jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


Close call

So today I pulled out some cans of tuna from an upper shelf, and the ones on top fell down and hit me in the face. Ouch! Now I have a black eye, but I’m also really grateful that I didn’t put my eye out.

Come to think of it, this has been a week of close calls. Parking meters that have just run out by the time I’ve gotten to the car (but no ticket), late to meetings (but didn’t miss anything), slippery roads and cars skidding in front of me (but no accident).

And then there’s my right outside swing roll, which has been giving me some trouble. Laurie pointed out that I wasn’t really leaning into the circle on the second part of the swing roll. So I tried to lean that way, and went back just a little too far on my blade. Enough to make it really scary–but I didn’t fall. Whew!

Either these are reminders that I lead a charmed life or signs that I need to build up my margin of error. But whichever it is, the outcome is the same. Put the tuna cans on a lower shelf. Make sure you leave enough time on the meter. Get those hips underneath you!

With regard to that last reminder, it’s actually been a really good week. I’ve been finding it easier to connect the ankle bend (shin levers forward) and lean into the circle with glute activation. Will try to find a better way to explain it, but for now, I’ll just say that it is a form of edge security.

Okay, time to share pictures of the ice sculptures and ice palace in St. Paul.

And a very sweet adagio movement in a trio by Brahms for clarinet, cello, and piano. Brahms was going to retire, but then he heard this clarinetist (Richard Mühlfeld), and then came back to write a whole series of gorgeous pieces.

Moral: life is full of close calls and, if we’re lucky, unexpected second acts. (And third, and fourth. . . )

Lesson notes:

  • forward swizzles (really emphasize those inside edge pushes)
  • forward cross strokes (timing of free leg, and quality of circles)
  • back cross strokes (keep shoulders square)
  • swing rolls (keep lean into circle, be consistent about arm and torso positions)
  •  forward inside edges (turn out for push)
  • forward inside three, back pivot, toe, toe, cross in front, step forward and repeat sequence on other side
  • forward inside three, back outside three (think about free leg inside circle rather than dangling to the side)
  • inside mohawk, back inside three, forward swing roll (don’t touch down, weight in proper position on back inside edge)
  • power pulls (use ankle and knee action, should accelerate; backwards–also keep your free leg just behind skating leg, but don’t use it to pull)





Snow dharma

So last Monday we got over a foot of snow in just a few hours. Needless to say, it made driving tricky. I made it to the rink okay (that was midday) but by the time I left my office it was really slow going. It took me nearly an hour and a half to get home (and it’s usually only around a 10 – 15 minute commute).

I have a good friend in Tokyo, and she said that it snowed heavily there as well, which is a big deal. She sent me a picture of her campus where students had built a snowman, or as they call them there, yuki daruma. This is based on Bodhidarma, the well-known Buddhist monk, who is called Daruma. The snow version only has two spheres, rather than our typical three-ball American version.

I love the idea that even though Yuko and I are many miles apart, it snowed for both of us on the same day. I also love this new variation on the snowman, and how I finally understand why this sculpture in our sculpture garden has only two spheres.


Gary Hume, “Back of Snowman” (2001)

The yuki daruma, or snow dharma, reminds me that there is something more to snow than just inconvenience. Time to contemplate, appreciate, and commemorate! Such big words for simple actions.

Speaking of simple actions, here are some notes from last week’s lessons:

  • I heard a lot from both coaches about the principle of bending your ankles rather than your knees. When I bend my knees, I tend to let my backside go out and pitch my upper body forward (like doing a squat). So Laurie told me to think about my shins like levers being activated in the “forward” position. Wow, this works really well. We did this on my warmup forward swizzles, with an emphasis first on the inside, then the outside edges. Part of my issue is still unequal amounts of weight distributed across the blade (my right ankle is still stiff, so the lever on that side requires more concentration).  We also did this with swing rolls and cross rolls. Success!
  • Inside edge swing rolls need more attention so they don’t start off flat.
  •  Forward outside three, back edge: don’t back out of step forward.
  • Back crossovers: should be little effort with more speed, and equal pushes.
  • Inside rocker, change edge, back outside three. This led to a much more focused session on. . .
  • Inside rockers: really think about the position of the free leg and how the skating leg and free leg motion work against one another (turning out and in). Also think about upper body lean, which requires speed.
  • Outside brackets. Haven’t tried these in a while. Still challenging, but I’m getting a better idea of what direction I’m supposed to go.



Evolution of my skating

Earlier this week, I came across an article that asked, “Where Did Animals With Tail Weapons Go?” In it were descriptions of all kinds of creatures whose like will never be seen again, at least not by us. This included the following:

  • Ankylosaurus, “like a dinosaur version of an armored tank,” with a “bone-crushing clubbed tail”;
  • Stegosaurus with “spear-like spikes on its tail”; and
  • Glyptodons, described as “ancient, boulder-sized armadillos.”

My favorite glyptodon!

I’ll tell you some other things that I hope will soon be extinct:

  1. the way I push under on back crossovers (or more accurately, don’t really push under but instead just pick up my foot),
  2. the way I push onto back outside edges (sending my new skate off in a random direction), and
  3. the way I grind to a halt before turning those inside three turns (the ones followed by the cross in front).

There are lots of other things, but we’ll just start with those strange habits, okay?  As part of my new practice strategy (see my last post), I’ve identified and isolated these problems, and I’m starting to analyze them.

Like the tail weapons on those prehistoric beasts, they developed out of a need to protect myself. My body is great at figuring out ways of keeping me balanced and not going “splat.” They just happen to be ways of moving that don’t work so well anymore.

So I’m working on some new kinds of weaponry (okay, body mechanics) that hopefully will take me past the great Ice Age–or at least keep me busy in my obsolescence! Will report back on whether I become a much more sleek bird-like skater, or remain a lumbering giant armadillo with a scary-looking free leg tail!

Lesson notes:

  • three turn, change edge, back three “creeper”: don’t use upper body twist to do this–rather, make sure you are completing and pushing through the edge change
  • back crossover: push under (make sure you transfer weight and push all the way through that outside edge; don’t be too quick to move to the inside edge)
  • loops: “drippy nose” follows the loop all the way around
  • swing roll, change edge (this time keeping free leg in front), turn out free foot and bring in for mohawk
  • mohawk, back outside three: work on staying farther back on blade to push, push to outside edge at the correct angle, don’t delay so much (be immediately on an edge)
  • three turn, back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side. Make sure you really bend into the three turn, and bring your feet together.
  • inside three, cross in front. Being on an actual edge helps, as does turning on the bend rather than on the rise.


Insights on practicing

So my teenage son wrote up two lists that include insights about learning and practicing  from his cello teacher, the legendary Mr. Howard. In earlier posts, I’ve adapted many of his ideas to skating (“Bow change motion, no matter what your age!”) is one of my favorites. I thought these were very useful for skating as well!

Mr. Howard’s answers to “What do you need to learn?”

  • Learn how to learn.
  • Learn now to practice.
  • Learn how to use time wisely.
  • Learn how to hear, really hear.

Mr. Howard’s Five Steps to Practicing

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Isolate the problem.
  3. Analyze the problem.
  4. Figure out a creative, imaginative, and effective way to practice it.
  5. Practice, but not until you’ve done the previous four steps.




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.


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.


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.



New foot exercises, with a twist!


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.


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!






Little resolutions for 2018

Well, 2018 is fast upon us! I went to a public session today, and like every session I’ve been to this week, it was quite crowded.

Part of the draw is that it has been really, really cold here–much too cold to take advantage of the many outdoor rinks. So skating on these holiday-week sessions is a bit like “Survivor.”

Along with the other figure skaters, I’ve been staking out my little piece of the rink in the center. And we try to avoid one another–not because we don’t like one another, but because that’s the way skating works–while the other recreational skaters carve ruts into the rest of the rink. And the ruts get deeper and deeper, and closer and closer–sort of the skating equivalent of Jaws. You get the picture!

But at least I got to skate. And what’s more, it was free! I think a combination of New Year’s Eve and the cold weather made the rec center into a skating party, complete with free hot chocolate at the skate rental booth (I passed on both). They even had a DJ.

Unfortunately for him, one of the first things that happened was that party-pooper me went over to complain that the music was too loud. He turned it down, but it was still loud enough that I had to stick my headphones in my ears just to block some of the sound. Ah, much better. I like the music–just a little quieter.

This got me thinking that the reason I’ve had such a hard time thinking about resolutions for the new year is that I can’t think of any big changes that I want to make to my life. Oh, I can think of a number of big changes that I would make to the world if I could (huge ones). But for the immediate and do-able present, just little changes to my daily routine.

  • Get to bed a little earlier. Sleep a little longer.
  • Start practicing a new piece of music–or maybe just the last movement of the pieces I’ve been working on.
  • Lose five pounds.
  • Stretch for a few minutes every night before bed.
  • A little less sugar. A few more veggies.
  • A little less time spent worrying about the daily news.
  • Leave for the rink five minutes earlier so I can have a little extra warm-up time.
  • Edges a little deeper, alignment more consistent, a little more core action.
  • Spend five minutes of each session actually skating to music.

That’s actually quite a list, but the comforting thing is that it’s all about stuff that I’m already on track to do. It doesn’t take an entire change to my world-view to make it happen. It’s just a little more and a little less of what 2017 was all about.


Jo and Jeff survived the New Year’s Eve session!

Happy New Year, everyone!