I was thinking of entitling this post “Gravity: friend or foe?”
But then I concluded that gravity is indeed my friend. Well, most of the time. Not that one time earlier this week when I tripped over my blade after doing an inside three turn. Really, it was a beautiful three turn, but then I sort of forgot what to do next, and did something resembling the Funky Chicken all the way down. Crash!
With some exceptions, gravity has become another skating BFF. First of all, I have been practicing my stroking while coming up fully on my knees. Since this is yet another attempt at re-learning how to stroke correctly, I’ve given this a fancy and grandiose title: the rise and fall of Jo’s skating empire. Doesn’t that sound like fun? More fun than the Helvetica-esque term “stroking.”
But skating empires and stroking are the same thing, now that I am focusing on coming up all the way on my knees so that I can maximize potential energy and increase my speed on the way down.
I’ve decided that my maximum time for working on stroking without bursting into tears of frustration is approximately 5 – 7 minutes, so I’ve been trying to supplement this with off-ice exercises that strengthen my free side extensions as well as my skating side rises. I think it’s getting better. But my tolerance for facing bitter truths is still limited.
Luckily, I can use the idea of coming up on my knee and making the most of gravity on the way down on other skating moves as well. So I’ve been rising and falling (in a controlled way) on a variety of other exercises: outside-outside edges, inside-inside edges, alternating progressives, chassés, and swing rolls.
And I have a new exercise from Ari that really forces me to work on this: forward outside three turn, push into back swing roll, step forward into a quick syncopated inside (like in the Argentine Tango, sneaky Ari!), then push into other side and repeat in the other direction.
My second favorite thing about gravity is that I can use it to help me get the right body position. I have two major alignment issues that I’m trying to correct: my left shoulder being stuck slightly forward, and my left hip pulled slightly off the circle towards the right (clockwise). My normal inclination would be to correct them by pulling back on the left shoulder or pushing the left hip to the right. When I do that, however, I tend to over-correct and force my body into some other kind of weird position. Trying to fix my position in this way makes me feel tentative, since every movement becomes a kind of experiment.
Instead, I imagine my left hip as being heavy and the weight of it just sinking down into ice in a rather relaxed way. Similarly, I imagine my shoulder blades dropping down my back, kind of like angel wings that have gotten sorta droopy (yes, my angelic nature certainly feels that way these days).
This really helps me figure out where my hip is. I feel as though it simply falls into place, without jerking or clenching, like it’s a bowling ball dropped into a cloth bag. The weight is right over the correct part of my blade and everything feels nice and stable.
And if I can manage to keep my wings nice and droopy as well, my shoulders are relaxed and happy. I can feel a continuous line from the hips all the way up through the back and torso. Most excellent!
So the young Sir Isaac Newton was said to have thought of gravity while watching an apple fall from a tree in his mother’s garden in Lincolnshire. I like the version when it hits him on the head, but I don’t think there’s evidence of this. His first biographer, William Stukeley, does say that he had a conversation with Newton while in an apple orchard:
Amid other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly the notion of gravitation came into his mind. Why sh[oul]d that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood.
“Why sh[oul]d it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the Earth’s centre? Assuredly the reason is, that the Earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter. And the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the Earth must be in the Earth’s centre, not in any side of the Earth.
“Therefore does this apple fall perpendicularly or towards the centre? If matter thus draws matter; it must be proportion of its quantity. Therefore the apple draws the Earth, as well as the Earth draws the apple.”
Sir Isaac, I salute you. Here’s to your discovery and my BFF. A picture of my favorite kind of apple, the Fireside, introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1943.