Friday, March 24, 2017

Is it muscle memory or is it all in my head?

Last night I had my weekly ice dance lesson during an extra public session which our rink typically adds during the last two months of the skating season.  I wasn't feeling particularly perky on Tuesday, my regular lesson day, so we moved things around.  In truth this was good because at least for now, few members of the "public" have discovered this session and so one gets nearly empty ice at a bargain rate--perfect for an old geezer attempting to learn a dance.

I've been working or the Cha-Cha for about six weeks and although I have the steps pretty much memorized I just couldn't get my head around executing the first chassé step which is immediately followed by a wide step.  At the end of last lesson I could do those steps.  At the beginning of last night's lesson the feel of them had departed to where ever such bits of information go.  If they decided to slip off to the Keys I wish they'd taken me with them...

So, Coach A. and I burned the first fifteen minutes of my lesson reviewing those steps.  She'd demo them, and then I'd go through the motions--wrongly, but couldn't sort out how to correct the mistakes.  Finally instead of counting the beats while I skated she instead said: "PUSH, CROSS,  CHAAAA--SAY, WIDE STEP."  I can't tell you why, but somehow I could suddenly (and properly) execute those four opening steps and after being released from their grim grip, I could get on with skating the rest of the dance, including the pesky tuck and slide which makes up the Hors d'oeuvre  part of the end pattern.  In my limited and somewhat painful experience, if you make it pass that tuck behind and slide then you'll have no problem with the final step of the dance, which is an inside swing roll.  After that you either repeat the dance or take a bow.

People yap about muscle memory and yes, in order to capture the above mentioned steps I spent the remaining part of the session after my lesson trying to get the rhythm of her voice ingrained in my legs.  But--the initial part of learning is way too quick for muscle memory.  It's mental.  However, to consolidate a skill and make it stick I've got to move what ever I've just learned from my brain down to my legs or it'll be off in the vapor before I can take off my skates and go through the lobby doors on my way to the car.

We skated the dance a few times partnered and I made a mental note that next week's lesson will need to address that tuck and slide thing.  Yes, I can stagger through it but it's not a thing of beauty.  She'll need to coach me on upper body positioning so that I have my weight correctly placed to make those steps to happen without the sensation that I'm stepping on a banana peel, but that's next week's breakthrough.  And of course there's timing, pattern placement on the ice, extension, toe pointing and expression to polish.  I might have this thing test ready by Christmas.

We finished the remaining few minutes of the lesson reviewing the opening steps of the Swing Dance up to the Mohawk turn, after which I'll need to skate her steps going backwards.  That's fodder for another day.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Now these Kats kan dance!

This is not on topic for skating but, my oh my, I could watch the Nicholas brothers all day.  I wonder how many piano lids they tapped their way through in a season?  Anyway, watch and enjoy their great tap routine, which starts about the 1.32 minute mark.  Don't forget to click full screen.

I'm still working of the Cha-Cha and the Swing dance.  The Swing will force me to refine my wonky right forward inside Mohawk and get comfortable with back edges and back swing rolls.  I'd better double down on more padding!

If I watch this a few more times I might, as Cab Calloway suggests, start"liking my eggs on the Jersey side".

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

Still here.  Been busy racin' boats down in FLA.  You can read about all that over on my sailing blog if you want:

Back on thin ice I'm still chipping away at the Cha-Cha.  Just couldn't get my head around how the first chasse step flows into the following wide step or how to transition from the final slalom/chasse step into the RFI edge which starts the end pattern of the dance.  Last Tuesday Coach A. and I picked up where we'd left off before I disappeared for a week with me trying to verbalize that which I didn't understand and she trying to demo the bits.  That approach was going nowhere fast so she told me to just follow her as she did the dance.  After a couple go-rounds things finally started to click.  We did the dance partnered and then she wanted to have me skate it solo so she could watch my feet and see how far off pattern I'd get.

The Tuesday evening Free-Style session during which this weekly lesson takes place tends to be busy-busy.  Folks in military circles would refer to it as a "target rich environment."  Some may remember my post about how my rink was finally adopting the convention of the skater with the right of way wearing an orange vest.  Sadly that appears to have been a passing fad.  Last Tuesday night music was playing, skaters were skating, but no orange vest was to be seen to indicate who was "in program" (i.e. who had the right of way).

I pushed off on my solo skate.  Somebody's music was playing, but who's music?  Who knows?  I had just started the slalom section of the dance when I suddenly felt contact from behind.  In my surprised state it took me a few seconds to figure out (as I accelerated from the push) that another skater and I had collided back to back.  For a minute I thought we'd be able to stay on our skates and ride out the momentum but in the end we both slid down to the ice.  As I went down I found myself thinking "you'll soon find out who's music that was."  My "assailant" turned out to be M. a young, powerful adult lady who was practicing some advanced field moves pattern with lots of power 3-turns and backwards skating.  I was going forward, she was skating backwards at the time of contact.  Thankfully neither of us sustained injury, her probably due to being young, strong and flexible, me by virtue of  lots of D3O padding.  We scrambled to our haunches, offer joint apologies and continued about our respective business.

I don't think twice about wearing padding.  A man of my considerable gravitas needs all the padding he can lay hands on.  I am totally beyond such questions as "Tell me the truth, does this Ice Halo make my head look phat?"

One question I am wondering about is: do I need rear view mirrors or maybe a signal which beeps when I back up?  Perhaps mirrors like the ones cyclists clip onto their sunglasses could be incorporated into my next Ice Halo.  Or maybe I could get Volvo to design a wearable "BLISS" system.  How Volvo gets the acronym BLISS out of Blind Spot Detection System is anyone's guess but I suppose it does have a cheerier ring than calling it the "BS Detection System".  Maybe Volvo could incorporate all that into goggles with a head's-up display giving me coordinates indicating how far off pattern I am in a given compulsory dance, the range and bearings to nearby "targets", "objects of interest" on collision courses and so on.

Goggles with such a display probably aren't happening during my skating life time.  As Mark Knoffler would say:

"Sometimes you're the windshield 
sometimes you're the bug; 
Sometimes it all comes together baby, 
sometimes you're just a fool in love."

Say, maybe a version of this tune might work with the Hickory Hoedown.  

Final observation:  Afterwards, I asked Coach A. whether or not I blurted out a stream of profanities as M. and I death-spiraled down to the ice.  This is a concern--after all I am a sailor and so have a reputation to think about.  She said "Not that I heard."  I swear that woman massages the truth.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dusting off the Cha-Cha

It's been two weeks since I passed my last two Prelim dances.  During that time my old computer died and took all my bookmarks to the grave, but regenerating all that will no doubt be a good workout for my aging brain--kinda like Sudoku or a crossword puzzle--but with a useful purpose.

Coach A. and I have been working on getting me reacquainted with the Cha-Cha and also working on my wonky right forward inside Mohawk in anticipation of those steps in the other two pre-bronze dances, the Fiesta Tango and Swing Dance.  Those in need of a refreshing peek at the Cha-Cha pattern can find it here.

After a brief struggle with the inside RFO chasse and following wide step she decided to have me work on the end pattern of the dance (steps 10 through 14)--but without worrying, at least for the time being, about the tuck forward or tuck behind bits.  Little by little I'm stitching the beginning, middle and end parts of this dance back together in my mind.  Transferring all that mindfulness to the ice is of course a different kettle of fish.  It's both comforting and daunting to realize that the Cha-Cha is the last of the "easy" pattern dances to master: familiar Killian dance hold, only fourteen steps to think about, no turns or backwards skating.  Both the Fiesta Tango and the Swing will be much more challenging.  The Swing Dance in particular will be twice the work because each partner has to learn the other's steps.  Unlike dances up to and including the Cha-Cha which have around 14 or 15 steps, the Swing has 30.  Also, unlike the earlier dances, both the Fiesta Tango and the Swing Dance bring transition steps and backwards skating to the party.  Dear Constant Reader:  prepare yourself for lots of reports of "retry" test results!

This weekend marks my rink's annual Valentine's Invitational Competition.  I'm sitting this one out but will be at the rink as a registrar and to watch friends on the ice.  Also this afternoon one of my nieces is visiting from Georgia and we'll no doubt get over to the rink for today's afternoon public.  This is one of the two nieces responsible for re-interesting me in the sport (after a 30+ year lay off) seven or so years ago.  So far her fascination with ice skating has cost me two busted arms and a brain hemorrhage (!) but also countless hours of satisfaction and good exercise, which in turn, has led to this blogspot.   She loves to skate but lives in an area of her state far removed from ice rinks.  We try to bake in some ice time whenever she visits. 

So that's about it.  Nothing too exciting, nothing to prove here at On Thin Ice.  Just chipping away at the next dance, doing my duty with the ISI annual comp, and going skating with the niece.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Until next time, ~Ta.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

All in good time.

People keep telling me that I need a cute little clock like this:

I tell them the only time of day device I need looks more like this:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Free at last: wherein your old diarist finally escapes preliminary dance purgatory

For the short attention span brigade:  Yesterday afternoon, I finally passed the two remaining dances to complete USFSA's preliminary ice dance level--and so onto the pre-bronze level dances.  Next up:  the Cha-Cha.

For the rest of my faithful readers (both of you) I'll drag things out a bit.

The test session was held at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland.  This is a multi-sheet facility with an NFL sized sheet, an Olympic sized sheet and a curling rink.  I think there's also a small outdoors rink as well. The building is too long for my phone camera to capture in one pix.

Here's the Curling part which would have been to the left of the photo above.
I arrived early and was immediately diverted by this distracting sign.  Two hundred bucks is kinda spendy just to ride a Zamboni, but....tempting none the less.
First up were skaters testing Moves and Free-Style tests.  After an ice cut Coach A. and her coach started off the ice dance testers with the midnight blues.  Sadly she was scored "retry" which was surprising to me but then I'm just a low level tin horn who no doubt doesn't appreciate the intricacies of that level of dance.  None the less the result was a disappointment.  We spoke afterwards and she pointed out that there was an on-going free style session on the other sheet and knowing how long it takes me to warm up, and since I had thirty minutes before my group's time, that I should take advantage of the opportunity.  "Just keep an eye on the clock." was her parting remark.  I paid up, laced up,  got on the ice and warmed up my two dances--the Dutch Waltz which I'd been scored "retry" back in the spring and the Rhythm Blues, the last dance in the preliminary group.  It seemed I'd no more that settled in to practicing when I heard someone yelling my name.  "Hurry up!  They're ahead of schedule--we're on!"  Yes, Ma'am.  Where did twenty minutes go?

We clomped across the lobby in our skates to the other sheet and just caught the last couple minutes of my group's official warm up.  With just enough time to plow through the two dances, I felt fairly good, particularly so with the trickier RB.  This was almost my undoing.  When we were called out for the test I suddenly felt kinda jittery.  We skated the two dances with lots of awkward scratching and clumsiness on my part.   I came off the ice knowing that my practice dances were much better that what I'd just skated in front of the judge. I silently cursed and wished that I could somehow swap them.

And yes, that's judge singular.  This test session had just one judge rather than the three judge panel that was in place when I tested back in the spring at Piney Orchard.  Apparently if the judge is highly accredited, only one is required.  I don't completely understand that, but that's how Coach A. explained it.  Getting back to today's test, after leaving the ice I figured if I passed the DW I'd be lucky.  I was mentally preparing myself for "retry" scores for both dances.  We clomped our way back to the lobby and took off our skates while waiting for the runner to bring the results from the judge to the registrar's table.  In due time they came. Coach A. went over and picked them them up and then showed them to me:

Technical comments: "unison is nice, occasional flat edges, good extension and posture" Timing/Expression comments: "nice expression."  Somehow I not only passed the Dutch Waltz, but...

against all odds I somehow managed to pass the Rhythm Blues as well.  Technical comments: "nice x-behinds, decent edges, got ahead at the start but got into sync." Timing/Expression: "nicely expressed."

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  The Brits have a word to describe this sort of amazement:  Gobsmacked.  I was totally gobsmacked. I was convinced that I'd blown the test and skated my best effort during warm up.  But the judge saw things differently.  So after a long, slow slog I'm finally finished with prelim dances and can now contemplate ones at the pre-bronze level.  Pre-bronze--I guess that officially makes me a stone-age dancer.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Carlo Fassi: my latest coach (sort of...)

Ah, another skating book with a 1980 publication date.  How can I resist?  1980 must have been a magical year.  This time the book in question is Figure Skating with Carlo Fassi.

Fassi was a well know coach as can be gleaned from the list of high level skaters listed on the cover.  He was however, not without controversy:
One of the things that attracted me to this book is its extensive coverage of compulsory figures.

Almost 50 pages devoted to compulsory figures!

Having said that, Carlo himself states that while figures were important in terms of teaching skaters about precise edges,  free skating was more important than figures in terms of what the public wanted to watch.  It's a rare book, ancient or modern, that sticks its neck out far enough to describe the mechanics of double and triple jumps.  That sounds like a law suit waiting to happen...
While your old diarist will never do double or triple jumps he is intrigued by the simpler of the Compulsory Figures.
The Forward outside and inside 8s are the first and easiest of the figures described.
Can one teach one's self from a book?  Worth a try:

 This is a pitiful excuse for a Forward Outside 8, but somehow I got around.  No one will confuse these videos with those of Kseniya and Oleg!

This attempt at the Forward Inside 8 is worse. I'm way off center for the repeats and the missized circles are a joke.  If anything I think the two kids pushing the EZ-skater thingies actually helped by forcing me to go back to the center of my figure more consistently towards the end!  Perhaps I should look into hiring some young people to harass me during practice.