jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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And the boot goes on

So according to this Minnesota Public Radio article, Lake Superior is over 94% covered in ice now. They’ve built “The People’s Rink” by shoveling off the snow in a serpentine pattern. If it weren’t almost three hours away, I’d be tempted! After all, that’s what winters are for,

There is a lot of outdoor skating around here, but I confess that I’ve become a real prima donna when it comes to my ice time. I like it climate controlled, Zambonied (or should that be “Zambonified”?) on a regular basis, and preferably marked with clear lines so that I can be lazy about marking an axis for my warm-up circles. Music, but not too loud or too soft or too angsty. Oh, and not more than ten other people unless they’re total beginners and therefore clinging to the boards. Three if they are working on doubles or higher.

This is very funny because those conditions don’t affect me in the least. I have plenty of room to skate at most of my sessions–more than I need, in fact. I am not trying to get programs or patterns in, and I’m usually the most random skater out there. There are a few regulars who are quite serious about getting through their practice routines, but I pretty much know who they are.

Much of what I do these days is still focused on trying to get my body to move more efficiently and naturally on the ice. Skating these days pretty much feels like a physical therapy workout: isolating certain edges and movements that don’t feel right and then trying to figure out how to improve them.

This past week I have spent quite a bit of time just trying to get my boots on right. Let me explain. During one of my lessons I was having trouble doing a deep forward left outside edge. I tried adjusting my hips, pressing my knee forward, leaning my upper body. None of that really helped. Ari then asked me which side of the boot I felt pressing into my ankle. I replied the left side, which seemed to make sense to me since I was trying to “tilt” my skate over more to the left.

Wrong. As it turns out, I’ve been going about this all wrong.

If you take a look at these doctored speed skating photos, you’ll see what I mean. First the outside edge:

outside

It’s a bit hard to see, but I think you can tell that the pressure generated by the tilt of the blade is actually on the top inside of the ankle.  I had been trying to shove my weight onto the outside edge not by pressing down on the outside of my foot but by loading the top of the boot in the wrong direction.

You can see this principle working more clearly on this picture of an inside edge. The outside top of the boot is really pressing into the ankle.

inside

So since this discovery, I have been going through a major reassessment of all my edges. My right side seems to do this more naturally; my left side needs constant. . . well, encouragement. But the good news is that a little bit goes a long, long way.

Okay, finally got this post done (after several re-dos). Last thing to add is a song. This one is from the musical Waitress. Lots of great versions out there (including one by Sara Bareilles herself) but I find this one particularly moving.

 

 


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Well, blow me down!

Skating has been really awesome on the days that I’ve been able to get there. For those of you outside of the state, Minnesota has had its snowiest February ever, with 31.7 inches so far. And the month’s not over yet.

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My husband took this picture in a school parking lot.

Oh well, at least it’s February and not like April 14 of last year. So far the snow this year has yielded several kinds of cookies, gluten-free apple muffins, banana bread, chocolate pound cake, and the latest, a Japanese-style cheesecake (my second try at making one, here’s the recipe I used).

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Fluffy Japanese cheesecake

When not whipping egg whites into soft snowy (argh, not more snow!) peaks, and covering my kitchen counter with powdered sugar, I have been trying to keep up with skating.

I am happy with my new skates, which are now fully functional. So functional, in fact, that I can’t use them as an excuse when Ari says “bend your ankle.” But I confess that much of what I’ve been working on these past couple of weeks feels like physical therapy on ice. Here’s the list (everything is about posture):

  • weight on correct part of blade (especially when skating backwards, when I tend to be too far forward on the blade)
  • bend ankles, not knees (this will help keep the weight there)
  • “skating hip flat and forward”
  • use hip muscles (gluteus medias) on skating side to keep from dropping free side
  • use feet on inside edges

The other day at my lesson I was lamenting the fact that I tend to try to barrel through things rather than to figure out what is really going on. Laurie came up with a really great quote, something about “there’s more in the toolkit than just a hammer.” I laughed and told her I wanted to quote her on that, only by the time I went to write the quote down, it was gone–except for the hammer part. Darn!

So I went online looking for similar quotes, and only found “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Good quote, but not quite the same.

Anyway, I am trying to expand my range of skating skills, not my list of pithy quotations. (Though Laurie also had a good one about digging around in the weeds, ’cause that’s where all the tasty stuff is. . .okay, it’s a metaphor!)

Okay, time for an inspiring and totally kid-friendly video: from the thoroughly enjoyable Zootopia. My favorite parts (aside from the lyrics about falling and getting back up again) are the sloths and the back-up singers. I hope that on the ice I move like the latter, not the former!

 


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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!