jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Oof!

Well, it’s Friday evening, just after dinner, and I am already ready for bed.

I remember when I had my first full-time job. Between a heavy teaching load, advising and committee work, and trying to get some research and writing done, I pretty much worked all the time. But Friday afternoons after work a few of my colleagues and I would go get Thai iced coffee and snacks (loved the mee grob). And then I would go home, take a bath, unplug the phone, and go to bed at 8:30 p.m.

That was my idea of a really great start to the weekend.

That, and skating whenever I could. One of my skating friends (who was from Korea) was George (not his Korean name). George was a competitive ice dancer, but between partners, so he and I did some social dancing just for fun. One of the dances we played around with was the Yankee Polka. Since George was a strong skater, and I was doing lots of free skating at the time, this dance had the perfect amount of bounce for both of us.

I’ve been trying to learn this dance again, a fun project with my friend Doug. We’ve tried this a few times at the end of sessions after we are both done with more dutiful aspects of practice (Doug is working with Sonia towards next year’s AN). Today we finally got through an entire pattern (though I think I probably left out several steps along the way).

Oof! I’m reminded that I don’t bounce like I used to. So that’s why I’m ready for bed before the sun has set!

Here are the two parts of the Jimmy Young class on the Yankee Polka (long videos, but very useful when you’re learning steps):

Lesson notes:

  • outside swing rolls: really work on those consistent upper body positions in sync with the swing (opposite arm lead, then reverse).
  • inside swing rolls: turn free toe out from the get go
  • inside rockers and brackets: make sure you are not sticking your hip out on that inside edge; tight free leg and upper body position (these are forced edges/turns, unlike three turns); don’t rotate entire body–just skating leg; keep free foot close
  • sequence 1: back mohawk (like a back choctaw, but onto an outside edge), forward outside three, push back, repeat on other side
  • sequence 2: forward outside three, back inside rocker, touch/push, inside swing roll, forward inside three, back outside rocker, touch/push, outside swing, repeat.
  • sequence 3: back choctaw, forward inside counter, step forward on outside edge, outside three, immediately push back (like Westminster), repeat in opposite direction.
  • sequence 4: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three (more push!, more stretch!)
  • sequence 5: double inside three, more speed, don’t pitch forward 

 

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Standing tall

How many times does it take to get something right? In skating, this number can seem inordinately large.

But I figured out that it is, in fact, a finite number. In fact, it’s probably less than I would have guessed.

I decided to put this to the test after a lesson in which Ari told me that I wasn’t really straightening my knee on swing rolls. In fact, I had trouble balancing on a straight knee even while hanging onto the boards.

Whoa, imaginary sirens are going off in my head. A paradigm shift is about to occur!

Once I figured out how to stand up over my straightened knee and hold an edge at the same time, I realized that this is another one of those positions that has been entirely missing from my skating vocabulary. It’s sort #$ like trying to communicate !!!@%… using any prepositions.

Okay, so what do I to make this right? The solution is to make myself repeat it consciously until it’s absolutely part of my muscle memory. So today I set myself a target number: do 50 right outside swing rolls.

That target number didn’t include the ones I cheated (bent my knee), or bailed out in the middle. I did about 10 and then realized that 50 is quite a big number. So I went on to work on some other things (like trying this on the left side, which is much easier but still could use some refinement). Then I went back and did some more.

At around 15, my hip muscles started to get really, really tired.

At around 20, the moves started improving. Or least I wasn’t holding my breath anymore.

I maxed out at around 35–that was the point at which I felt pretty consistent but was losing focus.

My hip muscles are tired! So I feel like this is something that is going to be really helpful in making those edges stronger. So my goal to do 25 right outside swing roles each practice session (standing tall!) this week.

Incentive? After I actually stood up straight on my knee, Ari said, “You’re an inch taller!” Okay, I’m fine with being short, but I’ll take that inch!

For a musical number, I tried to find a “stand tall” song but settled on “Stand Back.” Stevie Nicks as inspired by Prince! And those are some awesomely standing tall and twizzling (okay, pirouetting) dancers.

Lesson notes:

  • double threes: engage glute muscles to get on edges immediately following the three turn, remember that the back inside edge shouldn’t feel tilted in. Don’t over-rotate upper body.
  • brackets: work on these two-footed on a small circle. Thinking about really rotating through the core (this is challenging when the navel is moving clockwise, so practice off ice). Free foot is engaged and turned in before the turn. Draw free hand back afterwards (as if you had a marker)
  • progressive, swing roll: stand tall. Free leg shouldn’t have to bend to come through.
  • alternating forward outside edge, cross in front, cross behind, push (like in silver tango): you should be working on keeping weight firmly over skating side (think about standing tall).
  • f. outside three, push back, b. outside three, toe through to repeat on other side: work on getting those pushes engaged.

 

 


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Playing it safe

Since getting back on the ice from weeks of summer vacation and houseguests, I’ve been focusing on getting my skating sea legs back. I’ve noticed that while some aspects of skating come back quickly, certain trouble spots–like the back inside edge on the right side and the forward inside edge on the left–continue to plague me. I realized  that I have some more basic work on alignment and strength to do, especially on those edges.

When I hit the skating sweet spot, the edge feels really solid. I can turn, deepen the edge, do a power pull, or change positions without much effort. But when I’m not in a good place over the edge, all kinds of crazy things begin to happen. Most of the time I can sort of keep it under control, but sometimes it’s like a horror movie.

I’m pretty sure that these particular edge problems are tied to old injuries (left hip, right ankle) that have made me more tentative on those sides. But playing it safe by backing away from the edge (and I do mean literally backing away, since my backside goes out) makes it even more terrifying. If “safety” is a feeling, I need to redefine it as proper alignment and pressure into the ice.

Luckily I am not having to struggle through this alone; I finally had some lessons as well as a Pilates class this week. One of the first things Laurie told me was to keep my tailbone pointed down.  This is something that I wrote about some years ago. But you know, like most good advice, it bears repeating. When I actually moved my tailbone down, I could immediately feel some stretching and pulling through the muscles of the left hip.

At my Pilates class, PT Sarah noticed that the lowest part of my stomach would bulge forward when I would do certain exercises. Once she corrected this, I realized that I haven’t been fully engaging my abdominal muscles (or, I should say, the correct abdominal muscles). This also makes sense, given the skating issues I’ve been having. Now that I’m aware of this, I need to translate this into something I can do on the ice.

Another thing that Laurie pointed out was the weakness of my right back inside push. Again, I realized that I have been backing away from anything that involves a strong back right inside edge, probably because my right ankle feels somewhat unstable these days. I’ve been steadily working on that ankle (which I think is getting stronger and more mobile, so good!) but have to keep thinking about translating that to the ice.

So now I have my work cut out for me.  Gotta spend some serious time on the ice! Luckily it’s summer, and skating is a good way to escape the heat. Just to remind me that soon enough the cold winds will blow, here’s a little animation set to an amazing violinist.

Lesson notes:

  • Forward and backward swizzles: tailbone down, articulate ankles more, don’t rush, really focus on right side.
  • Progressives: push down through the ice and don’t release early (no popping up).
  • Back crossovers: clockwise, watch push from right inside edge goes out of circle, articulate foot/ankle rather than swiveling hips.
  • Back cross stroke: practice “v”position and articulating ankle on outside edge.
  • Three forward cross strokes, keeping shoulders square (hold thumbs if necessary), hold next outside edge for full circle (skating arm in front). Bend those knees!
  • Outside mohawk (foxtrot, tango)—all kinds of problems!
  • Back crossover, push to back outside three, forward inside three, repeat on other side.
  • Back outside, cross in front, three power pulls, repeat on other side (use pressure of edge pulls, not swinging upper body).
  • Three step inside mohawk pattern: keep feet together after turn, get hips in proper place.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, cross stroke, repeat.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, swing roll, change edge into mohawk, repeat.
  • Mohawk, push back, outside three with power pull on inside edge. Continuous pressure on inside edge for edge pull, not a short “punch.”


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Step it up

Well, not yet. I got back on the ice last week after three weeks off, and it was pretty sad.

I heard a podcast interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who was on the International Space Station for nearly a year and a half. He said that after only a week or two in space, urine tests indicated that he was losing calcium and other minerals because his body realized that it didn’t need those weight-bearing bones to get around.

I don’t think that’s what happened to me (though we did spend quite a bit of time in the car). I did spend some time on the elliptical when I had access to one, plus did some hiking and lots of walking in between.

But not skating, so when I got back on I felt like all my skating muscles were offline. So I focused on just trying to keep my hips aligned and my weight over the correct part of my blade. This meant going back to some really basic exercises and trying to do everything as if I were a stick-like creature without the ability to hitch up or drop my hips (which is useful in many ways, but can get in the way of skating).

I just wrote more detail about this, but somehow when I tried to save it things went haywire. So I’ll just load up some pictures and hope for the best as I return to the ice.

 


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Elliptical adventures

Vacation never stops me from thinking about skating! Last week we stayed for a night at Ashcroft, a small town in British Columbia. This town was established in the 1860s by settlers who came in search of gold and wound up establishing a way station for prospective miners. It is one of the driest places in Canada south of the high arctic, and has been the set for filming desert locations in movies and television.

Even tiny towns in Canada have their own skating rink! And curling. What does this say about Canada?

Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been using my time off the ice to work on more general aspects of fitness, which includes improving my aerobic fitness. I feel like I’m pretty good these days about working on alignment, flexibility, and strength (including core and upper body strength). The one piece that has dropped away in the past few years has been making sure that I get my heart rate up on a regular basis. While I feel like my cardio fitness level is basically still pretty good, I definitely should be building in some deep breathing (I did write “gasping for air” but that sounds a bit too dramatic) back into my life.

While visiting my in-laws in Portland, OR, I used the elliptical trainer, which has way more bells and whistles than my exercise bike at home. I had fun trying to keep up with the different fitness programs on the computerized screen. I didn’t realize that I could burn 100 calories in 6 minutes! (Okay, I know that’s not really true, but what other fantasies can we hold on to in life?)

I also enjoyed trying to rev up my heart rate using the elliptical (less impact than the treadmill). Since I have a fairly low pulse to begin with (usually around 60 bpm), it is a bit of a challenge to figure out how high I should make it go. I seem to have trouble getting past the low-80s, even when I’m–ahem!–gasping for air.

After I stop, both my heart rate and breathing go back to normal fairly quickly, so no worries here about over-exertion in the exercise room. Plus, I keep my slack-key Hawaiian guitar soundtrack on, which as we all know immediately translates to a certain amount of chill.

How will this new-found fitness goal translate into skating terms? In the past month, I’ve tried to organize my practice time on the ice into three different parts:

  1. warmup and basic edges, including progressives, swing rolls, power pulls, cross strokes
  2. turns, loops, twizzles
  3. compulsory patterns (Kilian and reverse Kilian, Starlight, Viennese, Quickstep)

Since I’m not doing a program, it’s important to figure out how to make an aerobic element part of the routine. I should probably start adding in 3-5 minutes of power stroking in there once in a while. I need a different soundtrack!


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Hips are A-okay!

I had a session with PT Sarah the other day, just to check in. My hips are doing pretty well! I still have some stiffness on the left side, but it’s way better. And so we spent more time on trying to get more mobility in both my right ankle as well as my mid-back (which continues to be stiff).

It’s been an interesting process trying to determine which parts of my body could work better in my favor. I started going to physical therapy mainly because of pain in my left hip and foot, but now I find that the right side could really use some work. The right ankle issue is because I have a lot of scar tissue there from an injury many years ago. I have trouble pointing my right foot and doing heel raises on that side. Sarah gave me some ways of stretching the ankle to try to loosen up the motion of the calcaneus.

Basically, we are working on getting some side-to-side motion for that joint, as if the heel bone was fish-tailing side to side. I sit back on my heels with my toes stretched out, try to pull the foot bones away from the ankle, and then work on that fish-tail motion. These were definitely uncomfortable, but they seemed to help.

As I am wont to do, I promptly tried this idea out on the ice too by trying to imagine that my heel bone was moving in the same path as the end of my blade (but away from the rest of the foot). This is a hard sensation to describe, but it makes a big difference in my stability. Basically, it felt like my skating foot is longer on the ice, that my weight is slightly farther back, and that I have more control over my blade.

This has been a much better week, thank goodness. I have been doing my off-ice exercises regularly, and this has helped too. I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100% confident, but at least I’m not feeling stalled out.

Here’s a picture of my forward outside loops, which are improving, I think.

Jo-loops

And a recording of Rostropovich playing Schubert’s Arpeggione with Britten (yes, that Britten), which probably can’t be improved on:

Lesson notes:

  • Two foot rockers: think about axis and where you are facing
  • Perimeter stroking: lobe direction (start progressive later); eliminate kick of right free leg
  • Inside mohawk step forward on inside, inside rocker (two foot okay), step forward, repeat
  • Open outside Mohawks: work on aligned hip position, circles (think about where you are facing)
  • Swing roll, flat, inside, inside mohawk, push back step forward, repeat: hip position over standing foot, rotate into free arm

 


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Satisfaction (as in, can’t get no)

Easy gratification?

Or long-term deferral of pleasure?

olympic-figure-skating9

It should be an easy choice, but it’s not.

On the one hand, I am getting quite frustrated with the way that I feel like I need to revamp my entire way of skating, like, every time I get on the ice.

The way I used to skate (balanced over my skates rather than really on an edge) was horribly, horribly wrong. I have gotten to the point that it actually feels wrong, which I suppose is a kind of progress.

Making things right, however, also is exhausting. I am working on several kinds of alignment corrections these days. One is making sure my weight into the circle, which means that my blade is striking down to the outside of where I perceive my midline to be.

shibutanis

Two is making sure that I am activating my glutes and hamstrings whenever I initiate a new edge. I wish I could figure out a way to make this happen automatically, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me, especially on the left side.  I wrote about this in a post several years ago when I was describing “skating from the butt“; what I’m finding now is that knowing about it and actually doing it more than 20% of the time are two different things.

VirtueMoir214

Three is feeling steady pressure through the blade down into the ice during the entire edge. I have this tendency to release the pressure in favor of hanging out on top of my skates.

These things are definitely outside of my comfort zone. Plus they are so basic that I can’t avoid working on them.

Perhaps I have come to a standstill? Or reached the point of no return?

Or perhaps it is a turning point?

I used to think the operative words were about not getting satisfaction. But maybe it’s also important to hear

’cause I try/ and I try/ and I try

Will I be around as long as these guys have been? We’ll see.