jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


We happy few

The weather has been so very beautiful these past few days. I went for a bike ride over the weekend around the chain of lakes here in Minneapolis. Fellow adult skating blogger George posted some great photographs of his autumn walk, which inspired me to create my own little photo journey around Lake of the Isles, the Rose Garden, and Lake Harriet.

Are you all relieved that I’m out enjoying the sunshine? Guess again!

Once the weekend was over, it was back to the rink–with the few brave souls who defy Nature’s beckoning and instead spend their lunchtimes glorying in the artificial light and refrigeration. Ah, the lure of fresh ice!


Jo, Chris, Sonia


Misplaced priorities

So on my last lesson Ari commented that on my back inside three turns I had more rotational speed than “directional” or “linear” speed. Wow! No wonder he is always telling me to go faster and lean more, and I keep thinking that I’m just zooming along when actually I’m just spinning in place.

Okay, not really in place; however, it is a case of putting my energy into turning when I should be just moving ahead. I try to do the turn by twisting my entire body into it, which means I basically come to a grinding halt after I turn. And twisting into it means I gotta twist out of it. Lucky I’m not a pipe cleaner!

This is yet another case in which I thought I had all the right priorities, but wound up going in the wrong direction. Like today when I went to Trader Joe’s: when I looked at the receipt, well over half of it was for chocolate.

I did get bananas and an eggplant, I swear. And it was dark chocolate, the good kind. Well, most of it.

Let’s not dwell on my chocolate addiction, okay? Now that I have this realization that I actually have to skate forward or backward into the edge rather than turning my body into my edges, I think I will finally have the idea of “checking” down.

My other big reveal is from my lesson with Laurie, when she pointed out that I am not extending my right leg back properly when I push onto a forward left outside edge. By properly, I mean that I am not engaging my glutes to lift my right free leg; instead I am dropping the free side down, which in turn pulls my hips out of whack. This sound suspiciously like it’s tied to problems with my left hip misalignment. But I’m determined not to fixate too much on that old problem and instead tackle this as a new one–even if it’s related.

So a new priority is work on arabesques and spirals again. I’ll be scouting around for some good off-ice exercises. If anyone has one to share, please comment!

Lesson notes:

  • Twizzles (inside edge entry): open body on entry, don’t do a big deep inside edge, free foot travels back first (doesn’t draw in from side)
  • Exercise 1: Mohawk, back inside three, extend free leg, cross, repeat  (this is the one where you need more directional speed). Also work on hitting the same position as you on that cross, cross, cross, deep outside edge exercise (open to outside rather than letting your hips go square).
  • Exercise 2: Back cross, inside three, back cross, change to outside edge, back cross, inside three on other side, repeat. Work more on those back crosses (try the sickle  foot; keep hips forward and under).
  • Pre-juvenile perimeter back pattern: weight on bent knee inside edge, free foot slightly ahead, draw foot in, push.


I feel it in my ankles

I feel it in my toes!

I’m not certain who remembers–or wants to remember–the Troggs, the English rock band from the mid-1960s, originally called the “Troglodytes.” But of course you remember this song:

Their big hit was “Wild Thing.” Boy, just a few bars can really take you back to a groovier time when all you needed was a guitar, bass line, and a catchy phrase or two.

You know I love you, I always will
My mind’s made up by the way that I feel
There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end
‘Cause on my edge you can depend

Did I say “edge” and “depend” in the same sentence? No, that wasn’t a mistake. My edges are feeling stronger than ever. I still hit the wobbles sometimes, especially on those left back inside edges. But, I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.

Every thought seems to come with its own soundtrack! That is, if we’re lucky.

I have certainly enjoyed being back on the ice this week. Saturday was grooving to oldies (Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, Norah Jones) and watching Sonia do a teeny tiny tango. So cute!


Monday I decided to test my stamina by stroking around the rink for a while. Okay, just four laps. My stamina is. . . not so good. Whew!

Today’s lesson was on the Kilian and the Starlight Waltz. I can’t believe all the things that happen in one pattern around the rink. My pea-sized brain was having trouble processing it all, so here’s just a couple of points before the list.

  1. Keep hips aligned. Amazing how much unnecessary movement happens on even simple moves like cross behinds.
  2. Upper body lean. Especially on the left outer edges.


  • lean in on progressives (upper body) and outside-outside
  • cross behind, keeping neutral hip position; right foot extends immediately
  • scoop (edge pull) into choctaw


  • introductory waltz three: lean into circle, lifted free leg
  • same lean into first chassé, reverse lean for next chassé, reverse again for final chassé
  • strong outside edge: for change of edge, just come up and bend ankle (don’t drop in!)
  • same lean and arm position into back swing
  • lean into back outside edge, head and nose arc up and around for step forward
  • step forward into left shoulder, don’t let left arm keep moving around circle



Quick fix

I swear I was only off for a week! Still, I wasn’t up for my usual Friday lesson. Today felt like I needed a skating emergency hotline rather than a lesson. Now that’s an idea!

“Hello, you’ve reached SK8-4-Ever. How can we help you?”

“Help me, please! I can’t feel my edges.”

“Don’t panic, ma’am. Now, are you bending your ankles?”

“Wha-what did you say? Aaahhhh!!! I almost fell.” (Crunching sounds. Whimpering.)

“Deep breaths, ma’am. Down into your diaphragm. That’s it. Now, can you see the boards from where you are?”

“Only the ice. It’s. . .it’s so cold. . . I can’t seem to keep my head up. Oh, help me, please.”

“Breathe. Remember that the ice is there for you. Now, can you put the top of your femur over your foot?”

“The top of my what?”

“Your femur. Over the middle of your skating foot.”

“I. . . I think so. Yes, I think it’s there.”

“And is your ankle flexed when you push?”


“Flex it more.”

“Okay. . . I’ll try.” (More crunching.) “I think I can. I think I can.”

“More. You can do it.” (Crunching suddenly stops. A collective sigh of relief.)

“I think I’ll be okay now. I think. . . I think it’s better. Thank you.”

“Our pleasure, ma’am. We’ll send a team out to check on your three turns next week.”




Learning by osmosis

So I had this high school teacher who used to joke with us by saying that we should put our textbooks under our pillows while we slept and “learn by osmosis.”

I don’t think that would quite work with skating, but heck, I’m willing to give it a try. At least I will this week while a work-related trip is keeping me away from the rink. I’m staying in a hotel with a pool, so I have been trying to keep in shape with some swimming (inspired by the special “poolside issue” at Mary’s Fit&Fed blog. This pool is surrounded by windows and because I’m still in a different time zone, I was in the pool in time to watch the sun rise while doing the backstroke.

Don’t be too impressed. I’m not that great of a swimmer though I love to be in the water (I’m a Pisces, after all!) After a few laps my arms were getting tired from doing the same stroke, and I realized that I needed some plan of action to get enough of a workout. So I started thinking about my skating practice routine, which is so nicely mapped out now after two years of working on basics: going first forwards and then backwards and then turning around in various ways.

This is what I came up with: six lengths of the pool each of breaststroke, elementary backstroke, crawl, and backstroke; then two rounds of the pool with a kick board (going clockwise to counter my tendency to favor going counter-clockwise at the rink). Then repeat the whole sequence.

But where’s the osmosis part, you ask? Well, with each stroke I would try to imagine myself doing a skating move (basic edges, chassés, and the like). For the record, I did actually try doing skating-type motions underwater, but this did not work so well. I’m not sure just thinking about the moves will help, but I did get a pretty good workout and was surprised how this kept me going.

Other things I have been doing: reading Peter Dalby’s Making the Right Moves on the airplane and catching up with some other skating blogs during downtime. Walking around trying to keep the top of my femur right over my foot (honestly, it’s a mind game!). And doing foot exercises in the jacuzzi (helps to keep toe cramping down).

I will report back on my degree of “osmosis” when I return to the ice!

Lesson notes from last week:

Breaking down the Kilian (as opposed to the Kilian breaking me down):

  • Pattern, nice and big and fast (at least the first part until the fear-of-choctaw creeps in)
  • Progressives: make sure right foot doesn’t just step down (emphasize left push onto inside edge)
  • Cross wide
  • Hit “pivot” position after cross (I realized that there is a fundamental posture issue with my doing the “pivot” position–more on that later)
  • Back cross-behind: step inside right where outside edge is, allow inside edge to come around (I realized also that there is a fundamental posture issue with my hip and free leg position on this inside edge–more on that later too!)
  • Choctaw (I actually quite like this turn now, especially since I’m sometimes in a correct position going in!)
  • After the choctaw: push, cross, load foot and step forward–immediate preparation with foot in for next sequence.

More moves:

  • Twizzles: don’t go in on a really deep edge, find the correct part of the blade, check tracing to see if turns are equal, open body position going into turns, speed
  • Rockers: all of them, on real edges, with speed




So I think my skating is improving! I had a lot of fun on my last set of lessons. Laurie had me working on loop figures again, creating tighter edges and smaller loops. It’s really cool, kinda like being on a runaway train (only slower, ’cause it’s me skating). Whoa!

Ari started out with an inside mohawk, inside-outside change edge exercise that I could actually do (been practicing!), which made me feel pretty good. But then, of course, as I got halfway down the rink with that, he immediately started on a different exercise.

Wouldn’t want me to get a big head! That would throw off my balance!

Both coaches have been demanding actual edges from me, so there’s no danger of my being over-confident. Now that I am bending my ankles more in terms of forward and back, I realize how important also using side-to-side foot and ankle pressure is.

So the upshot is that I am trying to hold my feet to the fire (and ice, haha) by practicing each move with much more awareness of (a) ankle bend and (b) foot and ankle pressure. And that means each and every move, from warmup swizzles to stroking to progressives and chassés in a circle to edge pulls to cross strokes to various turns to compulsories.

Makes time fly! Before I know it, practice is over. Today I barely got through half of my stuff.

(Dang, forgot to work on brackets today. I knew there was something. . . )

So Madison Chock and Evan Bates are doing this season’s free dance to a version of David Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure”: one of my favorite songs and very apropos of my situation. This song should have a warning label about the bass line becoming the ultimate earworm. But since it will run through my head all day anyway, I’m going to watch it again paying particular attention to Madison’s most excellent use of her ankles and feet.

Lesson notes:

  • Inside mohawk, change edge, step forward inside, repeat (make sure the change of edge really makes it onto an outside edge).
  • Push back, back outside, change to inside, rise. Don’t rush, get correct timing on rise.
  • Three cross steps, then tight circle; repeat. On the tight circle, make sure you are on a deep edge right away. Don’t use upper body to tighten circle; use ankles/feet; make sure your back faces into the circle on the tight outside edge. Do this backwards as well.
  • Inside mohawk, back three, small edge pull.
  • Forward inside edge, change to outside, cross in front (again, make sure the change of edge actually creates lobes).
  • Progressives with deep edge transition, facing outside of circle on the outside edge. Again, this forces you to use your ankle/feet to create edges, not upper body or hips.

A different kind of lesson:

Love’s such an old-fashioned word
and love dares you to care for
the people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way
Of caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves

Under pressure.


Agonizing ankles

Long day at work, so I’m just chilling out by reading different websites that talk about ankle impingement. Fun, fun, fun.

Well, not fun, but at least it takes my mind off work. And puts it back where it belongs–on my current skating obsession about bending my ankles more. I have written several posts about this, but I’m hoping that one more post might just exorcise those demons (a.k.a. stiff ankles).

I have been trying to face up to another one of those bitter skating truths in the last few weeks. I noticed how much ankle flexion really good skaters had. I noticed that when I bend my ankles too, some kind of magic happened and I have a lot more stability over my skates. And I noticed that when I don’t bend them enough, the magic goes away and I am wobbly and my pushes are ineffective. Alas, woe is me!

Okay, it’s not particularly tragic even as skating problems go. It’s just one of those things that I have tended to forget about, but that has become increasingly obvious as other aspects of my skating get stronger.

My right ankle in particular has trouble both flexing (dorsiflexion) and pointing (plantarflexion). This is probably the result of a bad injury I had a long time ago; ligament damage and scar tissue now make this ankle much less mobile and much weaker. So even though my left side is weaker overall, my right ankle is definitely inhibited.

I’ve been doing lots of calf raises and foot exercises and ankle-stretching for weeks or even months now. I can tell there is is some progress, but it is slow (I was going to make some kind of joke about its being slow, like my skating, but I am trying to be kind to myself in the face of this cruel world). And like any therapy, there are times when the exercises are uncomfortable.

I told PT Sarah that my ankle was feeling wobbly and a little sore. I told her that I was afraid that if I got rid of all that scar tissue (or at least made it more mobile), that I wouldn’t have anything left keeping the ankle stable. She told me in her characteristically upbeat but no nonsense way that if I only had scar tissue there, the ankle would be totally immobile and stiff, and that ankles are supposed to move side-to-side (within reason).

In other words, snap (or bend) out of it!

Lesson notes:

  • cross rolls. Use skating side rather than free side. Practice “stop action” in which you stop the free leg just when your feet are parallel, then push under as if you were doing a crossover.
  • alternating swing rolls. Work on body placement, retrogressing the changes of edge into the push, and on bending the ankle.
  • outside loops. Push off, upper body twist with tight forward outside edges, and forcing edge to curve), strike off, twist more, ride edge.
  • inside loops. Good push off, then trace with free foot.
  • fully stretched free leg countering the twist of the torso and skating leg. This is easier to see than to write about.
  • back crossover, turn free foot in, change edge, bring free foot in, back outside three (free foot in front afterwards), forward inside three (foot comes back). Watch your head position.
  • tight outside swing rolls emphasizing the deepening edge into the change of edge (push into ice to rise and resist), inside mohawk, edge pull.
  • three step closed mohawk pattern. Where is your body weight? Draw foot in rather than step to it. Work on weight placement and lean, and place your shoulders–not your hips–correctly over the tracing.
  • inside threes (keeping skating arm over foot on three and afterwards). step forward cross.