jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life

Sweet spot

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So after another few practice sessions, I decided that maybe calling myself “stalled” on my last post was a little harsh. After all, if I were a tennis player, nobody would fault me for spending an entire year or two working on a better backhand or putting more backspin into that slice (okay, that’s the extent of my tennis vocabulary). So what if I am still just getting those outside edges together?

I found an inspiring article that was published in the Washington Post some years ago. Rachel Cox writes about taking ballet as an adult and how hard basic posture is.

Striving to be taller is a large part of what we do in ballet class. Feeling “lifted,” pulling your sides up out of your hips, enables your legs to move freely beneath you. It’s a mysterious feat, a kind of isometric torso levitation that makes the simplest-sounding movements — stand tall, bend your knees, do a plié — extraordinarily challenging. They make you sweat even though you haven’t gone anywhere. After 20-some years, I still don’t do a very good plié. I’m working hard to carry out one teacher’s recent suggestion: “Push your pelvis forward through your knees.”

While I’ve been doing a lot of the same basic moves and exercises for a long time, what I’ve been doing with them feels different. I’m finally to a point where I’m fairly comfortable getting through these moves, and can concentrate on form and position (and hopefully add some speed), which in turn makes their execution (word chosen very judiciously) very different. In tennis terms, it’s like getting to the point in which you don’t just try to hit the ball any which way, but can control the way you hit it for maximum effect.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about this week is the “sweet spot,” which in tennis is the part of your racket that gives you the most “oomph” when you hit the ball (see, I told you I had a limited tennis vocabulary). This term is also used in skating, most often to describe the specific part of the figure skating blade that works well for turning or spinning or twizzles (usually right in back of the ball of the foot).

There is a different sweet spot on the blade for gliding, more towards the back of the blade. My goal for the past few practice sessions has been to hit this spot consistently as soon as my blade meets the ice. This is hard! I sometimes have trouble on my left side still, so I’ve really been working to put my weight farther back on the blade.

Mary, another adult skating blogger at “Fit and Fed,” recently posted some terrific notes on this that she got from a lesson she had with Ben Agosto. When I got done wiping away my tears of jealousy (why not me? It coulda been meeeeee!!!) I appreciated this advice:

He explained how the rocker has a sharper curve in front, so if you are more on the front of the blade you are on a smaller part of the blade and therefore both less stable and getting less of the blade into the ice. So on both forward and backward edges try to raise the toes a little and get a little further back on the blade. He said this would also help build up the arch of the foot.

But finding the sweet spot of skating bliss isn’t just about a certain part of the blade. For me, this concept is also related to correct hip position. When I really get my skating hip underneath me (which on the left side I’ve only been able to do recently), the edge stays secure. I feel like there’s a sweet spot on my hip, not surprisingly right where my femur goes into the socket. If I can access all the muscles around that point, I stay balanced.

Doing this consistently remains difficult. I have to keep thinking about my hip position, or I immediately revert to dropping my free side down and over. This is much more difficult on my left edges. I have been blaming this mainly on weakness on my left side, but I am starting to realize that it goes both ways: I need to find that sweet spot on both sides so that I can transfer my weight efficiently.

I will list details from this week’s lesson at the end. But I think a lot can be summarized by these basic principles: skate taller, skate faster, skate sweeter.

Here’s Rachel Cox again:

I’ve come to embrace the realization that just as you don’t have to be Rembrandt to paint or Horowitz to enjoy playing piano, you don’t have to be Nureyev or Fonteyn to practice ballet. Art is about process as much as performance, and there is always a new subtlety to master. There is the joy of moving in time to live music, the comfort of familiar patterns repeated and embellished. And if you keep at it, you find one day that your body moves differently, and your mood soars. Soon — if you’re like me — you can’t stop. If we can’t reverse our march toward oblivion, we can at least mark time with joy and grace.

Ooh, lesson time!

  • perimeter stroking. Don’t start the pattern too early; bend your knees.
  • inside three, step forward out of circle, progressive, inside three. I am calling this Lisa’s exercise since I see her practicing it all the time. She does it with pretty arm movements, though, which I cannot because I am terrified of that . . .
  • . . . left inside edge into the inside three. On the push to the left inside edge, turn out your foot (not your entire leg) and just push–don’t wait to transfer your weight. Make sure you are looking towards your free leg, and turning your body into the circle. Left arm should be in front.
  • inside closed mohawks. The initial skating side moves through what feels like an outside edge to become your new free side. Don’t let it drop into the circle.
  • European man-side-pattern, adding chassés. The chassés are supposed to make your push into the three more straight and give you more speed. I really need to start working on speed again!!! The three turn is done still going uphill.
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Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

7 thoughts on “Sweet spot

  1. Hooray for progress, Jo! I have tried Ben Agosto’s advice and it does work on spins. It is amazing what lifting the toes will do!

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  2. We’ll do those toe lifts together in spirit, Eva. Ben will be proud!

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  3. Thanks for the mention and the link, Jo! And lots of other good stuff here, too. You are certainly right about activating all the muscles around the hip joint to stay balanced, and like all those other skating projects, it’s a continuing one. I hear that ballet advice about being ‘lifted’ from my dance coach, he was just telling me the other day to lift my upper body to make room for my hips to be able to more easily rotate for a counter. And I’ve seen him demo ‘push the hip through the knees,’ he has an amazing skating posture like no one else I know. Skating skills are so ephemeral, but as that last quote reminds, it all is, so why not go through life with a little style?

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  4. Mary, it sounds like our dance coaches have the same priorities (well, duh!) And why not go through life with a little style! Thanks so much for your useful posts!

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  5. My coach has told me to lift my toes, too! It works!

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  6. Hooray! Ben Agosto strikes again!

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