jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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)







Halloween and the happy crew

It’s been a while since I’ve posted photos from the happy crew at the rink. Here’s some fun ones from this week.


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Poem for today

A poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist”

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

Source: Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry (University of Utah Press, 1988)



Over the years, I’ve learned to be more patient with any interruptions to my skating practice. After all, it’s impossible to respond to work colleagues with “Sorry, I can’t come to the meeting–I have to go skating” or to tell a kid that his chamber music recital takes a back seat to swing rolls.

But when I got the notice that I was selected for jury duty, I immediately started freaking out. Honestly, I don’t mind doing my civic duty, and I didn’t spend too long scheming about ways to get out of it. Still, it seemed a cruel impediment to my summer return to the ice, which has been quite glorious so far.

Our county has a system by which you can call in twice a day to see if you are indeed needed at the courthouse. Lo and behold, when I called in today, I got the happy message that I wouldn’t need to come in after all! I immediately jumped in the car and headed to the rink instead.

My goal for practice today was to see if I could spend the entire session skating with decent alignment, especially where my hips are concerned. It’s been clear since I returned from my little skating-free sabbatical earlier this summer that I still have to make this a priority or I will quickly regress to my painful wild “hippy” days of dropped free sides and unstable muscles. I am especially concentrating on “decompressing” my hips (lengthening through the skating side) which seems to help a lot.

Ballet dancers seem to talk a lot about being pulled up out of the hip joint or being “up on the leg.” In order for this to occur, glute and hip muscles have to support the hip so that the free side doesn’t pull away from the midline.  This is a useful idea for skaters too. Skating unfortunately can encourage a certain degree of anterior pelvic tilt and tight hip flexors, which in turn inhibits these supporting muscles. Couple these problems with my tendency to simply drop onto my new skate or stack up my body in ways that resemble an advanced game of Jenga: a recipe for misalignment!

My goal for the summer is to make sure that I will be able to relegate those problems to the past tense. I’ve been trying to get my hips neutral and “decompressed” while standing, walking, and even sitting. And when I’m not needed at the courthouse, I’ll do this on the ice.

I’m in the pool of potential jurors for the next two weeks. Ack! So I can’t promise much skating news unless I get lucky again. Fingers crossed that the only judges I will have to see in the near future are skating judges!






Back dimples and other anatomical matters

So earlier this week PT Sarah was talking about making sure that my “back dimples” were positioned correctly during certain exercises. I looked the term “back dimples” up, and there is actually a term for this, the “Dimples of Venus.”

These indentations on the back mark the places where the different bones of the pelvis attach to one another, the sacroiliac (SI) joints. They are right above the “intergluteal cleft,” more crudely known as the “butt-crack.”


Identifying those two crucial parts of my anatomy seems to help with my posture on and off the ice. I’m finding that it is easier to think about the position of my back dimples and (ahem) intergluteal cleft than to achieve a neutral hip/back position in other ways.

I have a tendency to over-correct my “anterior pelvic tilt” with a “posterior pelvic tilt,” that pushes my hips forward. Can’t seem to settle in neutral! But gently drawing down those “back dimples” helps me find the correct alignment without straining.


Similarly, making sure that my intergluteal cleft is lined up properly helped as well. Laurie pointed this out on my left swing roll. I was trying to do something that turned out to anatomically impossible. I would describe it, but I don’t even want to think about it right now. But after she told me to face that cleft (not the term she used!) facing into the circle rather than out of it, everything was much easier.

This also really helps on back inside edges. Ari has been on my case to turn in my free foot on the left back inside, but that’s been a hard sell. Lo and behold, another plus for lining up that intergluteal cleft! Works like a charm.

I have been working on some other anatomical matters as well. Laurie and I talked about how to find a good position for my upper body on progressives by lining up my midline (zipper) along the direction I want to go.

Okay, I was momentarily tempted to search for close-up pictures of ice dancers that might in fact illustrate all these anatomical features. But actually finding them is a really scary thought, so I will just go on to some notes from my lessons so I don’t have to think about this anymore.

  • upper body position (zipper) on forward progressives
  • back progressives: draw in feet father back behind body (this is really different from what I have been doing. Waaaay better this way.)
  • swing rolls, practice with skating side lead. And remember that intergluteal cleft!
  • swing roll to inside edge (change over earlier)
  • mohawk, back three, edge, edge (get a good push on the back edge into the three and look back).
  • mohawk, back three, forward inside three, back crossover the other way, repeat
  • three-step mohawk pattern with forward outside closed mohawks: check hip and back position. Your feet should simply move underneath you without rocking or shifting weight from one edge to another. Do these on a circle to make sure you are really on an edge).



An all-time low for famous skaters at the Super Bowl

In preparation for this year of Super Bowl half-time show viewing, I watched a video of the show during the 1992 Super Bowl (the first time the event was ever held in Minnesota).

It has featured appearances by Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano skating on teflon, the 1980 Olympics U.S. hockey team, the University of Minnesota’s marching band (go, Gophers!), ballroom dancers, hockey stick formations, and dancers wearing a shade of green that really shouldn’t exist, even in the imagination. And poor, poor Gloria Estefan, dressed in something that vaguely resembles a skating dress. (Luckily, they invited her back some years later to perform with Stevie Wonder and she looked fully recovered. Life does give us some second chances.)

The theme is “Winter Magic.” Be afraid, be very afraid.

Sigh. Now I have to include the video, just because I mentioned it. But a warning: if you watch it, you may have nightmares regardless of whether or not you lived through the late 1980s.

Here are some reasons to watch:

  1. Sheer boredom + curiosity + the burning desire to see what inspired them to invite Michael Jackson to perform at the Super Bowl the following year.
  2. Winter blues that can only be cured by some kind of shock therapy.
  3. The need to watch something so awful that being able to turn it off makes you feel in control of your own life choices.
  4. As a reminder that whatever Coldplay and Beyonce have to offer this year, at least it’s not a reprise of “Winter Magic.” (I hope.)

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And please don’t watch it for the skating. . . Nooooo!!!

I am so sorry you had to see that. The horror, the horror!

To get rid of those snowflakes, here’s Michael Jackson in 1993 and the return of Gloria in 1999.