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.
Socially distanced synchro!
Sonia and Jo
The neighborhood rocks!
Still a bit of snow
Spring is on its way!
Still some ice.
Go, sprouts, go!
My home office.
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!
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.
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.
A number of years ago I posted this picture on this blog to remind myself of what was going on with my hip imbalance. I’m finding it useful to address a related issue that has to do with my spine and the ways that I can’t turn easily towards the right.
Back then, I realized something was wrong when I had a bone scan that revealed that my back was crooked (something like what you see in the picture above). I had this done even before I started having the foot issues that started me on this journey.
Even though I think I’ve addressed a lot of the hip imbalance issues over the past few years (she said proudly, patting herself on the hip), I still have to think really carefully about what’s going on when what I do on the ice doesn’t quite feel symmetrical.
These past few weeks I’ve been focusing on what it feels like to turn my torso and head towards towards the right, and I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. If your back is effectively scrunched up on one side (left, in my case), it’s almost impossible to twist towards the other side freely.
I also realized that I don’t fully commit to my right-side edges, meaning that my weight doesn’t easily shift in and over that edge. This makes the problem even worse.
I’ve been working on consciously elongating my left side as I shift my weight over or before I try to turn towards the right. This feels like the right side of my ribcage actually moves over. Not a lot, but enough to engage my entire right side more than it has been. This makes it easier to twist towards the right, plus I feel like my balance is way better overall.
I’m mindful that I could easily overdo this, but at the moment it feels really, really good. No lessons for the next week or two (too much work), but hopefully the coaches will agree.
Here’s a really impressive performance of Dvorak’s cello concerto by a young cellist, Pablo Ferrández. Not a piece that one might skate to, but it’s inspiring and beautiful in and of itself.
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).
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.
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.
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.
OMG – rentals!
Terrifying the tots!
My awesome niece!
Wissahickon on a public holiday session, complete with disco lights.
Looking for an escape route.
But we’re having fun together!
Yay, we survived!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago I went on vacation (the beautiful island of Kauai), and the day I got back to skating was pretty rough. I had been off the ice for nearly two weeks and went to the rink only a few hours after a long flight back. When I started my feet were all swollen, and I could barely get my skates on, let alone feel my edges.
But as the week went on and I gradually got over jet lag and back into the skating groove, I’ve been realizing how much my skating has improved in the past few years.
To begin with, I am much more in control of my edges. Instead of a brief delay every time I got on a new edge (this was often very brief, but I still could feel it), I feel like I know how to get right on the edge. What’s more, I can actually deepen and accelerate edges at will. While I’m not able to use every edge to generate power (you’ll see from my lesson notes how much this is a priority!) I’m getting better at this.
Aside from post-vacation euphoria, what is going on? Well, several things that seem to be working in my favor.
One is a postural correction. In my Pilates class, PT Sarah has been telling me to “bend your knees without really bending your knees”: imagining that my thighs are moving forward as if my knees were starting to bend, but not actually bending at the knees. This makes my lower abdominals and glutes engage as if I were tucking my hips under (posterior pelvic tilt). But the important thing is that I’m not actually changing my hip position that radically.
Instead, I’m trying to learn how to turn those stabilizing muscles on without allowing the hips to go out from under me, whether forwards or backward.
Another is that this improved posture actually allows me some more mobility in the hip joints. I am actually figuring out how to use the hip joint not only for stability, but also to do turns and deepen existing edges.
Laurie suggested that on cross strokes and progressives, I think about my free leg as folding in and helping to deepen the edge. This seems like a small change, but it makes a world of difference.
So just (a) the right amount of sunshine and snorkeling, plus (b) better posture through the hips, plus (c) hip movement and mobility, plus (d) free leg helpfulness equals one happy skater! Add some friendly skating buddies and there you go! You don’t need to ask me what I’m grateful for this year.
Awesome semi-private ice.
Maggie at Mariucci.
Friends and post-skating food!
I’m usually a “glass half empty” kinda gal, but I can’t resist.
Progressives. Be aware of movement in the hip joint.
Powerpulls. Watch position of free leg on inside edge (not too far over in front of skating leg).
Back chassès. Work on the direction and stability of the inside edge push. Connect this to the action in the hip joint (leg turns in but then moves back to neutral or even turns out).
3-step pattern with inside mohawks. Work on establishing third position before the back inside to forward inside. Stronger forward inside edge.
Forward cross strokes. Bend free knee to allow weight to deepen into the skating foot. This is also important on forward progressives; make sure you do this on both the outside and inside edges.
Forward inside three, cross over front, back inside threes (in circle). Work on establishing a stronger inside edge into the three, rotate in hip joint, try to get rid of the skid, hold back outside edge longer before crossing.
Swing roll (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, quick step to change feet, push forward to repeat on other side.
Inside three, back cross, outside three-mohawk (continuous action), repeat on other side.
Different entry edges twizzles. Keep skating hip slightly open, skating side leads on entry (rather than letting body swinging around), ankles together.
Inside counters. Use inside edge pressure to “jump” the turn.
Forward power pulls (inside, outside, inside), inside mohawk, back power pulls (inside, outside, inside), step forward, repeat on other side.
Swing roll, (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, power pull, step forward on outside edge on other side, repeat.
Outside rocker, cross in front to back outside (change arms at the same time), back cross stroke.
Forward choctaw, power pull, step forward, tuck behind, repeat on other side.
Three step outside-outside mohawk. Do this on pattern. Make sure your free side stays elongated.
Inside mohawk, power pull, back outside to forward inside (choctaw).
I used to be quite opinionated about skating. Just ask me who my favorites were, and I could rattle off a list of names and programs and elements–and even costumes.
But I must be mellowing out, because the other day someone asked me who my favorite skaters were this year, and I had trouble answering. Okay, it’s partly because I’ve been watching for so many years that the list is getting awfully long.
But I think it’s also because everything is on YouTube these days, and I get the chance to watch programs throughout an entire season. I get to avoid watching an entire competition; I can even stop mid-program if it’s clear that it’s not a particularly good day for them. Or, I confess, if I need a snack (watching that many revolutions sometimes requires kettle corn.)
When I told Laurie about my intention to keep activating my glutes whenever possible, she scoffed at me.
As it turns out, no amount of gluteal strength was going to help, given that I was allowing my upper body to lunge forward with each stroke. This in turn made it difficult to get any real energy out of the push.
“You’re plenty strong,” she told me. “You’re just doing it wrong.”
Luckily, a few corrections later I realized what “right” felt like. Laurie reminded me that I should be directing the energy of each push into my shins, which should be working like levers pressing forward. Love this idea! And I need to stay over a good inside edge on the right side push, rather than just allowing my body to fall into the new stroke.
Knowing that I am strong enough–plenty strong for skating–makes me happy. While skating remains a challenge, it is starting to feel like the work that has to be done is more mental than physical.
I am going to keep on doing my off-ice exercises anyway, since they are good for me in all kinds of ways–and I still need more right ankle flexibility and strength (still can’t really do heel lifts without that dreadful sound). But the last thing I need to do on the ice is to have another reason to exercise the “brute force” method, using my muscular strength to haul myself around.
“Finesse, not force,” is now my motto. This is working well on swing rolls (much more controlled and even circles, rather than that “pulling around” sensation), progressives (much more even transition between edges), and other basic exercises. Hopefully this will carry over into turns as well.
Anyway, I have started my late-night binging of ice dance videos from various competitions in this new season. I am impressed that I recognized the Finn-step sequence right away in the Rhythm Dance–given the wide range of musical choices, it was hard to know what they all had in common. Guess I still have some of those compulsories on the brain.
Between that, and marveling that Schubert wrote “The Trout” when he was only 22 years old, I am one busy lady. It’s time to start in on those indoor activities, since the ice age is upon us! Okay, I did ride my bike to the rink last Friday, but as you can see, the snow is sneaking up on me.
outside-outside stroking: push into shins, not glutes! And watch that inside edge push from the right side.
outside three turns: don’t turn out your hip or you’ll be sorry.
inside mohawks: don’t turn out hips; instead, think about the inside edge hip being straight forward, then bring in heel to instep without changing hip position.
inside three, back cross stroke, back outside three, inside mohawk, step forward onto outside edge, cross behind to inside edge, repeat on other side.
alternative back crossover, double threes (back outside-forward inside three, then back inside-forward outside three): take the time to do actual pushes and edges rather than rushing into the turn (back right inside push needs work). On the back inside three–allow your body to turn naturally on the back inside edge rather than falling into the circle, and look in the direction of travel.
inside mohawk, back inside three, cross stroke, repeat on other side: work on that back inside edge rotation. Don’t touch down.
outside-outside mohawk, step forward, cross stroke into outside-outside on other side: don’t touch down! On the right forward to left back outside mohawk, work your hamstring on the left side to bring your new skate into the proper place (behind the right). Don’t let your upper body move out of the circle.
They say your glutes can be the seat of power, but mine are the seat of pain.
Usually when my backside hurts, it’s because I fell down. But this time it’s because I finally have decided that it’s time to get my glutes in gear.
You would think that after all this time obsessing about my form on the ice, I’d have figured this out. But after the first few lessons of the season, it was apparent that certain edges still weren’t clicking into place, and I just wasn’t comfortable on others.
So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in practice trying to figure out what’s wrong. It keeps coming back to (1) making sure my weight is on the correct part of my blade (it feels like I start my edges by “climbing” the rocker rather than balancing on top of the highest part of the blade or in the middle of the blade), and (2) making sure that my glutes are engaged (meaning that I can feel where my thighbone inserts into the hip joint).
Writing it out makes it seem complicated, but it’s actually much easier to skate this way. It’s not ingrained yet by any means, but I feel like it’s getting there. The only drawback is that man, is it tiring! It’s clear that my right side in particular really needs work.
Off the ice, I’ve been adding some weights to my lunges and other exercises, as well as consciously trying to activate my glutes while biking and walking. I would say that overall, it’s working. I feel like the additional strength will really help with a lot of the balance and confidence issues I’ve been having.
It’s all just a work in progress, but I am excited to watch it take shape. Or–ouch!–feel it take shape!