Saturday, December 4, 2021

Slowly cranking back to life

 I haven't posted to this blog since the  10th of May, back in 2019.  In part this is due to the pandemic and in part due to me not really having much progress or novel observations to report.  At the beginning of the pandemic, my ice rink, like many others was completely shut down.  Some rinks were used as temporary morgues.  Ours was in that list but never used for that purpose.  As masks and distancing proved effective and as vaccines were more readily available, the skating world came back to life.  And so did your old diarist.  

The present: as of this date, we are still required to wear masks inside the rink but coached lessons and group lessons, various types of sessions and hockey games have been on-going for quite some time.  I picked back up with my long suffering Coach A., and as our rink was to mark its 50th year of service to the community, we were asked to be part of the skating gala to mark the date, 3rd Dec. 1971- 3rd Dec 2021.

 But what to do?  If anything my skating had declined over the pandemic.  I was a much better skater 3 years ago when I passed the Cha-Cha than back in this summer when asked to perform.  Coach A. suggested that we revisit the Cha-Cha as a doable goal for December.  And so we did.  I'm glad we started in summer because it took an age for me to crank it back up to a test worthy quality level. 

Last night was the big do and we were second skaters on the bill.  We were introduced as we skated out and almost before I was ready, the music came blaring out of the speakers.  The intro steps, two patterns of the dance, exit steps and bows to the audience took all of a minute and 18 seconds.  I have had better skates of this dance in practice--blew a couple steps, doubt if most of the  on-lookers caught that.  But I was happy to do my part.

My advice to geezer Ice Dancers is to always partner with a strong and attractive young woman.  In ice dance, 99% of the crowd is watching the female skater.  As long as the male skater stays sunny side up the pair will achieve their goal.  Photo credit:  Bowie Ice Arena.

"Cheers to 50 Years!"

Friday, May 10, 2019

At season's end.

I looked at this blog and noted that my last post was back in January.  That seems like a long time ago.  At the end of May my rink shut down for the annual two months of maintenance.  Yesterday was the first time I skated since the closure.  As per usual for this time of year, I'm skating at a neighboring rink not too far away.  I had a lesson scheduled and I wasn't looking forward to it.  I warmed up by perimeter stroking and when it was time for my lesson I told my coach that my goal for the lesson was to be able to drive myself home from the rink.  I asked her not to kill me. 

So, it seems that I'm in a slump or at a plateau or up against a wall.  Plug in your favorite analogy.  My right forward inside Mohawk is no better than it was six months ago.  I've not made any progress on either of the two remaining pre-bronze level dances that I've been working on since passing the Cha-Cha way back in early December of 2017.  There are instances when I wonder if my skating skills are actually going backwards.  Am I skating with the same panache and zest as when I last tested?  I sometimes wonder.

Am I ready to give up?  Am I ready to admit defeat?  No, not yet.  I'll give it another year and see if I can test at least one of the dances that requires a clean Mohawk in my weak direction.

Yesterday we skated the Fiesta Tango, up to the dreaded Mohawk.  At least I remember the steps.  We then practiced, in isolation, the 6-beat edge sway that leads to the Mohawk and plugged in the Mohawk and the end pattern steps.  I did it semi-cleanly once and kicked her boot on the next attempt.  After that she had me work on the 5-step Mohawk MITF element just to bear down on that element.  I felt like a drunk on a 5-step recovery program.

At the end of the lesson we scheduled another lesson for next week, and I was able to leave the ice and drive home under my own power.  I'm hoping that it can only get better from here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gettin' hep with the beat.

My lower back was aching yesterday so instead of belaboring my wonky Mohawk, I suggested to coach A. that we work on the beginning of the Fiesta Tango--the day before, during an empty public session, I found myself unable to correctly remember the opening optional steps which she'd taught me months ago.  And so we did; at first me following her a pace behind, then solo with her watching from the boards, and finally partnered.

It was soon apparent that part of my problem was due to timing rather than lousy memory.  The dance starts off with a pair of 2-beat strokes but those are followed by a pair of 1-beat steps and then another 2-beat step during the progressive which leads to the cross in front/cross behind steps.  Those first two progressive steps really seem quite quick, coming on the heels of the slower two beat steps which start the dance.  But, it is this ebb and flow of timing which,in part, gives the dance a tango expression.  This slow-fast-slow timing signature reappears during the end pattern.

I also needed to flatten out the lobe of the progressive and keep it closer to the boards so that I'd not go way off pattern during the cross in front/cross behind steps. 

We next skated the dance to music, which surprisingly helped me rather than being a distraction.  We finished up working on the end pattern which of course features the Mohawk turn.  Once again she bought to my attention the change in timing from the 2-beat LFO stroke through the pair of 1-beat steps which are the Mohawk, to the three 2-beat steps which make up the back progressive.  In an effort to get through the Mohawk, I was slowing the Mohawk but rushing the progressive.  I need to do just the opposite.  In a backhanded way this is good for me since the Mohawk is my weakness.  I must remind myself that I only have to hold those problematic edges for one beat each and then have the luxury of two beats to get through the back progressive with body language which suggests a smidgen of control!

After the lesson was over and I was walking out the door to the car, I noticed that my back didn't hurt quite as much.  Who knows, maybe this Tango thing will help work a couple of kinks out as we dance our way to spring!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy 2019

Diaristfamily was invited to  spend the waning days of 2018 with friends in a rental beach house in Lewes, Delaware.  We gladly accepted.  The weather was warm for the end of the year, and for the  most part dry.

We climbed to the "crows nest" (aka roof top balcony of the house) and were greeted by this view of the breakwater lighthouses to the east.

The view to the south presented one of the World War II fire control towers for guns positioned along the coast to protect the mouth of the Delaware Bay.  The towers and guns which were once known as Fort Miles, are now part of Cape Henlopen State Park.
The house was less than a mile from the Lewes terminal of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
Lewes has an interesting historic district.  Lewes was first founded as Zwaanendael by the Dutch in 1631.  Zwaanendael (Swan Valley) was a short lived colony.  The local tribe of Lenape Native Americans wiped out the 32 colonists in 1632.

The Zwaanendail Museum features a status of Captain David Pieterszoon de Vries, leader of the expedition that founded the colony.

The building, which dates to 1931, the  300th anniversary of the colony's founding, features many 17century architectural details.

Sadly, the museum was closed during our visit.

The old part of Lewes has many fine and interesting buildings.  My cell phone camera was almost full and so this post gives  just a  taste.

This house dates to the 1770s.

One of my main objectives while in town was  to see a very early Moth Boat which is supposed to be on display.

Sadly, that will have to wait for a subsequent visit since the museum was closed.
We had booked a table at this restaurant, but over Christmas a pipe burst and the restaurant was closed until further notice--I was not having much luck in this town!  Never mind, we managed to get seated in another place close by.
The next day we took a walk in the state park.  A close up of one of the fire control towers.  Yes, like seemingly everything else in Lewes this was also closed!

A number of these towers still stand on both the Delaware and the New Jersey side of the bay and provided coastal defense for the oil refineries which are located up the Delaware River to the north.

Some of the old barracks still stand.

Guns, guns, everywhere guns.

This 16 inch monster was once on the battleship Missouri.

Don't get in the way.

In addition to the coastal guns, which, BTW, never fired a shot in anger, Cape Henlopen is famous for the surrender of a U-boat at the very end of the war.

Cape Henlopen State Park has large dunes, some of which are close to 100 feet tall.

Your old diarist watches an empty tanker as she heads out to sea.
There's much more to see in Lewes, including a lightship, old grave markers, many more interesting buildings and of course, that  elusive Moth Boat.  I plan to go back, and next time bring along a proper camera.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Still listening for that magic word.

Merry Xmas.  I think just about every local rink in my neck o' the woods has one of these this year.  Another missed merch. opportunity for your old diarist. 
I'm still working on that wonky Mohawk.  I'm still listening for the magic word from my coach that suddenly transforms my RFI Mohawk from hell on blades into a thing of beauty or at least a thing that can be successfully run past the judges.  At Thurday's lesson, coach A. watched my feeble attempts and said "you need to keep your weight, (for the entry edge), back further on the heel."  So I tried that and the turn became marginally more controllable.  Controllable but not great.  When we skate partnered, that Mohawk is still a disaster waiting for the right opportunity to bring me low as I stagger through the back progressive and cross in front steps which follow it.  Anyway, keeping my weight back on the entry edge is something new for me to experiment with.

Yesterday afternoon diaristwoman and I went down to the National Gallery of Art to gawk at impressionists.  Although my lab is closed by the fed gov shutdown, the NGA and other national museums in DC are open through the 2nd of January.  Although they have enough funding to finish out the calendar year, operations are questionable beyond that. 

NB: if you are planning to take advantage of this unexpected opening in the face of the partial shutdown, recall that all of the fed government funded museums in DC are always closed on the 1st of January in observance of New Year's Day.

Afterwards as we walked to Paul's for a bowl of soup and a sandwich, we passed by the sculpture garden fountain.  In winter the fountain is transformed into a small and at times very crowded ice rink.

It was a pleasantly warm, for December, day with little wind.  The ice was quite crowded before the Zamboni came out for a much needed ice cut.

The Zamboni driver laid on a generous layer of water to the heavily rutted ice. This mercifully was given a chance to freeze, filling in most of the deep ruts, with only a few ruts requiring hand filling/hockey puck smoothing before the skating public was allowed back on.

The skaters give an idea of the size of the rink.  This photo was taken just after the rink reopened.  Within a few minutes the rink was once again heaving with people.  I was glad I didn't bother to bring my skates.  Soon after this photo was taken the ice was so crowded that skaters could barely perimeter skate.  Like Rockefeller Center, the idea in the mind's eye is better than reality.
And so, gentle reader, with that I leave you 'til the ball drops.  Smooth Skating and Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sometimes a few words suddenly make all the difference.

Not much to report.  Still working on foundation skills.  This past Tuesday night coach A., after watching me demo a few Mohawks said "try to close your free hip more."  I tried that and, to our joint surprise, I whipped off two Mohawks in a row that I could hang onto the exit edge for more than the Fiesta Tango's required one beat duration.  Of course after the excitement of thinking I was actually on to something, reality settled in and I was back to "immediately put the free foot down" territory again.  Ah, but those two good Mohawks in the required direction are what I hope is the beginning of me being able to test this dance before the end of the decade.  A breakthrough, sort of. 

We skated the dance's end pattern partnered so that I could get the feel for the changes of partnering that occur during the turn as well as the steps which come after the Mohawk.  I won't claim that we're still friends but we didn't crash and burn and we are still on speaking terms.

After my microsecond of success, coach A then said that I need to flatten out the exit edge a bit.  By that I think she means that I need to check more.  I currently check Mohawks by pulling my free arm back and looking over my free shoulder.  I'm not sure how likely that technique will work if I'm hanging on to another skater, but one thing at a time.  Hopefully the exit edge control will become routine as I practice the turn, remembering her coaching tip.  And who knows-- in time it may eventually mirror the well controlled Mohawk that I have in my strong direction--at least well enough to fool the judges.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Warm up vs muscle memory: Physical, Mental or Neurological?

The title of this post brings to mind the old question: Animal, Mineral or Vegetable?  As I circulated around the perimeter of the rink during the first half of last night's Free Style session I experienced the usual frustration of trying to find a patch of ice that didn't have a coach and/or their skater parked smack dab in the middle of it.  Coach A. generally rigs my lesson so that I have thirty minutes to "warm up" while she coaches another skater.  Most of the time I wind up blowing that time advantage just perimeter stroking and taking evasive action to avoid other skaters. There's very little opportunity to attempt working on elements which I know are going to be part of my upcoming lesson.  Out of the corner of my eye I watch the digital hockey clock count away my precious warm up minutes without really finding an opportunity to explore any of my weak side elements.  If I do get a gap I usually attempt something in my strong direction, at least for the first few times.

After my lesson, which focused unsuccessfully on my list of usual suspect elements, I started to wonder what part of a warm up is physical vs mental?  It occurred to me that things like 3-turns and Mohawks in my strong direction require very little in the way of "warm up" before attempting them. Further, they require very little thinking on my part.  The same elements taken from my weak side don't happen at all during the first ten or fifteen minutes on ice.  After that if they do happen, a lot of thinking has to occur before and during their execution.

Even though I've been doing the weak side stuff for the same length of time as the ones from the strong side (actually more so, since I double up the practice on the weak side) they just refuse to enter into muscle memory. Why is that?   I have to think the whole process through: remember to bend the knee, pre-rotate, don't wide step, lean either into or out of the circle, etc. etc.  The amount of "admin" required is soul destroying.  And even with all this mindfulness going on in the background, sometimes (most times) the best laid Mohawks o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley.

Over and over, I come back to the same realization:  I don't have to think much about the strong side.  Those just happen.

Now before I go much further, I have tried different types of physical warm ups, (brisk walks, jumping jacks, etc.) followed by stretching regimes recommended by various skating gurus, and have come to the conclusion that the best warm up for a specific activity is probably the activity itself.  I've also come to the conclusion that muscles are at least "blood-heat" warm 24/7, so little if any further "warm up" is required.  Think about it:  if you suddenly had to jump up and run away from danger would you want a system that required a long and careful warm up plus stretching before making your escape?   Short answer: not unless you're bucking for a Darwin award.  You'd want a system that puts the pedal to the metal and gets the hell outta Dodge tout suite.

Then again, maybe what's not happening is precise muscle function, which is in turn controlled by the nervous system--ya know, maybe what I need is to have an acupuncturist chase me around on the ice and stick needles into various meridians until the correct muscles fire on my weak side.  Instead of Ice Capades I could have a debut role in "Acupuncture on Ice". One of those "spotlight" kinda things I suppose.

Or maybe since I have to think so much about the weak side elements, a therapist is in order; one who speaks with a heavy Viennese accent:  "Vie do you hate so much this forvard right inside Mohawk?" 

I don't know; I just don't know.

Meanwhile, those who have Face Book can watch this short video of a young fellow doing a wonderfully graceful double axel on in-line roller skates--something I'll never do regardless of which side I might try it from.