jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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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!


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Heh, heh, heh. . .one more

Two thoughts for the week.

First, whew, I’m really tired! Every practice session lately seems to use muscles that I don’t use normally. Since I haven’t really added any new moves, this must be due to my new practice resolutions (a.k.a. Major Edge Reassessment Goals Evermore, or MERGE–or maybe Major Edges Hello!, or MEH!)

Some of this is definitely because of my week-on, week-off practice schedule (taking some out-of-town trips this month). But some of it is because I am only now figuring out how to do these edges correctly–and I do mean correctly, with all of my body on the optimal part of the skate, nicely lined up on an actual edge (with lean), and maintaining pressure into the ice through the entire edge.

Do it right, and the skate actually works properly. Do it wrong and I’m in the zone of “duh, I think something’s wrong here but I don’t know what,” or worse, “warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson!”

Second, I still seem to have some basic issues to fix, especially on (a) my right side (with ankle/heel/blade placement), and (b) my back outside edges (with not opening my free hip/side in an effort to force the edge–weird how I’ve developed that habit.)

But I do think things are way better than they were before, especially with my right side. Today I tried thinking about my heel placement (shifting it slightly over to the outside of where it was), which seemed to make a difference. I also have been trying to maintain a strong and engaged skating side, which really makes a difference, though it’s exhausting!

I read some of a thesis that my son’s cello teacher shared with me about one of his teachers, the great André Navarra. It had a line in it that went something like this: “Before you become an artist, you first have to become an artisan.”

If you go to around 3:40 on this video, you’ll see what I mean. If Elmo can do it, so can I!

 

Another fun video–something much newer! This is from the recent Finlandia Trophy: Marie Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac skating to Bruno Mars. Enjoy!

Lesson notes:

  • “ice theatre” warmup (forward): really bend (release hips), do arm movements after lunge; get upper back and head in correct shape (not tipped into circle)
  • “ice theatre” warmup (backwards): really bend, allow inside hip to displace, ribcage to move into circle (don’t tip in), and outside leg to stretch out
  • back outside edges: don’t contort hips to push, simply turn out foot and push, engage turnout muscles on skating leg, don’t allow body and free hip to open (keep hips parallel)
  • inside three turns: maintain pressure into inside edge all the way into the turn


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Bite-size

What will it take for me to be truly bilateral?

These days I am trying to spend at least a third or more of each practice session holding myself accountable. Actually, it’s probably more than that–or at least it feels that way, given how tired I’ve been when I finally stagger off the ice.

By “accountable,” I mean that I have not really been fully pushing off my right blade. Nor have I really been “over” that side. And I don’t fully rotate into clockwise turns.

Do I sense a pattern here? I suspect that given my history of injuries to my right leg and ankle, I have been backing off and releasing pressure on that edge without even realizing it. That was fine in the past, given that I wasn’t particularly aggressively pursuing either edge. But now that I have become Jo the Edge Monster, it is really important to strengthen and build the right side now.

Though it’s definitely improving, it still feels like a daunting task. On certain moves (like pushing from the right back inside edge) I’m still encountering a particular combination of (a) muscle weakness, (b) lack of flexibility, (c) compensation (usually by doing some very strange things with my left side), and (d) terror.

This week I’ve been working a lot on forward and backward edge pulls to see if I can get that “bite” into the ice, especially on that right side. I’m trying to “bite” into the ice whenever I push too, just to make sure I’m really pushing and not just falling onto my edges. And I’m working on loops (outside and inside) to try to figure out how to keep the pressure going into the edge.

There’s a lot of ice-crunching going on at my rink these days. Hopefully by the time my favorite apples come into season, there will be progress!

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Mmmm. . . Fireside apples!

So before the month is over. . . . Earth, Wind, and Fire. Yeah!

Lesson notes:

  • push onto inside edge: the opening will be flat as you are keeping weight on the pushing foot.
  • forwards and backwards “ice theatre” warmup (stretch up, bend, push): I am not really pushing from my right inside edge when going backwards, or my left forward inside edge when going forwards (huh…that’s odd).
  • backwards push off right inside edge.
  • outside loops: maintain pressure through second half of the loop, practice the power pull exit with an extra power pull.
  • inside loops: figure out how to balance over inside edge in aligned way.
  • Variation A: back inside three, outside mohawk, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side. Learn to turn with blade rather than turn entire body, use knee and ankle action to get on correct part of blade.
  • Variation B: back inside three, forward outside bracket, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side.
  • Variation I: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, step forward to repeat on other side. Continuous rotation after mohawk; if you have to pause, do it after the cross behind.
  • Variation II: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, back outside three to immediate inside mohawk on other side, repeat rest of sequence on other side.
  • Variation III: inside mohawk (to start), step down, cross behind, back outside three, forward inside three, cross behind, double three on other side.
  • forward outside three, edge pull (bend, extend). This is like the three-step pattern, only with an additional sub curve.
  • inside mohawk, push back, back outside three: watch placement on circle, really accentuate strength of inside edges coming out of the three.

 


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No news, good news

So I have to go to the airport at midnight tonight to pick up my husband and son. It’s not even ten-thirty. Since I usually am asleep way earlier, I am left with some tough choices.

Should I lie down for a quick nap? (Bad idea, since then I’ll have trouble getting up.)

Should I do some more reading for work? (Nah, since I won’t remember any of it tomorrow.)

Should I go downstairs and have another coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie?

Or should I finish this blog post?

I started writing this but then deleted what I wrote. It just felt whiny and repetitive. Just to give a sampling: “big puzzle,” “problem areas,” “moving target,” “a piecemeal patchwork of, uh, mess and chaos.”

Okay, it’s good to vent. But this earlier draft was not really representative of how I feel about skating these days. Skating is actually going pretty well. I’m getting regular practice sessions in, I’m enjoying seeing all kinds of friends that I haven’t seen much of this summer, and I feel like (sharp intake of breath, this is so exciting) I’m actually doing some good things out there. I just haven’t been as good about writing down the good news.

Like today, I actually felt like I could get through a pattern of the Starlight Waltz. Not at tempo, and not at speed. But nothing wobbled and nothing felt awkward.

And I was actually able to follow directions on my lessons, rather than just stare vapidly at my coaches. Laurie and I worked on forward inside loops, and she told me to use my skating hand to “draw” the inside loop. And voilà! (I love “voilà,” it’s almost like “viola” but easier to play around with.)

She also told me to think of my “free hip weight” as being directly underneath me. This is a much more difficult concept than “voilà,” but it really helps me keep my hips aligned.

Other good news: my off-ice ankle mobilization (stretching and massage) seems to be having a positive effect. And I think that there is less swelling (though that might just be wishful thinking on my part). My right ankle feels less stiff, and I am able to sense where my heel is on that side now. This is really helpful on the ice.

One positive side benefit was that during yesterday’s recent downpour, I was able to sprint through the parking lot to my car without limping. Okay, I did get soaked anyway, but no pain!

Are these achievements as gloriously accomplished as this performance of the beautiful Mendelssohn Plan Trio by these three worthy gentlemen?

Absolutely not. But are they worth sharing as good news? You got it!

Friends skate with friends!

Lesson notes:

  • feet parallel and next to one another: try to get your knees apart next.
  • swing rolls: stretch free leg, hip weight directly underneath you
  • back swing rolls: think about the direction your body is headed as you push
  • inside loops: draw loop with leading hand (strong leading side, don’t bend forward)
  • two-footed rockers: make sure you go to an immediate edge after the turn (then try on one foot)
  • inside mohawk, back outside three: push, more speed
  • back outside-forward outside mohawk, outside-inside choctaw (like Quickstep), push back to repeat on opposite side
  • “ice theatre” warmup with stretch upwards (legs out, towards boards), bend down, then side lunges
  • inside mohawk, edge pull/change edge, cross in front, step forward, swing roll, repeat on other side

 


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Core twist-in-progress

I’ve been paying a lot of attention this week to my core: more specifically, to my navel. I realized after a lesson on brackets that I wasn’t really twisting my core enough (like wringing a towel, they say). So after trying this, I realize that this movement is entirely lacking in most of the things I do.  This includes swing rolls and three turns and loops as well as other moves. Once I tried actually turning my navel in the direction of travel, it was like magic.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. How have I failed to do this for so long?

It’s probably because this is a fairly subtle motion. Now, if it were a full twist of the spine, I might have picked up on how important this was. For instance, if I were a cat, it would be really important to know to twist so I could land on my feet.

cat-righting-reflex

Cats instinctively develop this sense, and it works beautifully even when they are being tortured in zero gravity.

I find watching that video pretty traumatic, mainly because I identify strongly with that floating cat now. I know that I’m supposed to rotate my core but I’m not necessarily sure how much or when.

And I’m sure I’ve had this lesson before. But who knows where or when?

Sometimes you think you’ve lived before
All that you live to day.
Things you do come back to you
As though they knew the way.

Oh, the tricks your mind can play!

Lesson:

  • slide chassés: make sure your pushing hip doesn’t fall behind, keep feet really parallel and even so you can just slide the foot forward without keeping weight on it.
  • back right to back outside left edge (back chassés): think about elongating and staying strong through left side on new edge so you have something to push to; don’t “crunch” side.
  • brackets: don’t “overturn” upper body–use core twist instead; remember that everything faces out.

 

 

 


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More ankle action

I usually keep notes on my lessons, but forgot to this week. So I’m sitting here trying to remember what the fuss was all about. I do know that it was #$%@&!!! amazing!

Laurie corrected something very basic: my tendency to keep my left hip and leg forward. Just slightly, but enough to really screw up my alignment, especially when I push into my left outside edge. I do it on other moves as well.

Once we identified that issue, I knew immediately that this is related to two things: my left hip imbalance and my right ankle problem. The former is way better; I can get my hips lined up nicely on command now (after three years of working on it, thank you very much!) The latter is harder. I still have limited mobility in that ankle, though it has been improving. I spend time stretching, flexing, and massaging it everyday (handy list of exercises and videos here). My toe pointing is way better than it was, though my ballet days are long over.

But I still have limited right ankle range of motion while skating. This affects my ability to do clockwise slide chassés. When I try to slide from the right outside edge to the left inside edge, my right foot simply does not slide forward. It’s like I’m stuck in bent-ankle mode.

I spent the latter part of the week working on this motion (sliding the right foot and pointing the toe). Oooh, my ankle feels so stiff! I think the motion is getting better, though, which is good because I noticed that it comes in quite handy. There are quite a few cross-behind maneuvers that I’ve complained about on this blog (Silver Tango, Kilian). Now I know why they felt so wonky for so long.

Okay, that’ s enough about the diagnosis of the week. I’ll share a picture of the inimitable skating team of Doug and Sonia, in blue for their Blues.

And here’s an absolutely beautiful rendition of “Duo des Fleurs” (Flower Duet) in Delibes’ Lakmé.  Ah, so smooth . . . .

Lesson notes:

  • Exercise for back push to outside edge: from both feet together and parallel on the ice, concentrate on only turn out heel of pushing foot to push (can do this with back chassés).
  • Counter-clockwise forward progressive or chases (make sure left hip doesn’t sneak forward).
  • Slide chassés: concentrate on smooth and quick transfer of weight and right ankle action.
  • Kilian: work on the cross behind-slide out motion. Make sure you give equal time to all the steps.
  • Starlight inside mohawk sequence: turn happens immediately as you bring your feet together–no pause!

 


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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)