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Skating in the key of life


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Hot and cold

Off the ice, it has been the kind of weather that keeps us all confused. One day I was tempted to put on long underwear, the next it felt like the tropics. Today I went for a bike ride in shorts and a T-shirt, but I’ve been wearing my flannel pajamas to bed.

At the rink, though, it’s been consistently cold. I’ve been bringing two jackets to warm up with and have only been tempted on one occasion to take off both of them. The first one, though, always comes off within minutes, but hey, those are some long minutes.

Practice, too, has been inconsistent. Sometimes I can’t seem to find my edges at all, and sometimes I feel really on target. Yesterday I made myself practice swing roles for fifteen minutes (which in my practice world is a long time).  I have been trying adjusting my body position so that I am able to stroke out on a good edge with my hips forward over my skate, like this (Charlie):

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rather than like this (leaning forward, hips behind skate):

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I am also practicing how to extend my skating leg fully on the second part of the swing so that the edge just runs naturally (this involves keeping my weight over my arch, which is farther back than it has been)–like this:

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rather than like this, with the skating leg bent.

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Now I know that Hubbell and Donohue are just doing this for style, whereas I am bending my skating knee as a form of survival. Or at least it feels that way, since I am desperately trying to hang on to that edge. And that’s because (um, er) I am leaning forward too far (doh!) rather than keeping my hips over my skate.

There’s a certain logic here, and at least I recognize this.

But don’t worry, I’m not spending my entire time on swing rolls (though I would if I thought it would help). I have an entire repertoire of stuff to work on, accompanied by an entire litany of complaints to go along with each move.

With each of these moves, there are consistent things I need to correct. Laurie has been trying to get me to use my arms (which I think is another way of getting me to keep my head up, shoulders down, and hips more aligned). Ari spent quite a bit time at my last lesson trying to get me to stop pitching forwards before he finally gave up and then gave me an exercise that  can only be done if I don’t pitch forwards (the one with the Quickstep choctaws, described below).

It’s going to be an exciting season.

But the one consistent thing is that I am oh so glad to be back on the ice, and I intend to make the most of every minute out there. The sessions have been quiet but I do see lots of familiar faces.

We are all happy to be there! Love skating!

Here’s some lesson notes:

  • Different arm positions on forward progressives.
  • Forward inside rolls, work on extension and position of free leg as well as arms.
  • Outside three turns, outside edge free hip slightly open, then close for the turn. Make sure you don’t delay turning.
  • Swing roll: practice pushing onto a fully flexed ankle; practice coming up all the way on your knee and being on the correct part of the blade (arch); check image in boards.
  • Back outside three (turn out free foot in order to move free hip back, look in direction of travel, up and down action of turn) hold inside edge,  inside three, back cross over, repeat on other side.
  • Forward inside three (make sure inside edge foot turns in all the way) , cross in front , step forward repeat on other side.
  • Back outside edge to forward outside edge mohawk (not choctaw).
  • Forward outside to back inside (Quickstep) choctaw, push to outside edge, back mohawk, repeat on other side.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three (check body position on inside edge, feet together, make sure you are not falling into or leaning out of the circle) cross stroke, repeat on other side.


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Getting back in shape

So I am finally back from my last road trip of the summer and have gotten in a couple of sessions on the ice. And the weather has been just beautiful, so I have been working on trying to get my yard looking a little more presentable. Between those two activities, I am pretty much wiped out at the end of the day.

I haven’t done any skating lessons for a while, but have been focusing on getting back in shape. It’s surprising how many of these muscles I don’t use on a regular basis, and how quickly my hard-won alignment has gone wonky.

My right ankle is especially stiff, even though I was pretty good about stretching it out while I was away. I’ve been trying to get more mobility using my handy red rubber ball. It’s pretty excruciating, especially right in front of the heel.

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In much the same way, it will take a while to get the bushes and weeds under control. While I was away, we apparently had a lot of rain. That and the long days of light here up north means lots of plants do very well. Sadly, the only plants that have not done well are the four varieties of heritage cherry tomato plants that I put in. I’m not sure if it’s something I did, but only one grew to any respectable height, and the rest are pretty much done for after producing just a few little tomatoes.

On the other hand, this wild vine that was trying to strangle one of my trees became enormous. I cut it down, but I’m sure it will be back next year unless I am super-vigilant and get to it earlier in the season.

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So while I am super happy to be back home and on the ice again, part of me is thinking about how rusty I feel and how overgrown everything is. I definitely have my work cut out for me over the next few weeks!

However, here’s some encouragement.

The first day I was back on the ice I spent quite a bit of time at the beginning and end of the session on forward progressives and back crossovers, just trying to feel like I was aligned and connected, pushing through the right part of my blade, and using my gluten-free muscles. It was excruciating, particularly at the end of the session.

But as I was retrieving my jacket from the boards, a little girl came up to me in her beginning skater way and said “You are so good!” This made me just about fall down with surprise and gratitude!

Likewise, yesterday as I was loading up a big bag of branches (after an hour trying to pretend I was Edward Scissorhands going at the shrubbery), a woman stopped by and remarked, “Your house is so beautiful.”

Maybe something is making people unusually cheery and empathetic in Minneapolis? At any rate, I’ll take it! Sometimes just a simple message is about all you need to keep in mind. Here’s Bruno Mars with muppets!


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Cubism

I have really enjoyed reading Ryan Stevens’ Skate Guard blog, which gives me a regular dose of skating history. This past week it was about the 1966 World Figure Skating Championships, so I got to watch a video of Bernard Ford and Diane Towler. How styles change!

But what really caught my attention was this postage stamp, which appeared on the Skate Guard page:

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I was struck not only by the cool cubism of this image, but also how the geometric shapes  outline so clearly the position of their hips and legs, which are crossed right under the hips. The inside hip is lower into the circle than the outside one, and the free blade is extended directly out of the circle. I thought to myself, that’s exactly what I’ve been missing.

Some years ago, I would have thought that the major takeaway from this would be “bend your knees!” But in fact, I’m realizing that it is more about the hip positions and less about how low the knees bend. Let’s take another look at something not related to postage.

Virtue-Moir

I thought about drawing a cubist version to describe the (wrong) way I’ve been doing it, but that was too scary on a number of counts (think “The Skating Scream“). Then I scouted around to see if I could find any pictures that would show my flaws. The only thing I could come up with was this.

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What’s going on here is that the inside edge is created by (a) leaning out of the circle, and (b) raising the inside hip. This is exactly the opposite of what the stamp-skaters are doing.

So I spent a considerable amount of time on progressives and back crossovers today, focusing on the outside edge pushing under all the way to the inside edge. It’s clear that I don’t have this totally worked out yet. So tired! But before rigor mortis sets in, I’ll finish this post with some happy pictures.

Lesson notes (haven’t posted for a while!):

  • Posture exercises
  • Progressives: arm more extended and solid
  • Backcrossovers: don’t “undo” the angle/lean of your inside edge as you put your foot down for the crossover-continue to lean into circle. Also, make sure you are actually pushing under in the proper direction
  • Back crosses: don’t come up to extend-the extension should come directly out of the knee/ankle bend
  • Forward progressives: exercise for free leg extension (use glute on free leg), toe lightly touches ice, then draw in)
  • Back crossover exercise: only use inside leg to draw and push under, using lots of lean
  • Back cross strokes: when on left back outside, make sure right hip (free leg) isn’t dropped, use pushing action to achieve correct hip motion
  • Forward threes, back edge: make sure you step forward directly onto the correct part of the hip (with free side held up)
  • Back perimeter stroking -think about the pattern
  • Tuck behind, inside edge pull, cross – repeat on other side
  • Double threes, starting with back outside: work on getting a better push and initial outside edge-don’t rush into the three
  • Starting with forward: use calf muscle to do three, rather than just dropping forward on blade. This will give you a more stable back inside edge. Don’t forget to scissor arms. More speed is helpful
  • Inside closed mohawk, back inside three, push forward to repeat on other side


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It’s the pits

So I was off the ice for a while in June, and couldn’t believe how ungainly I felt when I got back on. I’m thrilled that things are feeling better: getting back that hip alignment and some muscle tone (though I am one tired puppy when I get off the ice, even though I am not going great guns out there).

So this week I had a lesson that included double threes, and Ari suggested that I “slice” my arms (bring them through close to my body rather than move them around). This keeps me from pitching forward or “reaching” for turns, and helps me stay over the middle of my blade.

Today I was on a nice quiet practice session (it’s so hot out that all the kids are at the pool!) and decided to try this on other moves as well. I’m sure this looked a little goofy, moving my arms up and down as if my shoulder sockets worked like a Barbie doll’s. But it worked like a charm in terms of stabilizing my edges, which is about all I care about these days.

Plus in my new “slicing” technique, I discovered a new body part to use for skating: the armpit!

If I think about where my armpit is on my skating side, I am much more aware of my alignment. This makes it easier to control my edges and to keep my shoulders from lifting (which I know will make Laurie happy).

So everything’s coming up roses! And peonies! And irises! And that topiary that looks like a tired puppy!

Lesson notes:

  • back inside (right): engage glute muscles (easy fix)
  • forward outside-outside mohawk: work on proper edge and turning out skating hip against the other
  • outside forward three: bring feet more parallel, then turn skating leg in socket so that you wind up in T-position after turn
  • back outside cross rolls: push is in opposition to upper body position
  • back power pulls: rise and bend
  • inside mohawk, back outside three, inside pull to outside, cross, repeat on other side: don’t touch down! hips forward after back three and really concentrate on establishing your edges
  • double threes: don’t rush into the turn, establish strong edge first


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More about leaning in

So I have been trying to get myself to lean more into my skating circles.

Throughout my years of imperfect alignment, I have been trying to deepen my edges by pressing down on the blade through my foot, scrunching down on my skating side, or counter-leaning. In case you’re wondering, none of these work!!!

I was trying to find some images that could convey the degree to which I’ve been fooling myself, but I couldn’t find any, even of myself in past skating sessions. That might be because I’ve learned to compensate so well that it actually looking like I’m doing something right.

Nor could I find pictures of other skaters who look like they have the same problems. Perhaps that’s because those compensations are so anti-intuitive that nobody else has this problem; or because no one wants to leave hard evidence of having done this.

I did find some nifty diagrams from this page on the physics of circular motion:

What I’ve been missing is that “inward component of force.” I am so fixated on the up and down that I totally forget about the inward feeling. You can’t achieve the needed degree of “tilt” without allowing your body to move inwards toward the center of the circle.  It just doesn’t work.

While leaning into the circle is definitely the way to go, I’ve had a hard time allowing my body to go there. But I’ve found that one way for me to get myself to do this is imagine that someone is pulling me towards the center of the circle.

Yup, you got it!

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Of course, if anyone actually suggested that I learn to do a death spiral, I would probably laugh in their face (or run screaming off the rink, ’cause they’re crazy!)

So don’t expect any actual pictures of me doing that anytime soon. For now, I’ll only post pictures of (a) my happy skating friends, and (b) skaters who are leaning happily into the circle on their own (maybe someday that will be me!)

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(a) Marianne and Sonja, a.k.a. Happy Skating Friends

 

Speaking of “how do they do that?” here’s a favorite piece of mine: Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Be sure to listen for the cello solo at 8:30. So good!

Lesson notes:

  • back eights: outside and inside (these have improved!) Really hold yourself accountable to be on a real edge.
  • threes on half circle. Think about how to get the turn in the right place (where is that foot pointing before it turns?)
  • inside mohawk. Think about where your new foot goes.
  • back inside edges. Hips forward. What does that actually mean?
  • Outside threes in circle. Legs straight and together before the turn. Don’t open up on the back outside edge before stepping forward.

 


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Bend down! Straighten up!

I have a lot of skills and abilities. I know where most commas go. I know not to clap in between the movements of a symphony (Mozart! Haydn! Bring it on!). I know enough to dig up all the dandelions in my yard before they send their tiny aerial seeds aloft into the world. (Dandelion lovers, don’t worry! There are several fields of them nearby.) And I make a mean oatmeal cookie.

But one thing I don’t do particularly well is bend my knees and ankles. I had a physical therapist once ask me why it was I wanted to learn how to squat in the first place. (I stopped working with her after that.)

Achieving more ankle/knee bend has become my next set of physical goals both on and off the ice. On the ice both coaches have asked me to work on a variation of a two-foot side lunge in which I touch the ice. (Just imagine Jason here going around a curve, keeping his right blade on the ice, and touching the ice with his left hand. It’s sort of like that, only much less aesthetically pleasing.)

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I’m supposed to do these forwards and backwards on both sides, up and down the ice. There are several impediments to my doing this. First and foremost is that I have trouble bending down that far. On my clockwise side it seems to be my stiff right ankle, but on the counter-clockwise side it’s the left hip. I can’t win!

The second problem is that I get a little dizzy when I come up. This used to happen to me as a graduate student when I spent time squatting down looking for books on the bottom shelves of the university library. I would stand up and before you could say “orthostatic hypotension,” I would get so dizzy that I’d have to sit down on the floor (which sort of defeats the purpose of standing up, I guess). I don’t think this will be a serious problem on the ice, since I’m not going down that far and not coming up particularly fast.

It’s humbling to find that not only don’t I bend well, I also don’t fully straighten my knees on moves. I’ve been put back on the “swing roll regime”: outside and inside, forward and back, making sure my skating leg and free leg fully extend and that I stay on a good curve, with speed. Will it ever end?

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Oh well, at least those don’t make me dizzy. Maybe if I fully extend, though, I’ll be so tall that I’ll get vertigo (haha!)

Lesson notes:

  • outside-outside closed mohawk exercise (figure out where your head needs to be).
  • side lunges, touching ice with hand inside circle (lean in, not forwards).
  • swing rolls, fully extended (you heard the man, fully extended knees and hips forward).
  • swing roll, change to inside edge, mohawk, outside edge, step forward into the same sequence in the opposite direction.
  • inside mohawk, push back, back outside three


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Skate loose, skate happy

What a difference a couple of weeks make!

Laurie has regularly pointed out that my shoulders go up whenever I’m doing something I don’t feel good about (like back crossovers clockwise). And when this happens, I can’t really feel my edges. It’s like I’m carrying a tray of teacups way high over my head. As soon as I get my shoulders down, my weight goes back down into my blades.

These past two weeks I realized that I’ve been carrying all kinds of tension in other parts of my body. In particular, I have been hiking up my right hip most of the time, in a sometimes unconscious and usually unsuccessful effort to get my weight over my left side. 

I’ve been working hard to let my right hip sink down to where it feels below my left. The first time I tried this, I could feel all kinds of muscles (hip flexors, for instance) stretching out in unfamiliar ways. It became way easier to stand on my left leg and lift my right leg. While this actually helped just walking around, it also made a big difference in skating. I could feel how my basic balance and edges changed for the better.

Best of all, this didn’t take any additional physical effort. The only effort it took was mental, since I had to think about relaxing the right side down (or just not holding it up).

A lot of yoga websites talk about how emotional tension is stored up in the hips and that stretching those joints helps you let go of fear, anxiety, and anger. I can certainly see how this might be true of me in this case, since it’s clear all kinds of balance issues have been created by this hip tension. Letting go of it means that my legs aren’t working at cross purposes.

This frees me up to concentrate on other basic aspects of my skating. Like making sure my upper body and head are lifted. Or that my pushes run outside the circle (more on this later). Or that I am properly lined up rising up on my back outside edges. Or that my back inside edges are not just a figment of my imagination.

It also makes me think that I’ve been spending a lot of energy (physical and emotional) trying to force my body into impossible positions on the ice. Sometimes it’s better to just trust that my body will just hold itself together if I don’t try too hard.

So last week my son’s string quartet did the junior division of a chamber music competition. There were lots of wonderfully talented players playing all kinds of complicated and impressively technical pieces. In the midst of the angst-filled music, one senior group played this slow movement of a Haydn quartet. It was like a long, cool drink of water after an exhausting marathon.

While this is not the video of that particular competition, and the sound quality is not the best, I wanted to remember this as the group that moved me to tears. Next to the terrific performances of my son’s wonderful Odyssey Quartet, this was my favorite piece of the entire competition.

Back on the ice again!