Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Post competition rehash.

Although Sunday was the day in which I inaugurated my competition "career", I'll back up a little bit into the tail end of the preceding week.  On Thursday afternoon I had an appointment with Mike C. down at Skater's Paradise to sharpen my blades.  With over 60 hours since the last sharpening I could feel them going sideways every now and then.  I debated having them sharpened right before the competition but I figured I'd be able to skate on them for a couple hours during the late Friday afternoon public at Bowie.  So off to Waldorf I went.  Mike did a great job and just to make sure my blades weren't squirrely or grabby he put me on the ice for 5 minutes or so before I left.  The blades felt fine.

The next morning as I prepared to go to work, my old Volvo wagon coughed up an error message on the dash board indicating that  I had a transmission issue that needed immediate attention.  I dropped the wagon off at the  garage, and drove my wife to her employment in her car.  Late in the day (too late for Bowie's last public) the garage called to say my wagon was ready for pick up.  The problem was not the transmission but rather a sensor which communicates the engine speed to the main in-car computer which in turn tells the transmission which gear it needs to be in.  I looked on-line and Piney Orchard Ice Rink had a late (8-10 pm) public.  I decided to go put a couple hours on the newly sharpened blades.

I arrived at Piney just as the preceding Stick and Puck session was winding down.  The Zamboni came out and the young lady at the helm drove over the sheet like she was chasing an ambulance (more likely she was late for the pub).  The resulting ice surface was something akin to Belgian pavé.

A stretch of an old Napoleonic road covered with pavé, or as we would say "cobble stones".  This is used annually during the Paris-Roubaix cycling race (aka: "the hell of the north").  A bit rough to say the least.  The brown stuff is slippery, liquefied cow dung.  Yes, it does rain a lot in rural Belgium.  I've been told the only way to ride pavé on a bicycle is to take it flat out and never ever touch the brakes...
 With time running out I decided if I could skate on Piney Orchard's "pavé" I could skate on anything.  Besides, I'd already paid for my ice pass and I'm a sticker for getting value for money spent.  So onto the lumpy surface I went.

Staying sunny side up over the lumps and bumps while practicing the Canasta Tango's swooping swing rolls and progressives was a challenge but since I didn't crash and burn I decided it was valuable practice time.  My blades would not be an issue on Sunday.

Saturday was burnt up doing honey-do's--although after sunset I did manage to go over to the rink and watch a group of skater friends do a production number based on a medley of tunes from the  Village People.  Big fun.

Sunday dawned and with my group's warm time set for 8:09 am I hauled my butt out of bed and made my way over to the rink about 7 am.  As I drove I idly wondered if my brain and feet were on speaking terms at this unreasonable hour. I checked in and told the person behind the counter that my coach had already provided my music, received my check in goodies and went back to the locker room marked "boys" to put on my skates and stow my bag and street shoes.  I noticed that there was glitter all over the padded floor of the rink, lobby, etc. and later discovered that the glitter trail extended into the men's room(!)  One of the items I received at check-in was a Team ISI T-shirt:

Nice!  A keeper.  Love the logo.

This T-shirt was also included.
The White shirt has this on the back.  Since Bowie's ISI Team was hosting the district competitions, a bit of  mandatory volunteerism was unsurprisingly dialed in.  After skating my event I spent the bulk of the afternoon checking in other skaters---and their music.

Since solo ice dance events started at the beginning of the second day, we were bang on time and the level two dancers did their warm up and skated their Dutch Waltz in a flash.  Next up was level 3 which had two groups: females aged 15-16 and mixed adults of undetermined age.  One thing I'll comment upon is that four minutes makes for a  v. skimpy "warm up" for an old gizzer.  That's just my opinion of course.  Yes, yes, if every old gizzer got 20 or 30 minutes to warm up the competition would drag on for weeks...

The second thing, which I will kvetch a bit more loudly about, is that when I lined up at center ice to skate, the girl in the sound booth stuck in a disc and cranked up the wrong music!  Talk about tough love from your home rink.  I had practiced to Hernando's Hideaway and although the music oozing out of the rink's sound system was Canasta Tango appropriate, it wasn't what I was banking on given my rather limited sense of musicality!  Deciding to make the best of things, I managed to launch into the dance on the wrong beat and attempted to skate the pattern as best as I could while mentally digesting the new music.  It didn't go well.  I was so busy thinking about the bloody music that I got lost in the dance and did an extra pattern! About half way through I briefly thought "ya know, maybe you should just bag the Canasta Tango and launch into an improv skating thing-- ya might get scored higher".  Seemed like a fair assessment at the time since I'd never heard the music before.  To be honest, I would probably have come in second no matter what, but I would have felt a whole lot better if I'd have skated my best rather than whatever I did do out there.

All said, the better skater prevailed.  I gave my competitor a congratulatory hug, collected my medal (undeserved from my perspective) and got a  debrief from my coach.  She was equally mystified about the music switch but had no explanation.  She told me it didn't look as bad as I thought.  Ah, coach A.--a great coach.  One should always remember that great coaches, like great story tellers, also tend to be excellent liars.

I told her that as we ramp up for USFSA testing later this summer that she should pull out, at random, all of the likely music the judges might throw my way.  The next time I encounter a CD player in an ice rink I plan to be prepared.  So, an interesting if somewhat frustrating day out, but with an important lesson learned--if the wrong music gets queued up I need to slam on the brakes and say something or else be prepared to unflinchingly deliver the goods.

My 2nd place medal.  At least I wasn't beaten by the book!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book? I don't need no stinkin' book.

Real Carmens getting their game faces on.
Dear constant reader:  When I first mentioned that I'd been sucked into the competition vortex, I pointed out that as an adult male skating under ISI rules, I might (probably would) have to compete against the book.  The rink finally posted the competition schedule today and lo and behold I've got a real live human bean to compete against!  Having said that I'll more than likely still come in second but if so, I'll have been beaten by a better skater rather than by a lousy book.  When I first asked Madam Skating Director if she was going to combine adults doing solo ice dances she said she wasn't sure she could combine genders within the same "technical group".  She needed to consult the ice dance gurus within her posse comitatus.  I quizzed my coach about this topic during our last lesson and her take was that USFS competitions do this all the time, even factoring in that with higher level dances the men's and ladies' steps are quite different.  Since the schedule indicates that I'm skating against a lady I guess the consulting oracles quacked the same tune for Madame SD.

My event takes place bright and early on Sunday morning April the 17th; warm up time is at an uncivilized 8:09 am for the two Solo Dance-3 groups (first group on ice is Females 17-23 years old; my group is Mixed Adult).  We skate at 8:17 with my competitor skating first.

Sizing up my competition: She's a better skater than I am (she's passed her preliminary dances with USFS) and she's a member of the adult synchro team.  Plus, she's competed before.  I assume she and I are both dancing the Canasta Tango, although technically she could do the Rhythm Blues instead--we shall see!  Either way it'll be fabulous darh-ling, the highlight of the competition weekend:  The Battle of the Carmens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The proof is in the Badging

Earlier I mentioned that in order to Dance the Canasta Tango, instead of the dreaded Dutch Waltz during my up-coming competition début, I had to pass ISI's Ice Dance level 3 by the 15th of March.  I did so and yesterday Madame Skating Director fished around in her cigar box full of various awards and pulled out my badge:

Thar t'is.  Hopefully this isn't my high water mark.  We shall see what the future brings after the competition.  This ice dancing lark gets progressively trickier after these dances and they're already tricky enough for this old dog.  Question:  Why does the man have two differently colored legs???  I plan on wearing a  pair of plain ol' black slacks and probably a black turtle neck shirt.  Am I missing something?  Keep it real.  We're talking two patterns of a relatively short dance.  Probably 45 seconds (tops) on the ice.  From the bleachers I'll probably look like an ant standing on a white frosted pop-tart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A neat way to have your own music on-ice

The only real beef I have with the younger generation is that I'm no longer a part of it.  Young people constantly teach me new things.  Along with teaching me pattern dances Coach A. has also taught me a great way to have ice dance music which both partners can hear without the complication of earphones or wires:  a wearable Bluetooth wireless speaker.  You're probably thinking " well, duh" as you read that last sentence.

Yes, I'll admit that I'm kinda a Neanderthal when it comes to new technology but I'm a fast adopter once I'm introduced to a gizmo that has obvious utility.  When I first started ice dancing the options were to either have the music played over the rink's sound system, a thing only done at our rink for competing skaters and only done one time per skater during a given Free-Style session--or alternatively, your coach could chase you around the rink with an MP-3 player in her hand or a boom box on her shoulder(!)--stylish coaches could do that with one hand, freeing up the other for handling the requisite over-priced cup of coffee.  A little later on, one could some how wear a smart phone around one's neck with the sound high enough so that both you and your partner could hear the music. I figured with my history of taking big swan dives on the ice that I'd be buying a new smart phone on a weekly basis.  Lastly, I've heard of people skating partnered with each combatant sharing one half of a pair of earbuds connected by wire to either an iPod or a smart phone.  I hope to never see that--sounds like a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Now, most wearable Bluetooth speakers that I've seen up until Coach A. showed me one her brother gave her for Christmas didn't look all that practical.  They dangled by carabiner clips or the like.  Her little speaker is a Mifa F20.  It is compacted and comes with a Velcro strap (however some Mifa speakers don't so it pays to check) that fits easily and snugly around one's arm.

The MiFA F20 Bluetooth Speaker
This little guy is available from a number of on-line marketers and comes in a variety of colors.  Just google it.  The volume is adjustable via push buttons on the speaker so once the smart phone is paired with the speaker the vulnerable phone can be placed in a safe pocket.  The range (i.e. distance of separation between the phone and the speaker) is at least the length of an ice rink.  Coach A. can be at the opposite end of the rink (with the phone) while I'm solo dancing (with the speaker on my arm) without loss of signal/music.  When partnered we both can hear the music.  The MiFA F20 weighs about 5 oz and costs less than $40.00 (shop around for the best price).  It has the typical USB port for recharging and I think (but don't quote me) that it may have a provision to accept a small SIM card.  If that is correct one could conceivably load the required music on the card and then skip the smart phone part of the story.

Anyway, if you're looking for an on-ice music solution, even if the SIM card thing is a misunderstanding on my part, the pairing of your smart phone with this little speaker just might be the answer you're looking for.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Was Kafka's dog an ice dancer?

L to R:  Hansi Szokoll, Dog (name unknown), Franz Kafka

Dear constant reader:  As you may recall, I'm going to compete for the first time in about a month.  Yesterday my idle curiosity led me to the ISI's web site for a look at the rules governing competitions.  Now most competitions are straight forward: there's a winner followed by individuals or teams placing 2nd, 3rd, etc. all based on a logical points system of some sort and it's pretty much cut and dried.

In ISI's figure skating competitions this assumes that there are more than one individual in a given competition group.  That is almost always the case if the discussion is limited to kid skaters.  With kid skaters the scoring problem can be too many competitors in a group.  ISI takes the goldilocks approach of not too many, not too few, just right and discourages more than five or so per group.  Groups are based on age, gender, skill level, type of competition etc.  If, for example there are more than five teams or individuals in a group and there's no good way to pare that number down, the first five will be graded and the remaining teams/individuals will be scored as "tied" for 6th place.  No kid wants to come in 12th or 38th no matter how much they deserve it...

But what about the case of a 69 year old male, doing a solo ice dance?  What are the odds of that guy having another warm bodied skater to actually compete against?  Can you say "snow ball's chance in Hell"?  Does that guy breeze to a gold medal no matter how poorly he skates?  No, no, no, Mon'Ami.  ISI rules state that in the case where there's only one contestant, the skater skates against "The Book".  The Book?  Yes, The Book.  ISI has developed a calculus grading each possible type of competition, toting up a score for all the required elements, edges, turns, the duration of the program, etc. within a particular competition, let's say Free Style-1 for example,  and the best possible score (perfection) is 100%.  In order to be declared a winner, the skater competing as the sole entrant in a group must score at least 80%.

Although it sounds a bit bizarre, there's the real possibility that I could be the only entrant in my group but could still manage to come in second!  A score of 79.9% will do it.  Thankfully ISI revised their scoring rules in 2010 or else there would have been the possibility of me coming in 3rd if I stink up the house and my skating is scored at 60%.  So, there will be no "give me" at this competition! If Franz Kafka had written a short story about figure skating I'm sure he'd have touched on this very subject.

This little corner of scoring Hell is generally reserved for adult skaters.  Kid skaters are pretty much shielded from skating against The Book due to their sheer numbers.  My course of action is clear cut: I either have to get my Canasta Tango up to the 80% level or start encouraging adult male skaters (the ones who skate worse than I do) to enter the District IV competition.  Where's the Devil when I have a soul to sell?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Black Bird singing in the dead of night.

Yesterday, and I don't know how, a black bird (my generic term for this creature--I'm not a "birder" or even a "bird watcher") somehow got inside our house and flew upstairs to our bedroom.  We vainly attempted to coax Mr. Bird out via any number of opened windows but our terrified visitor instead flew into my bedroom closet which is stuffed to the gunnels with my treasured junque.  After carefully removing lots of boxes (boy were they dusty!) we finally managed to trap our avian friend (unharmed) in a waste paper basket.  I then succeeded in taking this outdoors and released our birdy back to where he belongs.  What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with a skating blot?  The answer, my friends, while not blown on the wind, is contained inside one of those dusty boxes brought to the light of day from the depths of my "archive".

Yep, 1976.  Some of the skaters at my home rink weren't even born then!  I was still 29 on the 8th of May so you can trust me--this really is my card.  I wonder what is the meaning "IST" Gamma?  First? Gamma?  Is that like being First Trumpet?  Perhaps it distinguishes this early gamma success from my more recent re-passing of that milestone a couple years ago.  Perhaps now I'm merely 2nd gamma.  I may never know.  I wonder if the requirements for gamma have changed over the years?
 When I earned this card I was less than a year out of the service (I was discharged in July of '75) and back studying at the University of Delaware.  Ice skating at UDEL was not particularly well known in those pre-Johnny Weir/Kimmie Meissner days.  The Skating Club of Wilmington had yet to join forces with the University's skating club but, even in those prehistoric days, figure skating was listed as one of a handful of "activities" which students could sign up for as part of the student activity fee--a fee which we all had to pay.  Fresh out of the service and living on the slim combination of a graduate stipend and VA benefits, I was bound and determined to get something back for the fee collected so figure skating it was.  That ancient history can be revisited here  

This was our textbook.  Still useful reading.

It amazes me that my old gamma card has survived several moves of house.  It shows just how infrequently I revisit the contents of the particular box it was in.  I had completely forgotten it.  On a whim I sent the pix of my old card to ISI and asked them if their records go back this far.  ISI itself was still a "teenager" in 1976 (founded in 1959). If their records are intact I wonder if they have a record of me passing Delta.  Didn't find that card.  I do remember working on FS-1 elements before leaving Delaware.

Opening an old box introduces so many questions.  I still don't know how that bird got into the house.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Alea iacta est (the die is cast)

Unlike Suetonius, in his famous comment to Julius Caesar in 49 BC, I don't plan to cross the Rubicon in defiance of the Roman Senate.  But in a similar sense, my fate is now defined.  I will compete at ISI district IV's spring competition.  There's no turning back.  I've paid my $55.00 for (maybe) 45 seconds of skating time in front of my adoring public--oh, how they love me (big news for them).  What was I thinking?

For the sake of my two dear constant readers I should back up just a tad and provide the back story from this afternoon's lesson with my long suffering Coach A.

As noted in a previous post Coach A., as befits a good coach, was busy imploring her students (which includes moi) to consider the upcoming spring comp.  Up until now I have resisted the notion of competition.  Testing is one thing but competition seemed beastly and undignified for a person of my considerable gravitas.  However this cunning woman had a card up her sleeve:  She said "I know you want to dance the Canasta Tango rather than the Dutch Waltz but in order to do that you must pass ISI Dance 3 no later than today."  I've been trying to pass Dance  3--like forever.  As an organization, ISI is a stickler in that skaters must have passed the level which contains a given skill prior to competing at a level containing that skill.  USFSA, in contrast, allows skaters to "punch above their weight" so to speak.  But this is an ISI competition and the CT is a Dance 3 level skill.  I had previously  passed Dance level 2.

Dance 3, in addition to the CT also demands that students pass the Rhythm Blues--an evil dance which posses a series of  tricky tuck behind steps in the end pattern.  Many times has your diarist crashed and burnt while attempting "blues expression" in this particular dance.  I was in a grim mood.

But Coach A. was insistent.  And so we gave it a go.  And much to my surprise I pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.  We somehow managed to skate the RB cleanly twice and with that I passed!  With that hurtle out of the way we shifted gears and spent the rest of our time cleaning up my CT skills.  No, I can't show you the Dance 3 badge today but "soon come, Mon, soon come" as they say down in the islands.

I now have roughly a month to make the CT competition worthy.  Coach A. threw me one last curve:  she prefers Hernando's Hideaway over Besame Mucho.  The things I suffer for my art.