Thursday, May 26, 2016

The season of the ice tourist

Dear constant reader, as you know from previous posts, Bowie Ice Arena shuts down each spring during the months of May and June for maintenance and general cleaning.  This is a good thing from the standpoint of having good ice during the ten month season when the rink is up and running but less good for me getting ice time in late spring.  So for the past  few weeks I've been skating at Piney Orchard and when I was at the beach, the Flyers' Skate Zone in Atlantic City.  Last Sunday dawned with rain (for the umpteenth day in a row) and with Piney's ice tied up with hockey all weekend (the Skipjacks) it was time to look a bit further afield.  My choices were Wheaton, Colombia, or Cabin John.  All three rinks require a bit of a drive, with the Cabin John rink the furthest from my house at roughly 30 miles each way.  I've skated at Wheaton which has excellent ice and has an ice dance subculture but Cabin John is also known locally for ice dance, and so it being a dull day I decided to do a bit driving and see something new.

Like the rink at Wheaton, Maryland, Cabin John is owned and operated by the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department.

I kept my iPod shuffle and ear buds in my pocket.  So much for having ice dance music.

My initial impression of the rink was that it was clean and seemed to be well run.  The facility has two sheets of ice, one is Olympic sized and the other in NHL sized.  When I first arrived there was a game in progress on the NHL sheet and a Free Style session on the Olympic sheet.  I saw lots of kids who were obviously advanced skaters head off to interior parts of the building with gym bags and since none of those kids appeared on the ice I assume the rink has off-ice training rooms as well. The ice was reasonable and was resurfaced half way through the session.  The session in question was billed as a "family public" and so it was heaving with kids.  While there were a few adults in the mix it looked more to me like "Sunday afternoon baby sitting" might be a better billing!  It seemed like every time I set up to string  some progressives or swing rolls together a kid would show up in my path, usually skating against the grain.  But, ice time is ice time--even if it is a bit unproductive.  I'll be back at Piney for a lesson this afternoon and who knows where I'll turn up over the three day Memorial holiday?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...

Our scene: a USFS test session for pre-silver and lower ice dancers plus a variety of moves in the field testers.

The deal:  There are three judges.  You need passing scores from two to pass.  I'm testing two of the simplest dances. The Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  I feel good about one.  The other not so much.

I put it out there.

The outcome:  Three judges saw three different things.  Judge Nr 1 loved both dances and gave me passing marks for both technical and timing/expression.  Judge Nr 2 hated the DW but passed me on the CT.  Judge Nr 3 hated every minute of what I put down.  Well, maybe not everything--she did indicate that my timing was "ok" on the CT.

Bottom  line:  I passed the CT but will have to retest the DW.

Judges comments (DW):

Judge Nr 1: technical--"correct progressives, edges shallow but most defined as O.S.; good flow, P". (pass); timing/expression--"on time, P".

Judge Nr 2:  technical--O.S. edges are mostly flat.  Right foot O.S. edge is deeper than left. R (retry)."  timing/expression--"ahead of the music in several places. R"

Judge Nr 3: technical--" edges and patterns flat, no curvature to lobes, unison lacking. R"  timing/expression--timing rushed so a little ahead of the beat. R"

CT comments:

Judge Nr 1: technical--"shallow but correct; weak on free leg extension, P.";  timing/experession--"right on, P."

Judge Nr 2:  technical--"good pattern, please turn out free leg; ok pattern, some shallow edges, P."
timing/expression--"well timed.  P."

Judge Nr 3:  technical--"edges & lobes flat; stepping rather than stroking, R."  timing/expression--"timing ok, P".  (NB: one needs to get a passing score for both technical and timing/expression or the overall result is a fail.)

I'm sure that the comments do somehow accurately reflect my skating today.  The DW has always been my least favorite dance and I think it's because it's a six beat dance--you have to hang out on an edge like forever.  The CT is a four beat dance and things happen quicker, which is a good thing for short attention spanners like moi.

So it's back to the drawing board on the DW.  This helps keep my coach gainfully employed.

Now, the best part of the deal was watching the pre-silver skaters test the 14-step, the foxtrot and the European Waltz.  All the test takers were female and about two thirds of them had lined up Ian Lorello (a local male ice dancer, formally a Team USA member and currently a coach for the New Ice Age ice dance troupe) as a partner.  Ian danced with woman after woman without taking a break.  Awesome skating.  See if you don't agree:







Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Testing times ahead

Coach A. keeps surprising me.  First it was an out of the blue push to enter the ISI competition which I did last month.  At our final April lesson she mentioned that our USFSA skating club was hosting a test session on the 17th of May and that I should consider testing the Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  Some how I'd managed to block that piece of information out of my memory banks.  Testing has always been on my horizon but suddenly that horizon got a whole lot closer.  The deadline for submitting the application and payment of fees was the following Tuesday!  That night I printed out the form, filled in my part and gave it to diaristdaughter to take with her to her group lesson the coming Thursday (Coach A. conveniently is her group lesson coach) for the coach's signature.  She did so and brought it back.  In turn I mailed it to the Test Chair.  I saw the Test Chair over at Piney Orchard ice rink (Bowie is closed for annual maintenance) and she allowed as how my paperwork and check had been received.  Last weekend the test schedule was published and my name is on it (twice) so there's no backing out.  I will test these two dances, ready or not.

Ready or not.  That's a big assumption, but I suspect my coach wouldn't hang me out there if she didn't think I was close.  I know the patterns and I know the steps.  Timing is still an issue.

Over the past couple of lessons we've also been trying to get my feet to consistently do progressives rather than reverting to crossovers during the heat of battle.  Old habits die hard.  I seem to be making small gains in that department but will it be enough?  I have one more coached session and maybe one additional chance to get on the ice before the test date rolls around.  A test for a well prepared student is essentially nothing more than filling out a form and smugly turning it in.  I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being that prepared.  I'm more in the position of putting 'em out there and seeing what the judges have to say.  It would be nice to put this pair of dances to bed so I could get back to working on the RB which has been on the back burner far too long.  I just wish I had a little more time to get test ready.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Post competition rehash.

Although Sunday was the day in which I inaugurated my competition "career", I'll back up a little bit into the tail end of the preceding week.  On Thursday afternoon I had an appointment with Mike C. down at Skater's Paradise to sharpen my blades.  With over 60 hours since the last sharpening I could feel them going sideways every now and then.  I debated having them sharpened right before the competition but I figured I'd be able to skate on them for a couple hours during the late Friday afternoon public at Bowie.  So off to Waldorf I went.  Mike did a great job and just to make sure my blades weren't squirrely or grabby he put me on the ice for 5 minutes or so before I left.  The blades felt fine.

The next morning as I prepared to go to work, my old Volvo wagon coughed up an error message on the dash board indicating that  I had a transmission issue that needed immediate attention.  I dropped the wagon off at the  garage, and drove my wife to her employment in her car.  Late in the day (too late for Bowie's last public) the garage called to say my wagon was ready for pick up.  The problem was not the transmission but rather a sensor which communicates the engine speed to the main in-car computer which in turn tells the transmission which gear it needs to be in.  I looked on-line and Piney Orchard Ice Rink had a late (8-10 pm) public.  I decided to go put a couple hours on the newly sharpened blades.

I arrived at Piney just as the preceding Stick and Puck session was winding down.  The Zamboni came out and the young lady at the helm drove over the sheet like she was chasing an ambulance (more likely she was late for the pub).  The resulting ice surface was something akin to Belgian pavé.

A stretch of an old Napoleonic road covered with pavé, or as we would say "cobble stones".  This is used annually during the Paris-Roubaix cycling race (aka: "the hell of the north").  A bit rough to say the least.  The brown stuff is slippery, liquefied cow dung.  Yes, it does rain a lot in rural Belgium.  I've been told the only way to ride pavé on a bicycle is to take it flat out and never ever touch the brakes...
 With time running out I decided if I could skate on Piney Orchard's "pavé" I could skate on anything.  Besides, I'd already paid for my ice pass and I'm a sticker for getting value for money spent.  So onto the lumpy surface I went.

Staying sunny side up over the lumps and bumps while practicing the Canasta Tango's swooping swing rolls and progressives was a challenge but since I didn't crash and burn I decided it was valuable practice time.  My blades would not be an issue on Sunday.

Saturday was burnt up doing honey-do's--although after sunset I did manage to go over to the rink and watch a group of skater friends do a production number based on a medley of tunes from the  Village People.  Big fun.

Sunday dawned and with my group's warm time set for 8:09 am I hauled my butt out of bed and made my way over to the rink about 7 am.  As I drove I idly wondered if my brain and feet were on speaking terms at this unreasonable hour. I checked in and told the person behind the counter that my coach had already provided my music, received my check in goodies and went back to the locker room marked "boys" to put on my skates and stow my bag and street shoes.  I noticed that there was glitter all over the padded floor of the rink, lobby, etc. and later discovered that the glitter trail extended into the men's room(!)  One of the items I received at check-in was a Team ISI T-shirt:

Nice!  A keeper.  Love the logo.

This T-shirt was also included.
The White shirt has this on the back.  Since Bowie's ISI Team was hosting the district competitions, a bit of  mandatory volunteerism was unsurprisingly dialed in.  After skating my event I spent the bulk of the afternoon checking in other skaters---and their music.



Since solo ice dance events started at the beginning of the second day, we were bang on time and the level two dancers did their warm up and skated their Dutch Waltz in a flash.  Next up was level 3 which had two groups: females aged 15-16 and mixed adults of undetermined age.  One thing I'll comment upon is that four minutes makes for a  v. skimpy "warm up" for an old gizzer.  That's just my opinion of course.  Yes, yes, if every old gizzer got 20 or 30 minutes to warm up the competition would drag on for weeks...

The second thing, which I will kvetch a bit more loudly about, is that when I lined up at center ice to skate, the girl in the sound booth stuck in a disc and cranked up the wrong music!  Talk about tough love from your home rink.  I had practiced to Hernando's Hideaway and although the music oozing out of the rink's sound system was Canasta Tango appropriate, it wasn't what I was banking on given my rather limited sense of musicality!  Deciding to make the best of things, I managed to launch into the dance on the wrong beat and attempted to skate the pattern as best as I could while mentally digesting the new music.  It didn't go well.  I was so busy thinking about the bloody music that I got lost in the dance and did an extra pattern! About half way through I briefly thought "ya know, maybe you should just bag the Canasta Tango and launch into an improv skating thing-- ya might get scored higher".  Seemed like a fair assessment at the time since I'd never heard the music before.  To be honest, I would probably have come in second no matter what, but I would have felt a whole lot better if I'd have skated my best rather than whatever I did do out there.

All said, the better skater prevailed.  I gave my competitor a congratulatory hug, collected my medal (undeserved from my perspective) and got a  debrief from my coach.  She was equally mystified about the music switch but had no explanation.  She told me it didn't look as bad as I thought.  Ah, coach A.--a great coach.  One should always remember that great coaches, like great story tellers, also tend to be excellent liars.

I told her that as we ramp up for USFSA testing later this summer that she should pull out, at random, all of the likely music the judges might throw my way.  The next time I encounter a CD player in an ice rink I plan to be prepared.  So, an interesting if somewhat frustrating day out, but with an important lesson learned--if the wrong music gets queued up I need to slam on the brakes and say something or else be prepared to unflinchingly deliver the goods.

My 2nd place medal.  At least I wasn't beaten by the book!


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book? I don't need no stinkin' book.


Real Carmens getting their game faces on.
Dear constant reader:  When I first mentioned that I'd been sucked into the competition vortex, I pointed out that as an adult male skating under ISI rules, I might (probably would) have to compete against the book.  The rink finally posted the competition schedule today and lo and behold I've got a real live human bean to compete against!  Having said that I'll more than likely still come in second but if so, I'll have been beaten by a better skater rather than by a lousy book.  When I first asked Madam Skating Director if she was going to combine adults doing solo ice dances she said she wasn't sure she could combine genders within the same "technical group".  She needed to consult the ice dance gurus within her posse comitatus.  I quizzed my coach about this topic during our last lesson and her take was that USFS competitions do this all the time, even factoring in that with higher level dances the men's and ladies' steps are quite different.  Since the schedule indicates that I'm skating against a lady I guess the consulting oracles quacked the same tune for Madame SD.

My event takes place bright and early on Sunday morning April the 17th; warm up time is at an uncivilized 8:09 am for the two Solo Dance-3 groups (first group on ice is Females 17-23 years old; my group is Mixed Adult).  We skate at 8:17 with my competitor skating first.

Sizing up my competition: She's a better skater than I am (she's passed her preliminary dances with USFS) and she's a member of the adult synchro team.  Plus, she's competed before.  I assume she and I are both dancing the Canasta Tango, although technically she could do the Rhythm Blues instead--we shall see!  Either way it'll be fabulous darh-ling, the highlight of the competition weekend:  The Battle of the Carmens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The proof is in the Badging

Earlier I mentioned that in order to Dance the Canasta Tango, instead of the dreaded Dutch Waltz during my up-coming competition début, I had to pass ISI's Ice Dance level 3 by the 15th of March.  I did so and yesterday Madame Skating Director fished around in her cigar box full of various awards and pulled out my badge:


Thar t'is.  Hopefully this isn't my high water mark.  We shall see what the future brings after the competition.  This ice dancing lark gets progressively trickier after these dances and they're already tricky enough for this old dog.  Question:  Why does the man have two differently colored legs???  I plan on wearing a  pair of plain ol' black slacks and probably a black turtle neck shirt.  Am I missing something?  Keep it real.  We're talking two patterns of a relatively short dance.  Probably 45 seconds (tops) on the ice.  From the bleachers I'll probably look like an ant standing on a white frosted pop-tart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A neat way to have your own music on-ice

The only real beef I have with the younger generation is that I'm no longer a part of it.  Young people constantly teach me new things.  Along with teaching me pattern dances Coach A. has also taught me a great way to have ice dance music which both partners can hear without the complication of earphones or wires:  a wearable Bluetooth wireless speaker.  You're probably thinking " well, duh" as you read that last sentence.

Yes, I'll admit that I'm kinda a Neanderthal when it comes to new technology but I'm a fast adopter once I'm introduced to a gizmo that has obvious utility.  When I first started ice dancing the options were to either have the music played over the rink's sound system, a thing only done at our rink for competing skaters and only done one time per skater during a given Free-Style session--or alternatively, your coach could chase you around the rink with an MP-3 player in her hand or a boom box on her shoulder(!)--stylish coaches could do that with one hand, freeing up the other for handling the requisite over-priced cup of coffee.  A little later on, one could some how wear a smart phone around one's neck with the sound high enough so that both you and your partner could hear the music. I figured with my history of taking big swan dives on the ice that I'd be buying a new smart phone on a weekly basis.  Lastly, I've heard of people skating partnered with each combatant sharing one half of a pair of earbuds connected by wire to either an iPod or a smart phone.  I hope to never see that--sounds like a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Now, most wearable Bluetooth speakers that I've seen up until Coach A. showed me one her brother gave her for Christmas didn't look all that practical.  They dangled by carabiner clips or the like.  Her little speaker is a Mifa F20.  It is compacted and comes with a Velcro strap (however some Mifa speakers don't so it pays to check) that fits easily and snugly around one's arm.

The MiFA F20 Bluetooth Speaker
This little guy is available from a number of on-line marketers and comes in a variety of colors.  Just google it.  The volume is adjustable via push buttons on the speaker so once the smart phone is paired with the speaker the vulnerable phone can be placed in a safe pocket.  The range (i.e. distance of separation between the phone and the speaker) is at least the length of an ice rink.  Coach A. can be at the opposite end of the rink (with the phone) while I'm solo dancing (with the speaker on my arm) without loss of signal/music.  When partnered we both can hear the music.  The MiFA F20 weighs about 5 oz and costs less than $40.00 (shop around for the best price).  It has the typical USB port for recharging and I think (but don't quote me) that it may have a provision to accept a small SIM card.  If that is correct one could conceivably load the required music on the card and then skip the smart phone part of the story.

Anyway, if you're looking for an on-ice music solution, even if the SIM card thing is a misunderstanding on my part, the pairing of your smart phone with this little speaker just might be the answer you're looking for.