jo skates

Skating in the key of life


Dedicated and debonair

Long, long ago, in a skating rink far, far away. . .

Okay, it was Los Angeles. I used to skate on a public session where Richard Dwyer occasionally practiced. That’s right, Richard Dwyer, “Mr. Debonair” of Ice Follies and Ice Capades fame. Mr. Dwyer would be out there, working on double jumps. When I asked him about them, he said, “Well, I used to do them a certain way, and then Scotty gave me some new ways to think of them, so I’m trying this out.”

Mr. Dwyer had been skating professionally since 1950, when he was fourteen years old and became the “Young Debonair” under Roy Shipstad (the original Mr. Debonair under Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies). And at the time I met him he was probably (if I do the math right) in his early fifties. And he had been a U.S. Junior Champion and senior competitor, as well as had years of professional skating shows to his credit (a few years ago he was given a Guinness Book of World Records award for the longest professional skating career). If anyone deserved to rest on his laurels and to stop trying to improve his technique, it would have been him. But there he was, working hard on his doubles and occasionally bailing out of them (like most of us do), because someone (that’s “Scotty,” as in Scott Hamilton) gave him another way of thinking about them.

I’ve been inspired by that ever since.

Being “debonair” (and ice dancing) to many people on the outside seems to be all about appearances: fancy dresses and beautiful, graceful maneuvers that seems so effortless. As I’ve written in a past entry, we work so hard to make it look so easy.

Progressives again this week, this time concentrating on the position of the free leg (turning out, rather than my default position of knees inward) as well as on “loading” the edges (into the ice, so I get a good strong push rather than skittering around like a water bug). Also working on the position of the head; I tend to look around the rink every which way, which is probably a defense mechanism from crowded sessions, but puts me all out of line. The high point was (get this!) twizzles on my left side; that inside edge entry and rotation finally seemed to click last Tuesday (my sister’s birthday, so happy birthday Jean!)

In my yoga classes, we would sometimes create a dedication for our practice, maybe to a particular person. This is a way of focusing our attention and clearing away the mind-clutter; it’s also a reminder that our practice isn’t an attempt at some kind of fantasy makeover into an incredibly-toned-yet-flexible ideal (as nice as that would be), but a way of being present in our bodies now: bodies that have a history and are connected to others. We honor those who have brought us to where we are.

So Mr. Dwyer, here’s to you; thanks for giving me another way of thinking about my skating. Those twizzles are getting so debonair!