jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


Give me one more chance

Sometimes my skating lessons feel like marriage-counseling sessions. My latest one:

Laurie: Move your ribcage farther to the right, over and beyond your skating side.

Mind: You mean that I’m supposed to put my upper body over there? That feels wrong.

Body: How would you know? You should trust your coach. And it doesn’t feel right to me, the way you’ve done it for all those years. How about how feel?

Jo thinks she’s doing the ribcage-thing, but she’s not.

Laurie: Don’t stick your hip out instead. That’s exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do.

Body: That’s right, sticking your hip out is an old trick that you always play on me to make things feel balanced. But they never are.

Laurie: Try thinking about it like a matador’s cape that you’re waving over your skating side. Yes, that’s it.

Jo does it. OMG. Body weeps for joy.

Mind: I am so, so sorry. All those years and I never listened to you. I just kept skating, thinking everything was okay.

Awkward pause, as everyone concerned reflects on this momentous breakthrough.

Mind: I promise I will make it up to you! My ribcage will be better. Everything will be better. Can’t we just give it another try?

Okay, maybe that was a little too much. So here’s a song to bring this little drama to a close, Lake Street Dive’s sidewalk version of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back.”

And some pictures of folks who have my back. It takes a village! Or a Greek chorus!

Lesson notes:

  • progressives: inside hip leads, don’t crank shoulders around, just bring arm gently to front. Try holding inside edge: weight stays over the hip on the inside of the circle. When you go clockwise, make sure you are pushing back (not allowing your push to send you into the circle).
  • two edge pulls, push on inside edge to repeat on other side: keep free leg extended forward, don’t pull early, establish your edge-curve-circle first
  • inside “syncopate” with edge pull: use weight over inside hip to accentuate circle, do this with your ankle/knee bend, not upper body
  • three turn, edge pull: don’t twist into the circle after the three, instead, keep skating arm directly over inside edge. Turn out free leg–this is an edge pull, not a change of edge.
  • back outside edges: arms clasped in front, head in correct position; knee bends to counter stretch of free leg. Work on weak side.
  • back insides edges in “infinity” pattern: allow head and upper body to rotate; try thinking of the matador cape to really get your ribcage over the skating side.
  • back outside edges: correct upper body and head position
  • three turn: free leg energy goes in same direction as skating leg to eliminate separation after turn.


Lower the bar

I just had one of the best skating sessions ever. It wasn’t because of having the rink to myself (lots of little kids EVERYWHERE!). It wasn’t because I felt particularly strong (left hip still stiff, left foot still twinges, right ankle, knee sore too). And it wasn’t because I landed that triple axel (SNORT! Almost choked on that one).

No, not even close. It was because I lowered the bar.

I’ve been lowering it for quite a while now. I think when I started this blog, I thought it would be a matter of just a few month of recovery from a foot injury, then I’d be back to working on compulsory dances. It’s now been, what, three years? Three years of working on basic turns and edges, stroking, progressives, and back crossovers. Three years of physical therapy appointments and off-ice re-training of what feels like every muscle, joint, and bone from the navel down.

No end in sight. As Elton John sings so memorably–and so many times–in “Rocket Man”: “And I think it’s gonna be a long long time.”

So my goals today?

  1. Get out there regularly.
  2. Basic positions: keep aligned through the hips, bend your ankles, and engage the feet.
  3. Remember that these positions are dynamic, not static. Move through them as smoothly and ergonomically as possible.
  4. Change up the moves once in a while so I don’t get too tired or lose focus on (2) and (3).
  5. Change the music so that I’m not listening to too many depressing songs about things taking a long long time.

And do you know what? I’m okay with this. I’ve mostly learned to be okay with it, just as I’ve learned that I’m supposed to move on an edge, not a flat (hello!). At my worst, I wish that I’d started this process earlier so that I’d be farther along in learning my way around my skating body. At best (and today was certainly up among the best), I let go of the wishful thinking and just focus on the basics of skating.

What’s been working pretty well is thinking about the movement of my joints while I’m skating. How do I make my hips, knees, ankles, feet do those motions smoothly?

Today I thought a lot about my feet and ankles, especially on the motion of my talus bone. I wrote a post about the talus some time ago, when I was having trouble with my left foot. This bone actually


Today’s talus spotlight is on my right side. PT Sarah and I have been working to mobilize my right ankle (did a post on that side too), which has a lot of scar tissue and swelling from an old injury. Basically, my talus seemed to be stuck when I tried to flex my foot downward (as in pointing my toes). It is much more common for the talus motion to be limited in dorsiflexion, so I am a little bit strange in that way.


I will skip the gory details of Sarah trying to get me to where I could actually point my toes without a lot of cramping and a crackling, popping, crunching accompaniment as various tendons howled in agony. At least I didn’t cry. We’ll leave that for the skating lessons (just kidding, I don’t cry that much).

Instead, I will triumphantly say that I have much more mobility this week on the right side. Thank you, Sarah! I was also able to identify immediately what I was doing with my feet and ankle bones, and think about this while I skated. It is amazing how much easier skating moves are when you can actually use your ankles.

So here’s some notes about my off-ice exercises for my right ankle as well as skating for the week. Let me end with a triumphant song and totally trippy video from Elton John (just substitute “skating” for “standing” and you’ll get the idea).

Ankle exercises:

  • Stretch and mobilize big toe joint.
  • Point foot while thinking about creating more of a transverse arch. Then move toes up and down while keeping foot pointed.
  • Place foot on exercise ball, and use plantar flexion to move ball up and down the wall.
  • Practice walking through your big toes.


  • Cross rolls with hands clasped in front so that you don’t use your shoulders at all.
  • Mohawk, back three. Work on continuous motion and pushing.
  • Swing roll, change edge, mohawk, back three, forward inside three, repeat on other side. Make the motion continuous.
  • Alternating chassés, hold the inside edge for almost a full circle before doing the final stroke. Work on hip position (flat front of skating hip) and leg extension.
  • Alternating progressives, and hold inside edge for a long time. Work on hip position (flat front of skating hip), leg extension and really good pushes.


Leprechaun dance

Okay, so I can’t remember where I put my phone or whether I closed the garage door. (Luckily, there’s an app for that! Oh no, it’s on my phone!)

But today I heard a song on the car radio, Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever” and immediately thought of a program by Yuka Sato in a professional competition. I remembered her nifty footwork sequence accelerating through the refrain.

I looked it up on YouTube, and it is from 1996! And she is wearing an adorable bubble-gum pink dress that goes perfectly with the infectious pop beat.

I also found a lovely program that she did this year to “Clair de Lune.” I am happy that she is still skating, and I really like the choreography that she uses here–especially that opening sequence of edges. That long back outside edge has filled me with new “edgy” ambition!

But enough about skating legends. How is my skating going? Well, it is less beautifully organized than Yuka Sato’s.  In fact, it is somewhat disorienting, kind of like that Donna Lewis music video (which I don’t recommend actually watching if you are prone to anxiety–just listen instead).

Overall, I think I am making progress. I am figuring out how to lean in the right direction. I am actually pushing under on some of my cross strokes and crossovers. And some of my mohawks actually have bunny ears. And I’m getting better at isolating my free leg from my skating leg. Laurie is having me practice what I’ve been calling the “leprechaun”: moving my free foot in and out of correct position without displacing my skating side.


Even better, I am mostly (though not 100%) pain-free! Still have some stiffness in the hips and occasional knee issues on the right. Oh, and let’s not forget that ongoing problem with my left foot and right ankle. And on and on. Will save that for another post when I’m not quite so bouncy and more organized.

Lesson notes:

  • back crossovers: arm positions less forced, more into circle
  • backwards perimeter stroking: really curve that inside edge on the step out after the cross
  • inside mohawks: pivot foot
  • MORE SPEED: use lean and ankle bend to create edge, don’t stick hip out
  • mohawk, back outside three, forward inside three, toe tap to inside: figure out how to make these turn quickly, turn out your free leg on back outside three. Try variation with push back after the mohawk
  • swing roll, change edge, mohawk, step forward and repeat: practice bringing in free leg and then doing a power pull before allowing free leg to swing through.  Lead with opposite arm, then switch.
  • outside (foxtrot) mohawks: use back rather than hips to figure out where to put new edge, lean on outside exit edge
  • back crossover, push directly over and from the hip (not backwards)
  • clockwise forward progressives: make sure head is facing in correct direction (slightly into the circle in direction that you are going)
  • back cross strokes: don’t turn out skating hip (turn out from free foot), start push as free foot moves down (don’t wait until it is down)



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!)