jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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No one is alone

If you’ve seen the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, you will know that it’s not always easy to find your way through the confusing paths of life, even in a fairy tale. We hope for heroes and villains, happy endings, and clear moral consequences–but in reality, those neat fictions quickly vanish.

That’s why I find this song so poignant:

The past couple of skating weeks have been a thicket of confusion, with some really good breakthroughs and some very weird and random falls.

To begin with, I took a few days off skating to chaperone a high school field trip to Chicago, which was pretty fun. We went to the Field Museum, where I got to contemplate the hip structure of dinosaurs (legs more upright) and reptiles (legs sprawling sideways). I’ll just share the slides and spare you the reflection on how this makes me think about skating.

But when I got back on the ice, I kept falling down for different reasons: catching the back of my blade (since I once again forgot to point my toe), pushing off just a little too vigorously, and forgetting what I was doing in the middle of a mohawk.

So when the song goes “people make mistakes,” I can really relate. Ouch!

Happily, though, I think some of the soreness is actually due to progress, not just impact. Some of the falls were because I’m actually trying something new and going past my comfort zone (I don’t count the momentary glitch on the mohawk.) I have been really focused on using my core in skating, which means that my hip muscles are actually working harder. Here’s my list of action items:

  • Pushing onto a really good edge, making sure I’m in a good hip position (neutral), with core engaged and without using too much hip flexor.
  • Making sure my edges  remain active throughout their duration (I will write a separate post on using pressure rather than just momentum), which means that I need to be aware of my feet.
  • On my backwards edges, pushing with the knees and not just the feet.
  • Loops (I do love doing these). One of these days I’m going to work up a light entertainment program in which I am a barber shop pole.

Barber_Shop_Pole

So is my skating “good” or “bad” for the world? For me? For my dinosaur-like hips? I’m not sure. Luckily the “good” and “bad” of my skating are (1) not loaded with moral consequences and (2) not a zero-sum game. So I can always enjoy the fact that I am getting better without worrying that someone else is suffering.

The moral: Jo skates, and everybody wins!

That’s why skating is so good for keeping disenchantment at bay. At the rink, no one is alone–or if they are, they feel lucky to have private ice.

And sometimes magic happens. That’s why we like seeing our friends win gold medals at Adult Nationals!

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Sonia and Doug, 2018 AN Silver Dance Gold Medalists!

 

 

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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 while continuing to 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 backside. 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!


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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.

 

 

 

 


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iLoops

Most of the sessions I’ve done this week have been pretty busy. There seem to be a lot of skating parties, even during the week–probably a number of them would be outside, but it’s been cold and snowy here.

I have been pretty steadfast in getting to the rink, even if it means that I am confined to a fairly small part of the center, and have to spend time dodging falling tots and reckless young hockey skaters.

You would think I’d be used to this by now, but even as mellow as I am (ha!) I spend way too much time being distracted. I’m fairly okay with screaming children (what skater doesn’t feel like screaming, at least once in a while?) but what gets me are the completely clueless adults. You know, the ones who let their young beginners skate without helmets, and who shuffle out on the ice after their children without skates on and who even carry babies around the ice! And these are not experienced skaters, but beginners. I have seen too many head injuries on ice (fortunately no dropped babies yet) to just ignore this. But I’ve also had folks give me the “mind your own business look,” so I don’t always butt in.

Usually in spite of these distractions I hunker down and try to work on keeping my own body in line. This meant two things this week. One was to focus on moving my ribcage over into the circle rather than “crunching” my torso down on my edges, especially the left outside edges. Since hers is way better than mine (haha!), I will let Tessa Virtue demonstrate a strong left outside edge, with the skating side beautifully lengthened.

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Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete in the ice dance/short dance event at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland on March 31, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALLJOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

The other was to keep my pelvis in neutral and my hips as level as possible as my free leg moves in and out. Laurie told me to imagine that I was wearing a harness that ran around the tops of my legs and pulled the front of my hips up–kind of like this picture that I found online of a climbing setup.

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Whenever I get out of line, I just imagine pulling up on the blue loop and voilà!

Speaking of loops, I’ve added forward inside loops to my practices. These are super fun, too. This means I have another set of things to practice on crowded sessions. Oh well, at least my skating friends are not deterred by a few more people.  Here we are!

 

 

If I were more artistic, I’d figure out a way to make some of these photos fit into paragraph loops–but I guess just having them here is reminder that skaters are loopy enough. Hahaha!

Here’s a classic for our listening pleasure–can’t be beat!

Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street!

Lesson notes:

  • “Lean” means moving ribcage over into circle rather than pressing down through skating side. This is particularly true of my back outside edges.
  • Three turn, change edge (first part of “creeper” exercise), step forward. Work on bending/pressing action on inside edge, and on establishing real back outside edges.
  • Practice moving free leg and skating leg independently of one another (especially backwards).
  • Forward inside loop (practice entry into backspin on both sides).
  • Forward outside loop: not too much twist of upper body–simply move arm in front.
  • Mohawk, change edge, cross in front, step forward, repeat.
  • First part of “creeper” exercise again: mohawk, change edge (look over new shoulder), step forward, repeat.
  • Creepers (just starting with forward outside), toe through and repeat.
  • Same thing with additional steps in between: mohawk, push back, back outside three in.
  • Chassé, swing change edge with free leg back (like in the Fiesta), inside three, cross in front, step forward, repeat. Skate into the skating arm and keep this in front through the inside three turn.
  • Three turn, back outside, step forward, two-beat edge, repeat on other side. Keep skating side strong and skating side arm forward as you change to inside and push to repeat on other side. Free foot comes in behind skating foot.

 


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New foot exercises, with a twist!

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New year, new socks!

Most winters in the past I have tended not to think a lot about my feet, since most of the time they are encased in boots, thick fuzzy socks, or warm slippers. And when I’m skating, it’s been lace ’em up and forget about them.

That all changed a few years when I started developing a constant pain in my left foot and realized that I needed to do something about it. This was nearly four years ago and it  has initiated an ongoing process involving a lot of PT and research about better ways to move and skate. Some of what I’ve discovered involving the feet is very sobering: for instance, a 2008 article in N.Y. Magazine about how walking in poorly-designed shoes (meaning most of them) affects foot alignment. Ack!

I don’t even want to think about how this applies to skates.  Fingers in ears! Lalalalalala–I hear nothing!

Okay, I’ll just go to my happy skating place. As you know, I’ve been doing lots of off-ice exercises targeting different muscles; these include foot and ankle exercises and stretches that have increased both my strength and mobility.  In addition to calf raises, short feet, and “the wave”, I have just added several more exercises for my feet (plus a fourth video that explains some of the alignment issues that I think have affected my left foot in particular).

I just started doing these this week, but I feel like they are already making a difference.

 

 

 

Okay, time for the twist (literally). Early January also finds me spending a few minutes a day on a fairly inexpensive twist board. This seems to be helping me rotate my core much more readily, which really helps with skating.

twistboard

Plus, it’s super fun, especially with Chubby Checker playing in my head.

It’s supposed to warm up this weekend, thank goodness. Not warm enough to go barefoot in the park, but maybe by the time it is my feet will be super strong! And we can twist again, like we did last summer.

Lesson notes:

  • back crossovers. Use a comfortable rather than exaggerated core position (rotated into the circle, head over sternum). Knee bend will allow for the outside edge push.
  • inside loops. Practice arm positions and getting a real loop shape going (even if you have to use two feet).
  • outside loops. Use enough core twist (dog chasing its tail).
  • “creeper”: forward outside three, inside-outside change edge (draw foot in, then free foot forward), back outside three, toe push to repeat on other side.
  • same thing, only add a mohawk step forward after the back outside three.
  • inside mohawk, push back to back outside three, forward inside three, back cross stroke, back inside three, repeat. I’m not actually sure if this sequence is correct or if I conveniently forgot it, since I got stuck on just trying to do the cross stroke correctly without pitching forward.
  • forward chassé, forward swing. Accelerate on the swing, head up, and hips forward (rather than breaking forward at the waist).
  • forward swing, change edge, mohawk, step forward and repeat on other side. Don’t lift free hip too high!

 

 

 

 


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Sculpture garden

Unseasonably warm Thanksgiving holiday! This made a pre-dinner walk around our newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seem like a must-do.

The most iconic of the works here is “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985-1988) by Claes Odenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. I didn’t get a picture of that one this time around, but I did take some of the other sculptures.

The Sculpture Garden is within an easy walk of my home rink, which was closed over the holiday. I had to drive a bit to get some skating time in over the weekend, which I gladly did. I was all fueled up on turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie!

I also had to practice! Had another great lesson earlier in the week, in which we worked on really getting my weight into the circle on back crossovers. Laurie had me pretending I had a hockey stick that I was pushing into the ice, which forced me to lean into the circle. Ack!

She also pointed out that I am not always maintaining a steady edge when I straighten my skating knee. Instead of holding that edge steady, I rise to a flat and then try frantically to get the edge back as I bend again. Double ack! I really have to think about using my ankles (and lean), since that’s seems to be key to maintaining that edge.

Here’s my version of that classic song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, sung here by the voice behind many of my memories: Dionne Warwick. Only it goes something like this:

What do you get when you lose your edge?
A gal with a flat who seems to hobble,
That’s what you get when your ankles wobble.
I’ll never lose my edge again!

 


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Getting even

My days of skating tears are hopefully lost past, though I admit that once in a while I would love to throw myself down on the ice and scream just like the toddler I saw earlier this week.

NOOOO! I don’t want to skate!

Not this week though. This one has been one awesome skating-mood day after another. It  all started in a lesson in which I worked on (a) progressives, and (b) swing rolls, and Laurie pointed out that I was not finishing off the latter properly. She suggested that I move my belly button further over (basically rotating my lower core in the direction of travel).

Sweet smell of success! (Or maybe that’s just the pizza place on the corner). I have a much more stable position on both the left and right side. In fact, these edges are starting to feel almost even, rather than having a strong and weak side.

Thinking about where my navel is headed is something both coaches have suggested before. But one of the reasons it seems to work particular well now is that I am trying to move my navel just by using my core muscles. I am figuring out how to isolate this movement in the core and hips, rather than swinging my torso and arms around willy-nilly.

I have been practicing this by warming up with swizzles, both backwards and forwards, trying to concentrate on just the action of my oblique muscles.

abdominal-muscles-diagram

These are the lower trunk muscles, and they have several functions. They work with the diaphragm to help with breathing. Contract both sides at once and you bend forwards; contract one side and you do a side bend. And if you work these in opposition, you rotate the torso bringing the left shoulder towards the right hip and vice versa.

So I’ve been running through all my skating moves trying emphasize the action of these muscles rather than the upper body. I focus on giving those obliques a little “scrunch.” All I can say is that it seems to be working.

So while I’m sure I’ll have another one of those “mad skater” moments before long, I’ll just revel in getting “even” for now.

Time for a happy photo!

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Happy skaters Jeff and Jo!

And a happy song from Jeremy Messersmith that my son told me to put on my blog. Everybody gets a kitten!