jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life

Dead or alive?

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There’s been some really interesting research done on how flamingos can stand for so long without falling over. The New York Times article I read described how even dead flamingo bodies can be easily balanced on one leg.

Rather than flopping over as expected, the bird settled into a stable, one-legged posture that stayed put even when the top of its body was tilted backward and forward. On two legs, or if the foot was not right below the body, the cadaver was far less stable.

Live flamingos can balance on one leg even when they are falling asleep. Humans, on the other hand, have a hard time balancing on one leg when they close their eyes.  That’s because we sense instability and react by contracting our muscles (believe me, I’ve been there). Flamingos, though, take a passive approach, relying on body mechanics and gravity rather than on muscles and nerves.

By the way, this article is well worth viewing just for the picture of the adorable and thankfully very much alive baby flamingo, who is standing on one leg looking like he just completed his warmup circuit on the ice and is presenting himself to the judges.

Just put a pair of skates on him, and there you go.

I, on the other hand, have trouble standing on one leg even though I am very much alive. Both my coaches keep repeating the same things. “Don’t touch down.” “Don’t put your free foot down.” “If you put your free foot down, the edge doesn’t count.”

I keep waiting for one of them to break and say, “If you put your foot down one more time, I will kill you.” But they are professionals, and would not resort to that kind of threat. I hope.

And it probably wouldn’t work even if they did. If I can’t do it when I’m alive, being dead certainly won’t help. No, since I’m not a flamingo, I have to think of something else.

So today I was trying to put together a lot of different pieces of advice about how to improve edge quality. This has to do with being aligned over my skate, bending my ankle and knee, being on the right part of the blade, using my foot, keeping my body into the circle, pushing and pressing and bending and continuing to do so through turns and transitions. And I realized that I needed to come up with a simpler way to integrate all of these things.

So I just told myself that I wanted to have “live” edges, whatever I was doing. A “live” edge is one that is actively engaged and into the ice throughout its duration. A “dead” one, on the other hand, just sort of hangs there skimming over the surface.  It may be balanced on one leg, but it doesn’t do anything.

And what do you know? That seems to work for me. It makes my edges feel more dynamic and controlled. I have more flow in and out of turns. I can do those power pull-type pushes more often. I am less inclined to touch down. Hopefully this will eliminate any need for threats.

Not to belabor the point, but the flamingo just has to stand there, and I have to skate. I just have to!

Nice to know that I’m wanted, dead or alive. (Saw that coming, didn’t you?)

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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.

2 thoughts on “Dead or alive?

  1. What a great tie-in to flamingos. While my coach hasn’t threatened me yet, she is constantly telling me to skate on one leg rather than two. Is it an adult thing? Are we just generally more scared to be on one foot? My guess is yes but I haven’t seen any data to back it up.

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  2. Thanks, Eva! With regard to the single-foot-fear thing, I’m told that it’s because adults tend to be moving (a) without truly leaning into their circles, which makes it hard to feel the edge, and (b) too slowly, so that it’s hard to maintain lean. We think of balancing OVER our skates (like flamingos, straight up and down) rather than on the edge at an angle. I’m getting better about this, but it is a challenge since it feels entirely different (not really intuitive). Lots of coaching necessary here! Baby flamingos are cute, but don’t want to skate like them!

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