Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A new to me Ice Dance book

Books dedicated to figure skating in general are thin on the ground.  Books about the sub-topic of ice dancing are even scarcer.  Oh, of course there are any number of fictional books dealing with teary, star crossed romances, nasty back stabbing competitors, unfair judges and the like.  And then there are coffee table books with glossy photographs of competitors both current and ancient, and finally there are those books which wade through the history of ice skating starting off with bits of bone lashed to one's feet.  But instructional books?  Not so much.  Of those few books devoted to instruction, one which I've recently added to my collection, is  Ice Dancing Illustrated by Lorna Dyer with Harry Brandt.  This book  dates to 1980.  Yes, that's 37 years ago.  I wondered if the contents would be useful or completely dated.  I posted this question to my fellow listees on but received no feedback beyond requests for a book report if I decided to splash out and purchase a copy (used copies on Amazon started off at $3.15 with a  total shipped cost of $7.14).  Since this was the only example of a "how to" type Ice Dance book that I'd tripped across, I decided to take a flutter. Yes, yes, whoot, whoot, big spender...

 In the fullness of time I rec'd my copy.  No, Amazon didn't bother to drop it on my head via a speedy drone; they used one of the parcel services--no doubt the lowest bidder--but it did arrive.  If one waits 37 years what then is a bit of shipping delay?

At first glance the book is very detailed.  How useful all this detail actually is remains to be seen as I'm still in the process of reading/digesting and to be honest most of the advanced dances are probably outside of my lifespan time horizon.  But enough of that.   After a brief two page introductory chapter, Chapter Two, entitled "General Instruction" dives into the following:  Posture, Lean, Lead, Flow and Stroking, Back-to-forward transition, General Technique, Unison, Introductions to dances, Comments on patterns, Tracking and tracker, Knee action, and Etiquette.  Other Chapters provide incite on Dance Positions, Dance Steps, Dance Turns, Beginning Dances; NB: the RB and the Cha-Cha are not listed which is a reflection of the passage of time since this book was published in 1980, but there are  youtube videos of those dances so, at least for me, these omissions are not deal busters.  Other chapters feature Intermediate Dances, Advanced Dances, International Dances, plus Dance diagram abbreviations and symbols and a Glossary.  There is a blizzard of small photos which attempt to capture key technique elements--it is always dubious as to whether or not authors of any book are able to convey the flow of complex movement with a series of still photos, but hopefully these authors occasionally succeed.  Close examination will reveal whether they did or not. 

While no book can replace good coaching, if I learn a handful of small things or just clean up a bit of fuzzy coach-to-student logic by reading, then it will have easily returned the purchase price.  My hard bound copy came with a little card from the publisher indicating an error in this first edition involving the transposition of two figure captions, but if that's the only production goof made then they are well above average and at least they took the time to point out the mistake.  So, at first impression, this book while dated, is dense with information that will no doubt require careful reading and rereading.  I'm not worried that the information is 37+ years old; pattern dances, like the ice we skate on, probably haven't changed much--and at this juncture "Ice Dancing Illustrated" is the only book addressing the subject of compulsory dances that I've tripped across.

My recommendation?  If you're a beginning ice dancer, like me, or even a mid-level ice dancer then you will probably benefit from picking up a copy of this book.  OTOH, if you're way up the ice dance feeding chain and are working on your Intergalactic test level dances, then probably not.  The subjects of free dance and original dance are also not covered.  Bottom line:  get a copy now while they're cheap and easily available.  It may be another 37 years before anyone produces another instructional ice dance book.  That's a pity.  This book could be updated and expanded.

It seems that there was a time when figure skating enjoyed a "boom" of enthusiasm which is reflected by the number of books offered between oh, say the mid-1960s and the late 1990s. No doubt the lack of current books for niche recreational pursuits is due to the general public's short lived love affair with a given activity (bicycling experienced a similar boom and bust period during the 1970s) and books are also impacted by the internet.  But as great as IT is, a google search quite often doesn't produce what one is searching for.  I also like books because for me it's easier to pick up a book and read or reread a small section than it is to stare at a computer screen.  IT is impacting printed books but I think at least for the near term Herr Gutenberg can rest easy wherever he may be--just don't expect a flood of new instructional books any time soon.

Below are photos of the book and its Table of Contents.  You can decide for yourself whether or not to add it to you library.

Sorry, I cut the page numbers off on this photo of the last page of the Contents.  The book runs to 297 pages.  The author's background can be read here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cousin Agnes comes for a skate

My wife and daughter sing in a Swedish song group.  Every year, the first half of the month of December is given over to performing St. Lucia processions at various churches, the Swedish Embassy in DC, local schools, etc.  Saint Lucia's day is the 13th of December but like most things in the USA, poor old Lucia gets stretched into an almost two week long phenomenon.  It seems like every group that has any sort of Scandinavian connection wants one.

This year a group of my wife's female relatives came over to take part.  I occasionally get pressed into service as a chauffeur when more than one car is required to haul the number of people involved.  But it's not all work.  Each time we get visiting relatives from the old country I usually have at least one visitor interested in joining me at the rink for a public session.  This year it was one of my wife's cousin's daughters that bit on the hook.  I think that makes Agnes my wife's second cousin but I easily become confused by the nomenclature of extended family relationships.

Cousin Agnes--she did fine!

Now Agnes, as one might expect of a girl from the north land, has skated many times before but has never taken any formal lessons.  Her main interest is horseback riding.  With that in mind, I figured she would have a reasonable sense of balance and generally good muscle tone.  A day or so before we went to the rink I asked her what she was interested in learning.  She immediately replied "backwards skating".

 I have yet to figure out what it is about skating backwards that seems to be a touchstone for almost every novice skater I've talked to.  I guess skating backwards is some sort of major divider between those who can and those who can not.  If you can skate backwards then you're "in with the in crowd".  No one every mentions acquiring the ability to stop safely.  To me that would be up towards the top of my list!  I guess, excluding the somewhat showy hockey stop, there's nothing flashy about the ability to slow down...

Anyway, before we went, I wrote down a short list of skills to review.  Simple things like explaining that skate blades have an inside and outside edge, the use of the proper part of the blade when stroking forward,  good posture while skating, how to do forward swizzles and slaloms, how to snow plow stop and yes, finally, how to do back wiggles and C-pushes to go backwards.

I would introduce a skill, watch her do it, make a comment or two and then tell her to practice while I worked on my back tuck behinds.  After a while I'd return and introduce another skill.  She turned out to be a quick learner!  By mid-way through the session she had absorbed all the topics I had introduced and indeed was skating backwards.  She did fall a time or two but nothing serious.  I'm hopeful that now that she's back home she'll look into lessons.  She didn't know if lessons for adults were offered at the various rinks near her home town.  It would surprise me if the Swedish rink system only has lessons for small kids, but having never skated over there I can't say.  I'm hoping that the next time we meet she'll be breezing around the rink like a pro--hopefully I've planted a little seed!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Another carrot for the old donkey

While we were in lesson, Tuesday, coach A. mentioned that the Gardens FSC in nearby Laurel, Maryland was having a test session in early February and that the deadline to submit paperwork was the 3rd of January.  That doesn't leave much time to get required signatures and a permission letter from our club's test chair since I'm not a member of that club.  The month of January will absolutely fly by now that I know there's a test session with my name on it.  With that in mind we got down to business.  But first, as in most things, there's a back story.

During the previous Sunday's public session I decided that I wasn't going to settle for the standard two tuck behind end pattern for the Rhythm Blues.  Nope.  It will be the optional three tucks or nothing.  After a bit of nervous exploration I got to the point where I was getting that middle (left skate) "tuck behind" down on the ice with a half-way decent extension of the new free skate without too much clickety-clack or scratching.  The rink was crowded (typical birthday party Sunday) so I didn't attempt the entire pattern.  Instead, as I came down the long axis I'd set up the left progressive at the bottom of the hockey circle and then, traffic permitting, do the three tucks across the short axis, attempting to carry enough speed for the progressive which starts the repeat.  I did this over and over. Several of the other adult regulars (who have reasonable skills) noticed my monotonous practice and wanted to know what I was doing.  So I explained that it was the end pattern of the RB, demonstrated the tucks (which by that point were feeling fairly good, if I do say so) and then invited them to give it a go.  Much to my relief they wobbled around and quickly pronounced them to be very spooky--I would have been more than a little annoyed if they had be able to do them straight way and say something along the lines of "Oh yes, tucks behinds--a rather nice little move!"  Occasionally my ego doesn't get taken straight to the wood shed...

But--as I found out during my lesson, doing the tucks behinds while skating solo and doing them when partnered are two different kettles of fish.  Yes, I was able to do them while skating in Kilian hold but, as has been the case of almost every other tricky element I've encountered, once constrained by a partner and with the additional complication of music, I was nowhere near as fluid as I had been on Sunday.  Granted, it was a busy Free Style session and granted there were skaters and coaches camped out precisely where we needed room, but I quickly learned that it didn't take much of a change in the approach angle of that final progressive to throw off my ability to do the three tucks with any sensation of comfort or verve.  Very frustrating.  Coach A. reminded me that I have two beats for each tuck and that I don't have to rush them.  I tend to also rush the last two strokes of the Dutch Waltz end pattern.  I think, psychologically, I just want to finish one of the two circuits required for testing and get on with the next one rather than settling down and enjoying the experience.  I need to rethink that. On the plus side, at least I'm breaking the bad habit of putting the tucked blade down on the ice heel first.  So things are getting a little less scratchy and I'm not loosing as much speed during the end pattern.  Yes, January is going to fly by.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A carrot on the string.

Every skater needs something to aspire towards.  I found this youtube video of up and coming Canadian Junior Champs Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha flowing effortlessly through the Westminster Waltz.  This of course is a difficult Gold test level dance.  A bit of unobtainium for an old geezer who still hears the click of death occasionally while doing the Rhythm Blues tuck behind steps.  I'd probably hear that click more often if my hearing was better.  Some skaters dream of getting a double Axel or a triple-triple combination, but at least for now this is my carrot on a string.  It's just as far out on the horizon as the aforementioned jumps.  Don't know if I have enough years of skating left in me to get there but I certainly can hope! 

I cribbed the following notes from Skate Canada's description of the dance (  The patterns for both the man's and lady's steps can be found there as well :

  • Waltz 3/4
  • 54 measures of 3 beats per minute
  • 162 beats per minute
  • Optional
  • The time required to skate 2 sequences is 58 sec
The Westminster Waltz is characterized by stately carriage and elegance of line. It should be skated with strong edges and a softly flowing knee action. An upright stance without breaking at the waist is essential to its stately character.
The dance is commenced in Kilian hold that changes to reverse Kilian hold between steps 5 and 6. Steps 1 to 3 form a progressive sequence. Step 3, however, changes to an inside edge after 2 beats so that step 4 may be directed with a lilt and quick body weight change towards the center. Steps 5 and 6 form an inside open mohawk. At the start the man is on the woman’s left but, during the turn, both rotate individually, thus the man exits from the mohawk on the woman’s right. Step 7 should be highlighted by strong edges and good carriage. Step 8 should aim toward the side of the ice surface then step 9 should continue around the lobe.
On step 10, which starts as a cross roll for both partners, the woman turns her three in front of her partner. After the turn the partners join in closed hold, then almost immediately change to open hold for steps 11 and 12 which are cross behind chass├ęs skated on a curve. Step 13 for the woman is an inside forward swing rocker where the swing is held for 6 beats before the turn on count 1 of the second measure. Step 13 for the man is an outside forward swing counter with the same timing. At the moment of turning the partners must be in hip-to-hip position. Step 14 must be taken from the side of the preceding foot.
On step 15 the man follows the woman’s tracing as she turns an inside three on count 4. Steps 16 to 20 are skated in closed hold. Step 16 is a cross roll for both partners. Step 17 has a very moderate progressive movement and afterwards both partners step wide for the start of step 18. Step 20 begins as a cross roll for both partners.
On count 3 of step 21, the woman turns a three aiming for the man’s left shoulder. On count 4 she steps onto a left backward outside edge and extends her right hand across to her partner’s right hand to assume reverse Kilian hold. On step 22 the man assists his partner in shifting across in front of him into Kilian hold in preparation for the restart of the dance. Care must be taken in swinging the free legs on step 22 during the RFO so as not to interfere with the transition of hold. A one-beat change of edge onto an RFI is skated at the end of step 22 to assist in changing the lean for the restart of the dance.
  • Eric van der Weyden and Eva Keats
First Performance
  • London, Westminster Ice Rink, 1938

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

En Garde!

Unlike a lot of rinks which have rules about which skater has the right of way, free style sessions at our rink tend to be like wild west cattle towns--lawless and unregulated.  Music will suddenly come on and coaches just assume that everyone in our relatively small community of serious skaters will somehow recognize (perhaps via osmosis) who's music is playing and thus which boopsie is "in program" with the attendant right of way.  Well, sorry to disappoint but a lot of us simply don't know which music goes with what skater.  As can be imagined with 20 or so fast skaters simultaneously on the ice, things do get a little hairy from time to time.  Week after week I find myself wondering why don't the powers that be institute a belt or vest to indicate the skater who's music is playing so that the rest of us know who the hell to stay clear of?

As seen at most civilized free-style sessions.

This past Tuesday I had my usual dance lesson during the latter half of a free-style session which stretches from 5:15 to 7:15 pm.  The usual crowd was on the ice but I immediately noticed that one young skater was wearing an orange vest.  Could it be?  Here on my home ice?  Well, yes!  The music played over the rink speakers and the vested skater went through her program, clearly as the Queen Bee with the right of way.  Wow.

Not only that but there was a second orange vest for the next skater such that precious seconds of expensive free-style ice time wouldn't be wasted while the exiting skater handed off the vest to the next in line.  Not every coach and skater adhered to the newly instituted vest system but, hey, it's a start. Someday brittle old men will be able to dance without quite so much body armor.

Meanwhile, dance coach and I continued to refine my progressives and tuck behinds.  The RB is getting to the point that an ice dance couple, who are streets ahead of your old diarist, told coach A. that she needs to get me to smile more.  Apparently my facial expression is a bit grim as we charge down the ice.  No doubt an outward reflection of me holding on for dear life while attempting to apply all those coachly admonishments that are racing around in my head.  If that's all they can find to pick at perhaps I am making a little progress!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bogata by bus.

I found this tune on youtube.  I must go see if it's available for downloading.  I can see myself going down the long axis of the rink practicing alternating progressives and swing rolls to it.  It's four count beat is strong enough that even guys, like your old diarist, who have limited musicality can ID the strong beat.

As for my progressives, they're progressing.  This week's tip--Coach A told me to think "toe point" as I skim the progressing foot forward as a way to keep my right foot from dragging the heel of that blade.  I think I'm making "progress".  Anyway, enjoy the tune:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Progressing with progressives

Depending on your viewpoint, our long National nightmare is either just beginning or just ending.  But this is a skating blog so I'll not dwell on that.

At the beginning of my own nightmare weekly lesson, I told coach A that I wanted to devote the lesson to coming to grips with progressives.  The week before she'd given me a homework assignment which included practicing progressives in an effort to more smoothly skim the ice with the progressing skate; I can do that if I'm actively thinking about just that, but in the heat of the moment (while thinking about the next step(s) of a dance) I tend to lapse back into lifting the skate off the ice--which one does during the extension part of a forward stroke, but when returning the blade to the ice for the progressive I tend to put down the heel of the blade rather than the entire length of the blade.  I soloed my current status for her comments and then we skated together doing just progressives down the long axis and again while skating the RB pattern.  Even while consciously thinking about it my progressives were still pretty much hit or miss.

Coach A then introduced the following drill for this week's  practice assignment:  start a progressive from a forward swizzle--sort of a cross and tuck.  Basically, one does the swizzle and while keeping both skates on the ice, one slides the progressing skate forward (think two foot glide) and in front of the skating foot, and at the same time tucks the skating foot back and to the outside for the extention.  At first this felt very precarious and she had me to try it at the boards.  Before the lesson time was up, I was able to do this drill on the circle.  Counterclockwise currently feels steadier than clockwise but with practice that should sort itself out.  I must remember to keep a bit of space between my two feet so to avoid clacking the blades together!