jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


Dead or alive?

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?)


Positive energy

Over the last week I have been weeding my garden. All that rain last week made it seem like a jungle out there. I spent most of yesterday and this morning wrestling with patches of dirt that want desperately to revert back to prairie grass. (I know, I should just let it go, but it gives me the illusion of control.)

This evening I opted out of watching The Matrix again and instead thought I’d get another couple of hours in the yard again. Here in Minnesota it stays light out for a long time in the summer. That, and the lack of mosquitoes, made it worthwhile to stay outside even though honestly I’m more than a little tired (and I still have a number of plants to put in and move around tomorrow).

But I’m happy to report that I finished getting most of the yard done while my sons and husband were upstairs watching Neo take the red pill. And just as I was dragging that third bag of weeds and leaves and sticks into the garage, I heard thunder, and boom, five minutes later it was pouring rain.

So here I am, all cleaned up and cozy and feeling both virtuous and lucky and listening to a very lovely version of Gabriel Fauré’s “Après un Rêve” transcribed for cello.

And to top it all off, I’ve had a really good few skating sessions to report on. Laurie pointed out that on my back pushes I wasn’t really positioned correctly over my skates. Instead of using the push to send my entire body back, I was sending my hips back–and you know what that means! (Skating gives new meaning to the expression “Butt out.”)

So we worked on trying to send the energy into my upper body instead. I am aiming for the opposite shoulder from the pushing foot. Here are some pictures to illustrate:

It worked so well that I have been trying to think about this with other pushes as well. It is making me way more conscious about what I am doing with my upper body, which admittedly has been quite vague at times.

All that positive energy has got to go somewhere!



Splat! Kaboom!

I need to start with a friendly picture.


Pat, Jo, Sonia, Kristen, and JoAnne

That’s so the most notable thing about this post isn’t the set of spectacular falls that I have had in the past few days.

One was yesterday, when I caught my pick on the ice and did a nice body slam onto the ice. The entire rink reverberated, then went totally silent. And then I heard a voice say, “Are you okay?”

Actually, due to my entire body’s contacting the ice at once, the impact was spread out pretty evenly. Aside from a bruise on my knee, only my pride was hurt. And these days I have little pride left, so it’s okay.

Today I was putting away groceries in my kitchen and I stepped on the shopping bag, slipped on a loose jar of hoisin sauce, and went flying. Kaboom! Okay, it was the elbows this time.

I think an excess of gardening might be making me klutzy. I got a little carried away relocating a number of hosta plants around the yard, and letting my inner weed-control-freak make its yearly appearance. So now whatever isn’t bruised is officially sore.

And it’s only Tuesday!

But on the bright side, I found some great music to pull weeds by. How could you not like three clarinetists all named Ottensamer?

And even with all that, I had a great lesson today!

  • back crossovers: send force back into (outside) ribs/back rather than (outside) hip, upper body slightly into circle
  • underpush exercise: from standing, push under using just the outside edge (back) skate.
  • Viennese mohawk set up: left outside, right outside, left outside into mohawk. Use change of edge to direct edges, not upper body. Lean of upper body should follow feet
  • back outside to outside push: don’t use too much upper body and hip motion–just flip skating heel out to push.


Humiliation, skating style

I am still waiting for the moment when I can truly feel smug about skating. Oh, I have my occasional moments of major skating pride now and then. Sometimes I’m out there feeling pretty good about my edges, feeling like the flow is happening, feeling groovy. I can’t see my own face, but I imagine that some kind of insufferably self-satisfied expression passes across my otherwise blank or terrified visage.

But then reality strikes. There are basic things that I am still having trouble with! Argghhh! “This is why you take lessons,” said Ari when I told him that this week (initiated by the change of skates) has brought out everything I hate about my skating.

Excuse me, coach, I thought I was taking lessons so that I could feel smug someday.

Boy, was I wrong. Instead, I feel like a beginner nearly every time I have a lesson. The funny thing is that the more I realize that I am doing things wrong, the more I want to skate. Both Ari and Laurie have been giving me corrections, like the skinny ninja idea (gotta love that one!), that radically change the way different moves feel. So I’m going to spend some time here detailing how I am reworking basic moves and changing my posture and technique.

This is the skating equivalent of “Humiliation,” the party game played by literature professors that David Lodge describes in his academic satire, Changing Places (1975) in which “each person names a book which he hasn’t read but assumes the others have read, and scores a point for every person who has read it.” Writing down all these basic things I still can’t do correctly is rather humiliating, but heck, I can score all kinds of imaginary points just by admitting them.


The first few are rather big concepts, so I should get extra points.

NEUTRAL POSTURE. Both coaches are still trying to get me to skate without letting my hips go back and ribs pop forward (my anterior pelvic tilt mode).


Ari suggested that I think about pointing my navel upward. He also suggested thinking about knee bend as controlled by the glutes and hamstrings, rather than the quads pushing forward. This helps (especially on outside-outside mohawks).

ANKLE BEND. Laurie noticed that I am not actually bending my ankles. This means that when I think I am bending my knees and try to stand up straight, I wind up sitting back on my skates in posterior pelvic tilt. But when I think about relaxing my ankles, I have a much better position on my blades overall. I will have to think (and write) more about this issue, but for now I’ll just record what she said: that if your ankles are flexed properly, you shouldn’t be able to look down and see your feet, just your thighs and knees.

USE UP THE ENTIRE LEG ON THE PUSH. This is another way of getting a full extension out of each push.

DON’T PUT THE NEW FOOT DOWN OR CHANGE YOUR EDGE PREMATURELY. I tend to be impatient about moving to the next edge before I’ve even finished what I’m doing. Just hold still and nobody gets hurt! (background music by Grace Jones)

Other lesson notes:

  • back outside-outside transitions (bring new foot in, change edge with new foot slightly in front, don’t let free side swing around to change lean)
  • back crossovers (posture and ankle bend; additional humiliation–I actually got leg cramps from doing these the other day!)
  • inside-inside mohawks (don’t let feet separate, posture, should feel like marching)
  • outside-outside (Viennese) mohawks (pattern on two count lobes, head and shoulders, look in the direction you are going on exit edge)
  • back progressives (engage left inside edge for push, changeover should happen quicker and with the blade, not by just moving upper body)
  • forward swing rolls (use the skinny ninja idea with the free leg, sneaking up behind and coming through narrowly; don’t change edge too early; maintain that edge!)









Okay, I am giving myself a pat on the back for two reasons. One is that I am actually posting twice this week! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that.

Two is that I did a session with an entirely different pair of skates and blades. And even though it was excruciating, I stuck it out until the bitter appearance of the Zamboni.

I have been meaning to do this for a while. The skates that I’ve been wearing are now just about six years old, and getting really worn. There’s a hole inside one of them and the tongue on the other one cuts into my ankle.

Instead of going for a new set of boots, though, I thought I’d try to go back to an older pair that I wore for about three years and then put aside. I really liked how this pair fit, and I don’t really want to break in a new pair right now.  I put the old ones on a few weeks ago for a trial run. They seemed to have life in them still, and plenty of support. The dance blade on them was fairly worn and had some rust spots, so I couldn’t really skate much then. But the fit was promising.

So I had the old blades sharpened, and tried this different set up tonight. I brought both pairs, just in case. Changing back to these used skates was very different from getting a new pair. This used pair of boots felt really comfortable, and I could immediately bend my knees and ankles much better than I have been. This meant that I could get into a much more aligned position on most of my edges. This was a real plus.

On the down side, the blades were both very sharp and much more worn than the ones I’ve been using. This meant I spent the first half of the session fearing for my life and skating in an uncharacteristically timid way (even for me!)

But here comes the pat on the back part. I didn’t give into the urge to change back to my other boots. By the end of the session, I felt much more comfortable. Even though it will still take some getting used to, I think I will officially switch over this week. I’m not going to change blades yet, though; I will wait until I’m sure that the used boots will still work.

I used to hear Sara Bareilles’s song “Brave” at the rink a lot, and it always inspired me to get out of my comfort zone. So here goes my soundtrack for the week:



Imposter edges and rogue free legs

Although I didn’t do much skating as a child, I have been working on skating for what seems like many years now. So it’s been a particularly humbling process to find that my edges, which feel so deep and heroic, are actually at times imposters: postures that pretend to be edges, but are really just accidents waiting to happen.

Similarly, my free leg sometimes makes me feel like there is a certain unpredictability to how a particular move is going to go. I can be all set up nicely for that turn or swing, and BOOM! Here comes the free leg out of nowhere, careening in an entirely different plane of existence, and pulling me off balance.

So I have two interrelated theories about why these imposter edges and rogue free legs have made my skating life into some kind of crazy spy novel. And however scary it is to imagine that I have been skating with imposters and rogues for this long, it is relief to realize that I can turn this story around just by realizing what’s going on.

So the imposter edge tends to happen when I think about balancing in a position rather than moving through an actual edge. I’ve been fixated on holding my body in a certain way and not thinking enough about how to move my body through different positions. One example might be on my forward inside, back outside choctaws (like in the Kilian). Here’s a picture of a novice Russian team doing this edge.


Maria Marchenko and Egor Pozdniakov in 2015

I have been fixated on getting a strong inside edge, which for me meant really cranking on that left ankle and foot and using a lot of left knee bend. Then on my lesson last week Ari pointed out that on that inside edge I am not allowing my body to rotate into the circle.

I believe that this is what we would call fighting the edge, right?

Doing a real edge entails not only bringing my left arm in front and around, but also allowing my lower body (yes, hips, too) to come around the inside edge. I practiced this last night and yes, this works much better. The real edge felt more shallow than the imposter, but it worked much better to get in and out of the turn.

So I think there is a key point here to be made about allowing my hips and upper body to move rather than locking them in place. This brings me to my second theory, which is about how I might have developed some less-than-constructive patterns  bad habits with my free leg. This is most apparent with my left forward outside three turns.

First, an apology for going back to my well-worn topic of these three turns. I honestly thought I had fixed them, since they do feel a lot better. But at my last lesson Laurie pointed out that I still was using my free (right) side to pull the turn around, even though I did it so stealthily that only catching me on video could prove the crime. (Okay, it wasn’t stealthy to her, since I couldn’t really keep my feet together and do the turn.)

The little rogue movement of using the free leg to pull around or touch down means that I am not using the correct skating side action. The rogue free leg means well; it’s like giving the weaker side an assist (like touching down, which I also do). But it also doesn’t allow the mobility and muscle action of the skating side to develop properly, which means that I’m not ever going to progress farther on these moves. I can get around, but I can’t actually do the turn. And there is a difference.

So the goal is to find and banish the imposters and rouges, which I suspect are hiding in plain sight!!! I won’t need a trench coat for this one.

On another note, I am enjoying seeing so many of my fellow adult skaters getting ready for Adult Nationals. The guys were out in full force earlier this week!

Who can resist this 1982 classic by the Weather Girls, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes Armstead? Hallejulah!

Some additional notes on posture:

  • outside edges, experiment with where your torso is; trying turning navel 30 degrees out of the circle.
  • back inside edge (don’t turn free leg in, turn it out)
  • back outside edges, let skating side dictate where the edge goes, not the free side.



A marked woman

It’s been a crazy busy body week. Friday I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a massage. My shoulders were so tight that my massage therapist suggested that I try cupping. So now I have these marks on my back that make me look like Michael Phelps going for yet another Olympic medal. Well, not really, but maybe it will make me better at a different kind of freestyle! Not that I have any plans to get back to jumping, but you never know. . . .


Thursday I had a session with PT Sarah. We checked my hip joints and she said that I still have some frontal plane issues in which the left side doesn’t quite go fully back and the right doesn’t go front. Still working on that! But most of our time was spent on the issues with my right ankle and foot.

I have been trying to get more dorsiflexion on my right side, and things have improved to where I can actually do what Chad Walding calls “womb squats” without feeling like I’m going to fall over. But this past week I’ve had some pain in my right heel. Sarah said that as I am getting more range of motion (ROM), I need to strengthen some of the foot muscles that will help me with these movements. Sarah did some mobilization of my ankle, and the heel pain magically went away. How good is that!

We talked about the way my heel bone, the calcaneus, works with the other bones of the foot and ankle, such as the talus, which I have written about before.calcaneus

Now I am trying to be mindful of my calcaneus as well. Sarah had me doing foot circles while thinking about the calcaneus rotating around, rather than just swirling my foot at the ankle. This was really effective, and I have been doing these at home. I still have some trouble mobilizing the right side, but the heel pain has disappeared. Equally satisfying were her suggestions that I try calf raises with knees bent. This got rid of that horrible ratchet wrench noise that my right ankle makes when I point my foot and/or raise my heel.

I have been thinking about my left calcaneus as well, especially when I’m on the ice. On my left side, I have this tendency to put my weight forward toward the ball of the foot. Even as my positions are generally better, I still sometimes do this. But if I think about putting a little more pressure on the calcaneus, it really helps correct this tendency.

So a little more attention to my friend the calcaneus adds stability to both sides. I particularly like this because it’s not really about leaning back on my heels, which is a risky business with dance blades; it’s more about distributing pressure through the back part of my foot.

I’m skating through, nothing to lose
Spiral away, spiral away
Thinking hard, it fills my brain
Spiral away, spiral away
Put me down and I won’t fall
I am calcaneus!
Put me down and I won’t fall.
I am calcaneus!

PT exercises:

  • Foot circles. Mobilize the heel as you do the circles.
  • Calf raises with bent knees. Variations are (1) bend, raise, straighten knees with heels raised, lower; and (2) reverse: raise, knee bend, lower.
  • Stretch 1: on side (frontal plane mobility for right)
  • Stretch 2: feet hip distance apart or wider, shift weight to left side and bend left knee, press through “inside edge” of right foot to feel activation of left inner thighs and glute, and stretch of left hip.
  • Quad exercise. Lying on bed with one leg down, raise other leg to tabletop and straighten.

Skating lesson notes:

  • Forward outside, change edge, push (skating side lead, body opens  slightly outside circle, don’t pull shoulders back).
  • Outside three turns: keep the lean continuous into the three (don’t hook the edge).
  • Push onto back outside edge: make sure you are on an actual edge.
  • Loops: start with free arm in front, make tighter circles, work on change of body/arm position in second part of loop.
  • Back to front choctaws: step behind in that Ina Bauer position, really turn body and head into the circle on the inside edge, skating arm lead, get more speed.
  • Kilian choctaws (both directions): hold inside edge in (really turn body and head into circle on inside edge), bend into outside edge, new skating knee has to bend so that your body stays in back of the new edge. Hold the back outside edge (head looks back, skating arm in front of sternum, point fingers in correct direction, free leg turned out).
  • Alternating sequence of inside mohawk, push back, back outside three. Position these so you can do a long strong inside edge after the three: the mohawk and three head toward boards, and the three happens before the top of circle. On left side, the mohawk and push back need to happen quicker; remember that the inside edge is just a touch down.
  • Inside three, step forward, cross (get the underpush here), repeat other side (speed, lean).

Bright spot of the week: Ari said my left inside threes were so much better (“Awesome!”)