Friday, July 29, 2016

Say, who's skates are these?

Like many if not most skaters, I find that many times I need to retie my laces after the first twenty or thirty minutes of a session.  Usually it starts off as the sensation of looseness in one or sometimes both boots.  I ignore it as long as I can but eventually the slop  between my foot and the boot gets to the point of being more than annoying--it can get downright hazardous.  At that point I limp towards the entrance/exit door and plop down on a bench and look at the digital hockey clock that most rinks have which shows the time of day when not used for an actual game.  I dislike coming off ice just to futz with my laces-- ice time is money!

What happens next is that I untie the offending boot's lace and release it from the hooks.  At the top of the eyelets I always tied a surgeon's knot (fancy name for a simple over hand knot with one extra cross) before going over the hooks.  When retying I generally stop at the eyelets, kick my heal into the boot and yank on the laces to snug up that surgeon's knot.  Then I carefully rehook the ankle part of the boot and tie the lace with a double bow knot.  It's at this point that I look back at that hockey clock to see how much time I've lost.  I then have a mental argument with myself as to whether or not retie the remaining boot because I know from past experience that I'll wish that I had just as soon as I go back out, even if the second boot feels fine while I'm parked with my butt on the bench.  By the time I'm done I've generally lost ten minutes or so.  But the fun's not over--not yet.

Upon retaking the ice my boots and blades feel extremely spooky and "fast".  Too fast for comfort is the sensation that the blade telegraphs to my brain.  That and the sensation that I can no longer confidently commit to a deep edge in the manner in which I was doing without much thought prior to coming off and tightening those laces.  And so I wind up skating cautiously for ten to fifteen minutes (more wasted ice time) until I somehow reacquaint my proprioception with the new environment created by retying my boots.

I ask myself why does this happen and what can I do about it?  The why part seems fairly obvious:  retying the boot(s) shifts my feet ever so slightly within the now fully warmed up interior of the boots.  Most skates know that it only takes a millimeter or two of movement along the blade to give one a very different feel when skating.

Last Tuesday I skated the early evening public session (two hours long) which is part of the rink's summer schedule.  I have things set up with my coach so that I take my weekly lesson at the half way point of that public.  So I'm skating along, happy as Larry, with about 15 minutes before my lesson when the dreaded skate boot slop sets in.  I quickly exited the ice and starting unhooking the laces.  I knew that once I re-tightened them I'd have that uneasy thing going on and not enough time to skate myself into feeling at home on the blades before the lesson started.  What to do?  I tried to think through putting on the boots when I first arrive.  The skates always feel fine from the first step onto the ice until I retie them.  What was different?  I decided that instead of merely untying the laces from the hooks that I would loosen the laces all the way, take the boots completely off my feet, wiggle my toes and then put the boots back on just like when I first arrive at the rink.  I figured I had nothing to lose and only about ten minutes get this done.  And so off they went and back on they came.  I cautiously stepped out on the ice and the skates felt--fine!  Was this voodoo or am I on to something?  At present I don't know.  I'll repeat this experiment today (I'm sure I'll need to redo the laces after the usual amount of time) and see if I get a consistently "feel good" sensation.  If so. I may have to formalize my protocol and get it copyrighted or monetized or whatever it is that the smart rich people do!       

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gaining an appreciation for inside forward swing rolls

OK, it's a new season at Bowie, the newly generated ice surface is nice as expected and coach A. and I are dusting off where I was waaaay back at the end of May.  You may recall that I had passed the CT but rec'd a "retry" on the DW.  I was also working on the Rhythm Blues.  During last night's lesson we worked briefly on the RB's lilt step sequence but spent most of our time working on the inside forward swing rolls which follow the lilt steps.

Until last night I didn't have a good understanding of inside swing rolls.  I was basically attempting to do an inside edge version of the outside forward swing rolls familiar to those who've done the DW and CT patterns, i.e. : holding the free leg back and extended for two beats followed by swinging it forward for two beats.  This approach was not only ugly but more troubling, it left me on a flat most of the time rather than the correct inside edge. 

Coach A. broke the element down and pointed out that the inside swing roll consists of four distinct parts, each held for one beat of the four beat roll.  What follows is my recollection of that demo:

On the first beat, one pushes onto the inside edge while extending the free leg back.  On beat two the free leg is bent slightly at the knee and brought to the back of the skating foot (raised above the ice).  On the third beat the free leg is simultaneously straightened and extended forward with the toe pointed in the direction of travel.  This helps pull the inside edge around the semi circle which the swing rolling skater supposedly carves.  In beat four the free leg is slightly bent as it returns to the back of the skating foot, again raised off the ice, in anticipation of the next swing roll in the pattern.

This was a small revelation to me and while it looks quite elegant when coach A. demonstrates, like most things she demos, it will take your old diarist a good bit of practice to make all it work instinctively at dance speed!  I hope that woman doesn't think I'll be testing this in August...

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.