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Skating in the key of life


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Tiny blood-sucking fiends

Since there hasn’t been any skating for a few months now, I’ve been keeping busy with biking and trying to get my yard and garden in shape. My goal was to get things planted and round one of weeding done before the tiny blood-sucking fiends (a.k.a. mosquitos) arrive.

Almost made it! It rained hard yesterday and this morning while I was finishing one section, I was surrounded by a swarm. I probably should have gone inside, but I was soooo close to finishing.

Now the yard looks great, but I did get a few bites around the ears. The little vampiric creatures were probably going for my neck but missed. Now I know why I miss skating so much. No bugs and no danger of malaria, West Nile virus, or any of those things that we used to worry about before we realized there were much bigger worries in our world.

So what else have I been doing? Well, waiting and worrying, like everyone else. I’ve been working quite a bit–started teaching online in March, and some of the summer will be spent preparing for fall (just in case). Online yoga classes with my sisters-in-law. Baking (bread dough is a wonderful way to knead out anxiety) and cooking (jambalaya, risotto, and other comfort foods). Sometime this weekend I’m going to try my hand at making ricotta cheese.

Luckily we have a porch that’s big enough for skating friends. None of us can skate at the moment, but we can talk and laugh and be together even when we’re six feet apart.

I am gradually moving into summer mode, so hopefully that means I’ll have some more time for this blog. In the meantime, here’s some photos of the past couple of months.


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Checking in

This post can’t be about skating, obviously, so it’s just a way of checking in. I miss all my friends and fun at the rink. Here’s hoping we can all be together again soon, and that everyone stays healthy and safe.

Here’s also a moment to celebrate all the great songs that Bill Withers left us with. I had a really hard time deciding which one to share here. Lean on me? Ain’t no sunshine? I finally went with his collaboration with Grover Washington, Jr., “Just the Two of Us.” Just listening to the first few bars without any words takes me back to a happy time.

Crystal raindrops, shining sun, rainbows, and castles in the sky. Just what I need right now.

Classes at our university were moved online over two weeks ago, and I’m getting used to teaching virtually. I’ve been asking students to post thoughts and questions on an online forum and then writing up materials based on what they say. The first lecture took  until well past the midnight, the second only five and a half hours. So I’m improving.

At least I can wear my comfy slippers! And there’s lots of yummy snacks at home. When I’m not stressing out about getting the next lecture posted on time, I’ve been doing a lot of baking. In the past few days it’s been muffins, naan, and I just started some no-knead pizza dough for deep-dish pizza tomorrow.

Luckily my son is back home from college, so there’s an extra person around to help eat all those stress-produced carbs. So much for our empty nest! He’s filling the house with cello music, which is an incredible gift these days.

I have been doing a lot of yoga online, which hopefully will keep my balance and strength up for when I can finally get back on the ice. Just taking it day by day around here.

Here’s some pictures from the past few weeks. A few are from the last skating sessions before rinks were closed, and some of my neighborhood walks.

I was supposed to visit my cousins in D.C. this past week, but of course that was cancelled. Cousin Charles took pictures of the cherry blossoms for me. So beautiful!


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Keep calm and skate on

It’s a crazy time, that cannot be denied. Luckily, there’s Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin to remind us why people write songs in the first place.

And there’s an extra-large “brookie” pie that I made for my son’s studio class tomorrow.

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And there’s skating to keep me happy.

Between my work schedule and other conflicts, lessons have been on and off. But when I’ve had them, they have been really helpful. I’ve figured out how to maintain a better edge through some of my transitions as well as turns, and I’ve been having a good time working on my basics.

Even if life in general isn’t in balance, my skating has improved. I have a much better sense of where I am on my blade. I’ve been spending time working on maintaining a consistent edge as I come up (straighten the skating knee). I’ve worked on this before, but never really felt like I was getting anywhere. But at last, here it is.

Lesson notes (these are from a while ago as well as last week):

  • Introduction to the Starlight (double push, progressive, cross, swing): continuous motion through edge; think about the rhythm. Generate extension through push, not just by extending free leg.
  • American waltz threes: isolate stages. Set up rotation from the push onwards; don’t do that “extra” rotation at the end of your edge. Make sure you come up fully on the knee and maintain the edge. Free foot comes directly in, not around.
  • Alternating back chassés: think about the edge pull in between.
  • Change of edge: don’t rotate upper body (continuing looking in direction of “partner,” not travel).
  • Back outside to forward inside counter, touch and push back to repeat on other side.
  • Back to front outer- outer choctaw, change edge mohawk.
  • Mini Bauer back cross step forward inside and repeat in other side.
  • Inside Mohawk push back double three use ankle stretch.
  • Inside toe turn step forward tuck behind inside repeat on other side.


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I rib you not!

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A number of years ago I posted this picture on this blog to remind myself of what was going on with my hip imbalance. I’m finding it useful to address a related issue that has to do with my spine and the ways that I can’t turn easily towards the right.

Back then, I realized something was wrong when I had a bone scan that revealed that my back was crooked (something like what you see in the picture above). I had this done even before I started having the foot issues that started me on this journey.

Even though I think I’ve addressed a lot of the hip imbalance issues over the past few years (she said proudly, patting herself on the hip), I still have to think really carefully about what’s going on when what I do on the ice doesn’t quite feel symmetrical.

These past few weeks I’ve been focusing on what it feels like to turn my torso and head towards towards the right, and I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. If your back is effectively scrunched up on one side (left, in my case), it’s almost impossible to twist towards the other side freely.

I also realized that I don’t fully commit to my right-side edges, meaning that my weight doesn’t easily shift in and over that edge. This makes the problem even worse.

I’ve been working on consciously elongating my left side as I shift my weight over or before I try to turn towards the right. This feels like the right side of my ribcage actually moves over. Not a lot, but enough to engage my entire right side more than it has been. This makes it easier to twist towards the right, plus I feel like my balance is way better overall.

I’m mindful that I could easily overdo this, but at the moment it feels really, really good. No lessons for the next week or two (too much work), but hopefully the coaches will agree.

Here’s a really impressive performance of Dvorak’s cello concerto by a young cellist, Pablo Ferrández.  Not a piece that one might skate to, but it’s inspiring and beautiful in and of itself.

 


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No more stiff ankles!

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So in rock climbing there are two ways to go. The first is to use your strength and timing and technique to climb up the mountain like a spider, with grace and agility. The other is to just ram a bunch of pitons into the cracks in the rocks and then haul yourself up by force, one piton at a time.

Never tried climbing, so I’m probably totally wrong. But as a metaphor for skating, this is totally obsessing me right now. Both my coaches and I talked this week about bending my ankles more so that I can (a) have a better edge, (b) be on the correct part of my blade, (c) absorb the force of transferring my weight from one side to another without losing speed and energy, and (d) actually create “lilt” through my flexible ankles.

Skating with good ankle flexion is like climbing the mountain in the most beautiful and organic way possible. Unfortunately all too often I tend to put my new skate down on a stiff ankle and try to force my way onto an edge.

No, no! Don’t want to be Pegleg Jo!

After focusing on developing more ankle movement in my lessons, I spent some practice time applying this principle to different moves. This was super useful! Everything seems much more efficient and I’m able to find the “sweet spot” on the blade much more easily for turns.

After reviewing one of my earlier posts on ankles, I found some useful things to revisit, like the way my talus bone rolls forward and slides backward when my ankle flexes. I realized that it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point of mobility where the ankle and foot are concerned,  I’m still pretty stiff in my right ankle (all that scar tissue) but at least it doesn’t make that dreadful ratchet-wrench sound anymore. And my left foot still feels somewhat misaligned and can’t take more than a couple of miles of walking, but it is much stronger.

Goody, progress. I love skating, no matter what, but it’s really so much more fun now that I’m not just jamming those pitons into the rocks and doing the “heave-ho” thing. Just call me Spidey-Jo!

Enjoyed seeing all my friends at the rink this week! And working on some new exercises.

Lesson notes:

  • Inside three, cross in front. Think about the direction of travel for the inside edge and giving yourself enough time to deepen the edge before the turn.
  • Inside mohawks. Bring free leg and hip weight up alongside before turning. Practice setting the new blade down in the correct spot.
  • Ankle action! Swing rolls and progressives.
  • Back outside to forward inside, counter, touch and push back to repeat on other side.
  • Back outside to forward inside, step inside mohawk, push back and repeat on other side.
  • Back outside to forward outside, change edge into inside mohawk, push back and repeat on other side.
  • Ina Bauer, back cross,  step forward inside and repeat on other side.
  • Inside mohawk, push back, double three, stretch and set forward to repeat on other side. Use your ankles!
  • Inside toe turn, step forward, tuck behind, inside edge, repeat on other side.


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Teeny tiny rink?

The N.Y. Times ran an article today about these small plastic rinks that you can set up anywhere because they are made of “glice” and don’t require refrigeration. I wonder  whether my living room area, if I cleared out all the furniture, might serve as a homemade rink?

Certainly this would be convenient. I could wear those purple tights that I’m too shy to wear anywhere else. I could take selfies of myself in one of my old competition outfits, doctor them up, and then post “landed that new triple!” pics on Instagram.

I would miss some dimensions of skating in the world outside. I wouldn’t miss having to drive to the rink (always leaving five minutes later than I’d like). Nor would I miss the crowds. And the adult skaters who carry their babies and toddlers around the ice in that scary way are better off without my terrified glances.

But it’s probably better for me to skate in an actual rink, especially since I am constantly having to remind myself that I need to cover more ice (i.e. actually push, rather than just placing my feet down and hoping I’m on an edge). Plus I’m supposed to be checking my posture in the boards so I can make sure my shoulders aren’t hiked up and I’m not pitched forward. And during the week when school is in session, our public sessions are usually pretty quiet: anyone lucky enough to be able to skate during lunchtime.

So the fantasy of having my own teeny tiny rink will remain unfulfilled. Still, when I’m daydreaming and doing those skating moves in my mind, it’s like I have that teeny tiny rink to myself–and I’m rocking those purple tights!

 

Lesson notes:

  • Outside swing rolls: work on keeping a consistent hip and arm position and staying over the edge through the transition (outer to inner). Stay on the circle and don’t change early. Push!
  • Inside swing rolls: remember that your weight (and body line) falls inside, not outside the circle. Don’t create the edge by pushing your hip out of line.
  • forward cross roll exercise: cross free leg over and push under to inside edge, tuck behind to new inside edge and repeat (this is especially hard for me clockwise)
  • back cross rolls: make sure to begin push when the free leg is still extended forward and continue to push through the entire transfer to the new outside edge, rather than just stepping the new foot down
  • forward inside three, cross in front, back inside three: allow the inside edge to come around naturally (rather than pushing/ skidding into the edge to create the turn), hold the back outside edge after the inside three before crossing.
  • Basic ideas: work on a more natural hip position on the inside edge. Mark this out by putting your inside edge foot down on the ice right next to an outside edge. Create the inside edge with your ankle, not by putting your inside edge outside the body and forcing an edge.
  • forward inside three, cross in front, toe, step to inside three on the next foot (alternate).
  • forward inside three with free leg in back, toe, toe half- turn, cross in front, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • back inside, forward inside (brackets in a semi-straight line), step down and repeat on other foot. Navel faces direct of first turn; learn to turn with the ankle and hip rotation, not by swinging upper body.

 

 

 


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Happy Year of the Rat!

First of all, Xīn Nián Kuài Lè and Happy New Year of the Rat! I was born in the Year of the Rat, so I’m looking forward to some good luck and financial gain in the months to come.

I hope that luck and money will mean that I also have another good skating year. In the past few months, I feel like I’ve finally turned a corner in terms of actually improving the quality of my body alignment. While I know I still have quite a ways to go (as my lessons this week showed), I feel like I’m closer than I’ve ever been to keeping my edges real (rather than faking edges).

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Jeff and Jo

Our semester has started up, and this past week was a bit touch and go. But I did manage to get some quality practice as well as a few lessons in. It was super fun to run into my friend Jeff, who I haven’t seen in a while. And while not all of my plans came to fruition, I did make some excellent cheesy biscuits (rats like cheese!) and found this incredibly catchy piece of music.

Lesson notes:

  • Push on forward progressives and back chassés: engage hip muscles for stability and proper (easy) “grip” on the inside edge.
  • Swing rolls with methodical arm positions, make sure your hip is under you.
  • One basic principle: your skating hip should always be slightly towards the inside of the circle you are making (not stuck out either way).
  • Back inside three, inside choctaw (forward inside to back outside), back cross, front in front to inside, repeat on other side. Start this pattern with a back crossover to a back inside edge.
  • Inside rocker, back inside, step forward onto forward outside edge, repeat on other side.
  • Mini swing roll, outside rocker, two back cross strokes, step forward and repeat on other side.
  • Practice back outside edges, checking posture in boards: use “flat front of hip” and correct pelvic tilt on skating side in order to stay over the correct part of blade.