jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Great Scott!

TessaScott2018

Regardless of how they do this time around, Virtue and Moir will always be in my  pantheon of ice dancing deities. So I was watching this video about the development of their Moulin Rouge free dance (it has since been blocked on YouTube, sadly, so I can’t share it here), I was amazed that at one point Scott got a coaching tip on an back inside three. He was told that he should just let the turn pivot, rather than muscling it around.

That’s exactly what my coaches have been telling me! Great Scott!

In her recent Fit&Fed post, Mary’s coach told her to identify “the elephant in the room”: the moves or aspects of skating that you should address and change asap. My elephants have been announcing themselves with regularity over the past few years, but I’ve now reached the happy stage when things in general feel much more stable and I’m no longer skating in pain.

This is happy, yes, but also a little too comfy. The elephants are clearly there, but they are no longer quite so obvious, at least not to me. That’s where the coaches come in handy to wipe the skating-euphoria-induced grin off my face.

Both lessons this week were on fairly basic elements, allowing us to focus on some basic things that are still. . . well, quite elephantine. I’ll detail them here.

Inside mohawks. I learned that what I thought was a wonky and unstable back inside edge exit was really a problematic entry edge. The entry edge started flat and took a deep curve for the worse before the turn, which meant that the exit edge had to perform a kind of rescue mission. Smooth even curve into the entry edge and everything is beautiful again.

Back inside push onto back outside edge. Okay, this is sooo basic but has been sooo hard. Laurie pointed out that I have been setting my back outside edge down inside the circle, which means an automatic flat or even inside edge. She had me doing back chassés and putting my back outside edge down right behind the inside (pushing edge), which felt like I was stepping outside my circle with an angled foot.  Hard to describe, but definitely different from what I’ve been doing and definitely better.

Ari and I discussed this push as well (well, he basically talked and I listened, thinking to myself, “oh woe is me!” for doing it wrong for all these years). His advice was more about keeping the pushing foot on the ice longer. What distinguishes this from two-footing is that you basically keep your weight on the pushing foot rather than partially transferring it over (“oh woe is me!”)

Once I am on a back outside edge, I have to learn to keep my weight inside the circle. I tend to try to stand up over my skate rather than using my lean even as I rotate my body. (Trying to stand up over your skates only works if you are going really slowly, as I have been, but if you are trying to get speed, it totally doesn’t work!) Laurie gave me a great image: think of your body as being on an axis (or spit), and rotate the entire thing on the same plane as your lean.

That’s me, rotisserie Jo!

So all of these things boil down to (a) putting your feet in the right place on the circle, (b) maintaining lean, and (c) just letting rotation happen normally as part of the action of the curve, rather than forcing the turn or the edge.

The good thing about these tips is that they make just about everything I do better. The bad thing is that not doing them makes things really really hard.

So what choice do I have? Great Scott!

Lesson notes:

  • forward inside mohawk, back outside three
  • back chassés (placement of outside edge)
  • back inside threes (lean is different from other edges, not into the circle)
  • two foot rocker exercise
  • one foot rocker exercise
  • inside mohawk, push back, outside three
  • inside mohawk, back inside three (feet together after mohawk)
  • forward outside double three, cross stroke, other direction (allow rotation with free side back, don’t spin around)

 

 

 

 

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Chocolate shortbread

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This chocolate shortbread recipe is easy and deliciously chocolatey. The only tip is to make sure the shortbread mold (if you are using one) is well-oiled (I use cooking spray). The last few times I’ve made this chocolate shortbread recipe, it was a miserable fail getting it out of the pan.

But today I made sure the sides as well as the bottom were generously oiled, and it came out great!

Crisp Chocolate Shortbread (adapted from Mrs. Witty’s Monster Cookies)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened (but not melted)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon (or big pinch or a few shakes of) salt

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F with rack in middle.
  2. Cream butter with sugar and cocoa, then add vanilla.
  3. Sift together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Combine all ingredients until dough comes together (it will be crumbly but should stick to together when squeezed).
  4. With plastic wrap or bare hands, press into well-oiled shortbread mold. You can also use an ungreased 9-inch pie plate, smoothing it into a round that stops just short of the sides. If you are using a pan, you should cut it into 12 wedges, cutting only halfway through the dough, and use a fork to make decorative sides and put several holes into each wedge.
  5. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes, checking about 20 minutes (dough should be “delicately springy” in the center). If using a pie plate, cool the entire pan on wire rack; cut before it has cooled completely. If using a mold, cool partially before unmolding (I run a sharp knife around the edges first); cut while it is still warm.
  6. Alternatively, you can make wafers. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick between two sheets of plastic wrap, then cut with a pastry cutter or sharp  into 1-1/2 x 2 inch oblongs and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Use a fork to put 2 – 3 sets of holes in each, pricking all the way through.
  7. If making wafers, bake at 325 for fifteen minutes or until just firm. Cool on wire rack. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.

Store in plastic wrap or foil at room temperature for up to several days, or refrigerate for several weeks, or freeze for longer. If it has been refrigerated or frozen, you can warm it up in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes before serving at room temperature.


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So tired

I must say that I’m really enjoying this Al Green song.

Except that in my case, I’m not necessarily tired of being alone. I’m just tired! Work has been just one dang thing after another. I swear that if I didn’t have a lunchtime skating session to look forward to in the middle of the workday, I’d go insane.

No matter how imperfect my edges, they are still way more predictable than my email in-box. And as for my to-do lists, they keep growing and growing like those horror movie monsters.

Luckily, I think there is an end in sight to at least a few of these projects that I seem to have gotten myself into. And when they end, I’m going to do a Marie Kondo (or practice the gentle art of Swedish death-cleaning) on my desk, office space, and bookshelves.

If only I could de-clutter my brain too. But that’s another story.

Funny how when I’m frazzled about work, my skating takes a strange turn too. Lack of concentration has never been my problem on the ice–if anything, I’m too fixated on what I’m doing. But several times this week I’ve started going down the ice and then forgotten what I’m doing halfway through my pattern.

Luckily, it doesn’t really matter if I’m going round and round in circles!

Lesson notes:

  • Cross rolls. Watch the timing of rise and fall; additional ankle bend as foot passes through.
  • Inside edges. Watch out for a contorted shoulder position on the right side. Keep your lean inside the circle. Be aware of your head inside as well. Practice continuous motion with the free leg.
  • A side note–“follow your nose” works with loops, but it also works with other things.
  • Back cross rolls. Laurie pointed out that I am not crossing the midline (defined by the sternum) with the new foot. Once I do that, it is much easier to curve immediately. We also worked on the “dissolving” free leg.
  • Back inside edge. Don’t hang out on two feet, but immediately put free leg in front. I’ve been rocking to a flat or even the outside edge on the right side. Ari pointed out that the free foot moves in and should stay on the circle with some turnout (rather than hanging out in the circle and/or even turned in).
  • Inside Mohawk three step pattern. Don’t touch down!
  • Mohawk, push back, back outside three. More definite push and speed.
  • Mohawk, push back, outside inside power pull, step forward, forward cross, repeat on other side
  • Same thing with inside three turn instead of mohawk. Make sure you bring your free foot in for the inside three.
  • On line. Three turns, step forward. Then do double threes, step forward. Then triple threes. Don’t forget to draw the leg back and bend, not break.

 

 

 

 


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Close call

So today I pulled out some cans of tuna from an upper shelf, and the ones on top fell down and hit me in the face. Ouch! Now I have a black eye, but I’m also really grateful that I didn’t put my eye out.

Come to think of it, this has been a week of close calls. Parking meters that have just run out by the time I’ve gotten to the car (but no ticket), late to meetings (but didn’t miss anything), slippery roads and cars skidding in front of me (but no accident).

And then there’s my right outside swing roll, which has been giving me some trouble. Laurie pointed out that I wasn’t really leaning into the circle on the second part of the swing roll. So I tried to lean that way, and went back just a little too far on my blade. Enough to make it really scary–but I didn’t fall. Whew!

Either these are reminders that I lead a charmed life or signs that I need to build up my margin of error. But whichever it is, the outcome is the same. Put the tuna cans on a lower shelf. Make sure you leave enough time on the meter. Get those hips underneath you!

With regard to that last reminder, it’s actually been a really good week. I’ve been finding it easier to connect the ankle bend (shin levers forward) and lean into the circle with glute activation. Will try to find a better way to explain it, but for now, I’ll just say that it is a form of edge security.

Okay, time to share pictures of the ice sculptures and ice palace in St. Paul.

And a very sweet adagio movement in a trio by Brahms for clarinet, cello, and piano. Brahms was going to retire, but then he heard this clarinetist (Richard Mühlfeld), and then came back to write a whole series of gorgeous pieces.

Moral: life is full of close calls and, if we’re lucky, unexpected second acts. (And third, and fourth. . . )

Lesson notes:

  • forward swizzles (really emphasize those inside edge pushes)
  • forward cross strokes (timing of free leg, and quality of circles)
  • back cross strokes (keep shoulders square)
  • swing rolls (keep lean into circle, be consistent about arm and torso positions)
  •  forward inside edges (turn out for push)
  • forward inside three, back pivot, toe, toe, cross in front, step forward and repeat sequence on other side
  • forward inside three, back outside three (think about free leg inside circle rather than dangling to the side)
  • inside mohawk, back inside three, forward swing roll (don’t touch down, weight in proper position on back inside edge)
  • power pulls (use ankle and knee action, should accelerate; backwards–also keep your free leg just behind skating leg, but don’t use it to pull)

 

 


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Snow dharma

So last Monday we got over a foot of snow in just a few hours. Needless to say, it made driving tricky. I made it to the rink okay (that was midday) but by the time I left my office it was really slow going. It took me nearly an hour and a half to get home (and it’s usually only around a 10 – 15 minute commute).

I have a good friend in Tokyo, and she said that it snowed heavily there as well, which is a big deal. She sent me a picture of her campus where students had built a snowman, or as they call them there, yuki daruma. This is based on Bodhidarma, the well-known Buddhist monk, who is called Daruma. The snow version only has two spheres, rather than our typical three-ball American version.

I love the idea that even though Yuko and I are many miles apart, it snowed for both of us on the same day. I also love this new variation on the snowman, and how I finally understand why this sculpture in our sculpture garden has only two spheres.

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Gary Hume, “Back of Snowman” (2001)

The yuki daruma, or snow dharma, reminds me that there is something more to snow than just inconvenience. Time to contemplate, appreciate, and commemorate! Such big words for simple actions.

Speaking of simple actions, here are some notes from last week’s lessons:

  • I heard a lot from both coaches about the principle of bending your ankles rather than your knees. When I bend my knees, I tend to let my backside go out and pitch my upper body forward (like doing a squat). So Laurie told me to think about my shins like levers being activated in the “forward” position. Wow, this works really well. We did this on my warmup forward swizzles, with an emphasis first on the inside, then the outside edges. Part of my issue is still unequal amounts of weight distributed across the blade (my right ankle is still stiff, so the lever on that side requires more concentration).  We also did this with swing rolls and cross rolls. Success!
  • Inside edge swing rolls need more attention so they don’t start off flat.
  •  Forward outside three, back edge: don’t back out of step forward.
  • Back crossovers: should be little effort with more speed, and equal pushes.
  • Inside rocker, change edge, back outside three. This led to a much more focused session on. . .
  • Inside rockers: really think about the position of the free leg and how the skating leg and free leg motion work against one another (turning out and in). Also think about upper body lean, which requires speed.
  • Outside brackets. Haven’t tried these in a while. Still challenging, but I’m getting a better idea of what direction I’m supposed to go.

 


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Evolution of my skating

Earlier this week, I came across an article that asked, “Where Did Animals With Tail Weapons Go?” In it were descriptions of all kinds of creatures whose like will never be seen again, at least not by us. This included the following:

  • Ankylosaurus, “like a dinosaur version of an armored tank,” with a “bone-crushing clubbed tail”;
  • Stegosaurus with “spear-like spikes on its tail”; and
  • Glyptodons, described as “ancient, boulder-sized armadillos.”
glyptodon

My favorite glyptodon!

I’ll tell you some other things that I hope will soon be extinct:

  1. the way I push under on back crossovers (or more accurately, don’t really push under but instead just pick up my foot),
  2. the way I push onto back outside edges (sending my new skate off in a random direction), and
  3. the way I grind to a halt before turning those inside three turns (the ones followed by the cross in front).

There are lots of other things, but we’ll just start with those strange habits, okay?  As part of my new practice strategy (see my last post), I’ve identified and isolated these problems, and I’m starting to analyze them.

Like the tail weapons on those prehistoric beasts, they developed out of a need to protect myself. My body is great at figuring out ways of keeping me balanced and not going “splat.” They just happen to be ways of moving that don’t work so well anymore.

So I’m working on some new kinds of weaponry (okay, body mechanics) that hopefully will take me past the great Ice Age–or at least keep me busy in my obsolescence! Will report back on whether I become a much more sleek bird-like skater, or remain a lumbering giant armadillo with a scary-looking free leg tail!

Lesson notes:

  • three turn, change edge, back three “creeper”: don’t use upper body twist to do this–rather, make sure you are completing and pushing through the edge change
  • back crossover: push under (make sure you transfer weight and push all the way through that outside edge; don’t be too quick to move to the inside edge)
  • loops: “drippy nose” follows the loop all the way around
  • swing roll, change edge (this time keeping free leg in front), turn out free foot and bring in for mohawk
  • mohawk, back outside three: work on staying farther back on blade to push, push to outside edge at the correct angle, don’t delay so much (be immediately on an edge)
  • three turn, back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side. Make sure you really bend into the three turn, and bring your feet together.
  • inside three, cross in front. Being on an actual edge helps, as does turning on the bend rather than on the rise.


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Insights on practicing

So my teenage son wrote up two lists that include insights about learning and practicing  from his cello teacher, the legendary Mr. Howard. In earlier posts, I’ve adapted many of his ideas to skating (“Bow change motion, no matter what your age!”) is one of my favorites. I thought these were very useful for skating as well!

Mr. Howard’s answers to “What do you need to learn?”

  • Learn how to learn.
  • Learn now to practice.
  • Learn how to use time wisely.
  • Learn how to hear, really hear.

Mr. Howard’s Five Steps to Practicing

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Isolate the problem.
  3. Analyze the problem.
  4. Figure out a creative, imaginative, and effective way to practice it.
  5. Practice, but not until you’ve done the previous four steps.