Saturday, September 13, 2014

Giving me the stick.

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This past Thursday Coach M. gave us the stick.  OK, OK, she brought in several broomsticks to use during class to help improve our posture.  No cheap jokes will be repeated on my part about how she rode in on one.  I'm above that sort of immature humor. (Ta-Ta Boom!)

So anyway, here's the deal:  you take a broom stick and first off, you grab it in both hands and skate with it in front of your body while doing progressives, etc.  After doing that for a while you then graduate to placing the stick behind your shoulders and lacing your arms around it.  The stick hits your backbone and reminds you to straighten up and fly right.  No bonus points are awarded if you toe-pick and do a face plant.  What will next week bring?  I can't wait!

She must think my skating is salvageable-- she's pumping a hell of a lot of energy into me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Horsing around; An Ice Dance Update.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything about my attempts to learn the fundamentals of ice dancing.  About a month ago my dancing partner sidled up to me while I was removing my skates at the conclusion of a public session.  She'd been MIA for several of our coached lessons.  She said "Hi" and then announced that she was "divorcing" me as an ice dance partner.  Seems as though she'd rediscovered her earlier enthusiasm for horses. She explained that she couldn't afford the time or money for two expensive activities, and so I got the heave-ho.  Upstaged by a horse!  Can you believe it?   Well, it was fun while it lasted, I learned a thing or two about ice dance partnering and have smears of white polish and a couple small scars on the outside edge of my right skate boot to prove it.

Horses! Really!
So V. has written herself out of the script, but as one door closes, another opens.  Bowie Ice Arena, for the first time in many years, decided (who knows why?) to add back group ice dance lessons as a trial balloon for the month of September.  The timing for the four Thursday lessons was listed on the September schedule as starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. This almost guarantees exclusion of working peeps.  I normally get off work at that time.  My job is a minimum of 30 minutes away from the rink on "good" traffic days. I told myself if I were to sign up for this set of four lessons I'd need to take an hour of leave each Thursday afternoon--and so I have.

As I signed up, I briefly wondered if I'd be the only adult.  I had visions of being paired with a short, impatient ten year old who skates better than I do.  The things I do for art...

OK, so last Thursday was the first lesson.  The mythical ten year old didn't materialize but another adult (female) skater did.  It turned out that we were the only skaters to sign up for dance--perhaps not a good sign in terms of ice dance group lessons continuing into the fall, but we shall see.  N. my group lesson partner is a pleasant woman whom I've previously encountered in adult group free style lessons.  The coach for these lessons was not my familiar Coach K. but that's alright; my skating will get looked at from a fresh perspective, which might be a good thing as I'll discuss later.

Coach M. started us off by talking about posture: roll the shoulders back and stand tall.  She briefly addressed the importance of extension and toe pointing and then had us do continuous forward outside edges as a segue into forward swing rolls.  She watched and immediately questioned me if I was left handed.  I told her the story about how in grade school penmanship class you'd get smacked if you picked up the pencil with the left hand and so, although I'm right handed, I'm a suppressed leftie.  She had me do a few more edges and swing rolls and then said "you may have an equipment issue."

Wow! Stop the presses!  Maybe some small fragment of my pathetic skating can be chalked off to an "equipment issue" rather than lousy execution by the skater!  Whoot! Whoot! 

After the lesson we discussed the ins and outs of tweaking blade positions and conducting minor boot modifications.  It was decided that I should book an appointment with Mike Cunningham, a locally well known skate technician, who runs a business down in Waldorf, Maryland called Skater's Paradise.  Saying that Mike Cunningham is good is an understatement--he was selected to be the skate technician for the US Olympic Team at the recent Sochi  Winter Games (Skater's Paradise was closed all of last February).  I haven't called to make an appointment yet.  I assume it will be weeks before I can see the man and I'm wondering if a guy as low as I am on the figure skating food chain really rates the time of such an august specialist, but call him I will, and assuming I'm  granted an audience with Mr. Cunningham, my low level Jackson Freestyle skates and I will go under the maestro's microscope.

Will I suddenly be transformed into an elegant, pain-free figure skater after having my boots and blades massaged by this talented artisan?  I kinda doubt it, but at least after a session with Mike C. I'll be able to rule out faulty equipment as an excuse and reclaim total possession of  all my short comings! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Compulsory Figures Project
There's a renewed interest in what is referred to as "compulsory" or "school" figures.  This interest has sparked a new Face Book group called the Compulsory Figures Project.  Want to know more?  Check out this site and click the appropriate box to join and follow the FB group.  I discovered this group during my search for tips to improve my struggle with the Waltz Eight pattern.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My latest "new" old book.

Those of you with high thresholds for boredom (I know you're out there) no doubt recall some of my earlier posts about old skating books in my collection, such as this one from a couple years ago.   Well my dears, it's time to get out the no-doze 'cause your old diarist has bought himself another golden oldie:  The Fun of Figure Skating  by Maribel Vinson Owen.  This book is available on-line for free but I hate staring at a screen and prefer the tactic feel of turning the pages of a book. Yeah, yeah, it's the 21st century, so shoot me--I'm a "tree media" kinda guy.

Maribel Vinson Owen was eight times the Ladies Champion, U.S. pairs National champion 6 times (with two different partners) and won a bronze medal at the '32 Olympics at Lake Placid.  She coached Tenley Albright to a gold medal and also coached Frank Carroll.  Her book is one of the few which describes some of the simpler school figures, which includes my current nemesis, the waltz eight.  Maribel wasn't all that impressed with how high a skater could jump or how fast he could spin.  From her perspective  a skater was only as good as his edges.  "Show me your outside forward eight and I will tell you just how fine a skater you are" was a statement she fully endorsed.

Maribel, then a U. S. team coach, and her daughters, who were the current reigning U. S. champions in Ladies and pairs, were killed in an airplane disaster along with most of the U.S. National team in 1961.  Fifteen year old Lorraine Hanlon was a team alternate.  Her parents had bought her a ticket but her school told the Hanlon family that since Lorraine had already missed the maximum number of school days she would not graduate if she missed school for the World Championship in Prague.  She was at first listed with those killed on the plane but was later found alive back in Boston.  Lorraine's account of the tragedy and her  competitive skating experiences (you think your coach is demanding? HA!) can be read here.  American competitive skating didn't recover until the Peggy Fleming era. 

This was an expensive book for the early 1960s.  In today's money it would cost over $55.00.  My copy cost around $25.00, so a relative bargain.  After reading the section on the waltz eight, the book has already paid for itself:  I now realize that the W8 is composed of three skating elements which I know how to do:  a forward three turn, a back outside edge and a forward outside edge.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Now if I can just convince my legs of that little fact... 

I find it interesting that she introduces the spread eagle before either the inside Mohawk or outside forward three turns.  She is very adamant about how anyone, regardless of closed hips, can with proper coaching learn how to do spread eagles!  She also rather firmly believes that introducing beginners to the three turn too early is one of the worst mistakes a coach can make.  Hmmm, maybe that's my problem...

I like Chapter IX:  "You Are A Good Skater Now".  If you made it to Chapter IX with Maribel breathing down your collar, no doubt you would be or else!

I found this sales slip mid way through Chapter IV:  "Completing the fundamental figures".  I wonder if the original purchaser made it to the end of the book.

The book was apparently purchased at the Chicago branch of Marshall Field & Co.  I love the sense of an unsolvable mystery that a used item provides--who was the first owner?  Did (s)he become a successful figure skater?  I like to think so and hope that this individual is still skating strongly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Another Day, Another Owie.

Let's cut straight to the chase: I went down hard at the rink last night. My dancing partner is still "on retreat" so coach K. and I were working on pre-bronze Moves stuff.  My Waltz 8 is improving but my "swingy" CCW 3-turn still leaves a lot to be desired.  Towards the end of the lesson my coach, probably in a moment of desperation (do you ever cause moments of desperation for your coach?) introduced me to alternating 3-turns.  She told me to work on them, saying "These are part of a higher MIF level than what you're trying to do but if you can manage to master them you'll be able to hold the edge coming out of that messy 3-turn of yours." And as our time was up, she then skated off to coach her next student.

What are alternating 3-turns you might ask?  I'll do my best to describe them:  draw a line on a piece of paper.  On one side of the line draw a cursive number 3 keeping the beginning, the cusp and the exit tracing all on one side of the line.  That's your first 3-turn.  Upon coming to the line with the exit edge, step over the line with your free foot and carve the opposite 3-turn, again keeping everything on that side of the line.  Continue doing this alternating pattern until you run out of space.  Since a video clip is worth a thousand words I'll let "geowench" demonstrate.  Impatience alert: things don't get moving on this clip for the first 15 seconds or so.

I was sort of getting the hang of this and mentally patting myself on the shoulder when I screwed up big time.

It was not one of those falls where your life flashes before your eyes in slo-mo and you have time to think about rolling up into a ball and protecting yourself.  It was more like one minute I was skating, and then--I wasn't.

I went down like a ton of bricks, smack dab on the trochanter of my right hip. Thankfully I had on my d3o padded shorts, etc.  Still hurt.  Can't imagine taking that fall without the ballistic padding.  Of course everyone on the ice skated over to see if the old man had shattered like a tea cup on a concrete floor.  Staggering back to my haunches I thanked them for their concern and toughed it out to the end of the session (yeah, I'm one of those puritanical guys:  if I've paid for a 2 hour session, by damn I'm gonna skate every minute of it even if it kills me) and then went home to lick my wounds.  I had a glass of wine and an aspirin and went to directly to bed.  Every time I rolled in my sleep that damn hip woke me up.  This morning I'm not only painful but sleep deprived and thus even snarkier than usual.  Say a prayer for my co-workers and pass me the Ben-Gue.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Devil is in the details

I'm beginning to think that I shouldn't be permitted to skate without supervision.  No, not because I'm getting so old that I might wander off but rather it seems that when I practice stuff in the absence of a coach bad habits creep into my skating.  This was brought to light last night when coach K introduced me to the waltz eight, a component of the USFSA's adult pre-bronze moves in the field test

Waltz Eight.

This figure-8 pattern harks back to the origins of "figure skating" as it is an actual "figure".  The "waltz" part of this element comes from the fact that the skater is supposed to execute the various edges to a six count cadence, i.e. in waltz time.  To do a waltz eight the skater pushes off at the bottom of the top most of the co-joined circles onto a right outside forward edge.  This edge is held for a count of three.  The skater then does a 3-turn onto a right back inside edge which is also held for a count of three (six total).  Next, after a pump of right skate to maintain momentum at about the 10 o'clock position on the circle, a left outside back edge is held for a count of six.  At that point (~2 o'clock) the skater steps around onto a right outside forward edge, again held for a count of six.  This returns the skater to the bottom of the top circle.  Without stopping or hesitation, the skater then does the mirror image of these maneuvers starting at the top of the bottom circle.  To complete the pattern, the skater must go around the figure twice without stopping or putting down an inappropriate foot.  And although the two tracings from the blades no longer have to be exactly on top of each other, one must strive to keep them as close as possible in the hopes of a passing grade from the panel of judges.

This is where all those bad habits I mentioned at the beginning of this post come home to roost.  Come on--any skater can do a couple of three turns and strike some edges, right?  Yes, but probably not with this level of control.  Compulsory figures are where the rubber hits the road.  It's one thing to be able to do relatively simple skating elements when it feels "right" to pull the trigger and a whole different kettle of fish to do them on a defined pattern with this level of precision, not to mention the timing aspect.  Needless to say your diarist quickly discovered the limits of his mastery.  We gave up attempting to perform the figure and spent the remainder of the lesson beating the demons out of my three turns.  This was a bit humbling.  I'll be the first to admit that my CCW forward 3 is a bit wonky most of the time but I was surprised that, when applied to the pattern, even the 3 in my "strong" CW direction was not up to the task.  Lots of refinement needs to take place before I can hope to pass pre-bronze.  The good news is that when I'm good enough to demo a passable waltz eight pattern, I really will own the turns and edges required by this pattern.  Now if I can just remember all of the (many, many) things that coach K. said while I practice alone...

The waltz eight performed at a passing standard.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Head Games: Get nervous before tests and competitions? Brian Orser's got an App for that.

Are you all needles and pins before hitting the ice when your name is called?  Conversely do you have trouble sleeping the night before a big event?  For around $20 bucks, maybe this App by two time Silver Olympic medalist Brian Orser is for you.  One segment of the App gets you pumped up.  The other segment lulls you to dream land.  You can read a little more about it at Peak Performance's web site:

Nope, I don't have stock in this venture.  Just something that caught my eye.