jo skates

Skating in the key of life


Skating insights? Or listicle?

I am not leaning into the circle even when I think I am.

I am not going fast enough even when I feel like I’m going as fast as I can.

I am not really lined up over my blade even though I can’t detect any obvious breaks in my alignment.

I am not really into the ice even though I could swear there was an edge there. Somewhere.

I am not really to turn even though my body seems fully rotated.

Ankles. Must. Bend.



Edward O’Neill, Elementary Techniques in Roller-Skating (1960)


Work meets skating.


Is it possible to make an even sadder version of this song? Here’s Boyce Avenue (with Carly Rose Sonenclar) singing Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something.”

Lesson notes:

  • Lots of work using those hip muscles, getting in the right position for outside-outside mohawks and other turns.
  • Inside edges, keeping correct lean and alignment
  • Deepening outside edges (also can do after cross strokes)
  • Back cross strokes (don’t rush, start push earlier, free leg action helps with skating edge deepening and push)
  • Back outside three, inside mohawk (don’t rush, rotate body for the back outside three)
  • Forward outside three, push to back outside three, toe through and repeat on other side
  • back cross, back inside three, forward outside three, repeat in other direction (turn body on back cross, not after)
  • choctaws, back to front and front to back (arm positions help to define edge)



Endless season

Here are some words of wisdom from Yoko Ono’s “Season of Glass” (1981).

spring passes
and one remembers one’s innocence

summer passes
and one remembers one’s exuberance

autumn passes
and one remembers one’s reverence

winter passes
and one remembers one’s perseverance

Ono ends with the season that never passes, the “season of glass.” Or maybe what she really means is the season of ice.

That is because even as the seasons change, skating pretty much stays the same.

Lace ’em up, tuck the ends under. Swizzles, progressives, power pulls, cross strokes, swing rolls, turns. Wave to the guys who do the Zamboni. Say hi to my skating pals. Another set of those three turns that I love so much. Check my posture. Check my hip position. Check my ankle bend. Try to get a little more speed this time. Kilian. Now in reverse!

Another autumn shading into winter. Basil finished, tomatoes all gone (only lost one to the marauding squirrels this season).


It’s gone. But the ice remains!


Bone skates, anyone?

A poem by Jane McKie, “Viking Horse-bone Ice Skates“:
The horse won’t know how its metatarsal
can be whittled by friction with the lake,
how the act of skating is part halting
glide, part planer blade; or how thick ice melts
back to health, its grooves, its scuffed ‘v’s, softening
to fill their own wounds. And the horse won’t know 
how the skating boy, who opens his mouth
as he flies, will lose three blunt teeth, two milk,
one new; how these teeth, also, will be found.

From Kitsune (Blaenau Ffestiniog:  Cinnamon Press, 2015)


This photo is of a pair of bone skates that were discovered in Dublin 11th/12th century AD. There is also an interesting webpage out there about Viking-age ice skates, complete with photos of the brave author who tried to reconstruct and actually skate on a pair of these.

Thankfully my skates, however old, are not made of bone and there is no loss of teeth to report here! I have had enough challenges on my relatively high-tech Reidell-MK combo.

Since I don’t have equipment issues to contend with, I have to up the ante a bit. I been trying to make myself work more on things that are out of my current comfort zone. This week, this has mainly entailed skating with my arms in different positions. Laurie has me doing progressives with my arms in fifth position: up over my head, and with my thumbs touching. This makes me much more aware of how used I am to leaning slightly forward and have my shoulders raised. Similarly, I have been doing back outside edge push backs with arms in first position, thumbs touching; again, this makes me realize how much my shoulder and torso have been distorted.

Since my edges are getting stronger, I have also been trying to work on getting better positions in and out of turns. I tend to flatten out edges just before I turn (don’t know why, since it makes the turn much harder).

Still hard at work, but at least my blades are nice and sharp (got them done last week) and made of metal, not bone!

Lesson notes:

  • progressives with arms raised in fifth. Head lifted too. No bobbing!
  • push back with arms in first. Watch that you are not setting down your left foot too far forward.
  • inside edges and forward inside threes. Be really clear about the edge and starting arm positions. Control rotation.
  • mohawk push back, back outside three. No delay on second edge of mohawk.
  • alternating back crossover, change edge. On back inside edge, turn in free leg (top of thigh turns in). Knee action to gain speed on the change of edge.
  • back to front choctaw, counter. Don’t change over and do a three turn instead of a counter.
  • swing roll with edge pull, change edge to quick mohawk step forward. Keep lean into circle, especially on right side.


Swing roll redux

Oh give me a poem ’bout some blades made of chrome
And a rink where the ice skaters play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And my edges are awesome all day!

Home, home, I’m deranged. At least it felt like that earlier this week, after spending most of my lesson working on forward swing rolls yet again.

This was my choice, mind you. I have very patient coaches. Laurie in particular doesn’t complain when I ask to work on the same moves week after week. I think she knows me pretty well by now, and when I get a bee in my bonnet about something, I am determined to see it through.

I have all these memories of stubborn me as a kid, trying to accomplish the near-impossible through sheer force of will. I remember trying to get the car out of the icy driveway by pushing it uphill (both stubborn and stupid), or practicing sustained notes on the clarinet while looking in the bathroom mirror–daily for a solid hour until the rest of my family nearly went insane.

Gee, I hope my coaches don’t go insane. Or roll their eyes so that I can see them (what eye-rolling you can’t see won’t hurt you).

Anyhow, on my swing rolls I am working on being on the correct part of my blade with my hips nicely lifted, maintaining my lean, getting a good S-curve change of edge, bringing my feet together in an inverted “V” (toes in, heels out), and (wait for it. . . ) putting my new foot down on an angled edge almost as if I am going to push under the old one. 

This last idea is because I have been setting my new blade down on a flat too far forward, which means that I don’t transition smoothly to a new edge.

For the record, I also worked on alternating forward three, back three (outside and inside) moves. These are improving, but I am still having to be reminded of basic things, like striking out on an edge without rotating immediately, rotating completely before striking off on the back edge, and transferring my weight fully onto the back edge.

Practices these days are pretty much limited to moves and exercises. I begin with swizzles, stroking, swing rolls, progressives and chassés, and cross rolls. Then I do some of the various turns, back threes, loops, alternating turns, mohawks, choctaws, and twizzles, focusing on whatever new exercise Ari gave me the previous week. I will throw in a few patterns of the Kilian for fun some days, but only if I have time. I find myself spending much of my time just on progressives and swing rolls these days.

After an hour or so on the ice I am totally exhausted, both physically and mentally. What I’m trying to work on is not just getting through these things, but focusing on really foundational things.

  • Engaging the correct muscles (especially glutes) and being lined up correctly (especially hip, knee, and foot).
  • Lifting out of the hip and not dropping the free side.
  • Feeling engaged all the way through the blade (connecting all the way through my skating side).
  • Lean. Always being on a real edge. Maintaining that real edge.
  • Push. Being on an edge immediately (angle of blade, set down).

Sometimes I wonder if I’m making easy things hard, or if these basic things are actually hard. I guess it doesn’t matter: for me, they are hard to do correctly and therefore hard.

I did find a set of blog posts from Jaya Kanal, called “It Figures!” that give a lot of good advice on postural restoration, lift, alignment, and skating. Since much of what I’m discovering is kind of muddled up in this blog, I definitely recommend reading what she writes and watching the videos she includes.

And if you’re sick of hearing me talk about swing rolls, go ahead and roll your eyes. I dare you! Just don’t do it where I can see you.



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Poem for today

A poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist”

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Source: Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry (University of Utah Press, 1988)



So one of the reasons skating never gets boring is that there are always discoveries to be made. There are body issues (like misalignments) and technique issues and technique issues that turn into body issues. And then there’s always that chance that I’ll discover something that, wow, I’ve been doing all wrong. Okay, that may be depressing (how long have I been doing this wrong?), but at least it is never boring.

Here’s the most recent discovery: I don’t bend my knees enough at the right time. I have figured out this from working on forward outside edges, but I think it true on all my edges.

Let me explain. On forward outside edges, such as the ones that Kseniya is doing on this video, there are actually two movements on the first part of the forward outside edge alone, even before the rise and changeover for the next push. One is the push into the initial part of the edge, with the skating knee bent and the free foot extended. Next is the  skating knee bending more as the free leg comes in to deepen the edge. 

This is the part I’m missing. Instead of bending more, I’m rising up as the free leg comes in. This means that I’m not deepening my edge (and getting less power). It also means that I am rising up at a really inopportune moment. And I’m confusing my body.

So I broke down what I need to do on these outside edges into these distinct movements:

  1. Push into initial position.
  2. Deepen knee bend as free leg comes in.
  3. Rise up on skating side, changeover to inside.
  4. Re-bend on skating side to push.

I suspect that I haven’t been doing  (2)–the deepening of the edge–on a lot of other moves (like those outside-outside edges in the Kilian). It’s not for nothing that Andrea, one of my coaches way back, once joked that I was popping up “like a toaster.” So today I worked on this additional knee bend and boy, did that ever feel different! It is especially evident on my right side, and after practice my right glutes felt really worn out (meaning that I’m not used to this!)

This is good for me, not boring, and hopefully will help with a lot of different moves. But how do I make this deepening of the knee really automatic? By the time I’ve told myself, “Not the toaster! Don’t do the toaster!” it’s already too late.

Instead, I think I’ll think about the “swoop” that this movement makes. Maybe it’s more like a “swoosh” but I’m not sure whether Nike will come after me if I make that the title of this post. Whether “swoop” or “swoosh,” this movement feels good. As the knee bends and the free leg comes in, the body accelerates; it almost looks like Kseniya is flying into this move.

A new idea? A little poem? I thought you’d never ask.

  • Push.
  • Swoosh. 
  • Rise up, change edge.
  • (Will this never end?)
  • Did you push? Did you swoosh?
  • If you did, then re-bend.




Patience and ordinary things

Here’s the opening of a poem that I really like. It’s by Pat Schneider, called “The Patience of Ordinary Things“:

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.

Translated into skating terms:

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How my blade holds my foot,
How the ice easily makes its way to water, then turns back to ice
Right underneath me. How perfect circles form
Just by standing still.

I have been been putting a lot of effort into what really should be ordinary aspects of skating. Like making sure I am always on edges, on the right part of my blade, and with the correct muscles engaged. It’s remarkable how much those things matter, and how hard they are to do.

Sometimes I worry whether at some point these things will ever just be there, mundane like the ordinary things that Schneider describes. Someday will I be able to just stop thinking about them? Will they just be there for me, like my chair or the floor?

If and when that happens, will I be grateful? Will I pause to marvel about how good and right everything feels? Or I will just skate?

Skating demands a lot of the body and the brain. But it also demands other things: trust that things will get better, and patience until they do. Fortunately patience in this case is not just a waiting game–it’s a skating game!

My bruise is healing up slowly. Today was the first day I skated without painkillers. Tough day.

Some lesson notes:

New exercises:

  • Alternating inside mohawk, change of edge inside-outside. Free foot in after mohawk, then extend out of the outside. Make sure you do the change with your knee and ankle, not by pulling your shoulders over.
  • Variation: do this same with a three turn instead of a mohawk.
  • 3 turn, back crossover, change edge widestep, step forward other way (make sure you are looking the right way)
  • Forward outside, back cross behind: get your new foot in the correct position (angled in), get on back of blade on old foot, don’t pitch forwards
  • Inside edge little spread eagle positions, keep turnout in same position and step forward on outside edge, repeat in other direction.

Check placement and positions:

  • inside mohawk
  • placement of curves on alternating chasses
  • swing rolls practice rising and falling on a straight line, watch alignment of standing leg
  • three turns, hips need to come around


Pi day plans gang aft agley

First of all, happy pi day! Two quick and easy pies this year: a chocolate chip cookie pie and a bittersweet chocolate pie on a coconut crust. The former is for my two teenage sons and the latter is for my husband and me (we are doing gluten-free and low sugar these days).

Here’s a couple of pictures and the basic recipes.


Chocolate chip cookie pie (no crust)

2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8 inch pie plate. Beat eggs until frothy. Add in flour, brown sugar, and sugar. Mix in butter. Add chocolate chips. Spread in pie plate and bake for 35-45 minutes. Serve warm or cool.



Bittersweet chocolate pie with coconut crust

Coconut crust: Mix 1-1/2 cups coconut (I used half unsweetened and half sweetened) with 3 tablespoons of butter. Press into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate and bake at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. Cool crust, then fill with a round of bittersweet chocolate pudding and chill. Serve with whipped cream.

I was really looking forward to this week of skating, since I am on spring break. Last week I finally got my skates sharpened and was feeling pretty good. But wouldn’t you know it, last Thursday I was doing power pulls on my newly sharpened skates and caught an edge. Down I fell! and bruised my tailbone and right thigh this time. Fortunately this was not as bad as the bruise I got in January, but it is enough to make me contemplate wearing pads.

Ouch redux! So I have been a little tentative on my right side this week (maybe this will force me to work harder on my left side). I have also gotten behind on this blog because even thinking about skating made me feel more bruised.

I am feeling much better today. Pi(e) helps!

So do a couple of good lessons (which I will detail in a future post) and this note of wisdom from poet Robert Burns, from his classic “To a Mouse” (he has just destroyed the home of this “Wee, sleeket, cowran, timorous beastie”):

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
          But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
          An’ cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

Everyone has grief and pain sometimes. But not everyone celebrates January 25, Bobby Burns Day, with the dread haggis. I’ll take pie anytime!



The 12 days of skating

On the first day of skating, my coaches gave to me
Alignment and edge quality!

On the second day of skating my coaches gave to me
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the third day of skating my coaches gave to me
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the fourth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the fifth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the sixth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the seventh day of skating my coaches gave to me
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the eighth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Eight magic mohawks
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the ninth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Nine clean counters
Eight magic mohawks
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the tenth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Ten chillin’ choctaws
Nine clean counters
Eight magic mohawks
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the eleventh day of skating my coaches gave to me
Eleven rocking rockers
Ten chillin’ choctaws
Nine clean counters
Eight magic mohawks
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!

On the twelfth day of skating my coaches gave to me
Twelve twirling twizzles
Eleven rocking rockers
Ten chillin’ choctaws
Nine clean counters
Eight magic mohawks
Seven stunning spirals
Six perfect swing rolls
Hips under me!
Four Ina Bauers
Three three turns
Two bending knees
And alignment and edge quality!


Speed skaters: rough, tough, and in the buff

So when I was looking on the web for resources that might help me understand the muscles used in skating, I came across two very interesting things.  One was a motion-capture video of Olympic and World Champion speed skating Ireen Wüst:

Cool, huh? Notice how there is no wasted motion here.

The other thing I found was an article called “The Anatomy of Speed Skating” from an issue of Popular Science Monthly from December 1895. It begins with a reference to the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who enjoyed skating.

Here’s a picture of Goethe on skates, looking very much the manly skater on the cusp of German Romanticism (hips forward and tailbone down). I feel like I should be one of that smiling trio of women ready to chuck a snowball at him.


I didn’t know Goethe skated, but why should I be surprised?  After all, William Wordsworth skated too. All those Romantic poets seemed to take to the ice, and then write poetry about it. Here’s Wordsworth’s description of what he calls “a time of rapture” from The Prelude: 

. . . I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,–the resounding horn,
The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.

And here’s Wordsworth’s skates, preserved for posterity in the Wordsworth Museum and immortalized by the great contemporary poet Seamus Heaney in his poem “Wordsworth’s Skates,” from his 2006 poetry collection District and Circle.

Star in the window.

Slate scrape.
Bird or branch?
Or the whet and scud of steel on placid ice?

Not the bootless runners lying toppled
In dust in a display case,
Their bindings perished,

But the reel of them on frozen Windermere
As he flashed from the clutch of earth along its curve
And left it scored.

Image from the Wordsworth Trust. Caption reads:

Image from the Wordsworth Trust. Caption reads: “These were Wordsworth’s skates and they would have bolted into his clogs (shoes with wooden soles). Only four days after moving into Dove Cottage, on Christmas Eve, 1799, Wordsworth wrote in a letter, ‘Rydal is covered in ice, clear as polished steel, I have procured a pair of skates,
and tomorrow mean to give my body to the wind.”

Oh, okay, sorry. Back to the article on “The Anatomy of Speed Skating.”

The rest of the essay describes the accomplishments of some of the fastest speed skaters of this time (John S. Johnson [of Minneapolis!], Olaf Nortwedt, Adolph Norsing, and J.K. McCulloch) but also focuses on how these men have developed skeletal and muscular problems from the over-development of certain muscles and the neglect of others.  It gives careful details on anatomical features, diet, and training habits of speed skaters from the U.S., Canada, and Norway. It concludes that some of these men have developed a “bicycle stoop” and have poorly developed arms while others, who have supplemented skating with gymnastics, have much better upper body development and symmetry.

I confess I was somewhat taken aback as I looked beyond the diagrams and sketches (including a chart comparing their physiques to that of 3000 young men at Yale) and came across the photographs of them very scantily clad in briefs or a thong–or in the nude. All were tastefully posed in speed skating position, and photographed from the side so that nothing may have shocked the magazine’s readers. These photographs didn’t seem as though they were intended to be provocative; this is Popular Science Monthly in 1895, for Pete’s sake, not “The Hottest Men of Figure Skating” (which I only found by following the blog “Princess Beany Skates,” honest!) or my latest seriously funny random find, “Des Hommes et des chatons.”

So I didn’t really learn all that much about what muscles are used in skating. And I wasn’t convinced by looking at these photographs that speed skating, as the article said, would lead to the “permanent deformity of its too zealous votaries.”

Hmmm. . . they looked okay to me. And admiring their skating musculature certainly made for a nice change from all that poetry!