jo skates

Skating in the key of life



Over the years, I’ve learned to be more patient with any interruptions to my skating practice. After all, it’s impossible to respond to work colleagues with “Sorry, I can’t come to the meeting–I have to go skating” or to tell a kid that his chamber music recital takes a back seat to swing rolls.

But when I got the notice that I was selected for jury duty, I immediately started freaking out. Honestly, I don’t mind doing my civic duty, and I didn’t spend too long scheming about ways to get out of it. Still, it seemed a cruel impediment to my summer return to the ice, which has been quite glorious so far.

Our county has a system by which you can call in twice a day to see if you are indeed needed at the courthouse. Lo and behold, when I called in today, I got the happy message that I wouldn’t need to come in after all! I immediately jumped in the car and headed to the rink instead.

My goal for practice today was to see if I could spend the entire session skating with decent alignment, especially where my hips are concerned. It’s been clear since I returned from my little skating-free sabbatical earlier this summer that I still have to make this a priority or I will quickly regress to my painful wild “hippy” days of dropped free sides and unstable muscles. I am especially concentrating on “decompressing” my hips (lengthening through the skating side) which seems to help a lot.

Ballet dancers seem to talk a lot about being pulled up out of the hip joint or being “up on the leg.” In order for this to occur, glute and hip muscles have to support the hip so that the free side doesn’t pull away from the midline.  This is a useful idea for skaters too. Skating unfortunately can encourage a certain degree of anterior pelvic tilt and tight hip flexors, which in turn inhibits these supporting muscles. Couple these problems with my tendency to simply drop onto my new skate or stack up my body in ways that resemble an advanced game of Jenga: a recipe for misalignment!

My goal for the summer is to make sure that I will be able to relegate those problems to the past tense. I’ve been trying to get my hips neutral and “decompressed” while standing, walking, and even sitting. And when I’m not needed at the courthouse, I’ll do this on the ice.

I’m in the pool of potential jurors for the next two weeks. Ack! So I can’t promise much skating news unless I get lucky again. Fingers crossed that the only judges I will have to see in the near future are skating judges!






Back dimples and other anatomical matters

So earlier this week PT Sarah was talking about making sure that my “back dimples” were positioned correctly during certain exercises. I looked the term “back dimples” up, and there is actually a term for this, the “Dimples of Venus.”

These indentations on the back mark the places where the different bones of the pelvis attach to one another, the sacroiliac (SI) joints. They are right above the “intergluteal cleft,” more crudely known as the “butt-crack.”


Identifying those two crucial parts of my anatomy seems to help with my posture on and off the ice. I’m finding that it is easier to think about the position of my back dimples and (ahem) intergluteal cleft than to achieve a neutral hip/back position in other ways.

I have a tendency to over-correct my “anterior pelvic tilt” with a “posterior pelvic tilt,” that pushes my hips forward. Can’t seem to settle in neutral! But gently drawing down those “back dimples” helps me find the correct alignment without straining.


Similarly, making sure that my intergluteal cleft is lined up properly helped as well. Laurie pointed this out on my left swing roll. I was trying to do something that turned out to anatomically impossible. I would describe it, but I don’t even want to think about it right now. But after she told me to face that cleft (not the term she used!) facing into the circle rather than out of it, everything was much easier.

This also really helps on back inside edges. Ari has been on my case to turn in my free foot on the left back inside, but that’s been a hard sell. Lo and behold, another plus for lining up that intergluteal cleft! Works like a charm.

I have been working on some other anatomical matters as well. Laurie and I talked about how to find a good position for my upper body on progressives by lining up my midline (zipper) along the direction I want to go.

Okay, I was momentarily tempted to search for close-up pictures of ice dancers that might in fact illustrate all these anatomical features. But actually finding them is a really scary thought, so I will just go on to some notes from my lessons so I don’t have to think about this anymore.

  • upper body position (zipper) on forward progressives
  • back progressives: draw in feet father back behind body (this is really different from what I have been doing. Waaaay better this way.)
  • swing rolls, practice with skating side lead. And remember that intergluteal cleft!
  • swing roll to inside edge (change over earlier)
  • mohawk, back three, edge, edge (get a good push on the back edge into the three and look back).
  • mohawk, back three, forward inside three, back crossover the other way, repeat
  • three-step mohawk pattern with forward outside closed mohawks: check hip and back position. Your feet should simply move underneath you without rocking or shifting weight from one edge to another. Do these on a circle to make sure you are really on an edge).



An all-time low for famous skaters at the Super Bowl

In preparation for this year of Super Bowl half-time show viewing, I watched a video of the show during the 1992 Super Bowl (the first time the event was ever held in Minnesota).

It has featured appearances by Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano skating on teflon, the 1980 Olympics U.S. hockey team, the University of Minnesota’s marching band (go, Gophers!), ballroom dancers, hockey stick formations, and dancers wearing a shade of green that really shouldn’t exist, even in the imagination. And poor, poor Gloria Estefan, dressed in something that vaguely resembles a skating dress. (Luckily, they invited her back some years later to perform with Stevie Wonder and she looked fully recovered. Life does give us some second chances.)

The theme is “Winter Magic.” Be afraid, be very afraid.

Sigh. Now I have to include the video, just because I mentioned it. But a warning: if you watch it, you may have nightmares regardless of whether or not you lived through the late 1980s.

Here are some reasons to watch:

  1. Sheer boredom + curiosity + the burning desire to see what inspired them to invite Michael Jackson to perform at the Super Bowl the following year.
  2. Winter blues that can only be cured by some kind of shock therapy.
  3. The need to watch something so awful that being able to turn it off makes you feel in control of your own life choices.
  4. As a reminder that whatever Coldplay and Beyonce have to offer this year, at least it’s not a reprise of “Winter Magic.” (I hope.)

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And please don’t watch it for the skating. . . Nooooo!!!

I am so sorry you had to see that. The horror, the horror!

To get rid of those snowflakes, here’s Michael Jackson in 1993 and the return of Gloria in 1999.


Nationals 2016: final thoughts

Yesterday I saw the finals for senior pairs and ice dance at U.S. Nationals 2016. I sometimes forget how visceral the response to watching skating can be, but I realized mid-way through the Shibutani’s program that I was holding my breath and that my heart was pounding and my palms were sweating. I haven’t felt that in a long time.

I have written elsewhere about Alex and Maia Shibutani’s long program to Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

The ShibSibs performed that beautifully here. The judges thought so too; they came in first. I have been a fan of theirs for years, so I was delighted to see their first U.S. title. My palms don’t sweat for nothing!

But I also wanted to highlight another program that I thought was just breathtaking: Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, skating to music from the film, The Theory of Everything. 

I will try to add a video from Nationals when one is available, but here they are at Skate America.

If you’ve seen this film, you will know that it is about the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane. I thought that this was one of the most moving programs I’d seen in ages. The music is put together seamlessly, and conveys a range of emotions. The choreography, gestures, and facial expressions reference the complicated relationship between the characters in the film: Stephen Hawking as he struggles with his growing disability, Jane Hawking as she copes with the demands of the marriage. I noticed that Kaitlin had tears in her eyes at the end of the program, and I hope that was part of the story, not because of their skating. They skated beautifully.

So it’s a little sad to have Nationals over and done with. Part of me still hopes to be able to sneak away to Boston for Worlds, but this looks increasingly unlikely. At any rate, I’m looking forward to getting my own skating back in gear after the bruise (that now looks like some kind of weird tattoo, mapping out all the points of contact between ice and body) fades a bit. Sitting down is the worst part!



Valiant volunteers

Some of you may know that the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals 2016 will be in St. Paul in just a couple of weeks. Sonia and I have our jackets and are at the ready. We will be registering skaters, guiding them to shuttles for the various rinks, and patching the ice (anything to get near that Zamboni!)

And you thought all we could do was skate!


A short post about dorsal fins

So the other day PT Sarah told me that I needed to work on lengthening the small of my back. I think it’s her way of saying “tailbone down,” though since I was in plank position at the time, it felt more like I was growing a dorsal fin out of my back.


Not a large dorsal fin, like on a sailfish, but a small one like on a dolphin or a shark (or a whale, but I’m not sure that’s a comparison I want to make while I’m trying to do a plank). This helps me stabilize my lower back position and gets my core abdominals to kick in automatically.

My imaginary dorsal fin is proving quite useful on the ice as well as off. It is another way to make sure my torso is lined up right over my skate and facing the proper direction. I find that I am sometimes just a little off the circle as I push or as my free leg comes in. But once I thought about keeping my “fin” consistently over my blade, it seemed to help a lot.

I found an interesting article that says that our human genetic circuitry for arms and legs actually developed from midline (or dorsal) fins. So there is something quite basic about the idea of having a dorsal fin. The wikipedia entry for “dorsal fin” says that the fin is there mainly “to stabilize the animal against rolling and to assist in sudden turns.”

Perfect for the Kilian!




Pluto’s moons and Janey’s spin

As it turns out, the potato-like rock I found in my garden also looks like one of Pluto’s moons! Up until today, I didn’t even know that Pluto had moons.

And one of them, Nix, even rotates chaotically (there’s a cool video link in the N.Y. Times article on Pluto’s moons). Doesn’t that sound like a skater we know?

In contrast, Janey’s spins are not chaotic, but beautifully centered. This one is even at center ice!

So the next time I am a little out of control on the ice, just call me Nix!


My friend the bee

So I walk into the rink the other day and my friend Sonia says, “Hey, I got you a present.” It’s not my birthday and it’s not Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s or any other celebratory occasion, but she hands me this…


…and says, “This is to remind you of your friend.” And I remembered, and burst out laughing.

Sonia had a Valentine’s Day party this year, and one of the games we played was to pick out M&Ms from a bowl. Each color corresponded to a topic that we had to talk about, like “favorite restaurant” or “person you’d most like to meet.” Mine was “childhood friend,” and so I told a story about my friend the bee.

One summer when I was little (old enough to go outside by myself but not old enough for school) I remember having a friend who was a bee.  I would go out each day and sit on the back stoop and this bee would come and fly around my head and then fly off. This went on for days. I can still remember what it felt like to have him fly around my head.

Then one day I went out and found him smashed against the picnic table.

So Sonia remembered my rather tragic story (which came off as quite funny in retrospect) and got me this little plastic guy to commemorate my early friendship and loss. I hung this new friend (he is part of a keychain) on my skating bag to remind me that these relationships never lose their importance, even half a century (or more) later.

He even lights up!


Reblog from Princess Beany Skates: “Thank you Tessa and Scott”

Well, working on those inside edges today was challenging, and I had to keep reminding myself about taking baby steps (and the occasional “learning to walk” tumble). I did one too many patterns of the man’s European sequence (still working on cross stroke, three turn, bend down on inside edge and place the new edge–don’t just fall to the new edge!!!) and found myself thinking “If I have to do this again, I’ll quit skating.” Grrrr….

To reward myself for not kicking the ice today, I read some of the archived entries from “Princess Beany Skates,” a very useful blog for keeping me up-to-date on who to watch for in skating competitions these days (and making me smile). Here’s a 2014 post-Olympic posting about Scott and Tessa that I especially liked.

Princess Beany Skates

Today was an emotional day. I don’t think a FD has ever made me cry before.

I’ve said my thoughts on Meryl & Charlie in the past. They are amazing technicians but I’ve never got them. I’m not going to repeat what I’ve said in the past, today is about Tessa & Scott.

This morning Tessa & Scott took to the ice and I realized for the first time that this was likely the last time I’d be seeing these two compete. I started to cry and it continued throughout their flawless skate. By the end I was sobbing. I had no words. I had just experienced something extremely emotional, witnessed something so personal, seen something absolutely magical.

Yesterday in the SD I was nervous – but then they nailed it. Tessa rocked the twizzles! And then their celebration at the end, how happy they were. The results shouldn’t matter…

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