jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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More on turning in

Day after day I’m more confused
So I look for the light in the pouring rain

I just love that song: “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray. And it just so perfectly captures how I feel about figuring out that I need to turn my toes in more.

For years I’ve been telling myself to turn out, turn out, turn out. And my body was not particularly well balanced, but heck, I thought, I’ll just turn out more and see if that helps. And then, last lesson Laurie told me to turn in my toes and put my heels out, like an inverted “V” and BOOM. Edges.

Day after day I’m more confused. But I feel like my weight is suddenly in the right place, especially on that left skate. And I feel like everything is connected: blade, foot, ankle, lower leg, thigh, hip, and even upper body. I bend my ankle and I can feel my entire body activate on that side. Oh joy. Oh rapture.

But wait! Reality check! Before I go off the deep end of enthusiasm, I suddenly realize that can’t find any pictures of ice dancers who skate with their toes turned towards each other. So what is really going on?

I suspect that what is happening is that this is not so much about turning my toes inwards as it is about the way that this angle allows me to put more pressure into the ice, especially through the back part of my blade. I don’t have to actually turn in; I can get the same feeling if I am in parallel and just push my heel outwards against the ice.

scotttessablades

Is this what they are doing?

France Figure Skating

Why else would she be smiling? Unless that’s not really a smile. . . 

I think this is consistent with some of the hip misalignment and strengthening issues I’ve had in the past. Definitely this turning-in business feels like it kicks on some of those inner thigh muscles (I found this post from a site called “Mix Fitness” really interesting). This whole thing reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago about turning inward.

I told Ari today that I feel like this gives me more traction. Traction is good, he said. He must have truly believed that, because after my standard alternating three turns, we launched into a whole new set of exercises.

Lesson notes:

  • alternating three turns (don’t over-rotate three, don’t pitch forward)
  • cross swing roll, quick mohawk (Paso Doble): left inside edge after the mohawk has to be really quick! Don’t let your hips go out.
  • forward cross, tuck behind, forward choctaw (like in the Kilian), back cross, step forward on outside edge and repeat on other side. Remember correct arm positions, work on strong back outside edge after choctaw
  • inside mohawk, change edge, push back to back outside edge, back to forward choctaw (strong forward inside edge), repeat on other side.
  • twizzles from back outside edge. Both sides. Don’t overthink this. No hesitation between turns.

And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me


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Toe in

So today Laurie and I were working on alternating swing rolls again, breaking them down and trying to get to the nitty-gritty of why these have continued to challenge me. Some of her corrections were quite familiar.

  • Preserve your lean through the entire circle.
  • Keep your body aligned and don’t let your hips stick out.
  • Your upper body lean is like a rainbow.
  • Practice making a real “S” shape on the changeover.
  • Accentuate your inside edge before the push.
  • Bring new foot in with toe turned in and the heel angled out.

Although I am sure I’ve been told this last one before, I was struck by how hard it was for me to do. I have not really been aware of this before, but when I bring my feet together, I have a tendency to keep my free foot in a turned-out position. I really had to concentrate to get my feet to turn in. But once I did, it was an immediate improvement both for edge and stability. We then tried the same thing on progressives, with the same positive effect. Then on those stop-action cross rolls (when you bring your feet together, then push under to cross). Wow.

My PT Sarah has prepped me for this revelation. She is always telling me that it is okay to turn my feet inwards, instead of always trying to turn out. I have a hard time allowing myself to do this, after many years of trying to achieve something that looks like a good turnout.

In skating, just like in ballet, being able to turn out is prized. For me with my tight hips, having a degree of turnout always seemed to be the golden ring. But now I’m having to get my head around the idea that doing the duck walk all the time is actually not a good idea.

Oh, it’s good to have flexibility. But flexibility works both ways, out and in. And I suspect that rather than just fixating on muscle flexibility, what I really need is a little mental and emotional flexibility. Turn it in, Jo.

Okay, time to stop kicking myself (even if I do it with my foot turned out) and to start watching videos of Bob Fosse. Ah, those turned-in positions! Those jazz hands!

 

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Rest

I just finished a book that I would recommend to anyone who is trying to juggle skating with professional work commitments, and who needs ammunition against arguments that skating cuts down on “productivity” or is “a waste of time.” It’s Alex Soojun-Kim Pang’s Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.

Pang’s basic arguments–that “rest” is a skill we need to cultivate in a culture when we brag about our overloaded work schedules and multi-tasking and that rest is not just sitting around staring into space, but can be creative and athletic activities that we put lots of effort and time into–are pretty obvious to anyone who has been working in a high-pressure job for any length of time. But he makes these argument more than just wishful thinking, giving lots of thoughtful examples for why we have to do this so that we can be better at what we do and avoid burnout.

This includes all the work we do at home as well as at the office. Though many of Pang’s examples are men, he does take care to talk about the added responsibilities that many working women face–their other responsibilities of caregiving, homemaking, and other life maintenance don’t end when they get back from the office. Wish I’d read this years ago–not so I could make different life choices, but so I could simply tell others to read it rather than just pressuring me to add yet another soul-sucking task to my to-do list.

I’m sure this applies to folks who are pretty much full-time figure skaters. Everyone needs  some encouragement towards the “less is more” side. But with a physical activity, there is hopefully a point when your body reminds you that you are overdoing things. A lot of my work time is spent on the computer, and it’s tempting to keep working even after regular hours evenings and weekends.

Thank you, Alex Pang! You’ve definitely hit my “recommended” list.

Okay, time to report on skating now. Now that reading Alex Pang’s Rest has made me feel totally virtuous about blocking out time to skate on my (admittedly long) lunch hour, I am happy to say that I’m back to a regular practice schedule. Laurie and I continue to have great (though humbling) lessons about the fact that I am not preserving my lean when I do swing rolls. That feeling of having my skate edge run outside of where my body is still baffles me on some deep level, and I fight it with all kinds of strange contortions. Still, it is deeply restful and now I can gloat about how it’s making me more rather than less productive at work!

Lesson notes:

  • Exercise for deep back inside edges that curve immediately. If you do this correctly the tracing starts to resemble an “infinity” sign. Don’t drop your hip out, and pretend you have a squirrel or fox tail that moves freely along the circle.
  • Progressives. New foot encounters the ice outside of your body. Imagine a theraband stretching across the hips that allow the skating hip and leg to turn out slightly to counter the stretch of the free leg.
  • Swing rolls. Don’t come up on top of skate and lose your lean into the circle.


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No matter how you slice it

That opening could be followed by any number of positive and negative things. Bread. Baloney. Good news. Bad news.

And then there’s the César Franck violin sonata in A major, which I keep hearing in bits and pieces, thanks to my younger son the cellist (now a teenager) . Much of what he has to say to me these days involves “Have you heard this?” or “I love this piece!” or (most humbling) “Guess which composer this is!”

Life is good, at least on the music front. Here’s the final movement (Allegretto poco mosso). There are a lot of recordings out there!  Here’s an article by Caroline Gill that talks about some of them. She describes how the piece was first played at the wedding of Franck’s friend Eugène Ysaÿe (a Belgian violinist who was known as the “King of the violin”) and then officially premiered in Brussel’s Museé Moderne de Peiture in light so dim that the piece had to be performed from memory.

Vincent d’Indy, a devoted supporter and pupil of Franck, who chronicled his experiences with him and was present at this performance, described the fading light of the scene: ‘The public was requested to leave, but…refused to budge. Ysaÿe was heard to strike his music stand with his bow, exclaiming “get on, get on”. And then, unheard-of marvel, the two artists, plunged in gloom in which nothing could be distinguished, performed the last three movements from memory… Music, wondrous and alone, held sovereign sway in the darkness of the night. The miracle will never be forgotten.’

Nothing miraculous about my skating, but no matter how you slice it, it’s still pretty cool (hahaha!). Yesterday I missed my regular session so I went to a later session. I was working on my back pushes at one end of the rink, looked up and realized that the other skaters on the ice with me included two competitors from Nationals (one senior and one junior) as well as two coaches who had medalled multiple times at World competitions. I’d better step up my game!

Or maybe just find a game. I’ve been trying to figure out a good balance between working on basic movement and pushing myself to skate hard so I can build more stamina. Even a couple of minutes of stroking right now is quite a challenge. It would probably be a good idea to just pick a song I like and try to skate hard for the entire time it’s playing.

Not Franck, since I will probably collapse halfway through! Don’t want to ruin this beautiful piece by associating it with a coronary.

Had to miss or postpone a couple of lessons this week. Arrggghhh!!! But I did get to catch Sonia the birthday girl on the ice.

 

 

 


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Disarming

A long long time ago, I used to skate on the same sessions as a senior ice dance competitor. When I wasn’t just standing there slack-jawed watching his incredible edges, Leif and I had a couple of really great conversations about his skating. He told me that ice dancers have to be able to isolate their upper bodies from what their hips and legs are doing, since you are often in some pretty complicated dance holds. I remember he demonstrated by doing a basic pattern of the American waltz or some other pattern dance with his arms and shoulders in every position possible. It was pretty impressive.

I think about that now because these days I am feeling stuck in certain positions. It’s not just my imagination: Laurie pointed out that on certain edges I have my left shoulder raised and my left side hiked up. This is really counterproductive. The more I try to shift my weight into the circle, the higher these parts go, pulling my weight the other way. What’s with that?

So today towards the end of the session I tried another tactic: doing edges and loops while actually dropping my arms to my sides and making sure my shoulders weren’t hiked up. I even thought about my ribcage staying down, which I can actually do now (a few years ago I would never have thought about my ribs as belonging to a workable set of bodily parts). It worked surprisingly well, so I’m going to try this again tomorrow on some of my other elements and exercises. After all, it’s all about trying to do things with proper alignment, not just trying to get through them without falling over.

There is a moment in Scott and Tessa’s “Funny Face” program in which they both do a couple of progressives with their arms down, hand in hand. I realize now that the divine goddess of skating has put that moment in for a reason (along with their lifts and spins and twizzles and footwork and everything else that they do). That reason, of course, is to show me that Leif was right: you don’t need the upper body to dictate those edges.

Funny pictures (move your cursor over picture for captions) to follow lesson notes.

  • outside-outside edges: correct lean, angle of new foot; rockover to inside edge (be careful about circles on right)
  • alternating threes: keep body weight inside circle on outside edge into three
    • complete weight transfer on push onto back inside (allow complete push and drawing in) before three
    • inside forward three, weight inside circle, complete rotation of body to allow new hip to get into proper position before pushing onto back outside edge
    • draw in free foot for back outside three

 


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Bitter truths

Which of these is the most horrible skating realization of this week?

  1. I am still not doing proper edges some of the time, especially on my left side.
  2. I am not pushing correctly, especially with my right foot.
  3. When I skate backwards, I am not transferring my weight fully to each new edge.
  4. My back eights make puny circles, even for me.
  5. I won’t get to skate next Thursday or Friday because of work.

If you guessed (5), you are correct! Oh, everything else is true too, by the way. But for some reason, knowing those other things fills me with a certain kind of glee.

Oh, I did feel discouraged earlier this week: Tuesday and Wednesday were especially rough. But I reminded myself that whenever I feel like quitting, that’s usually when I’m about to have some sort of breakthrough moment. That’s because when skating feels really hard, it usually means that I’m pushing myself to do things in new ways, rather than in my “oh well, whatever” kinda way.

So items (1) through (4) are all related, but it’s easier to think of them separately.

(1) Edges and lean inside. Laurie and I talked at length about my worries about not being “over my skate.” That is a misleading term, because in fact if you are on an edge, your body is actually inside of your edge. I’ll let Ulrich and Gillis illustrate.

skating_ulrich-salchow3

Gilles Grafström

Gillis Grafström, Winter-Olympics in Lake Placid

On my left side, I really had to think hard about how to make this happen. Laurie had me do chassés in a circle and lean on her, and my body went into total resistance-contortion mode. But once I got into the proper position, everything clicked into place. I could push onto my skate and not have things go sideways, which brings me to (2).

(2) Proper push. So I think I have written before about Laurie’s telling me to put the new skate ahead of my old one: “Step late the new skate.” But saying and doing are two different things, and that push onto the new skate going forward still needs work. I’ve been working hard on backwards pushes too. Today Ari noted that when I push onto my left back inside edge, I am not turning my right foot in for the push. I am turning all other parts of my body, but not the foot. (I noticed that working on using my right foot fully for all my pushes helps a lot; it helps that forward inside edge, and forward inside three turn. My nemesis no more!)

(3) Weight transfer. Laurie and I talked at length about how pushing correctly not only gives you force for the new edge, but also allows you to transfer your weight correctly. This really made sense, especially on my backwards edges going into those back threes.

(4) Puny circles. I started off today’s lesson by telling Ari all my discoveries and asking him, “Why have you let me skate this way all these years?” (He has not been feeling great, so I told him my lesson would probably send him over the edge–get it? Haha!) He retorted, “You always say that,” and then got me back by remarking that my back eights were “really small, even for someone your size.” Okay, time to work on those pushes some more. Small, my #&*##!!!

(5) Work, #&*#@#!!! The only cure for that feeling is more Michael Jackson.

Lesson notes:

  • alternating threes: get on an edge and maintain that edge (goaemte), work on timing of upper body check
  • progressives in a circle: same thing (goaemte)
  • back eights: (goaemte); articulate feet on push, on inside eights lean towards free leg
  • forward inside rocker, change edge, back outside rocker, change edge
  • choctaws forwards and backwards (think about which edge you are supposed to be on; real curves)

Am working on my selfie technique too!


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Articulation–skating backwards

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my backwards skating and working on back edges, whether as part of back outside and inside eights, Shafer push offs (did you know that this was invented by two-time Olympic champion Karl Shafer? Whatever did they do before?), back cross strokes (more bows to Karl Shafer), or back outside and inside three turns. Now I’m realizing that my back pushes, weight transfer, and free leg position need some work.

At another point in my checkered skating career, I would have been disgusted at this realization. All that time on the ice, and you still can’t skate backwards properly? But now that I’ve learned the secret of inner skating peace (which is that working on basic technique should be, well, basic), I am rather pleased that I’m able to figure out what has been the source of many a problem.

Let’s begin with the push. A good push moves out, then in: one continuous circular motion using  lots of foot and ankle action. Then the weight transfer should be smooth; the new edge should not be distorted by the push. The free leg draws in nicely from there, foot over the tracing.

My basic problem was not articulating my right foot and ankle enough on the push. That nice circular motion had been reduced to something that was well intentioned, yet truncated and ultimately feeble. In addition to loss of power, this meant that on my back left edges I would drop my right hip down slightly, and then wind up having to hike my free side back up (and tipping back in the process).

The good news is that even just a few days work on strengthening and lengthening this basic push has seemed to help a lot. I think some of my hip issues are definitely related to foot and ankle mobility (and vice versa) so I welcome this new discovery.

Plus the push itself is fun to do! I have been skating at fairly crowded sessions, so haven’t had a lot of space to move around. I stake out my little patch of ice and try to get the feel of using my feet and ankles fully–all the while dodging flying toddler bodies, testosterone-laden hockey players, and all kinds of other distractions on blades. Friday, for instance, brought all kinds of folks from a child care center with grownups dressed as butterflies, tigers, and other fabulous creatures.

Enough with the mellow meditative music. Time flies when Michael Jackson sings!

Gotta hide your inhibitions
Gotta let that fool loose deep inside your soul
Want to see an exhibition
Better do it now before you get too old