jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Posture progress

Well, in the past few weeks I have felt much better about skating. It’s not that I have added any new tricks to my repertoire, but I am finally feeling like my posture is better and my positions more secure.

I have been working really hard on keeping my core engaged and the front of my hips “flat.” This makes me do more of the work with my glutes. I am also trying to make sure my feet and ankles are fully engaged. And that my knees are bending enough so that they move in front of my skate, not just on top.

The trick is that I have to do this all the time.  It’s like that old song about “always”: not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Of course, when I’ve done it enough times (snort!) I won’t have to think about it. I’ll just do it and it will look like magic. And everyone will think, wow, how does she do that? It must be the leopard skin! (Okay, it does move attention away from the perfect alignment and deep knee/ankle bend.)

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Most of the time I think I’m the luckiest person in the world to be able to devote time and energy to this.  And sometimes I think, oh no, not again! Today I felt really, really tired–one of those days when I had to pat myself on the back for making it through an entire session.

Still, progress is happening!

My son wanted me to share this song through this blog. It happens to be a perfect reminder that I need to (1) use my glutes, (2) bend my ankles, and (3) engage my feet–here, there, and everywhere. I got this!

Lesson notes:

  • Left outside three turn: less twist through hips, more through upper body
  • Inside forward three: think about where your “tail” is pointed after the three (don’t immediately go to open-hipped position)
  • Back outside three: allow hips to rotate into more natural position on inside edge (don’t allow arms to rotate instead)
  • Back power pulls: no tipping into circle, work on knee bend and not staying up too long, don’t force a dramatic “rip”
  • Outside-outside mohawks: “J” edge, don’t let free leg drift into circle (it will make you flatten)
  • Back power pulls: don’t use arms, keep free leg behind skating leg
  • Left back inside edge, counterclockwise toe-toe-toe turn to back outside right, cross in front, cross in front, repeat on other side  (don’t forget to turn your head in the direction of travel)
  • Chassé, swing, change edge, mohawk, repeat (really bend your knee)
  • Back outside-outside (like a choctaw, only to an outside edge)
  • Forward three, push back to back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side
  • Inside to inside mohawk (like a blues choctaw, only it’s a mohawk) don’t bring in free leg with hamstring-use glutes instead
  • Really bend your knee and ankle (engage foot)

 

 


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Standing tall

How many times does it take to get something right? In skating, this number can seem inordinately large.

But I figured out that it is, in fact, a finite number. In fact, it’s probably less than I would have guessed.

I decided to put this to the test after a lesson in which Ari told me that I wasn’t really straightening my knee on swing rolls. In fact, I had trouble balancing on a straight knee even while hanging onto the boards.

Whoa, imaginary sirens are going off in my head. A paradigm shift is about to occur!

Once I figured out how to stand up over my straightened knee and hold an edge at the same time, I realized that this is another one of those positions that has been entirely missing from my skating vocabulary. It’s sort #$ like trying to communicate !!!@%… using any prepositions.

Okay, so what do I to make this right? The solution is to make myself repeat it consciously until it’s absolutely part of my muscle memory. So today I set myself a target number: do 50 right outside swing rolls.

That target number didn’t include the ones I cheated (bent my knee), or bailed out in the middle. I did about 10 and then realized that 50 is quite a big number. So I went on to work on some other things (like trying this on the left side, which is much easier but still could use some refinement). Then I went back and did some more.

At around 15, my hip muscles started to get really, really tired.

At around 20, the moves started improving. Or least I wasn’t holding my breath anymore.

I maxed out at around 35–that was the point at which I felt pretty consistent but was losing focus.

My hip muscles are tired! So I feel like this is something that is going to be really helpful in making those edges stronger. So my goal to do 25 right outside swing roles each practice session (standing tall!) this week.

Incentive? After I actually stood up straight on my knee, Ari said, “You’re an inch taller!” Okay, I’m fine with being short, but I’ll take that inch!

For a musical number, I tried to find a “stand tall” song but settled on “Stand Back.” Stevie Nicks as inspired by Prince! And those are some awesomely standing tall and twizzling (okay, pirouetting) dancers.

Lesson notes:

  • double threes: engage glute muscles to get on edges immediately following the three turn, remember that the back inside edge shouldn’t feel tilted in. Don’t over-rotate upper body.
  • brackets: work on these two-footed on a small circle. Thinking about really rotating through the core (this is challenging when the navel is moving clockwise, so practice off ice). Free foot is engaged and turned in before the turn. Draw free hand back afterwards (as if you had a marker)
  • progressive, swing roll: stand tall. Free leg shouldn’t have to bend to come through.
  • alternating forward outside edge, cross in front, cross behind, push (like in silver tango): you should be working on keeping weight firmly over skating side (think about standing tall).
  • f. outside three, push back, b. outside three, toe through to repeat on other side: work on getting those pushes engaged.

 

 


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Elliptical adventures

Vacation never stops me from thinking about skating! Last week we stayed for a night at Ashcroft, a small town in British Columbia. This town was established in the 1860s by settlers who came in search of gold and wound up establishing a way station for prospective miners. It is one of the driest places in Canada south of the high arctic, and has been the set for filming desert locations in movies and television.

Even tiny towns in Canada have their own skating rink! And curling. What does this say about Canada?

Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been using my time off the ice to work on more general aspects of fitness, which includes improving my aerobic fitness. I feel like I’m pretty good these days about working on alignment, flexibility, and strength (including core and upper body strength). The one piece that has dropped away in the past few years has been making sure that I get my heart rate up on a regular basis. While I feel like my cardio fitness level is basically still pretty good, I definitely should be building in some deep breathing (I did write “gasping for air” but that sounds a bit too dramatic) back into my life.

While visiting my in-laws in Portland, OR, I used the elliptical trainer, which has way more bells and whistles than my exercise bike at home. I had fun trying to keep up with the different fitness programs on the computerized screen. I didn’t realize that I could burn 100 calories in 6 minutes! (Okay, I know that’s not really true, but what other fantasies can we hold on to in life?)

I also enjoyed trying to rev up my heart rate using the elliptical (less impact than the treadmill). Since I have a fairly low pulse to begin with (usually around 60 bpm), it is a bit of a challenge to figure out how high I should make it go. I seem to have trouble getting past the low-80s, even when I’m–ahem!–gasping for air.

After I stop, both my heart rate and breathing go back to normal fairly quickly, so no worries here about over-exertion in the exercise room. Plus, I keep my slack-key Hawaiian guitar soundtrack on, which as we all know immediately translates to a certain amount of chill.

How will this new-found fitness goal translate into skating terms? In the past month, I’ve tried to organize my practice time on the ice into three different parts:

  1. warmup and basic edges, including progressives, swing rolls, power pulls, cross strokes
  2. turns, loops, twizzles
  3. compulsory patterns (Kilian and reverse Kilian, Starlight, Viennese, Quickstep)

Since I’m not doing a program, it’s important to figure out how to make an aerobic element part of the routine. I should probably start adding in 3-5 minutes of power stroking in there once in a while. I need a different soundtrack!


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Hips are A-okay!

I had a session with PT Sarah the other day, just to check in. My hips are doing pretty well! I still have some stiffness on the left side, but it’s way better. And so we spent more time on trying to get more mobility in both my right ankle as well as my mid-back (which continues to be stiff).

It’s been an interesting process trying to determine which parts of my body could work better in my favor. I started going to physical therapy mainly because of pain in my left hip and foot, but now I find that the right side could really use some work. The right ankle issue is because I have a lot of scar tissue there from an injury many years ago. I have trouble pointing my right foot and doing heel raises on that side. Sarah gave me some ways of stretching the ankle to try to loosen up the motion of the calcaneus.

Basically, we are working on getting some side-to-side motion for that joint, as if the heel bone was fish-tailing side to side. I sit back on my heels with my toes stretched out, try to pull the foot bones away from the ankle, and then work on that fish-tail motion. These were definitely uncomfortable, but they seemed to help.

As I am wont to do, I promptly tried this idea out on the ice too by trying to imagine that my heel bone was moving in the same path as the end of my blade (but away from the rest of the foot). This is a hard sensation to describe, but it makes a big difference in my stability. Basically, it felt like my skating foot is longer on the ice, that my weight is slightly farther back, and that I have more control over my blade.

This has been a much better week, thank goodness. I have been doing my off-ice exercises regularly, and this has helped too. I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100% confident, but at least I’m not feeling stalled out.

Here’s a picture of my forward outside loops, which are improving, I think.

Jo-loops

And a recording of Rostropovich playing Schubert’s Arpeggione with Britten (yes, that Britten), which probably can’t be improved on:

Lesson notes:

  • Two foot rockers: think about axis and where you are facing
  • Perimeter stroking: lobe direction (start progressive later); eliminate kick of right free leg
  • Inside mohawk step forward on inside, inside rocker (two foot okay), step forward, repeat
  • Open outside Mohawks: work on aligned hip position, circles (think about where you are facing)
  • Swing roll, flat, inside, inside mohawk, push back step forward, repeat: hip position over standing foot, rotate into free arm

 


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Satisfaction (as in, can’t get no)

Easy gratification?

Or long-term deferral of pleasure?

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It should be an easy choice, but it’s not.

On the one hand, I am getting quite frustrated with the way that I feel like I need to revamp my entire way of skating, like, every time I get on the ice.

The way I used to skate (balanced over my skates rather than really on an edge) was horribly, horribly wrong. I have gotten to the point that it actually feels wrong, which I suppose is a kind of progress.

Making things right, however, also is exhausting. I am working on several kinds of alignment corrections these days. One is making sure my weight into the circle, which means that my blade is striking down to the outside of where I perceive my midline to be.

shibutanis

Two is making sure that I am activating my glutes and hamstrings whenever I initiate a new edge. I wish I could figure out a way to make this happen automatically, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me, especially on the left side.  I wrote about this in a post several years ago when I was describing “skating from the butt“; what I’m finding now is that knowing about it and actually doing it more than 20% of the time are two different things.

VirtueMoir214

Three is feeling steady pressure through the blade down into the ice during the entire edge. I have this tendency to release the pressure in favor of hanging out on top of my skates.

These things are definitely outside of my comfort zone. Plus they are so basic that I can’t avoid working on them.

Perhaps I have come to a standstill? Or reached the point of no return?

Or perhaps it is a turning point?

I used to think the operative words were about not getting satisfaction. But maybe it’s also important to hear

’cause I try/ and I try/ and I try

Will I be around as long as these guys have been? We’ll see.


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No one is alone

If you’ve seen the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, you will know that it’s not always easy to find your way through the confusing paths of life, even in a fairy tale. We hope for heroes and villains, happy endings, and clear moral consequences–but in reality, those neat fictions quickly vanish.

That’s why I find this song so poignant:

The past couple of skating weeks have been a thicket of confusion, with some really good breakthroughs and some very weird and random falls.

To begin with, I took a few days off skating to chaperone a high school field trip to Chicago, which was pretty fun. We went to the Field Museum, where I got to contemplate the hip structure of dinosaurs (legs more upright) and reptiles (legs sprawling sideways). I’ll just share the slides and spare you the reflection on how this makes me think about skating.

But when I got back on the ice, I kept falling down for different reasons: catching the back of my blade (since I once again forgot to point my toe), pushing off just a little too vigorously, and forgetting what I was doing in the middle of a mohawk.

So when the song goes “people make mistakes,” I can really relate. Ouch!

Happily, though, I think some of the soreness is actually due to progress, not just impact. Some of the falls were because I’m actually trying something new and going past my comfort zone (I don’t count the momentary glitch on the mohawk.) I have been really focused on using my core in skating, which means that my hip muscles are actually working harder. Here’s my list of action items:

  • Pushing onto a really good edge, making sure I’m in a good hip position (neutral), with core engaged and without using too much hip flexor.
  • Making sure my edges  remain active throughout their duration (I will write a separate post on using pressure rather than just momentum), which means that I need to be aware of my feet.
  • On my backwards edges, pushing with the knees and not just the feet.
  • Loops (I do love doing these). One of these days I’m going to work up a light entertainment program in which I am a barber shop pole.

Barber_Shop_Pole

So is my skating “good” or “bad” for the world? For me? For my dinosaur-like hips? I’m not sure. Luckily the “good” and “bad” of my skating are (1) not loaded with moral consequences and (2) not a zero-sum game. So I can always enjoy the fact that I am getting better without worrying that someone else is suffering.

The moral: Jo skates, and everybody wins!

That’s why skating is so good for keeping disenchantment at bay. At the rink, no one is alone–or if they are, they feel lucky to have private ice.

And sometimes magic happens. That’s why we like seeing our friends win gold medals at Adult Nationals!

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Sonia and Doug, 2018 AN Silver Dance Gold Medalists!

 

 


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It’s all in my head

That title doesn’t mean what you think it does. No, I’m not going skating-crazy, although the term “skatinsanity” does come to mind.

Literally, some of my skating problems have to do with the weight of my head. Laurie pointed out today that one of the reasons I’m not bending my ankles enough is that my head is tipped slightly forward, just enough to bring my weight into the wrong place. To counteract this, I send my hips back.

I have been told countless times to look up, but all I do is get my eyes peeking up while continuing to keep my head down. She suggested thinking instead about rolling the weight of the head back slightly. And what do you know? I was in a much better position on the blade, and was able to bend my ankles like a champ.

As I was looking for pictures of skaters to illustrate this “head weight slightly tipped back” position, I realized that they all have their head weight back! I could find very few pictures of elite level skaters who have their heads tipped forward as I do (unless they are doing it for dramatic choreographic effect, or have some kind of terrible moment that we’d rather not think about).

With their heads in the right place, look at them go!

 

This provides another way of thinking about body position. It especially helps on the transition from back outside edge to forward outside edge. Laurie suggested thinking about not only the head weight going slightly back, but also the movement of the nose “like a rainbow” as I turn forward.

I realize that all these descriptions are pretty strange to non-skaters. But one more before the “skatinsanity” is finished today. When I corrected my head position, suddenly everything got a lot better. My forward progressives were so polished, in fact, that Laurie suggested that I complete the picture by working on my hand position. I tend to droop my wrists (especially the right one) unconsciously, which looks more than a little awkward.  It’s an easy fix, but I haven’t bothered to do it.

As Laurie puts it, having that one strange wrist position is like being in a really gorgeous outfit, but failing to notice that there’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to your backside. Funny!

Okay, some lesson notes:

  • forward outside edges with hips facing forward (not opening outside the circle)
  • swing rolls: push onto new edge without “unfurling”
  • progressives forward and backwards: experiment with rolling the weight of your head forward and back
  • three turn, back outside edge: weight of head back, make “rainbow” with nose
  • Kilian choctaw: rotate core towards right twice (not just arm); don’t need too much body twist if your core is actually rotating.

And a musical selection that is totally unrelated–but I wish I could skate as well as Ben Bliss (what an apt name) sings. Like buttah!