Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hey Nonny Nonny and a Hot Ch@-Ch@!

Coach A. introduced me to the Cha-Cha the other day.  I can't decide whether she's supremely confident in my ability to pass the WD and the RB or she's straight out of her mind with boredom having to plough the same furrow week after blessed week with a creaky old white haired man.  Either way we're entering Terra Incognito.
Image result for cha cha ice dance pattern
The Cha Cha.  What does "BK" (step 6) mean?

So, I'm at that phase of a new dance where just attempting to remember the steps and the pattern are trouble enough.  Some day I hope to get to the rarefied stage where I can look at a new dance pattern and think to myself "Ah yes, the so-and-so element which I diligently mastered in the previous dance has provided me with the firm foundation to tackle this new bit" rather than "Good God, I'm back at square one".  But enough of that.  Today diaristfamily decided to go to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis for a "therapeutic walk" after a hectic work week.  The sun was shining, the temperature was in the upper 60s, and there was a pleasant breeze--just enough to offset the heat of the sun without making one chilly--perfect for walking and sunbathing.

We followed the trail through the woods down to the South River.
Looking across to the near shore.

I was standing next to this tree when I took the two previous photos.  Judging from the erosion under the tree's roots, perhaps not one of my smarter ideas!
I was surprised to see only a few boats out on what was a beautiful day.  Not many days like this are left in this sailing season.
Diaristwoman and diaristdaughter decided to grab a bench in the sun with a view.

It was deliciously lazy to sit in the sun, watching and listening to the water lapping against the bulkhead. 

We walked back to the main park building.  There was an outdoor art show with vendor tents.

Mostly hand made jewelry, watercolors and the like were on offer.

However, this is my main interest in Quiet Waters park.

The Zamboni entrance.  It's still a bit warm for ice dancing.  Give it another six weeks.  Diaristdaughter and I will return!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yep, I'm still alive (and skating!)

I haven't posted in a while.  Mary, over at the Fit and Fed blog, got so bored she started reading the posts on my sailing blog spot--how bad is that?  Babbette over at the Ice Doesn't Care wondered if I was still skating.  Now this is better than when Jaston Williams, in the role of church lady Vera Carp, gives a long absent parishioner a startled glance and blurts out "I was told you were dead!"  "Now I don't know who told me that but I'm sooo glad they're wrong!"

 The short answer is yes I'm still kickin'--but with my dodgy history of busted arms and cracked heads the question is justified--and thanks for asking!

The longer answer is that I've been in the trenches all summer.  You know the drill:  take a coached lesson, go practice, repeat.  Glacial progress with nothing particularly juicy and delicious to blog about.  My goal is to finally test the two remaining pre-bronze dances before year's end, but those judges are sooo picky.

Coach A. tells me, week after week, to bend my knees more, and to pay attention to extension of the free leg.  Who hasn't heard that a few million times?  Aside:  Coach A. is a lovely young woman, about the age of my daughter.  I give her full marks for working overtime to make the same comments such as "bend your knees and ankles more" seem like new revelations heard for the very first time.  I'm sure internally she's thinking "for the love of God, man, just bend your knees."  Or, "Please, just once show me that your joints are actually capable of articulation ."

So this past Friday at the late afternoon public session I worked on just those two items.  I won't bore you with my attempts to remember to extend my free leg and point the toe of the boot (esp, the left leg), but I will weigh in on the subject of knee/ankle bend.

Without mirrors it's hard to see whether or not you're actually bending your knees and ankles while keeping your back straight.  The plexi above the boards can reveal only so much as you sneak a peek.  So, I decided to bend grotesquely, as in more than usual, while doing swing rolls and progressives.  Down, down, down.  Finally I could feel my ankles against the tongues of the boots.  The first thing I noticed was that progressives became smoother.  After a few more laps I realized that if I got down deep enough in my knees and ankles to feel the tongue of my boots this posture forced me back on my blades, away from the toe picks.

No doubt most of you reading that last sentence are thinking "well Dumbo, what took so long?"

Sometimes the big Ah-Ha moments in skating as well as life come from self experimentation.  But before I get too comfortable with this nugget of serendipity I'll run it by Coach A.  She'll probably nod in agreement but then tell me that I additionally need to keep my back straight(er) or some such.  Or worse, she'll tell me while the basic concept is OK I'll need to unlearn it so that I can do it in a more contorted but correct fashion.  Axel Paulsen may have gotten away with teaching himself to jump on speed skates in the 1870s but in this day and age, self taught "keepers", at least in my experience, are few and far between.

Oh, one other thing she's been working on with me is that groups of moves which fall under the category of "presentation moves".  You know, those fancy little flourishes at the beginnings and ends of dances.  She tells me that just because the music ends abruptly I shouldn't quit the dance abruptly.  Instead she wants us to glide, hand in hand on one foot towards the judges.   Additionally, I'm supposed to smile at the judges.  "No, that's not a smile, that's a grimance." All this grooming and good manners stuff reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon which featured an after hours janitor answering a telephone with the punchline "Mrs. Farthingale's Charm School--what the hell you want?"

Anyway, that's what I've been doing on my summer vacation.  To rehash, goals for the remainder of the year include getting the Dutch Waltz and the Rhythm Blues successfully in my rear view mirror.  Since my coach is starting to nit pick over relatively small items like presentation moves, these goals might actually happen!

I'll leave you with this short youtube clip which introduces the topic of posture, knee bend, etc.  One thing that I found interesting in this clip is a dance called the Novice Foxtrot (about at the 3 min mark of the video).  Although the progressives are being done on a  4 beat count they seem short changed a couple beats by the immediacy of the following swing roll.  I've tried this and while it's a "feel good" kinda thing, it doesn't directly feed into any of the dances I'm working on.  If nothing else you can enjoy (or not) the plumy Brit accent of the moderator!  And mind that posture!


Friday, July 29, 2016

Say, who's skates are these?

Like many if not most skaters, I find that many times I need to retie my laces after the first twenty or thirty minutes of a session.  Usually it starts off as the sensation of looseness in one or sometimes both boots.  I ignore it as long as I can but eventually the slop  between my foot and the boot gets to the point of being more than annoying--it can get downright hazardous.  At that point I limp towards the entrance/exit door and plop down on a bench and look at the digital hockey clock that most rinks have which shows the time of day when not used for an actual game.  I dislike coming off ice just to futz with my laces-- ice time is money!

What happens next is that I untie the offending boot's lace and release it from the hooks.  At the top of the eyelets I always tied a surgeon's knot (fancy name for a simple over hand knot with one extra cross) before going over the hooks.  When retying I generally stop at the eyelets, kick my heal into the boot and yank on the laces to snug up that surgeon's knot.  Then I carefully rehook the ankle part of the boot and tie the lace with a double bow knot.  It's at this point that I look back at that hockey clock to see how much time I've lost.  I then have a mental argument with myself as to whether or not retie the remaining boot because I know from past experience that I'll wish that I had just as soon as I go back out, even if the second boot feels fine while I'm parked with my butt on the bench.  By the time I'm done I've generally lost ten minutes or so.  But the fun's not over--not yet.

Upon retaking the ice my boots and blades feel extremely spooky and "fast".  Too fast for comfort is the sensation that the blade telegraphs to my brain.  That and the sensation that I can no longer confidently commit to a deep edge in the manner in which I was doing without much thought prior to coming off and tightening those laces.  And so I wind up skating cautiously for ten to fifteen minutes (more wasted ice time) until I somehow reacquaint my proprioception with the new environment created by retying my boots.

I ask myself why does this happen and what can I do about it?  The why part seems fairly obvious:  retying the boot(s) shifts my feet ever so slightly within the now fully warmed up interior of the boots.  Most skates know that it only takes a millimeter or two of movement along the blade to give one a very different feel when skating.

Last Tuesday I skated the early evening public session (two hours long) which is part of the rink's summer schedule.  I have things set up with my coach so that I take my weekly lesson at the half way point of that public.  So I'm skating along, happy as Larry, with about 15 minutes before my lesson when the dreaded skate boot slop sets in.  I quickly exited the ice and starting unhooking the laces.  I knew that once I re-tightened them I'd have that uneasy thing going on and not enough time to skate myself into feeling at home on the blades before the lesson started.  What to do?  I tried to think through putting on the boots when I first arrive.  The skates always feel fine from the first step onto the ice until I retie them.  What was different?  I decided that instead of merely untying the laces from the hooks that I would loosen the laces all the way, take the boots completely off my feet, wiggle my toes and then put the boots back on just like when I first arrive at the rink.  I figured I had nothing to lose and only about ten minutes get this done.  And so off they went and back on they came.  I cautiously stepped out on the ice and the skates felt--fine!  Was this voodoo or am I on to something?  At present I don't know.  I'll repeat this experiment today (I'm sure I'll need to redo the laces after the usual amount of time) and see if I get a consistently "feel good" sensation.  If so. I may have to formalize my protocol and get it copyrighted or monetized or whatever it is that the smart rich people do!       

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gaining an appreciation for inside forward swing rolls

OK, it's a new season at Bowie, the newly generated ice surface is nice as expected and coach A. and I are dusting off where I was waaaay back at the end of May.  You may recall that I had passed the CT but rec'd a "retry" on the DW.  I was also working on the Rhythm Blues.  During last night's lesson we worked briefly on the RB's lilt step sequence but spent most of our time working on the inside forward swing rolls which follow the lilt steps.

Until last night I didn't have a good understanding of inside swing rolls.  I was basically attempting to do an inside edge version of the outside forward swing rolls familiar to those who've done the DW and CT patterns, i.e. : holding the free leg back and extended for two beats followed by swinging it forward for two beats.  This approach was not only ugly but more troubling, it left me on a flat most of the time rather than the correct inside edge. 

Coach A. broke the element down and pointed out that the inside swing roll consists of four distinct parts, each held for one beat of the four beat roll.  What follows is my recollection of that demo:

On the first beat, one pushes onto the inside edge while extending the free leg back.  On beat two the free leg is bent slightly at the knee and brought to the back of the skating foot (raised above the ice).  On the third beat the free leg is simultaneously straightened and extended forward with the toe pointed in the direction of travel.  This helps pull the inside edge around the semi circle which the swing rolling skater supposedly carves.  In beat four the free leg is slightly bent as it returns to the back of the skating foot, again raised off the ice, in anticipation of the next swing roll in the pattern.

This was a small revelation to me and while it looks quite elegant when coach A. demonstrates, like most things she demos, it will take your old diarist a good bit of practice to make all it work instinctively at dance speed!  I hope that woman doesn't think I'll be testing this in August...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The season of the ice tourist

Dear constant reader, as you know from previous posts, Bowie Ice Arena shuts down each spring during the months of May and June for maintenance and general cleaning.  This is a good thing from the standpoint of having good ice during the ten month season when the rink is up and running but less good for me getting ice time in late spring.  So for the past  few weeks I've been skating at Piney Orchard and when I was at the beach, the Flyers' Skate Zone in Atlantic City.  Last Sunday dawned with rain (for the umpteenth day in a row) and with Piney's ice tied up with hockey all weekend (the Skipjacks) it was time to look a bit further afield.  My choices were Wheaton, Colombia, or Cabin John.  All three rinks require a bit of a drive, with the Cabin John rink the furthest from my house at roughly 30 miles each way.  I've skated at Wheaton which has excellent ice and has an ice dance subculture but Cabin John is also known locally for ice dance, and so it being a dull day I decided to do a bit driving and see something new.

Like the rink at Wheaton, Maryland, Cabin John is owned and operated by the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department.

I kept my iPod shuffle and ear buds in my pocket.  So much for having ice dance music.

My initial impression of the rink was that it was clean and seemed to be well run.  The facility has two sheets of ice, one is Olympic sized and the other in NHL sized.  When I first arrived there was a game in progress on the NHL sheet and a Free Style session on the Olympic sheet.  I saw lots of kids who were obviously advanced skaters head off to interior parts of the building with gym bags and since none of those kids appeared on the ice I assume the rink has off-ice training rooms as well. The ice was reasonable and was resurfaced half way through the session.  The session in question was billed as a "family public" and so it was heaving with kids.  While there were a few adults in the mix it looked more to me like "Sunday afternoon baby sitting" might be a better billing!  It seemed like every time I set up to string  some progressives or swing rolls together a kid would show up in my path, usually skating against the grain.  But, ice time is ice time--even if it is a bit unproductive.  I'll be back at Piney for a lesson this afternoon and who knows where I'll turn up over the three day Memorial holiday?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...

Our scene: a USFS test session for pre-silver and lower ice dancers plus a variety of moves in the field testers.

The deal:  There are three judges.  You need passing scores from two to pass.  I'm testing two of the simplest dances. The Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  I feel good about one.  The other not so much.

I put it out there.

The outcome:  Three judges saw three different things.  Judge Nr 1 loved both dances and gave me passing marks for both technical and timing/expression.  Judge Nr 2 hated the DW but passed me on the CT.  Judge Nr 3 hated every minute of what I put down.  Well, maybe not everything--she did indicate that my timing was "ok" on the CT.

Bottom  line:  I passed the CT but will have to retest the DW.

Judges comments (DW):

Judge Nr 1: technical--"correct progressives, edges shallow but most defined as O.S.; good flow, P". (pass); timing/expression--"on time, P".

Judge Nr 2:  technical--O.S. edges are mostly flat.  Right foot O.S. edge is deeper than left. R (retry)."  timing/expression--"ahead of the music in several places. R"

Judge Nr 3: technical--" edges and patterns flat, no curvature to lobes, unison lacking. R"  timing/expression--timing rushed so a little ahead of the beat. R"

CT comments:

Judge Nr 1: technical--"shallow but correct; weak on free leg extension, P.";  timing/experession--"right on, P."

Judge Nr 2:  technical--"good pattern, please turn out free leg; ok pattern, some shallow edges, P."
timing/expression--"well timed.  P."

Judge Nr 3:  technical--"edges & lobes flat; stepping rather than stroking, R."  timing/expression--"timing ok, P".  (NB: one needs to get a passing score for both technical and timing/expression or the overall result is a fail.)

I'm sure that the comments do somehow accurately reflect my skating today.  The DW has always been my least favorite dance and I think it's because it's a six beat dance--you have to hang out on an edge like forever.  The CT is a four beat dance and things happen quicker, which is a good thing for short attention spanners like moi.

So it's back to the drawing board on the DW.  This helps keep my coach gainfully employed.

Now, the best part of the deal was watching the pre-silver skaters test the 14-step, the foxtrot and the European Waltz.  All the test takers were female and about two thirds of them had lined up Ian Lorello (a local male ice dancer, formally a Team USA member and currently a coach for the New Ice Age ice dance troupe) as a partner.  Ian danced with woman after woman without taking a break.  Awesome skating.  See if you don't agree:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Testing times ahead

Coach A. keeps surprising me.  First it was an out of the blue push to enter the ISI competition which I did last month.  At our final April lesson she mentioned that our USFSA skating club was hosting a test session on the 17th of May and that I should consider testing the Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  Some how I'd managed to block that piece of information out of my memory banks.  Testing has always been on my horizon but suddenly that horizon got a whole lot closer.  The deadline for submitting the application and payment of fees was the following Tuesday!  That night I printed out the form, filled in my part and gave it to diaristdaughter to take with her to her group lesson the coming Thursday (Coach A. conveniently is her group lesson coach) for the coach's signature.  She did so and brought it back.  In turn I mailed it to the Test Chair.  I saw the Test Chair over at Piney Orchard ice rink (Bowie is closed for annual maintenance) and she allowed as how my paperwork and check had been received.  Last weekend the test schedule was published and my name is on it (twice) so there's no backing out.  I will test these two dances, ready or not.

Ready or not.  That's a big assumption, but I suspect my coach wouldn't hang me out there if she didn't think I was close.  I know the patterns and I know the steps.  Timing is still an issue.

Over the past couple of lessons we've also been trying to get my feet to consistently do progressives rather than reverting to crossovers during the heat of battle.  Old habits die hard.  I seem to be making small gains in that department but will it be enough?  I have one more coached session and maybe one additional chance to get on the ice before the test date rolls around.  A test for a well prepared student is essentially nothing more than filling out a form and smugly turning it in.  I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being that prepared.  I'm more in the position of putting 'em out there and seeing what the judges have to say.  It would be nice to put this pair of dances to bed so I could get back to working on the RB which has been on the back burner far too long.  I just wish I had a little more time to get test ready.