jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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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.

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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)

 

 


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Oof!

Well, it’s Friday evening, just after dinner, and I am already ready for bed.

I remember when I had my first full-time job. Between a heavy teaching load, advising and committee work, and trying to get some research and writing done, I pretty much worked all the time. But Friday afternoons after work a few of my colleagues and I would go get Thai iced coffee and snacks (loved the mee grob). And then I would go home, take a bath, unplug the phone, and go to bed at 8:30 p.m.

That was my idea of a really great start to the weekend.

That, and skating whenever I could. One of my skating friends (who was from Korea) was George (not his Korean name). George was a competitive ice dancer, but between partners, so he and I did some social dancing just for fun. One of the dances we played around with was the Yankee Polka. Since George was a strong skater, and I was doing lots of free skating at the time, this dance had the perfect amount of bounce for both of us.

I’ve been trying to learn this dance again, a fun project with my friend Doug. We’ve tried this a few times at the end of sessions after we are both done with more dutiful aspects of practice (Doug is working with Sonia towards next year’s AN). Today we finally got through an entire pattern (though I think I probably left out several steps along the way).

Oof! I’m reminded that I don’t bounce like I used to. So that’s why I’m ready for bed before the sun has set!

Here are the two parts of the Jimmy Young class on the Yankee Polka (long videos, but very useful when you’re learning steps):

Lesson notes:

  • outside swing rolls: really work on those consistent upper body positions in sync with the swing (opposite arm lead, then reverse).
  • inside swing rolls: turn free toe out from the get go
  • inside rockers and brackets: make sure you are not sticking your hip out on that inside edge; tight free leg and upper body position (these are forced edges/turns, unlike three turns); don’t rotate entire body–just skating leg; keep free foot close
  • sequence 1: back mohawk (like a back choctaw, but onto an outside edge), forward outside three, push back, repeat on other side
  • sequence 2: forward outside three, back inside rocker, touch/push, inside swing roll, forward inside three, back outside rocker, touch/push, outside swing, repeat.
  • sequence 3: back choctaw, forward inside counter, step forward on outside edge, outside three, immediately push back (like Westminster), repeat in opposite direction.
  • sequence 4: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three (more push!, more stretch!)
  • sequence 5: double inside three, more speed, don’t pitch forward 

 


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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.