jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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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-Egor-POZDNIAKOV

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.

 


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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. . . .

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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!”)


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Labors of love

Sometimes I know that the things I do are impossible. For instance, I’m sitting here listening to versions of Guy Wood and Robert Mellin’s 1952 classic song, “My One and Only Love,” trying to determine which one I like the best. I keep thinking it must be John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman in 1963. I love how Coltrane’s plaintive sax does that little repeating pulse on certain notes, while the bass and piano catch him from the back. And then there’s Hartman’s vocal version, just the right blend of smooth and throat-catchingly beautiful.

Then there’s this 1962 version with Ella Fitzgerald singing with the Nelson Riddle orchestra. Lots of things going on in the orchestra (maybe a bit too much for my taste) but Ella’s voice keeps it steady and true.

There’s something really different going on in this 1957 Sarah Vaughan recording. Her amazing voice gives each of those words in the second half of the song a different emotional register. Suddenly the lyrics (which seem quite tame and devotional at first) seem quite wicked. Ooh, Sarah!

And then there’s the sweet cello version that my son just reminded me of.

It seems like all the jazz/popular music greats did versions of this song: Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, George Benson, Stevie Wonder. Recent versions include Danish singer Sinne Eeg, opera diva Renée Fleming, Sting, and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti with singer Paula Cole.

Lucky for me: even if it’s impossible to decide which one is best, it’s still fun to listen to them. It’s “not the triumph but the struggle” these days. I’m trying to keep that in mind, since my skating week has been a-bobble between highs and lows.

So earlier this week I had a lesson with Laurie that felt like another one of those real game-changers. We talked about activating core muscles in opposition to my free leg, so that as I extend there is a corresponding stabilizing action in my free side lower abdomen and hip.

Imagine a stretchy band that extends from the free leg extension across the front of the pelvis and then is anchored in the back. As the free leg stretches back and extends, the muscles in the skating side (particularly in the lower abdomen) also contract so that the skating side doesn’t get pulled towards the free leg. abdominal-muscles-diagram

When I first realized that I wasn’t consistently activating those core muscles, I had one of those “oh man!” moments. (Really? After all this time, I’m still not doing this right?) Similarly, on my lesson with Ari I was doing a back inside edge on my left side and he pointed out that I wasn’t actually doing an edge. Pronating my foot (sinking my arch towards the ice) helped me get on an edge, but then I felt way off balance.

So this week has been all about figuring out that I still have a ways to go on these basic moves. I figure I have three choices of how to approach this.

  1. I feel bored and frustrated that I’m not working on anything more challenging, so I give up skating and take voice lessons instead, aiming to make my own recording of “My One and Only Love” (the world can never have too many).
  2. I feel bored and frustrated that I’m not working on anything more challenging, but I continue to skate, knowing that my vocal capacities are limited to more tuneful renditions of early Bob Dylan songs and the Eagles “Hotel California” (just ask my skating friends, they know!).
  3. Having drunken the “happy edge” Kool-Aid, I decide that working on the same basic moves is a bit like singing the same song in different ways. I just have to play them all to figure out which way works best. La la la la.

Lesson notes:

  • loops: really make yourself do a loop, even if you have to do it two-footed. Work on keeping it small and tight through the second part, and changing arms appropriately.
  • alternating outside threes: three at the top of the circle, more speed, better half-circles all the way back to axis.
  •  forward outside three, change edge, back cross, step forward and repeat: push on all those strokes (especially the push under for the crossover), lobes need to curve more, pronate on that left back inside edge and lean into it so you can get a good push into the forward outside three
  • forward outside three, push back, back outside three with foot in back, touch-push to repeat on other side: don’t forget the extension on inside edge after back three
  • mohawk, change edge push back, back-to-front choctaw: use knee bend to really curve the change of edge, the back outside edge and forward inside edge (choctaw)
  • European pattern (woman). Ugh. Like a bad recording from a distant past. Just want to erase it.


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More on turning in

Day after day I’m more confused
So I look for the light in the pouring rain

I just love that song: “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray. And it just so perfectly captures how I feel about figuring out that I need to turn my toes in more.

For years I’ve been telling myself to turn out, turn out, turn out. And my body was not particularly well balanced, but heck, I thought, I’ll just turn out more and see if that helps. And then, last lesson Laurie told me to turn in my toes and put my heels out, like an inverted “V” and BOOM. Edges.

Day after day I’m more confused. But I feel like my weight is suddenly in the right place, especially on that left skate. And I feel like everything is connected: blade, foot, ankle, lower leg, thigh, hip, and even upper body. I bend my ankle and I can feel my entire body activate on that side. Oh joy. Oh rapture.

But wait! Reality check! Before I go off the deep end of enthusiasm, I suddenly realize that can’t find any pictures of ice dancers who skate with their toes turned towards each other. So what is really going on?

I suspect that what is happening is that this is not so much about turning my toes inwards as it is about the way that this angle allows me to put more pressure into the ice, especially through the back part of my blade. I don’t have to actually turn in; I can get the same feeling if I am in parallel and just push my heel outwards against the ice.

scotttessablades

Is this what they are doing?

France Figure Skating

Why else would she be smiling? Unless that’s not really a smile. . . 

I think this is consistent with some of the hip misalignment and strengthening issues I’ve had in the past. Definitely this turning-in business feels like it kicks on some of those inner thigh muscles (I found this post from a site called “Mix Fitness” really interesting). This whole thing reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago about turning inward.

I told Ari today that I feel like this gives me more traction. Traction is good, he said. He must have truly believed that, because after my standard alternating three turns, we launched into a whole new set of exercises.

Lesson notes:

  • alternating three turns (don’t over-rotate three, don’t pitch forward)
  • cross swing roll, quick mohawk (Paso Doble): left inside edge after the mohawk has to be really quick! Don’t let your hips go out.
  • forward cross, tuck behind, forward choctaw (like in the Kilian), back cross, step forward on outside edge and repeat on other side. Remember correct arm positions, work on strong back outside edge after choctaw
  • inside mohawk, change edge, push back to back outside edge, back to forward choctaw (strong forward inside edge), repeat on other side.
  • twizzles from back outside edge. Both sides. Don’t overthink this. No hesitation between turns.

And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me


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No matter how you slice it

That opening could be followed by any number of positive and negative things. Bread. Baloney. Good news. Bad news.

And then there’s the César Franck violin sonata in A major, which I keep hearing in bits and pieces, thanks to my younger son the cellist (now a teenager) . Much of what he has to say to me these days involves “Have you heard this?” or “I love this piece!” or (most humbling) “Guess which composer this is!”

Life is good, at least on the music front. Here’s the final movement (Allegretto poco mosso). There are a lot of recordings out there!  Here’s an article by Caroline Gill that talks about some of them. She describes how the piece was first played at the wedding of Franck’s friend Eugène Ysaÿe (a Belgian violinist who was known as the “King of the violin”) and then officially premiered in Brussel’s Museé Moderne de Peiture in light so dim that the piece had to be performed from memory.

Vincent d’Indy, a devoted supporter and pupil of Franck, who chronicled his experiences with him and was present at this performance, described the fading light of the scene: ‘The public was requested to leave, but…refused to budge. Ysaÿe was heard to strike his music stand with his bow, exclaiming “get on, get on”. And then, unheard-of marvel, the two artists, plunged in gloom in which nothing could be distinguished, performed the last three movements from memory… Music, wondrous and alone, held sovereign sway in the darkness of the night. The miracle will never be forgotten.’

Nothing miraculous about my skating, but no matter how you slice it, it’s still pretty cool (hahaha!). Yesterday I missed my regular session so I went to a later session. I was working on my back pushes at one end of the rink, looked up and realized that the other skaters on the ice with me included two competitors from Nationals (one senior and one junior) as well as two coaches who had medalled multiple times at World competitions. I’d better step up my game!

Or maybe just find a game. I’ve been trying to figure out a good balance between working on basic movement and pushing myself to skate hard so I can build more stamina. Even a couple of minutes of stroking right now is quite a challenge. It would probably be a good idea to just pick a song I like and try to skate hard for the entire time it’s playing.

Not Franck, since I will probably collapse halfway through! Don’t want to ruin this beautiful piece by associating it with a coronary.

Had to miss or postpone a couple of lessons this week. Arrggghhh!!! But I did get to catch Sonia the birthday girl on the ice.

 

 

 


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Bitter truths

Which of these is the most horrible skating realization of this week?

  1. I am still not doing proper edges some of the time, especially on my left side.
  2. I am not pushing correctly, especially with my right foot.
  3. When I skate backwards, I am not transferring my weight fully to each new edge.
  4. My back eights make puny circles, even for me.
  5. I won’t get to skate next Thursday or Friday because of work.

If you guessed (5), you are correct! Oh, everything else is true too, by the way. But for some reason, knowing those other things fills me with a certain kind of glee.

Oh, I did feel discouraged earlier this week: Tuesday and Wednesday were especially rough. But I reminded myself that whenever I feel like quitting, that’s usually when I’m about to have some sort of breakthrough moment. That’s because when skating feels really hard, it usually means that I’m pushing myself to do things in new ways, rather than in my “oh well, whatever” kinda way.

So items (1) through (4) are all related, but it’s easier to think of them separately.

(1) Edges and lean inside. Laurie and I talked at length about my worries about not being “over my skate.” That is a misleading term, because in fact if you are on an edge, your body is actually inside of your edge. I’ll let Ulrich and Gillis illustrate.

skating_ulrich-salchow3

Gilles Grafström

Gillis Grafström, Winter-Olympics in Lake Placid

On my left side, I really had to think hard about how to make this happen. Laurie had me do chassés in a circle and lean on her, and my body went into total resistance-contortion mode. But once I got into the proper position, everything clicked into place. I could push onto my skate and not have things go sideways, which brings me to (2).

(2) Proper push. So I think I have written before about Laurie’s telling me to put the new skate ahead of my old one: “Step late the new skate.” But saying and doing are two different things, and that push onto the new skate going forward still needs work. I’ve been working hard on backwards pushes too. Today Ari noted that when I push onto my left back inside edge, I am not turning my right foot in for the push. I am turning all other parts of my body, but not the foot. (I noticed that working on using my right foot fully for all my pushes helps a lot; it helps that forward inside edge, and forward inside three turn. My nemesis no more!)

(3) Weight transfer. Laurie and I talked at length about how pushing correctly not only gives you force for the new edge, but also allows you to transfer your weight correctly. This really made sense, especially on my backwards edges going into those back threes.

(4) Puny circles. I started off today’s lesson by telling Ari all my discoveries and asking him, “Why have you let me skate this way all these years?” (He has not been feeling great, so I told him my lesson would probably send him over the edge–get it? Haha!) He retorted, “You always say that,” and then got me back by remarking that my back eights were “really small, even for someone your size.” Okay, time to work on those pushes some more. Small, my #&*##!!!

(5) Work, #&*#@#!!! The only cure for that feeling is more Michael Jackson.

Lesson notes:

  • alternating threes: get on an edge and maintain that edge (goaemte), work on timing of upper body check
  • progressives in a circle: same thing (goaemte)
  • back eights: (goaemte); articulate feet on push, on inside eights lean towards free leg
  • forward inside rocker, change edge, back outside rocker, change edge
  • choctaws forwards and backwards (think about which edge you are supposed to be on; real curves)

Am working on my selfie technique too!


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Articulation–skating backwards

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my backwards skating and working on back edges, whether as part of back outside and inside eights, Shafer push offs (did you know that this was invented by two-time Olympic champion Karl Shafer? Whatever did they do before?), back cross strokes (more bows to Karl Shafer), or back outside and inside three turns. Now I’m realizing that my back pushes, weight transfer, and free leg position need some work.

At another point in my checkered skating career, I would have been disgusted at this realization. All that time on the ice, and you still can’t skate backwards properly? But now that I’ve learned the secret of inner skating peace (which is that working on basic technique should be, well, basic), I am rather pleased that I’m able to figure out what has been the source of many a problem.

Let’s begin with the push. A good push moves out, then in: one continuous circular motion using  lots of foot and ankle action. Then the weight transfer should be smooth; the new edge should not be distorted by the push. The free leg draws in nicely from there, foot over the tracing.

My basic problem was not articulating my right foot and ankle enough on the push. That nice circular motion had been reduced to something that was well intentioned, yet truncated and ultimately feeble. In addition to loss of power, this meant that on my back left edges I would drop my right hip down slightly, and then wind up having to hike my free side back up (and tipping back in the process).

The good news is that even just a few days work on strengthening and lengthening this basic push has seemed to help a lot. I think some of my hip issues are definitely related to foot and ankle mobility (and vice versa) so I welcome this new discovery.

Plus the push itself is fun to do! I have been skating at fairly crowded sessions, so haven’t had a lot of space to move around. I stake out my little patch of ice and try to get the feel of using my feet and ankles fully–all the while dodging flying toddler bodies, testosterone-laden hockey players, and all kinds of other distractions on blades. Friday, for instance, brought all kinds of folks from a child care center with grownups dressed as butterflies, tigers, and other fabulous creatures.

Enough with the mellow meditative music. Time flies when Michael Jackson sings!

Gotta hide your inhibitions
Gotta let that fool loose deep inside your soul
Want to see an exhibition
Better do it now before you get too old