jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life

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It’s all in my head

That title doesn’t mean what you think it does. No, I’m not going skating-crazy, although the term “skatinsanity” does come to mind.

Literally, some of my skating problems have to do with the weight of my head. Laurie pointed out today that one of the reasons I’m not bending my ankles enough is that my head is tipped slightly forward, just enough to bring my weight into the wrong place. To counteract this, I send my hips back.

I have been told countless times to look up, but all I do is get my eyes peeking up and keep my head down. She suggested thinking instead about rolling the weight of the head back slightly. And what do you know? I was in a much better position on the blade, and was able to bend. my ankles like a champ.

As I was looking for pictures of skaters to illustrate this “head weight slightly tipped back” position, I realized that they all have their head weight back! I could find very few pictures of elite level skaters who have their heads tipped forward as I do (unless they are doing it for dramatic choreographic effect, or have some kind of terrible moment that we’d rather not think about).

With their heads in the right place, look at them go!

This provides another way of thinking about body position. It especially helps on the transition from back outside edge to forward outside edge. Laurie suggested thinking about not only the head weight going slightly back, but also the movement of the nose “like a rainbow” as I turn forward.

I realize that all these descriptions are pretty strange to non-skaters. But one more before the “skatinsanity” is finished today. When I corrected my head position, suddenly everything got a lot better. My forward progressives were so polished, in fact, that Laurie suggested that I complete the picture by working on my hand position. I tend to droop my wrists (especially the right one) unconsciously, which looks more than a little awkward.  It’s an easy fix, but I haven’t bothered to do it.

As Laurie puts it, having that one strange wrist position is like being in a really gorgeous outfit, but failing to notice that there’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to your back. Funny!

Okay, some lesson notes:

  • forward outside edges with hips facing forward (not opening outside the circle)
  • swing rolls: push onto new edge without “unfurling”
  • progressives forward and backwards: experiment with rolling the weight of your head forward and back
  • three turn, back outside edge: weight of head back, make “rainbow” with nose
  • Kilian choctaw: rotate core towards right twice (not just arm); don’t need too much body twist if your core is actually rotating.

And a musical selection that is totally unrelated–but I wish I could skate as well as Ben Bliss (what an apt name) sings. Like buttah!




So while I think my skating is getting better overall, I still have trouble getting my hips in line while stroking onto forward edges. As Laurie pointed out today, I tend to strike off by pushing my skating hip forward so that the free hip pulls me slightly off the circle (or facing outwards). Not the best thing for stability or power!

I have had some success (a) making sure my blade is just a little bit farther out on the circle, and (b) trying to push my inside-edge hip forward. But it’s still awkward. We spent most of the lesson just on chassés and barely got to anything else.

So even as I sit here, I am feeling the frustration.

Maybe it would be better if I grunted. There was a N.Y. Times article that said that martial artists who grunted definitely kicked harder.

Or screamed.  Here’s another article about the choice of pillows. Even better, I don’t need a pillow at all!

Lesson notes (am screaming in my mind as I write):

  • Think of edges being more outside the body on the circle.
  • Think of turning as you are reversing the check.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, cross forward, repeat on other side (get that inside edge after the mohawk to grip right away)
  • forward outside three, push to back outside three
  • creepers down the rink
  • inside three, cross in front, step forward (open hips and place belly button toward center of circle as you are on the inside edge)
  • inside mohawk, pull change, cross in front, back inside.

Here’s an added video from the N.Y. Times “Speaking in Dance” series which apparently uses some backstage grunting.


Beware of the spread

Still working on those basics! And I am not even talking about basic moves. I mean basic movement.

At my last lesson with Laurie, two things became clear: (1) I am still not rotating my body and checking correctly on my three turns, especially on the right side, and (2) I am still not pushing correctly, especially from the left foot to the right. These things are of course related (as in, one is bad and two makes one worse). But since they involve different muscle groups, I’ll just target one at a time.

First, the upper body twist. Instead of twisting shoulders against hips and rising to the ball of the foot to turn my threes, I was dropping my weight forward and into the circle. Part of this is ingrained habit and part of it is muscle control and strength. When I finally started twisting sufficiently, I realized how underdeveloped my core-twisting muscles are.

In several posts I wrote three years ago, I described having trouble rotating or even turning my head to the right. Since then I’ve realized that this is only going to get worse unless I actively take myself outside of my comfort zone. This means working on and off the ice to make sure that I am actually using all the muscles (including abdominal, back, and shoulders) that are involved in twisting the torso.

I’ve been working on brackets too, and thinking a lot about the muscles that rotate the femur in the hip joint. But firmly rotating the torso is just as important in making these turns happen.

My second back-to-basics correction has to do with pushing onto my right outside edge. Laurie pointed out that I am doing something very strange with my left pushing side; instead of keeping my left side planted firmly over that inner pushing edge, I somehow release that side and even turn the pushing hip and foot out. This results in a contorted position that somehow has disguised itself as a push.

After correcting this, I realized that some of this may come from that misalignment that I’ve worked so hard to correct. The good news is that I can use some of the same techniques (like activating the adductors, and sinking the femur deeper into the hip joint) to get a better position and more stable push.

The bad news is that I can’t let my guard down on this. Constant vigilance! If I do let down my guard, it’s like I settle immediately into a hip position that is a lot like “man-spreading” and just as awkward.


It will be a week of core-twisting and “unspreading” for me! Will try to report back soon.



So I read an article from the Waldorf School in Philly about how skating improves both proprioception and the vestibular system that controls balance and helps coordinate movement.  This is yet another reason to be happy about skating!

My approach to practice these days has been less about attempting new moves, and more about learning new ways of moving. I am trying to improve my overall quality of motion as well as my range of motion. I have noticed a definite improvement in both.

So this week I’m working on four things that are pretty basic, but that somehow I haven’t been able to get my head around before.

The first thing is that I need to allow my core to rotate as I move along my edge. I have been pushing off onto an edge and then hanging onto that position for dear life. Then when I need to do something else (like set up for a turn or do a swing roll or cross roll), I have so much pent-up force that my free leg is likely to swing around like Thor’s hammer.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. It actually wasn’t that pronounced. I have been skating in this way for so long that I have been able to disguise this flaw with sheer force of will coupled with the admirable but misguided muscularity of my legs. It just took a lot more effort than these simple moves deserve.

But once Laurie told me to rotate my belly button around, these moves became incredibly easy. So all week I’ve been paying attention to the direction of my navel. It’s like I have an imaginary umbilical cord leading the way!

What this helps: forward and backward swing rolls, cross rolls, most turns 

The second thing is to allow my hips to move in tandem rather than trying to isolate them. Once I tried this, smooth core rotation became even easier. It became embarrassingly easy, in fact, considering how much time I’ve spent torturing myself by focusing only on the position and movement of my skating hip.

What this helps: cross rolls, setting up for three turns and rockers, edge pulls

The third thing is that I need to think about setting down my feet on edges that are outside the circle that my body is going in, not directly beneath myself. Trying to set my blade down directly beneath myself has been the reason I do flats so much. In order to do this on, say, cross rolls, I have to transfer my weight to a skate blade that is already past my midline, not underneath my torso.

This makes it possible to envision my body moving in and out of edges underneath my head and torso.

What this helps: cross rolls, outside edges, mohawks of every kind, choctaws, Kilian pattern (in both directions), crossovers, Rhumba in Olympics short dance (as if!)

The fourth thing is to keep my weight over my pushing foot just a bit longer so that I get stronger push.

What this helps: whenever I push onto a new edge (provided I put that edge outside the midline).

Ooh, ooh, what my body can do! Of course, I’ve been told to do these things numerous times before, but for whatever reason, it has taken me this long to develop enough jo-prioception and vestibular wherewithal to make them part of my skating toolkit. I definitely appreciate how all these things make my body feel more efficient and confident.

As Laurie says, why take the bus when you’ve got a Lamborghini in the garage?

I am so lucky–on my lessons I get great skating advice and humor too!




Great Scott!


Regardless of how they do this time around, Virtue and Moir will always be in my  pantheon of ice dancing deities. So I was watching this video about the development of their Moulin Rouge free dance (it has since been blocked on YouTube, sadly, so I can’t share it here), I was amazed that at one point Scott got a coaching tip on an back inside three. He was told that he should just let the turn pivot, rather than muscling it around.

That’s exactly what my coaches have been telling me! Great Scott!

In her recent Fit&Fed post, Mary’s coach told her to identify “the elephant in the room”: the moves or aspects of skating that you should address and change asap. My elephants have been announcing themselves with regularity over the past few years, but I’ve now reached the happy stage when things in general feel much more stable and I’m no longer skating in pain.

This is happy, yes, but also a little too comfy. The elephants are clearly there, but they are no longer quite so obvious, at least not to me. That’s where the coaches come in handy to wipe the skating-euphoria-induced grin off my face.

Both lessons this week were on fairly basic elements, allowing us to focus on some basic things that are still. . . well, quite elephantine. I’ll detail them here.

Inside mohawks. I learned that what I thought was a wonky and unstable back inside edge exit was really a problematic entry edge. The entry edge started flat and took a deep curve for the worse before the turn, which meant that the exit edge had to perform a kind of rescue mission. Smooth even curve into the entry edge and everything is beautiful again.

Back inside push onto back outside edge. Okay, this is sooo basic but has been sooo hard. Laurie pointed out that I have been setting my back outside edge down inside the circle, which means an automatic flat or even inside edge. She had me doing back chassés and putting my back outside edge down right behind the inside (pushing edge), which felt like I was stepping outside my circle with an angled foot.  Hard to describe, but definitely different from what I’ve been doing and definitely better.

Ari and I discussed this push as well (well, he basically talked and I listened, thinking to myself, “oh woe is me!” for doing it wrong for all these years). His advice was more about keeping the pushing foot on the ice longer. What distinguishes this from two-footing is that you basically keep your weight on the pushing foot rather than partially transferring it over (“oh woe is me!”)

Once I am on a back outside edge, I have to learn to keep my weight inside the circle. I tend to try to stand up over my skate rather than using my lean even as I rotate my body. (Trying to stand up over your skates only works if you are going really slowly, as I have been, but if you are trying to get speed, it totally doesn’t work!) Laurie gave me a great image: think of your body as being on an axis (or spit), and rotate the entire thing on the same plane as your lean.

That’s me, rotisserie Jo!

So all of these things boil down to (a) putting your feet in the right place on the circle, (b) maintaining lean, and (c) just letting rotation happen normally as part of the action of the curve, rather than forcing the turn or the edge.

The good thing about these tips is that they make just about everything I do better. The bad thing is that not doing them makes things really really hard.

So what choice do I have? Great Scott!

Lesson notes:

  • forward inside mohawk, back outside three
  • back chassés (placement of outside edge)
  • back inside threes (lean is different from other edges, not into the circle)
  • two foot rocker exercise
  • one foot rocker exercise
  • inside mohawk, push back, outside three
  • inside mohawk, back inside three (feet together after mohawk)
  • forward outside double three, cross stroke, other direction (allow rotation with free side back, don’t spin around)






So tired

I must say that I’m really enjoying this Al Green song.

Except that in my case, I’m not necessarily tired of being alone. I’m just tired! Work has been just one dang thing after another. I swear that if I didn’t have a lunchtime skating session to look forward to in the middle of the workday, I’d go insane.

No matter how imperfect my edges, they are still way more predictable than my email in-box. And as for my to-do lists, they keep growing and growing like those horror movie monsters.

Luckily, I think there is an end in sight to at least a few of these projects that I seem to have gotten myself into. And when they end, I’m going to do a Marie Kondo (or practice the gentle art of Swedish death-cleaning) on my desk, office space, and bookshelves.

If only I could de-clutter my brain too. But that’s another story.

Funny how when I’m frazzled about work, my skating takes a strange turn too. Lack of concentration has never been my problem on the ice–if anything, I’m too fixated on what I’m doing. But several times this week I’ve started going down the ice and then forgotten what I’m doing halfway through my pattern.

Luckily, it doesn’t really matter if I’m going round and round in circles!

Lesson notes:

  • Cross rolls. Watch the timing of rise and fall; additional ankle bend as foot passes through.
  • Inside edges. Watch out for a contorted shoulder position on the right side. Keep your lean inside the circle. Be aware of your head inside as well. Practice continuous motion with the free leg.
  • A side note–“follow your nose” works with loops, but it also works with other things.
  • Back cross rolls. Laurie pointed out that I am not crossing the midline (defined by the sternum) with the new foot. Once I do that, it is much easier to curve immediately. We also worked on the “dissolving” free leg.
  • Back inside edge. Don’t hang out on two feet, but immediately put free leg in front. I’ve been rocking to a flat or even the outside edge on the right side. Ari pointed out that the free foot moves in and should stay on the circle with some turnout (rather than hanging out in the circle and/or even turned in).
  • Inside Mohawk three step pattern. Don’t touch down!
  • Mohawk, push back, back outside three. More definite push and speed.
  • Mohawk, push back, outside inside power pull, step forward, forward cross, repeat on other side
  • Same thing with inside three turn instead of mohawk. Make sure you bring your free foot in for the inside three.
  • On line. Three turns, step forward. Then do double threes, step forward. Then triple threes. Don’t forget to draw the leg back and bend, not break.






Close call

So today I pulled out some cans of tuna from an upper shelf, and the ones on top fell down and hit me in the face. Ouch! Now I have a black eye, but I’m also really grateful that I didn’t put my eye out.

Come to think of it, this has been a week of close calls. Parking meters that have just run out by the time I’ve gotten to the car (but no ticket), late to meetings (but didn’t miss anything), slippery roads and cars skidding in front of me (but no accident).

And then there’s my right outside swing roll, which has been giving me some trouble. Laurie pointed out that I wasn’t really leaning into the circle on the second part of the swing roll. So I tried to lean that way, and went back just a little too far on my blade. Enough to make it really scary–but I didn’t fall. Whew!

Either these are reminders that I lead a charmed life or signs that I need to build up my margin of error. But whichever it is, the outcome is the same. Put the tuna cans on a lower shelf. Make sure you leave enough time on the meter. Get those hips underneath you!

With regard to that last reminder, it’s actually been a really good week. I’ve been finding it easier to connect the ankle bend (shin levers forward) and lean into the circle with glute activation. Will try to find a better way to explain it, but for now, I’ll just say that it is a form of edge security.

Okay, time to share pictures of the ice sculptures and ice palace in St. Paul.

And a very sweet adagio movement in a trio by Brahms for clarinet, cello, and piano. Brahms was going to retire, but then he heard this clarinetist (Richard Mühlfeld), and then came back to write a whole series of gorgeous pieces.

Moral: life is full of close calls and, if we’re lucky, unexpected second acts. (And third, and fourth. . . )

Lesson notes:

  • forward swizzles (really emphasize those inside edge pushes)
  • forward cross strokes (timing of free leg, and quality of circles)
  • back cross strokes (keep shoulders square)
  • swing rolls (keep lean into circle, be consistent about arm and torso positions)
  •  forward inside edges (turn out for push)
  • forward inside three, back pivot, toe, toe, cross in front, step forward and repeat sequence on other side
  • forward inside three, back outside three (think about free leg inside circle rather than dangling to the side)
  • inside mohawk, back inside three, forward swing roll (don’t touch down, weight in proper position on back inside edge)
  • power pulls (use ankle and knee action, should accelerate; backwards–also keep your free leg just behind skating leg, but don’t use it to pull)