend down, then side lunges
  • inside mohawk, edge pull/change edge, cross in front, step forward, swing roll, repeat on other side