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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The trouble with refinements

Refinements.  Just when I think I've got things under control with the two dances I'm scheduled to test this Friday Coach A. introduces yet another small refinement.  The trouble with late in the day refinements is that in the process of trying to incorporate them I inevitably lose control of the larger picture.  Free leg extension, toe point, holding edges for the required number of beats, the list goes on.  Yesterday we had our last lesson prior to the test.  Midway through, she told me to concentrate on timing rather than sweat all the small stuff.  I think that's wise since I won't get another shot at ice time before Friday.  The evening free-style session we use for my lesson was crowded and a bit frantic last night.  Lots of skaters were prepping either for tests or up-coming competitions.  One girl in particular seemed to have impeccable timing: she managed to blindly cross our path several times while we were partnered.  She always had that Bambi in the headlights look in her eyes, as if she was thinking "where in the world did you suddenly come from?"  No injury/no foul but I don't think we got in more than a couple of complete patterns of either dance.

It turns out that I'm not the only one with a dog in this Friday's fight.  Coach A. is testing the Midnight Blues, an International test level dance.  She indicated that she and her coach (yes, my coach has a coach--how great is that?!) had a good run through, a not so good run through and then a so-so one the last time they practiced.  She's passed four other International dances and her goal is to pass five of the ten currently on the list. She doing the ice dance equivalent of a PhD dissertation while I'm trying to move out of pre-school!   Fingers crossed for both of us. 

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!