Friday, April 21, 2017

A hot & steamy day at the rink

Today featured big T-storms, more so in the afternoon as the temps shot up to the 80s and made the air unstable.  But it was Friday and I decided to burn a couple hours of leave and go skate the late afternoon public.  The clock is ticking.  Our rink closes for two months at the end of April.  Gotta skate while there's ice...

When I walked into the lobby it seemed a little warmer than usual.  Then I looked out at the rink.

I could barely see the stick and puck guys through the condensation on the dasher board plexi and fog swirling around their legs.

57 degrees and 91 %.  Any higher humidity and I would've needed foul weather gear and an umbrella.

The rink manager said that the condenser was down and the system was so old that the company was having to have the required part made.  They should be able to supply it by Tuesday--ironically it will probably get installed just in time for the rink's annual shut down.  Over the weekend the outside temps are supposed to bounce back to those more normal for spring in this neck of the woods, so hopefully that will take some of the stress off the system.  She went on to say that they did have little stalagmites on the ice this morning from the drips coming down from the rafters and hockey banners.  Glad the Zamboni was able to shave those down.

I'd bought my ice pass so there was nothing to do but get on with it.  The ice was predictably slow--especially noticeable if you were doing spins, but very forgiving for jump landings--yes, yes, Madame skating director, no jumps above Free Style 3 during a public!

I caught a toe pick while practicing dance tuck behinds and landed flat on my butt.  Didn't hurt a bit.  This leads me to Adult skater observation Nr 1;  How to tell if you're old:

If you fall in front of a bunch of people and they laugh and make derisive comments, then you're still young.  If they get panicky looks on their faces and start rapidly skating towards you, then you're old.

Could've been worse.  At least I didn't flop down in a puddle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From the plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose dept.

Not being content to having me methodically master one dance before moving on to the next, Coach A. currently has me working on bits and pieces of all three pre-bronze pattern dances.  While this does eliminate boredom, it tends to increase my already messy attempts at mental processing.  Ever catch yourself doing the "Swingo" rather than either the Swing Dance or the Fiesta Tango?  Yes, it can be done--especially if you're a member of the short attention span brigade like a certain old diarist...

Oh, and I do have a bit of bad news for those in the audience who are struggling with the RB's tuck behind steps:  they don't go away.  Two out of three pre-bronze dances (Cha Cha and the Fiesta Tango) have cross-in front steps, in addition to cross-behinds.  At least the cross-in front step is optional in  the Cha Cha.  The Swing dance has a potentially tricky (but optional) slide chasse a couple steps before of the end/repeat of the dance.  Why do the choreographers of these dances always seem to add a "zinger" right at the end?  If they're doing this for my benefit, they can knock it off.

The Fiesta Tango and the Swing Dance introduce left forward open Mohawks and for the first time, a transition from forward to backward skating steps--and this is exactly where things remain the same for me:  my left forward inside Mohawk is not now and has never been a thing of beauty.  After watching me demo the Mohawk in both directions Coach A. opined that it was a shame the dances don't call for a right Mohawk--if they did we'd be in great shape.  Sadly they don't and so your old diarist must come to grips with not only an unreliable Mohawk turn in the unfavorable direction but weak back skating skills (more pronounced on the left side) as well.  My difficultly with the CC forward inside Mohawk is  controlling the exit edge.  We'll not even talk about the complications of somehow sliding from the reverse Kilian to the "regular" Kilian dance hold position during that Mohawk.  For those looking at the pattern this all happens at the top of the Fiesta Tango's dance card. 

Beyond that, I'm not sure what my problems are with back swing rolls and back inside chasses. Everything these days seems to be a work in progress.

In an attempt to help me (or at least stifle my whining), my skate technician set the toe of my left skate blade well in from the center when I bought new boots and blades almost three years ago.  This immediately helped me skate a straight line going forward on a flat rather than to veer off on one edge or another.  But I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to revisit the geometry of that left blade and move the toe of the blade back out to a more neutral position.  If we do that in small stages it may make counter-clockwise FI Mohawks better and may improve my left FO 3-turns as well.  Another idea to fix the CC Mohawk might be to shim the left blade on one side to introduce a little "negative camber" into the mix--potentially making it easier to get on and then control the required exit edge for that Mohawk, which of course happens on the left blade.  All this talk about toe in and toe out, camber and castor adjustments, etc. makes me feel like an old car that's been driven hard down one too many dirt roads.

Now that I'm doing more backwards skating I'm noticing that it's easier for me to control right back swing rolls and left back inside chasses than their opposite side/direction counterparts.  One way or another, I need to address my directional weaknesses.  In ice dancing, as in NASCAR, one needs to put the pedal down hard and (mostly) turn left...



Friday, April 7, 2017

Ice Dance Music

Ice Dance Music.  Dare I touch on this subject?  For many it's like tossing a box full of shotgun shells into a campfire--no matter how quickly you evacuate the area there's bound to be some casualties.   Some say (and you know who you are) that ice dance music is so bad that it "makes your ears bleed".

At the start of a new group of dances, Coach A. presents me with a disk with music for each of the three dances at that level.  Eighteen tunes, six for each.  She doesn't indicate the song titles which I find challenging if not a little annoying. She did this same thing to me when she supplied Preliminary Dance music.  I was able to ID some but not all of those tunes.  Around that same time my wife had a dinner party for her mother and several of her mother's friends.  I slipped the disk into my computer and asked these ladies to see if they could "name that tune".  They asked "what's in it for us?"  After lubricating their collective memory with an extra bottle of wine, they confirmed my suspicion, and supplied verifiably correct titles (who says youtube doesn't have it's uses) for each and every song on that disk.   Yeah, it cost me, but it was so worth it.

Now, I could delve into a discussion about ice dance music and it's target demographic but (a). I think that discussion would run down a very obvious and ultimately unprofitable path, and (b) it's already been whined about numerous times before and probably with better effect.

So, last week I got the Pre-Bronze dance music.  Same deal. We met in a quiet ice rink lobby. She wordlessly slid a disk across the table.  It was cryptically numbered "Track 1" through "Track 18".  Handwriting on the disk indicated that the first six tracks were Swing Dance tunes, the next six were for the Cha Cha and the remaining six were for the Fiesta Tango.  I returned her steely glance as I quietly slipped the disk into my coat pocket.  As I got up to leave, I turned around to ask her one more question about the disk.  The lobby was empty.

Once back at my computer I got to work, carefully listening to the various tracks, and was able to ID some of the more obvious:  Track 1 turned out to be "Red Sails in the Sunset".  I had no clue about Tracks 2 through 4.  Track 5 is "Once in Love with Amy",  Track 6 is "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime".  Moving on to the Cha Cha: no clue about Track 7; Track 8 is "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps".  I awarded myself a +1 GOE for also correctly IDing the vocalist (Doris Day).  Moving on, I had no clue about Tracks 8, 9, or 10.  Track 11 is a nice instrumental version of "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White".  Listening to that song I could envision timing the sweeping wide step of the Cha Cha to drawn out  phrase of the trumpet.  Track 12, in what I assume is a gesture to the "youth" of ice dance, aka 30 somethings, is "I need to Know" by Mark Anthony.  Moving on to the Tango selections I had more luck.  Track 13 is the "Jealousy Tango" (Coach A. refers to it as "Celos Amigo" but I'm going with my title).  Track 14 is "A Media Luz", Track 15 is "Cumparsita", Track 16 is "Adios Muchachos".  The remaining two tracks were unknown to me.  Maybe I should have played the disk backwards...

Night after night I wracked my brain trying to break the code of the remaining mystery tracks.  I had nothing. But then she took pity on me--right before last night's lesson Coach A sent a tightly worded email revealing all the song titles.

First, the mystery Swing Dance tunes.  Track 2 turned out to be "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" but the tune has been so ruthlessly massaged to fit the required beats per minute of the Swing Dance that no one this side of an ice dance judge would ever recognize it--not even my M-in-Law's wine loving pals would have cracked that nut.  Track 3 is simply entitled "Schottische".  The Schottische is a specific type of Nordic folk dance which my wife, originally from Sweden, would be familiar.  I'll have to see if she recognizes it, and if so what title she gives it.  Track 4 turned out to be "The Object of My Affection".  The mixture of vibraphone and pan pipe makes this tune so irresistibly cheesy that of the six Swing Dance tunes on the disk it's my current favorite!  Kseniya and Oleg use this same tune on their Swing Dance video so it's no doubt a good thing that I kinda like it--it's probably inescapable.

On to the Cha Cha.  Track 7 is "Sweet and Gentle"; Track 9 is "Enjoy Yourself"--again the tune has been tweaked beyond reasonable identity so that it fits the needs of the dance.  Track 10 is "Bodeguero" which has a pleasant Latin beat.

Finally, the two Tangos which I failed to ID are Track 17's generic "Tango Time" and Track 18 "Yira Yira".  They'll probably grow on me with enough repetition.

Latin dances such as the Cha Cha and Tango are pretty much tethered to specific music--and for the most part that music is good and there's enough variation so that the music doesn't need to be completely disemboweled to work with the ice dance in question .  As for the Swing Dance you'd think by now someone would have come up with some good alternatives to remixed tweaks of ballads from the 1950s.  Perhaps someone has.  Coach A. mentioned that US Figure Skating has a list of dances which serve as standards for solo competition.  I'll have to check these out to see if there are any Swing Dance winners.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a clip featuring K & O skating the Swing Dance to "The Object of My Affection". (Fritz, Fritz--turn off der bubble machine vhile I dance mit die Champagne Lady.)











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: http://mid-atlanticmusings.blogspot.com/2017/03/2017-classic-moth-boat-mid-winter-photo.html

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.