jo skates

Skating in the key of life


The circle game

Happy Pi Day! Gotta love this particular one: 3.14/15. We are celebrating at 9:26 with different kinds of sweet and savory pies.

In honor of Pi Day, some reflections on skating in circles.

In years past, I have never fully appreciated the circular patterns at the core of ice dancing. I think I was so fixated on balancing on top of my skates that I didn’t focus enough on the larger shapes in compulsory dances or the free dance. (Stay erect and move forward at the same time? Too much for my pea-sized brain to handle!)

But now I have grown to fully appreciate that thinking in circles makes what we do on the ice easier. Take progressives, for instance. It is so tempting to push really hard into that first outside edge, shortchange the second (the underpush onto the inside), and then try to make up the loss of energy with the third push back onto another outside. This means that my progressive sometimes looks like the top half of a clown shoe (and feels just as bad).

But place the same progressive on part of a circle and the difference is amazing: even pushes, consistent depth of edges, less fatigue, and no more clown shoe!

I am trying harder now to think about the different moves in a compulsory dance not a linear sequence of steps, but as edges tracing segments of circles. If you look at compulsory ice dance patterns, the circles are always there, dictating edges and placement, telling us what to do and where to go.

Many of these dances have the same basic shape, with different edges and turns tracing out several lobes down each side and an end pattern.

The circle rule hold true for harder dances as well, such as the Golden Waltz (the competitor’s version). Here’s the basic pattern.


If you squint hard, this general idea doesn’t look that different from the patterns of preliminary-level compulsories such as the Dutch Waltz or Canasta Tango. In fact for those of us who need reading glasses for the fine print, the similarities are striking. Take away the twizzles and other fun stuff, and it’s just a grown-up Dutch Waltz, no?

Okay, I don’t really believe that. But the principle of circular motion is similar.

A circle is basically a set of points that keep the same distance from a fixed central axis. We go round and round, maintaining our space from the center. If we cut inside or outside, hoping to save some time or energy, we wind up compromising what we set out to skate in the first place.

Ice dance is not alone in its circular motions; here’s a fun picture from the frontispiece to Thomas Wilson’s Correct Method of German and French Waltzing (1816).

Detail from frontispiece to Thomas Wilson's Correct Method of German and French Waltzing (1816), showing nine positions of the Waltz, clockwise from the left (the musicians are at far left). At that time, the Waltz was a relatively new dance in England, and the fact that it was a couples dance (as opposed to the traditional group dances), and that the gentleman actually clasped his arm around the lady's waist, gave it a dubious moral status in the eyes of some. (from History of Dance, by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp)

Detail from frontispiece to Thomas Wilson’s Correct Method of German and French Waltzing (1816), showing nine positions of the Waltz, clockwise from the left (the musicians are at far left). At that time, the Waltz was a relatively new dance in England, and the fact that it was a couples dance (as opposed to the traditional group dances), and that the gentleman actually clasped his arm around the lady’s waist, gave it a dubious moral status in the eyes of some.
(from History of Dance, by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp)

But with circles galore, waltzing is double the fun on the ice! Here’s Scott and Tessa in the 2010 Olympics, whose Golden Waltz really captured the beauty of going round and round, especially in waltz tempo.  You can see the circular motion from their heads down through their feet. I especially love the action of Scott’s tails and the camera angles that show their skates!


Thumbs up on “short feet”

After both Ari and Laurie pointed out this week that my left knee was bending inwards again, I reviewed some exercises to create more arch in my foot. One particular idea that I found was that of the “short foot,” developed by a Czechoslovakian researcher, Vladimir Janda. Here’s a video:

After watching this and reading a few more websites, I was immediately captivated by the idea that I could both improve my alignment and strengthen my foot with these fairly simple exercises.  So I’ve been doing them every chance I get. You can do these anywhere, and they fit beautifully with the rhythms of the post-Valentine’s Day chant: “He loves me, he loves me not.”

A few of the websites describe these as the “Kegel exercises of the foot.” Pretty funny.


Here’s a website with a whole set of progressive exercises. It’s fun to watch all these guys doing squats and deadlifts while concentrating on making their feet short. I’ll content myself with simply sitting, standing, and skating for now.

So last night I decided that I would try to think about the “short foot” while skating. Instead of concentrating mostly on my hip positions as I have been, I worked on shortening my foot without scrunching up my toes (which is surprisingly difficult). This, combined with trying to keep my ankle bend and knee position aligned, made an immediate difference for the better.

Although the idea is to have a “short foot,” I actually feel like I have more blade on the ice when I do this, especially on the left side. I feel as though I can feel more of the rock on the blade too. And it is easier to get my left hip underneath me. Win, win, win!

And the best thing was that I did nearly the entire session without feeling like my left foot was getting tired or sore. There’s an easy mechanical reason for this: the arch of the foot acts like a kind of upside-down leaf spring (the kind used on car suspensions). Without it, the rest of the foot gets quite a beating.

Hopefully several thousand repetitions of these (“he loves me, he loves me not”) will give me a new spring in my step (and my stroke!)


‘I’m looking right at the other half of me”

. . . croons Justin Timberlake.

I’ve been looking right at the other half of me in the plexiglass surrounding the rink, in photographs, in the large bathroom mirror. Narcissism aside, what I’ve been looking for are signs of bodily distortion–twisted upper body, dropped hip, shoulder raised–as I stand, skate, walk.


Correcting alignment issues might well be a lifelong task, even if I stop skating. I’ve been practicing my walking skills, doing those eccentric exercises for my foot, doing a variety of morning and evening exercises to strengthen my left side. These are in turns challenging, frustrating, or just plain boring unless I invest them with some kind of meaning. One of my goals is to be able to do this on my left side (the beach is optional, but would be nice):


So in the bigger picture, skating gives me a way of making meaning of this, something else to focus on while I straighten out my body. I have to believe that improving my strength, balance, and control on my left side will pay off.

I will stand up straighter. No more foot pain. Being able to walk for longer distances (or maybe even run again). Tried out my cross-country ski boots yesterday and thought about what it will be like to get out there into the snow on a bright, sunny winter day.

Over the years, I’ve made all kinds of excuses to keep skating. It puts me in touch with my body on a regular basis. It is a welcome break from my desk job. It helps me sleep better. It teaches me patience. I get to hang out with cool people. It’s cheaper than therapy. I’ll add the “equality of the left” to the long list.

Sing it, Justin!

Cause with your hand in my hand and a pocket full of soul
I can tell you there’s no place we couldn’t go
Just put your hand on the glass, I’m trying to pull you through
You just gotta be strong

‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
I’m looking right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you, baby, it was easy
Coming back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along


All clear! All level!

This morning I saw Megan, my PT, who pronounced my leg length equal and my hips level!!! So we are done with PT for this episode in which, to use her words, “your chassis was all cattywampus.”

We went over a final set of exercises for my foot. Here’s a new (medial) view of the tendons, since in my last post I provided a lateral (away from the center line of the body).384foot6

The affected tendon seems to be the tibialis anterior tendon, so she came up with an eccentric muscle exercise to do. I am to flex my foot with very little effort, then push down on the top of the foot to provide resistance while pointing the toe. I can do this seated using my hands, or use a theraband attached to the leg of the bed or circular weights around the foot while sitting. The trick is not to use force to flex the foot (this would undo the purpose of the exercise) but to really work the foot by providing downward pressure while it is unflexing.

So the recommendation for “professional athletes” on these exercises (which of course I will gleefully adopt) is 15 times a set, with 3 sets per session, punctuated by a 2-minute rest between each one. And I have to do this 3 times a day. For 12 weeks.

No calf raises for a while, and I must take it easy on stressing the foot in other ways, which I hope will be much easier now that my hips are level. (I didn’t really need to put that in boldface, but my rapture level is pretty high right now.)

We also talked about my relearning to walk and run and do other things on my new chassis. She gave me some ideas about Feldenkrais and Alexander technique, which I will look into. But the main thing to try is to pull my lower abdominals as I walk (or skate, or stand). When I do this, I can feel the muscles all around my left hip kick in, front and back, which is a reminder that I haven’t been doing this enough so that it’s instinctive.

So it’s a great day. It’s -6 degrees (F) outside with a wind chill of -28 degrees, so cold that our brand new dishwasher has stopped working and they cancelled school for my kids. But I’ll be singing as I’m doing the piled-up and crusted-on dishes and looking forward to those eccentric exercises and standing tall and level. Hooray!


Happy feet

I’ve been working on this post for several days now, but not been able to finish more than a few sentences. It’s a treat to sit down with a nice steaming cup of something warm (I’ve become quite a fan of Kava Stress Relief tea) and actually try to finish this post. But I have done this multiple times now, and each time something comes up: the email that begs attention, the clock saying it’s time to pick up kids, something cooking in the oven for dinner. Or bedtime for those of us who get up quite early (not to skate, but to prepare for the school bus that picks up at the outrageous time of–gasp!–6:55 a.m.).

It is very very cold here, so the cup of tea (or lunchtime soup, since it is so cold) becomes tepid or down right cold before I get back to it. Still, there are those moments of peace, when the only thing I have to do is tap on the computer–and tap my toes along with the music.

One of my goals for 2015: to have happy feet.

I confess that before last year, I did not give a lot of thought to my feet while skating. Oh sure, I’d have that occasional soreness in my left foot after certain moves. And after a hard-skating session, I’d breathe a sigh of relief after taking off my skates, but who doesn’t? Several years ago when Laurie was teaching us the Paso Doble, she had some great things to say about using one’s feet to help articulate the rhythm and style of the dance. But there were so many other things to think about in that dance that I am only now appreciating her comments.

It’s payback time. The last six months have proven to me how much you use those feet while skating, and how important every part of those feet are. I have been writing mainly about my misaligned hip, but my feet have been much more outspoken (if indeed feet could talk!) about all the posture and balance problems. It was my left foot that gave the clearest signal (ouch! help me!) that something was really wrong.

So after reading a number of web articles, I think I have tendonosis, a kind of degeneration rather than inflammation of tendons (tendinitis) in my foot. It occurs in the area of the tendinous sheath of extensor hallucis longus and/or the tendinous sheath of the tibialis anterior (the long blue thing and the blue thing above it that you can barely see in this diagram).


The difference between tendinitis and tendonosis is that, as one of the articles says, while tendinitis is warm and swollen, tendonosis is “abnormal collagen or protein buildup–the tendon’s microfibers start to resemble sticky, overcooked spaghetti.” (Okay, I’m going to need a moment to recover from that image.) Unfortunately tendonosis also takes much longer to heal (I’ve read from three to nine months), and persists in spite of rest, icing, anti-inflammatories, and all the treatments effective for tendinitis.

I am looking into different eccentric exercises that seem to be recommended by a number of sources. “Eccentric” here doesn’t mean skating around with a bag on one’s head; it refers to the type of muscle contraction. Concentric means that the muscle contracts in the same direction as the joint it moves; eccentric is when the muscle moves in opposition to the direction of the joint. The eccentric muscular exercises presumably help to break down all those sticky spaghetti-like collagen fibers and help the tendon remodel itself. I think this type of exercise is what I did a number of years ago to help with with a dogged case of “tennis elbow.”

The good news is that continued activity (without overdoing it) is actually more beneficial than just sitting around. And the even better news is that my foot does seem to be improving with stretching, massage, and these exercises. Less pain, more mobility.

Speaking of pain–ack, time to shovel snow before it gets trampled into our walk. And then time for bed. I will add pictures tomorrow.

Gotta love those feet!