Sunday, June 14, 2015

Timing is everything

I had my finally lesson of the "off season" over at Piney last Thursday.  Dance Coach and I will reconvene when Bowie reopens after the 4th of July.  Things being what they were, I hadn't skated a lick between one Thursday lesson and the next.  I figured this would be the skating equivalent of me having to tell my Coach that, um, I'm sorry but the dog ate my homework.  Oddly enough if turned out to be one of my better lessons.  Coach said the pattern, timing and even the tuck behinds for the RB were much improved.  So, is less really more?  Maybe someone should tell all those elite kids who skate twice a day, six days a week to just go to the beach or goof off or do something completely different every now and then.

But back to the title of this post: timing.  One thing the became apparent when we skated together is that every now and then my timing for the first tuck behind would be off.  Coach had me skate the dance solo and said "when you count you're getting confused at the inside swing rolls."  The swing rolls in question come immediately after the lilt step sequence in the dance:

 

If one looks at the dance pattern, the lilt sequence starts at step 5 which is held for two beats; steps 6 & 7 are one beat each and step 8 is held for two beats.  So, if you're counting 1, 2, 3, 4--the lilt sequence goes 1,2,3,4,1,2.  This means that the two inside swing rolls (steps 9 and 10) start off at the 3, 4 count--as in you start the swing roll at the 3 count of your 4 count beat rather than starting the beginning of the swing roll on the 1 count which is how most other dances (granted I've only skated the first three dances) treat the next new skating element.

This little anomaly repeats during the second swing roll (step 10) and finally resolves itself at the progressive (steps 11 through 13), just before the first tuck behind.  But until my Coach pointed this out I was getting thrown off course--I think the times I actually got the dance correct were the times I miscounted beats!  Somehow I'd not picked up on this.  But that's why coaches are so valuable! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Doldrums

Summer Doldrums are better than Summer Tantrums but only just.  Since my home rink closed for it's customary two month maintenance routine I've gone from skating four to six times a week to maybe twice a week if I'm lucky, when the alternate rink's (Piney Orchard) schedule and mine align.  One of those times includes an ice dance lesson so I'm guaranteed to get on the ice at least once a week.

Once a week is barely enough to hold my place let alone advance my skills so coach and I are attempting to refine small aspects of my skating.  Over the past several lessons we've been working on improving knee bend and free leg extension.  Remembering to point the free toe.  Remembering to bring the feet together before the next push.  Remembering that the two beat step of the Rhythm Blues lilt sequence should be executed while heading towards the boards rather than along side the boards.  Working on flattening and stretching out the RB's inside swing rolls in order to get down the ice for a full pattern.  Lots of stuff to think about and maybe even remember!

Last week she decided to tidy up my notoriously sloppy forward inside Mohawks.  I tend to bring my free skate to the heel of the skating boot rather than to the instep of the skating boot.  She had me glide on an inside edge while bringing the free skate to the instep but without placing the blade on the ice.  I do have enough hip turn out to do this.  I just don't like it.  We worked on this in both directions until I decided it didn't feel odd.  At that point she told me to remember (that word again) to bend both knees before placing the free skate on the ice.  It actually worked!  Of course the time I tried it in my weak direction it didn't work at all, but subsequent attempts in the CCW direction did show improvement.

So, there it is folks.  The Summer Doldrums won't quite go away even after my home ice kicks back in after the 4th of July holiday.  Bowie, like most rinks, holds an endless parade of summer camps for kiddies.  The normal schedule doesn't take its rightful place until September.  Even so, based on last year's schedule I should be able to skate more than once or twice a week.  One thing I will miss about going to Piney is a little BBQ shack just up the road from the rink called Expressway Pit Beef.  Maybe it's just as well that Piney's schedule limits my access!



Friday, May 1, 2015

2014/15 Season Wrap Up

Sixteen columns of ice pass stickers x eight rows = 128 times on the ice between July 2014 and May 2015.  It scares me to guesstimate the $ value of all those hours on the ice.  Thirty one stickers were for pricy 1 hour Free Style sessions, the remainder are from Public sessions which were either 1.5 or 2 hours long.

Bowie Ice Arena closed for its annual two month maintenance period last night.  No doubt I lost a couple of stickers here and there but those stuck on the wall of my work cubicle offer a good estimate of the amount of time I spent attempting to refine my skating.  The question I must ask myself is:  Am I any better than last year?  In a word, yes.  How much of the improvement is due to shear unsupervised practice time vs coaching inputs vs chiropractic adjustments can be debated but practice, if not making one perfect, certainly contributes to improvement.  Over time, more is better.  Ice time allows one to experiment with all the variables of free arm and leg positions, lace tension, blade position, belly button rotation--you name it.  This list is where I was two years ago.  I really should update the list and move a lot of things around.  Some items are still MIA but that's OK.  Other items such as my three prelim ice dances aren't even on that early list--not that I do them well, but two years ago I couldn't do them at all.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to a new year of ice time and stickers to prove it!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The essence of dance.

 

I've been taking ice dance lessons for about a year and half.  One would think I'd be better at it by now.  Instead, I'm like the annoying eight year old kid in the apartment directly over yours who practices his trumpet each afternoon at precisely those times when you're trying to nap.  Every day that brat runs through the scales and hacks his way soullessly through the same handful of simple tunes but he just doesn't seem to be improving.  On the rare good days when you're sober and he's at his best, you listen and decide that yeah, OK, his playing is technically proficient--but it lacks emotion.

And that's where I am with ice dance.  After a year and a half of work, like the kid upstairs who knows the notes and timing requirements of the different pieces of his limited repertoire, I know the steps of the three preliminary dances and have a notion of their required timings and where the patterns must be on the ice.  On good days I can even execute the steps in such a way that my coach can watch and (a). realize that I'm skating a pattern dance and (b). not have to squint too hard when attempting to guess which one.  But something is lacking.  That something is emotion or essence or perhaps the best word is expression.

What is dance expression?  Trust me, if I knew the answer this post would be entirely different.  For one thing, I'd be all braggy about how great my execution was and probably I'd be salivating over the prospect of conquering more complex dances.  Sadly, this is not so.  I'm just a slow learning clod hopper from the country without much musicality. 

Now before I totally paint myself in a corner, I'm not totally clueless.  Even I grasp the fundamental differences between a Waltz, a Tango, and the Blues.  The Tango demands crisp movement with "attitude" while the Blues is "swingy" with big easy curves, smooth as molasses.  The Waltz is slower than the Tango or Blues and requires a more elegant and refined approach.  The question is, how does one incorporate these differences into skating elements?  A progressive is a progressive regardless of whether it's done during a Waltz, a Tango or a Blues dance.  How does one shift gears to make a swing roll a Waltz swing roll rather than a Blues swing roll?  I don't have an answer today but at least it's dawned on me that I should be thinking about it.  Hopefully I'll figure some of this out before I'm too old to dance!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A small epiphany.



So it's been three weeks of multiple chiropractic adjustments per week, plus a long and growing list of back/hip/leg exercises with a stability ball every day.  And while it's early innings I can't resist looking cautiously if somewhat pessimistically for signs of improvement on the ice.  Last night I got the first hint when I wasn't looking.

I was warming up my legs during the opening thirty minutes of a busy freestyle session prior to my weekly ice dance lesson.  There are still a few events left in the competitive season and so both our home skaters plus ones from surrounding clubs were out in force getting their licks in before the next fixture on the calendar.  As anyone who has skated one of these sessions knows, being on a collision course with one or more skaters is fairly common.  As I rounded one end of the rink I noticed a young diva heading my way on a beautiful back spiral.  Without thinking, I shifted my weight to my left skate and raised my right skate off the ice in anticipation of a last minute change of course.  In the end we passed each other by a comfortable margin; no foul no penalty.

And then my brain telegraphed this little whisper into my consciousness:

"Dude--you're gliding on a left flat AND YOU"RE NOT VEERING ALL OVER HELL"S HALF ACRE!"

In a "pinch me, I must be dreaming" kind of way, I purposely repeated that left flat glide several times in a row.  Yep, it was the real deal! Fingers crossed that it's here to stay and not one of those skills that seems so solid one session but is MIA the next...

For those of you reading this who have their Axel, Gold MIF test, double jumps, and quiver full of achingly beautiful spins ticked off the list, being able to glide in a straight line on one foot may not seem like a big deal.  Well it is to ME!  Especially if we're talking about my left side.  I can glide effortlessly, with control on my right flat 'til the cows come home but no amount of blade shimming or position tweaking on either my old skates or the current ones could solve that issue when gliding on the left skate.  After the last session of blade tweaking proved unrewarding, Mike Cunningham looked at me and said "There's not much that I don't understand about ice skates or ice skaters, but you're one of them."

So, yes it is the skater and not the equipment.  At this stage of the game I kinda knew that.  But finally an answer and   a glimmer of hope.  Today I can glide on a left flat.  In the future, as the left side of my body responds to continued treatment and exercise, who knows?  I might just be able to confidently commit to a deep back edge on the left blade.  Some day in the distance future I too may posses a scratch-free CCW inside forward Mohawk.

Will I eventually need to have my left blade realigned to a more neutral position (currently that blade is set with the toe well towards the inside)?  Can't predict.  At this stage I'm just thrilled to be able to track down the ice on that leg in a straight line.  I feel just like a wide track Pontiac, fresh from the alignment shop after a long dull winter of potholes!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Takin' care of business.



A.  It's Friday.  I didn't need bail bond money and there's no bodies to hide, so overall a good week.  I did have three chiro sessions this week.  And although I know it's a tad early to expect results--I just have to ask if I'm noticing anything.

B.  Don't know about you but I have expectations ahead of each session I skate.  I have a little blue notebook plus pencil in my pocket which goes with me to the rink (pens tend to freeze and not write when I want, which leads me to heave 'em in the trash can.  Yeah, I know, NASA burned through a lotta tax payer's dough designing a fancy ink pen that will write in the cold of outer space.  Trust me, pencils are cheap and write regardless of the rink temps).  Anyway, I jot down a few things that are bugging me ahead of time so not to totally waste valuable ice time.   Here's today's entry of what I planned to work on (raise your hands if you have a few items to work on, either on paper or in mind before you go to the rink).

Edited after publication: A tip of the space pen to Babbette, of "The Ice Doesn't Care" fame for correcting me on the origin of the space pen.  Apparently this is a misnomer not unique to your old diarist. The real story?  NASA did start development of this item but costs soon proved prohibitive and later on the Fisher pen company took on the task of getting an ink pen to work in a zero gravity environment.  NASA bought the pens from Fisher at a reasonable price of $6.00 per pin.  For what it's worth, I'm still sticking to a pencil! 

27. iii. 2015  Today's Practice

1. CCW FI Mohawks as an isolated element (weak direction)--any better?  Yes, my right leg (the entry edge) is the stronger leg, but it's the wonky left leg that just doesn't want to come around to the instep and take the load as the exit edge, and that's the problem.  As a result, my left leg is coming down on the ice behind the skating foot and sometimes a little outside the circle.  I know what's wrong--I just can't fix it!  It drives me crazy and holds me back on a number of fronts because it's the set up element for lots of jumps, etc.   (Ok, I'm being nice here.  After three chiro sessions I would say a skeptical maybe.  They seemed a little better but not by much).

2. FI Mohawks into back cross-overs (both directions).  I know the ones going in the CCW direction are stronger--but it that a training/coaching effect or the effect of the guy yanking on my legs? Can't say. The CW direction is the weak direction for this element.

3.  Back cross-overs on the circle and alternating down the long axis with special emphasis on the CW direction.  Yes!  Definitely an improvement.  I can feel the power during the under push. But mostly on the CCW (strong) side.  At least I'm "sitting down in the chair" and leaning into the circle enough to get off the toe picks and get a decent edge for a change.  CW side is still hit and miss--but better! (Stoked!)

4.  Pre Bronze cross-overs on the figure 8 pattern.  I worked on these but there's still a lot to work on.  Given the public session traffic, I'll grade them a "not bad, work in progress".  I cheat by starting off  to the right so that when I need to do the edge change Mohawk it's on my strong side.  Hey: I'm sure the judges will prefer seeing a clean Mohawk rather than  my impression of a "dead bug" pose.

5.  Canasta Tango pattern.  I should remember this by now but when it's not part of a coached session for several weeks I tend to lose track of the steps.  Dance coach brought it back to the front burner this past Tuesday and I was lucky to remember half of it.  Only a few kiddies with E-Z pushers were brushed aside during the practicing of this pattern today.  (I currently have it again--here's hoping I remember it by the time Tuesday rolls around.  Must ingrain it on Sunday if I get a chance to skate.  Why is it so hard to remember this stuff?)

So, that's it.  My notebook is small.  Mercifully one page can only detail 5 or 6 things to work on plus notes on the fly--and that's probably a good thing.  Moves-coach is off this weekend keeping her chicks in a row at ISI districts over at Talbot, so no 7am lesson for me tomorrow.  Have a great weekend.  I'm sleeping in!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Just a hop skip and a jump.

I'm not a natural athlete.  Try though I might to embrace the ideal, I'm a slacker at heart. Besides, I'm a busy science guy doing busy science guy stuff all day, and so like many working stiffs I usually get caught in a time crunch and have to cut corners which causes me to fall short of the mark.  This is particularly true if we're discussing the subject of warming up prior to hitting the ice.  I've tried various schemes all designed to spit me out on the ice all warm, fuzzy and ready to max out on the pearls of wisdom which coaches are full of-- but I've stuck with none of them.

I've tried cycling to the rink; a nice idea during spring and fall if one can afford the time--I'm  usually hard pressed to just get away from work and on to the rink when public or more expensive free style sessions are scheduled at a time vaguely doable within a work day.  We won't talk about cycling to the rink in the depths of winter or during the baking heat of high summer.  Arriving a tad early (by car) and then walking around the pond next to the rink is a bit better but still not ideal.  But neither is going out on the ice without warming up the legs.  That wastes the first fifteen to twenty minutes of valuable ice time.  What's a working skater to do?

I've been eying the better young skaters at my rink skipping rope for five or ten minutes and thought to  myself "This would be perfect if you weren't such a klutz."  It's something that can be done indoors, out of the heat or cold and it definitely would warm me up.  The operative word of course is klutz.  Over the weekend I bought a jump rope at a local sporting goods store and gave it a whirl (first time I've tried to jump rope in over 60 years) and discovered that I couldn't do it!  Rather than give up on this idea (hey, I've got $9.95 plus tax tied up in a fancy jump rope here) I decided to seek advice from the youtube oracle and this is what she's offered up:



I can do steps 1, 2 & 3.  Even if I never get to step 4 (stop laughing!), step 1 would actually suffice as a warm up.  Just indicate to the curious that you're miming someone skipping a rope.  If that doesn't get 'em off your back just wrap the rope around their neck.  As Roy Rogers and Dale Evans might have said: "Happy rope jumping (and warming up) to you until we meet again."