jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


A whole lot of skating goin’ on

Around here it is a sad fact that towards the end of the semester, the temperature plummets and the workload goes up astronomically. I have to figure out how to balance the need to get things done and the desire to just sit by any available heat source and watch the video of Scott and Tessa’s short dance at the Grand Prix Final over and over again.

Love that Prince song. Love their facial expressions (especially Scott singing along and Tessa winking at the judges). Love their outfits. And that lift at the end.

Happy, happy sigh.

And if I wasn’t unproductive enough, there’s the Shibutanis. Hooray!

Okay, time to get back to . . .oh wait, did they just post the free dance???


No blood on these blades

So earlier this week while I was pulling my skate out of my bag, it momentarily caught on something. I tugged and it popped out and nearly took my nose off. Luckily, no blood; it just resulted in a minor scratch on my face. Phew! I have a hard enough time explaining any aspect of skating, never mind accidental self-mutilation, to folks outside the skating world.

Apart from trying to injure myself even before I step onto the ice, skating is going well. Doug headed back home yesterday, but before he left we managed to get in a series of lessons stressing pattern, staying on edges, body position and lean, and partnering. And though we had a few falls and some blade-clicking, no blood was shed there, either. Hooray!

To those who don’t ice dance, it sometimes looks as though skating with a partner is easier than skating by yourself. In general, I’ve found soloing vs. skating with someone to be equally challenging. Sometimes it is helpful to have someone there to steady you, and in the pattern dances your partner’s steps helps you figure out where to go.

But woe betide the hapless ice dancer who leans on her (or his) partner! That kind of pressure is way worse than the occasional fall. Imagine a sailboat slowly tipping over, with all the terrified passengers scuttling about in a futile effort to right the boat. Those passengers are like my body parts! Where’s the Coast Guard? Arghhh!

No, it’s super important not to be the weak link in the great skating chain of Being. I am happy that my two years of solo work has really helped with my alignment and posture. While Laurie pointed out that some of my edges are still tentative, I am getting better at correcting this. And my left side is much stronger than it has been.

In the past couple of days going solo, I am back to lots of circles and alternating patterns up and down the ice. I am really working on finding a really good gliding position: keeping my hips aligned and moving forward, knee/ankle bend, and my weight father back on my skates. And I am starting to work on how to use my free side extension more effectively to create momentum rather than inhibit it. Finally, I think I will really focus on my feet for the coming month, trying to see how this affects my balance over the skate. I am working on this off-ice as well, so will post more later.

But here are some things about the pattern dances that I need to continue to practice solo:

  • Foxtrot. Opening tuck behind needs to stay on curve (practice bringing foot in and not letting outside edge shoot off the circle). Lobe curves around so that my three is headed towards the boards. Nice big engaged edges on the progressive and after.
  • Tango. Don’t flatten or change edge too soon: the change happens on the one beat edge, not at the end of the two beat. On the cross three, continue to push yourself through the cross in the same direction (deepen, don’t flatten through the cross push). The end of the swing roll accents the rhythm and should be one of the highlights of the dance. Nice steep hill into the mohawk and then remember the down up down.
  • Paso. Extensions and push through the entire opening section. The forward leg should be completely extended on the slide-slide (this is near-impossible when I have my right leg forward, since I have a hard time pointing my toe). Extension and push in the steps following the breakout. Extensions and push on forward sections. Hip alignment on crosses; again, do this with definite weight-transfer and immediate ankle bend onto the new skating foot, not by extending back.

I got some practice time in at the university ice rink (home of the Minnesota Gophers). Was happy to run into some old and new friends there! George pointed out that it’s hard to see the captions on these pictures, but just try putting your cursor over the picture.





Almond flour shortbread


Gluten-free, practically sugar-free, and quite tasty!

2-1/2 c blanched almond flour (not almond meal)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
10 Tablespoons melted and cooled butter (I prefer unsalted.)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons maple syrup or honey (you can leave this out entirely if you prefer a more savory treat.)
1 c chocolate chunks (I use bittersweet)

Stir dry ingredients together. Add butter, vanilla and syrup if desired. Add chocolate chunks. Form into balls and press onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for around 10-12 minutes or until very slightly crisp (these will not rise). Allow to cool before removing from sheet.


Whew! Glad that’s over!

In my neck of the woods, many of the public sessions are really great: just the friendly regulars, pretty good ice, very affordable. Add a little mellow pop music playing in the background and you couldn’t ask for a better time.

But school is out, the weather’s turned cold and snowy, and parents are suddenly thinking that taking the entire family (even the kids who don’t want to skate) to the rink is a good idea. And then they let them loose! Even the music is drowned out by the screaming, which could be either delight or terror. Either way, I got off the ice feeling like I’d been on an episode of Survivor: The Ice Rink.

Now that I’m safely off, I can spend some time thinking about skating rather than holding my breath waiting for the crash (and the crunch of tiny bones). So this post is going to be a series of notes that I can read next week when I get back on the ice (after I come out of my food coma). Hopefully the rink will be back to its normal state.

To begin with, I still need to be really careful about my posture and left side alignment. I am proud to say that this has improved so that on occasion I actually feel stronger on my left side. But I still need to think about really being over my left side, rather than ever-so-slightly shifted towards the right.

Some of this has to do with my upper body now. I tend to have my left shoulder slightly forward and/or tensed up. This really complicates skating with a partner.

Another related issue is that I sometimes still drop my free hip down into moves. This is particularly true of cross strokes and cross steps. The result is that when I do alternating crosses (as in the Paso Doble), my hips rock from side to side–and then my shoulders also move in order to compensate. Too much shimmy when shimmy is not what we want! When it is done correctly, it looks like the legs just replace one another, rather than constantly moving side to side to shift weight.

Finally, I need more work on my ankle and foot strength. I am still having trouble pointing and flexing my right ankle, which makes certain things much harder than they need to be.

Lesson notes:


  • partnering on cross three (aim for the man’s right arm rather than trying to cross tracing.
  • bring feet together on syncopate (down up down)
  • feet together on three
  • more knee bend (lilt)
  • posture in foxtrot position (forward arm directs, no weight on back arm)

Paso Doble

  • cross steps on paso doble (no extension, immediate shift of weight onto new foot)
  • new introduction (two additional steps after my three turn to set up circle)
  • straighten front knee on slide-slide (weight on back leg)
  • work on extensions in opening, break-out section, and forward section


  • don’t flatten cross steps
  • cross three: sideways push




Woof, I got this!

I’ve never been all that confident about my sense of spatial awareness. In grade school we had to take a number of aptitude tests, and I remember getting less-than-impressive scores on those tests in which the main task was to guess how imaginary paper cutouts would fold into imaginary boxes.

Luckily I managed to get through school regardless, and am now working in a profession in which this is not a requirement. (The only placement I worry about on a regular basis is where to put the comma.) And I still like origami, by the way, although making those jumping frogs is probably the best I can do these days.

So in the past I have never been crazy about the “pattern” aspect of “pattern” ice dances (though the term “compulsory” sounds even worse, like something they could paddle you for not doing correctly).

Another confession: I could never really follow the strategies behind soccer. You know, when the coach draws little arrows and circles and x’s to indicate how the play is going to go. Send the ball here! Send the ball there! To me, it just looked like a bunch of running after a rather unpredictable ball. And kicking, yes, there’s kicking.

But the times they are a-changing. I am rethinking my spatial sensibilities for the positive this week as Doug and I are working on the foxtrot, silver (Harris) tango, and paso doble. Who says you can’t teach an old dog!

That does not mean that I am now doing rulebook-ready patterns. Not even close, in some cases. But it does mean that I am able (a) to understand better why these patterns are laid out in the ways that they are, and (b) to look at an ice dance pattern on paper and imagine myself moving on the ice.

The secret is to think of the pattern as a way of distributing energy around the different lobes. This sounds quite mystical, but really what it means is that the pattern helps regularize the edges so that pushes, knee/ankle bends, and applications of force happen steadily all along the dance, rather than being concentrated at certain moments.

This is what distinguishes ice dance from free skating, in which some of the edges are in preparation for a jump or spin. Rather than using crossovers or preparation edges to gear up for a particular move, the edges are featured in and of themselves. So I am no longer thinking of pushing myself through or along an established pattern. Rather, the movement is the pattern: I can develop, expand or contract parts of my pattern rather than always trying to trace some set of ideal imaginary lines with my skates.

I’m going to post a few lesson notes after each of the patterns.



  • Placement of cross-behind along the boards.
  • Man’s three is easier if both people lean correctly.
  • Lady’s cross three happens going back towards the boards.
  • Lead the back progressive along the boards and down the rink: open it up!
  • Mohawk at the top of the lobe.


  • Nice big lobes. Remember placement of circles (change of lean happen in the first two cross steps).
  • More articulation and sharp movement (Ari likes down up down.)
  • Tracking/partnering on man’s rocker.
  • My cross three will be easier if I actually bend my skating leg and push, rather than trying to kick through with my free side.
  • Swing roll (think of this as diagonal, not pulled around).
  • Articulation on that inverted progressive. And on the swing before the mohawk.
  • The mohawk happens on a steep uphill, not on a diagonal across the ice. Again, go for down up down.

PasoDobleWomen.jpgPaso Doble:

  • Make sure you skate down into the ice to generate more power and grip.
  • Partner hold more side to side. I have to make my arms/shoulders into a kind of spring.
  • The man has a challenging set of moves involving the torso and arms on that change of edge in the breakout.
  • I have to lead the pattern much more openly first towards the boards and through the change of edge.

More on these dances and other (alignment) issues to come!


Homemade granola

I know that when times are tough, it is not enough to offer a granola recipe. I know that making or eating granola won’t really help.

But honestly, I don’t know what else to do. And maybe having a little something will help fortify and sustain those of us who need it right now. A little protein, a little sweetness, a little comfort until we can make it through the initial pain and figure out what to do next.

This granola isn’t the clumpy kind, and it has a high proportion of nuts and fruit to oats. You could certainly modify it by adding more oats, or fewer nuts, or egg whites to make it clumpy. There is very little sweetener, and you could leave this out entirely since the dates make this granola fairly sweet to begin with.

This is an easy recipe if you have a food processor. With my weak left hand, I think a food processor is a necessity, but I imagine there are some brave folks out there who would chop everything by hand. If you are one of them, I think it would be a matter of chopping everything first and then adding in wet ingredients and then oats.

Nutty Granola

1 cup dates
1 cup almonds (you can use different nuts, or fewer nuts)
1 cup pecans
1 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup oil (I used avocado; coconut oil would work too)
a splash of honey or maple syrup
3 cups oats
dried fruit

In a food processor, chop up the dates loosely and then add the almonds and other nuts and chop some more (chopping them all at once will prevent having the dates clump up too much). Add coconut, oil, and sweetener if desired, and mix some more. In a large bowl, blend oats with nut mix. Place on rimmed cookie sheet or in large baking pan.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees for around 15-20 minutes, stirring thoroughly every 5-10 minutes, depending on how anxious you are. Watch the final stages carefully so that the granola doesn’t burn, and take out when it is about 3/4 golden brown. Add dried fruit if desired (I use craisins).


So here’s the granola. And because that’s not enough, here’s a meditation.

May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy and strong.
May you be free from suffering.

If you skate, may you skate long. And prosper.


Back to compulsories

Thank goodness for Daylight Savings Time, I always say. The only downside is that by the time the year rolls to a close, it feels like it’s getting dark around four in the afternoon. That’s high tea in low light! Anyway I am happy to have an extra hour of sleep, especially after a long evening practice.

I have been working on pattern dances again: the Paso Doble, the Harris Tango, the Foxtrot, and the most dreaded European Waltz, for which I feel a deep combination of affection and loathing. The others feel like old friends that I haven’t seen in a while: vaguely familiar at first, but then after a pattern or two, it’s as if we’ve never left off.

I am working with a new partner, Doug. He is from the Seattle area, but comes into town periodically for extended visits with his family. We will have a few weeks this month and next spring to practice for Adult Nationals 2017.

The competition will be in North Carolina, and a number of us here have been considering boycotting the event because of the state’s recently-passed House Bill 2 that eliminates anti-discrimination protection for GLBTQ people and prevents municipalities from passing anti-discrimination policies. If this is not repealed, I will have to think hard about whether or not to travel there. Sigh.

In the meantime, training begins.

And it is training indeed! I have forgotten how much work it is to go around the rink more than once. Or even once, if it is the Tango with all those steps. After a few patterns, though, it all started coming back to me.

The real challenge will be how to maintain my new and improved alignment in these dances. Everything from the hips down feels really different–and mostly better–than it did two years ago. I can tell by all these tired day-after-skating-hard muscles, though, that partnering takes a lot of upper body strength that I haven’t been maintaining. Maybe I will finally get those Michelle Obama arms I’ve been hoping for. If only!

Speaking of arms, here’s fellow skater Tam showing off his marvelous moves. Pretty amazing, huh?


Lesson notes:

  • “pivot” edges: counter with free leg, head and back “spiral” around
  • “spiral turnout” on mohawks
  • tuck behind (really getting on the inside edge), heels in correct position