Sunday, May 21, 2017

HD Ice Halo: A preliminary report

Hello, and thank-you for attending today's briefing.   I've now worn my new Ice Halo HD during a pair of public sessions, and I must say that it certainly seems to be more comfortable than the standard model with the Velcro closure (ie: my head didn't ache and I wasn't fooling with the head gear at the mid-way point of the session in an attempt to make it feel better).  In fact, today I forgot to remove my green beanie until I was outside the rink at the end of the session, heading for the car.  I contrast, the standard version of the Ice Halo is the first thing I remove after getting off the ice--usually I can't wait to take it off.

Nor did it slip out of place at any time during my warm-up, lesson, or apres-lesson practice. Full disclosure:  I don't do triple or double or even single jumps.  Jumping, on the part of your diarist, is strictly limited by SWMBO to half-rotational jumps--at the most (think Waltz jump and half-flip).  So, big impressive jumpers--your mileage may vary (but unless you're doing Surla Bonaly back flips, I doubt it).

Obviously, more wearings will be required before stepping up to the microphone to make a definitive statement, but  I think this is going to be a relatively short-lived trial, sort of like a medical intervention that's is so overwhelmingly positive during the early stages that the researchers are compelled to suspend the trial early for the ethical benefit of the placebo group.

The unresolved  $64 dollar $95 (well, that's Canadian, so roughly $70) question is: is it as safe as or, better yet, safer than the standard version?   I just don't know.

My ice dance coach immediately (and positively) commented on the sea foam green aspect.  "That color's coming back", she opined.  Alert the press: your old diarist (and big bands) are coming back.

So, at first blush we can tick off three out of five of the big questions: Comfort, (yes) Fit, (yes) and Style (yes!) are all in the plus column.

The unanswered questions of durability and safety are ones which are resolvable only by time for the former and misadventure for the latter.  As we say in the biological sciences, or when taste testing something yummy in a relative's kitchen, "while current results are highly promising, more research is required".

Of course, independent confirmation by other current standard edition Ice Halo wearers would strengthen these observations.  Any stepper-uppers in the on-deck circle?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sea Foam Green is the new Black.

Ice Halo has two versions of their head protective gear.  there's the standard model which comes as a flat strap with a Velcro closure that one wraps around one's head.  The Velcro permits size adjustment within a given range.  A newer model called the "HD" for the high(er) density foam material comes as circular or donut shape that one slips on like a ball cap.  The HD model requires slightly more careful head measurement prior to ordering.  I wondered if the HD would be more comfortable, less prone to slip and offer a tad more protection.  I posted these questions to  http://skatingforums.com and while I did get some feedback I didn't get a definitive answer since nobody owned both versions and so a direct comparison could not be made.  There was nothing in it but to bite the bullet and order one.  So I did.


The HD comes in a range of colors.  Being a child of the 1940s/50s I'm a sucker for Sea Foam Green.  As can be seen, the HD really isn't one-piece construction but rather two pieces joined in the middle on either side  I'm not sure how the sections are joined.  It would take a bit of deconstruction to find out.  Maybe my curiosity will overcome my resistance after it's not brand new.  For now that aspect will remain a little mystery.  Note that the back part of the HD kicks up slightly in the part which protects the back of the head.

The Ice Halo company really wants you to know which part is back and which side is up.  Like all things Canadian, this product is bi-lingual.  I can now spell Spandex in French--bonus!
One difference between the standard and HD models is that one can request the standard version with the company logo hidden away on the inside.  When you wear an HD you become a billboard for Ice Halo.  At least the logo button is discrete.
Standard (black) and HD ice halos.  The red band around the Velcro closure on the standard edition is an old ice rink wrist band which wasn't long enough to go around my wrist guards. In this photo the wrist band suggests that the Velcro has become worn.  In actuality, the Velcro, after two years of constant use, is as good as new.
I plan to wear the HD for the first time today when I have my next ice dance lesson.  One reason for buying the HD is to see if it is more comfortable to wear than the standard model.  If I get the Velcro closure snug enough to keep the original ice halo from slipping it tends to become uncomfortable mid-way through a two hour public.  Will the HD go the distance?  We shall see.  As for the relative merits of safety, it may be a while before I can report on that.  I have "crash tested" the standard model twice and both times the ice halo spared me another ride in an ambulance.  Hopefully the HD will be as good if not a tad better.  While I don't plan to go out of my way to "test" it, one never knows when the next head slamming fall will occur. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kids!

Has anyone experienced this?

I skated the mid-afternoon public yesterday.  The ice was just crowded enough that you could only sneak in a complete dance pattern every now and then--which by it's self is not that unusual.  So anyway I retreated to a corner to work on stuff that one does in the corner (Mohawks, 3-turns, a few back swing rolls,  alternating back chasses down the red line, etc.).  After a while I noticed that I had two kids shadowing me: I'd do a Mohawk and they'd attempt to do one,  I'd do a 3-turn, they'd attempt to mimic it in an untutored kid kinda way.  It was a little humorous but at the same time a little frustrating because they were right. on. my. heel! Often only about a blade length or two away.  The ice was heavily rutted from the hockey match that preceded the public and I was a little concerned that if I caught an edge I'd flatten a kid!  I skated away from them to the opposite end of the rink and set up camp in one of those corners.  Quick as a flash, my two little disciples were right there!  I decided to skate laps doing alternating forward progressives in the hopes that I could wear 'em out or at least make them bored, but nope, they trailed along hot on my tail like sea gulls following a fishing boat.  My strategy didn't work--well actually it did--they wore me out!  I got off the ice a half hour early.  They were too funny but I hope I never see 'em again!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Cross Forward / Tuck Behind (Cha Cha Cha)

Skating refinements seem to come when I least expect them.  Case in point is the somewhat tricky right cross-in-front step, immediately followed by a left tuck-behind which in turn feeds directly into a CCW forward inside swing roll at the tail end of the Cha Cha.  Knowledgeable students of pattern ice dancing already appreciate that the cross in front step is optional.  Following the time honored K.I.S.S. system, that's the way Coach A. had me approach this segment of the dance. The notion being that it would be easier for a geezer skater to master.  Easy, Ha!  Easy for Meryl and Charlie.  For your old diarist?  Meh, not so much.

It didn't matter whether I skated solo or partnered.  Coming off that big swooping CCW swing roll with lots of speed  and then putting that left skate down on the ice was distinctly hit or miss.  During practice I could pull it off maybe 75 percent of the time.  The other 25 percent?  Can you say "Bawk, buc-buc, Chicken?

Scrolling back in time to a lesson a week earlier:  Coach A. queued up the next song on her smart phone.  We pushed off, more or less in time, onto the four intro steps of the dance.  We safely negotiated the opening strokes, the chasse and wide-step and plowed our way past the BK and slalom steps.  Psychologically I knew that tuck behind was out there, waiting for me.

We steamed down the ice with Doris Day ironically crooning "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" over the blue-tooth speaker on Coach A's left arm.  After the swing roll I slid my left skate down the inside of my right boot and was promptly rewarded with the sound and feel of a toe pick attempting to augur in as the blade touched the ice on too acute an angle. Whoa Lordly! Somehow I managed to reverse my foot and we stayed sunny side up.  Visions of Monty Python flashed before my eyes--no, not his entire life, just the bit about the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.  I did want to blurt out "Run Away!  Run Away!"   Did Doris know something I didn't?  There just had to be a better way.

The following Saturday found me at a lightly populated Public session. After looking at the Cha Cha pattern diagram I decided to try the cross in front step which leads to the tuck behind.  It's basically a forward cross roll and who doesn't like doing those?  Cross rolls are a feel good kinda element for me.  They're part of my warm-up routine.  I figured that the tuck behind might feel less spooky if both skates where already on the ice.  I gave it a go and much to my surprise the tuck was easier to pull off if one does the cross in front step before hand.  I confirmed this over and over.  Ha!  A minor breakthrough.

Last night we had another lesson.  I soloed my new found proficiency and after she nodded in approval we quickly got into partnered mode and skated the dance against every Cha Cha tune she had on her phone--Doris included.  She told me that if I made the proceeding swing roll a bit swingier (might be a word) the cross forward and tuck behind would be even easier because my direction of travel wouldn't be so  flat. 

So, I've mastered technicalities of all the steps.  Now I'm down to her nit-picking on style issues: think about free leg extension, think about toe point, think about keeping your feet closer together--she was quick to point out that not every step of the dance is a wide step--just one. 

Our club has a test session in mid-May.  The filing deadline is the 2nd.  Not much time to tidy things up.  We discussed whether or not I should test and she said "Well, you could put it out there and see what happens.  It would be good experience. "   The translation of that statement from coach-speak to English is "If you don't have a total brain freeze in the middle of the dance and if the judge is blind you might get lucky.  Otherwise it's good but expensive experience."  I think I'll wait and let her nit-pick polish me a bit more.








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.

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Fassi
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 skatingforums.com 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.