Monday, December 30, 2013

Crowd psychology and the Sunday Winter Holiday Public Session


In order to maximize my ice time I, like many adult skaters, rely heavily on weekend public sessions.  I don't have to tell most of my readers that weekend publics are mobbed during the holiday season.  The mob "ramp-up" starts during the Thanksgiving holiday and achieves it's maximum density during Christmas break.  Mercifully for the dedicated skaters the tide generally starts going back out around mid-January and by February weekend publics tend to return to a manageable population level.

As an observer with more than a casual interest in weekend publics I've noticed that some crowded sessions just flow better than others.  Typically, Saturday is calmer than Sunday.  But why is this so?  There are just as many people on the ice but the dynamic or personality of the crowd at the Saturday session is usually more conducive to higher level practice.  In my mind I picture it as the difference between a closely packed but orderly school of fish and a similar school of fish which suddenly becomes chaotic.

Case in point: I skated the early afternoon publics at Bowie on both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend.  The Saturday session was crowded but I was able to skate several patterns of each of the two dances I'm working on plus get in a fair amount of practice on back skating elements and foot work sequences.  The crowd was "mellow" for lack of a better word.  Sunday the vibe was completely different.  The crowd was chaotic with kids all over the map, adult ice tourists camping out in the rink ends or coming to dead stops in the mid of traffic to take photos with their cell phones and very few breaks in traffic when one could take a flyer.  It was total bedlam and I got close to zip accomplished.  By the end of the session I told myself that this would be the last Sunday public I'd skate until mid-January.  My time on earth is a non-renewable resource and I have a long laundry list of other things I could be doing.

But the question remains: what is different in terms of crowd psychology between a "good" and "bad" collection of ice tourists at a public session?  What is the trigger that moves a crowd on an ice rink from orderly to agitated?  Does the introduction of a few good skaters cause tension like the introduction of predators in a chicken coop, or does the presence of good skaters impose a certain discipline which the crowd follows?  There were more good skaters Saturday than Sunday.  Coincidence or not?

There are also different degrees of anonymity in a given crowd.  Some crowds are composed of unconnected individuals while other crowds are clusters of family members or friends.  Are unconnected individuals more orderly than people who know one another?  I'm beginning to suspect so. 

Are people grumpier on Sunday vs Saturday, knowing that the following day is a workday?  Do they bring that aggravation to the ice?  Perhaps.

Fortunately I have this next week off and so will skate as many early morning public sessions as possible.  That will get me another week closer to "low tide".

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Glad to see that you're taking a break from all that yummy food and drink (not to mention from all of those enchanting relatives) long enough to check what's cooking On Thin Ice.  Most rinks, including mine are closed today.  By tomorrow I'm going to need to skate all day to burn off the accumulated calories! 

Last Saturday's lesson took place at the beginning of the public rather than at the mid point.  And of course both the ice was smoother and the initial population was smaller.  The population density remained at a tolerable level for the duration of the half hour that defines my lesson.  I think this timing will become permanent since none of the other Saturday students are attempting dance and so for the most part can take their lessons in "quiet" parts of the rink even after the ice tourist population swells.  I'm the only Saturday problem student needing acres of real estate!  Coach K and I worked on the Canasta Tango.  I can now (most of the time) remember the steps (in the correct order!) but K had to draw a curve on the ice with her water-proof marker so that I'd finally "get" where on the ice the first swing roll, the following edge step and the slide chasse were supposed to be. Pattern dances are unflinchingly specific in terms of timing and placement.  After drawing me a picture I finally got it.

I still haven't skated this dance or the Dutch Waltz to music--I have the music but haven't bothered with it yet.  Now that I know the steps and sort of know where I need to be on the ice I can start figuring out how to move the various songs from the CD, where they currently reside, over to my iPod shuffle.  The shuffle might not be the ideal gizmo for this since I don't think music can be organized into separate files like on other iPods and, if I'm not careful, the shuffle will indeed live up to its name and "shuffle" the order of the music.  I probably need to go to an Apple store and have a "genius" explain it all to me.  Ain't technology grand?

After about 20 minutes of running through the Canasta Tango I asked K to help me with step-behinds and back cross rolls.  She watched while I demo-ed my step-behind and gave me some pointers on how to make it smoother.  We then worked on back cross-rolls.  I soon could do a scratchy version of those and with further practice have since discovered that my getting more confident with the cross-rolls has had a positive effect on the step-behind as well.  It's always a plus when learning one element spills over, in a good way, and helps with a related maneuver.  For those not familiar with back cross-rolls here is a youtube clip of a good skater doing some:

These are hard to practice on anything but uncrowded ice since you really can't look over your shoulder(s) while doing them.  So far I haven't picked off a munchkin pushing an EZ-skater, but increased practice involving back cross-overs, swing-rolls and cross-rolls may force my hand and push me towards the vastly more expensive free-style pick up sessions or into taking time off to attend the early morning publics which have very low traffic.  The FS-sessions would cost more money, while the the early work-day publics would "cost" more in time off from work--the eternal "quality time" trade off--which is more cost effective?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Had a crappy lesson or practice? Dr. George has the sure fire cure: Usova and Zhulin

Weekend public sessions are now maddeningly crowded.  'Tis the season.  Coach K and I had to bail on last week's lesson after two attempts at skating the canasta tango.  So nothing new to report from Thin Ice HQ.  But after having a couple of her students who have lessons ahead of mine cancel, K and I agreed to move tomorrow's lesson to the beginning of the session.  No warm up for moi, but the ice should be better at the front end of the session than at the mid point.  Hopefully some of the ice tourists will go do some last minute holiday shopping and the remainder will be take their time tying up their rental skates. 

Meanwhile we can watch Maya and Alexander skate the Argentine Tango at the 1989 Worlds.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

No good deed goes unpunished dept.

I skated the Friday afternoon public.  It was lightly populated and I actually got in some useful Canasta Tango practice.  S. a free-style skater whom I know from power stroke class, was also on-ice, working hard.  She's a strong adult free-style 4 skater who's been working like forever to escape to FS-5.  The only thing holding her back is that she doesn't quite have her axle.  She tends to two foot the landings.  Anyway, we were both doing our respective thing when out of the corner of my eye I saw her go for it and actually land cleanly.  Wonderful to see after months of unrewarded work.  I skated over to give her a thumbs-up but in doing so I was very inattentive to my skating and managed to trip over my own "toe peeks".  In the process, I managed to deliver myself at her feet in a spectacularly inelegant, full on belly flop.  I have a very small sense of shame so it was not a big deal.  I looked up from my prone position on the ice and said "this is absolutely the last time I'm ever giving you a thumbs-up, so enjoy it!"

Now one point I'd like to make from this little admission of clumsiness is that when I skate my personal value literally increases several hundred dollars just in d3o ballistic padding alone; knee pads, butt pads, hip pads, tail bone, wrist guards, you name it--I'm surprised I haven't been "jacked" in the rink parking lot just for the value of my protective gear.

Honey, let me tell you--all that stuff earned its keep on Friday.  My fall must have looked just as stupendous as S's axle landing, judging from the reaction of a very concerned ice monitor, but I quickly staggered to my haunches and felt pretty good all things considered.  And unlike other incidents which I've blogged about this one didn't define the rest of the session (or following months).  I quickly got back to productive skating and finished the session none the worse for the wear.

So, if you've been on the fence about protective gear, this post is your heads-up.  Get some good gear--this is one area not to scrimp--and wear it--at least during practice sessions.  The lumps and bumps to your otherwise slim, trim, sleek and racy lines are way better than the lumps and bumps you'll be sporting courtesy of orthopedic appliances if you bust something.  Like other life-style choices, this is one that can help you avoid or at least reduce the effects of an otherwise nasty outcome.

Here endeth the lesson. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Forget the Dutch Waltz--Thinking waaaay outside the box.

On the way home from my free-style group lesson I was trolling for some music and hesitated on a local classical music station.  They were playing eight Gaillardes by the renaissance composer Tielman Susato. (forget about the unicorn; just listen to the music).

Could one ice dance to music from the early renaissance?   An interesting thought, no?  Just think, not only does music from this period present an untapped resource, but for once the male skater's costume would easily be as interesting as that of his female partner--men in tights! Mel Brooks would be all over this.

Here's some more music and dance:

and here:

I'll let the choreographers in the audience put their collective thinking cap on...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Adios Muchachos

I went to the ice rink for my fourth ice dance lesson this afternoon. My lessons take place during a busy Saturday public session so things can get, well, a bit "busy".   Today the place was heaving with ice tourists, birthday party urchins and klingons.    

(klingon\ noun; the lowest level of ice tourist.  Generally dragged to the rink against their will by frenemies or extended family.  Usually found with death grip (clinging onto) the dasher boards, nervously taking stiff walking steps on rental skates).

My lesson is scheduled for 2:30 pm and the session starts an hour earlier.  This gives me plenty of time to warm up and plenty of time for the crowd to turn the ice into a rutted combat zone.  Coach Kelly had been at the rink giving lessons since 7 am.  When we skated up to each other I could tell she was hesitant to attempt a lesson in the midst of the crowd.  But I said "we're here, let's do it".  We eased into the traffic with me demonstrating back outside swing rolls and Kelly giving me correction.  I almost got collected by a three foot tall person with an E-Z skater aimlessly going against traffic.  Fortunately no blood was drawn and I did get some good tips from Kelly about timing of the swing which wasn't obvious to me.  This is why it pays to have a coach!

After that we launched into the Canasta Tango.  I had attempted to skate it on my own in traffic and hadn't made much headway.  I told her to just skate me through it so I'd get an idea of where the dance was supposed to be on the ice and after that I wanted to follow her and watch her slide chasses and the cross roll at step 14 in order to mentally capture a good model to mimic at at quieter session next week.

To say it was hectic is an understatement.  As we flowed through traffic my brain recorded a bizarre kaleidoscope of snap-shot images:  one ice tourist went down hard and banged the backside of her head on the ice.  It took several minutes before the ice monitors could move her off-ice.  Then there were people's expressions as we cut through the crowd in dance mode.  Some smiled as we passed, others looked on in puzzlement.  Kids were cutting in and out as we skated the pattern.

We next worked on the step behinds for the Rhythm Blues.  I could do the two in which the right foot crosses behind the left but the middle one where the left foot crosses behind the right is going to take some work (and probably a couple shots of rum).

At the end of the lesson Kelly gave me a CD with dance music covering ice dances from the Dutch Waltz to Rocker Foxtrot.  I listened to it in the car on the way home and my first impression was "What Dreck!"  I don't think that our rink has up-graded dance test music since the '70s.  I remember being turned off by some of this same music back in my University of Delaware days.  Fortunately the music for The Fiesta Tango (which I'll approach much later) is a tune I like:  "Adios Muchachos" .

Here's a version way better than the rink's pathetic version.

Americans will probably better remember Louis Armstrong's version (When we are dancing and you're dangerously near me, I get "idears", yea "idears")

This may help me survive the Dutch Waltz and Rhythm Blues music selections--something to look forward to....

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Good Evening, and Welcome to Short Attention Span Theater.

Dear constant reader:  if you skimmed my last post you'll recall that I seemingly can't remember to bring all the required gear to a practice session (and no, I haven't caught myself putting the car keys in the sugar bowl or my wrist watch in the freezer--yet).  Your diarist has no interest in a repeat performance and to that end has been racking his brains for a solution.  Not being clever enough to invent something on my own, I did the next best thing: I stole someone else's idea.  I now pass it shamelessly on to you.  I stole this idea, as well as the accompanying photo, from Bill Schneider's Skating Web Site. (thanks, Bill if you ever read this; I looked for your contact info but didn't find any.  Your idea is too good not to share).

Fig 1.  Laminated Dance Diagrams with neck lanyard.  This idea seems obvious--why didn't I think of it?  Perfect for someone like me who needs to sneak a peek at the printed diagram until the steps sink in.  No more fumbling for a wadded scrap of paper in one of my pockets.  The laminated diagrams are sturdy enough to ride along in the skate bag (rather than being left behind on the computer table) and won't disintegrate in my pocket the next time I wash my jacket and forget that my little road maps are still in there. Additionally, while big enough to read on the ice, the diagrams can be scaled to whatever size seems convenient for neck wear.  The plastic lamination is flexible enough not to be a bother if you decide to tuck the card inside your vest or jacket rather than have it flop around while skating.  You can download the various dance pattern diagrams from any number of websites.  I printed out the first half dozen dances, trimmed them to an agreeable size, and placed two diagrams back to back prior to having them laminated at a local office supply store's copy center.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It don't mean a thing (if it ain't got that swing).

Have you ever had that foreboding premonition that you've forgotten something or that something wasn't quite right, but for the life of you, you just can't put a finger on it?  That happened to your diarist as he drove over to the rink yesterday afternoon all set to work on the Canasta Tango.  No, I didn't forget my skates.  Haven't done that yet.

I drove to the rink and wondered if the noon to 2 pm public would be crowded since many, like me, had off for Veteran's Day.  To my surprise the place was empty.  I laced up my boots and got out on the ice and took my customary four laps of the rink to warm up my legs.  When I arrived at the far end of the rink after the fourth circuit, I reached into my jacket pocket to pull out the Canasta Tango diagram only to find pocket lint.  It was then that the penny dropped.  I'd left my little map, home, on the computer table!  I exited the ice and clomped into the rink office hoping to find a coach with a rulebook so to make a quick photocopy of the required page.  Not a single coach was to be found.  What to do?  I decided I wasn't going to waste valuable ice time by going home to retrieve the diagram.  After all, I told myself, there are plenty of other things in my skating repertoire that need work.

I decided to work on back skating elements since the rink population seemed manageable--just one quality skater working on a moves pattern and a family of ice tourists who were enjoying a rare day off for both parents and small fry. I decided that the elements du jour would be cutbacks and back outside swing rolls.  My goal was to get to the point where I wasn't hesitant to circuit the rink doing alternating cutbacks down one side of the ice and back swing rolls up the other.  My cutbacks are OK but nothing to write home about, especially the clock-wise one.  This is odd because clock-wise is my easy direction for most other elements like 3-turns and Mohawks.

Back swing rolls on the other hand are relatively new to me and swinging the free leg back while facing outside of the circle and not feeling like I'm losing the respective back outside edge is a little spooky.  Sometimes it works and other times not so much.  It was one of those deals where I couldn't define why the element worked when it did.  So I started experimenting with arm and free leg positions.  I soon worked out that if I looked over my skating arm while keeping my free leg close to my skating leg, during the swing, that the roll was controllable.  In a short period of time I was able knit together successive, smooth swing rolls much to the entertainment of the ice tourist mother who had the mildly distracting habit of following me at close quarters--all the while grinning like a Cheshire cat.  I could see her wobbling in an alarming way, out of the corner of my eye, but decided that so long as I could keep track of her position and the varying locations of her brood, things would probably remain copacetic.  As the session wore on, I was able to swing my way around the rink and the rolls felt fairly comfortable.  We'll see if I still have them under control when Kelly and I have our next lesson.  Just as importantly, I'll get feedback on whether my technique is OK or if I have another batch of bad habits to unlearn. As for my cutbacks, they seemed to have benefited from my earlier work with those swing rolls.  A lot less scritchy-scratchy stuff was going on and I felt more confident while doing the clock-wise swizzle push into my shaky direction.

And so the session went.  I alternated between cutbacks and back outside swing rolls, with an occasional Dutch Waltz thrown in (casual observation: ever notice how kids tend to congregate at the middle or end of a lobe in your pattern?  Corollary question: how do they know where those places are if they don't dance?) and marveled at how quickly the two hours evaporated.  Glad I only wasted ten minutes trying to find a rule book!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Forward Progress: I pass ISI Dance Level 1, come to grips with the Dutch Waltz and Canasta Tango and meet a competitive ice dance pair right here in Bowie (who knew?).

Yesterday I had my third ice dance lesson with Coach Kelly.  She wanted to see if I'd been goofing off during the intervening week.  I hadn't; I was lucky enough to get to a lightly populated public session mid-week and took the opportunity to practice the Dutch Waltz without other skaters getting in the way.  Instead of over-thinking things and worrying about beats per step, I concentrated on getting the dance to fit the  mandatory pattern on the rink.  I figured if I got the pattern were it was supposed to be on the ice, the beats would eventually take care of themselves.

So to answer her question about how things were going I asked her to critic my Dutch Waltz and proceeded to skate the dance and more or less placed all the lobes where they're supposed to be.  She was both pleased and surprised and asked if I wanted to get started on the Canasta Tango.  I told her that she should first test me for the two items that make up ISI's Dance level 1: two mandatory patterns, one of which is a Chasse sequence the other a Progressive sequence. Those can be seen here along with the forward swing roll pattern which is part of Dance level 2.  Bottom line: I passed the three patterns and Kelly said she'd make me a CD with music for the Dutch Waltz, Canasta Tango and Rhythm Blues.  In order to pass actual dances one must skate to the music.  The addition of music will no doubt be interesting and frustrating at the same time.  Interesting because adding music will make all this seem more like a dance.  Frustrating because the music will add another level of complexity to keep track of while skating the steps.   That said, we moved on to spend the last 10 minutes of lesson time looking at the Canasta Tango.

The Canasta Tango has fewer steps than the Dutch Waltz (14 vs 16) but is a much busier dance.  As with the Dutch Waltz, the dance uses one side of the rink and the dog bone shaped pattern (below) represents two passes of the dance.  This dance is "busier" because unlike the preceding Dutch Waltz which has only one skating element going on in each lobe of the dance (a progressive, a swing roll or a pair of forward edges), the Canasta Tango has several things going on in each lobe.  For example, lobe one has a progressive, a chasse step and a swing roll all compressed within that first lobe.  Additionally, this dance introduces dancers to the slide chasse (step 7) and the extra complication of an optional cross roll at step 14.  With Kelly, the cross roll will NOT be an option.

The Canasta Tango pattern is skated in reverse Kilian position; i.e. the lady is to the left of the man.

Today, diaristdaughter and I went to the afternoon public session.  It was crowded, and for the first hour one end of the rink was annoyingly coned off for a birthday party.  I was busy practicing back swing rolls when all of a sudden a pair of adult skaters came onto the ice and one glance was enough to tell me that they had to be dancers--they were simply too smooth to be anything else.  I skated over and made their acquaintance.  It turns out that they were a local team returning to competition after a three year hiatus.  They train elsewhere but like Bowie ice for practice since it's close to where they live.  I told them I hope to see them often.  Bowie needs more dancers.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mommy--that old man on skates is scaring me (again).

And you thought Halloween was over!  No, this is not your old diarist.  Although my skating probably does scare large and small ice tourists, sadly, I can't jump this high.  Love the costume though.  It's hard to top the 1930s for drama.

Red McCarthy in full flight as the "King Bat" during a 1936 performance at the Sports Stadium in Brighton, UK.  It took  over an hour for Red to be painted with silver paint before each show and just as long to remove it afterwards.  You can read a bit more here: . 

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'S.S. Brighton' page
The Sports Stadium started life as an indoor salt water swimming facility.  While it intially proved quite popular, a succession of warm summers caused a decline in popularity as the public preferred outdoor ocean bathing.  In response to the decline the management decided to convert the facility into an indoor ice rink.

Photo:Souvenir Brochure, opening of the Swimming Stadium, Brighton. 1934
A rendition of the indoor pool from the original 1934 promotional brochure.

Getting back to Red, he started his skating career as a barrel jumper and Canadian Olympic team member but quickly found that the theatrical side of skating was more lucrative.
After the "King Bat" days, Red found work in American with the Ice Capades during the immediate pre-world war two era.  Here is a youtube video of Red from the 1941 show.  Red apparently never gave up his speed skates or his role as a "fantastic creature".  Could you do a Waltz jump on speed skates?  Amazing stuff!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Dutch Waltz: Twerking hard or hardly twerking?
The Kilian Position

Today my coach introduced me to the first of three preliminary pattern dances, the venerable Dutch Waltz.  She also introduced me to the most basic of dance holds, the Kilian Position.  For the benefit of the over flow viewers from my other blog, the Kilian Position is as follows: the two partners face the same direction with the lady to the right of the man and slightly ahead of him.  The man holds the lady's left hand in his left hand and places his right hand on the right side of her waist.  The lady places her right hand on top of the man's and forms a triangle with her arm by bending the elbow.

After adopting this position we pushed off and skated in a drunken stagger down the long axis of the rink.  I was simultaneously attempting to remember and then skate the basic pattern which she had only moments before outlined: a left progressive followed by a right and then left swing roll and another progressive, this time to the right.  The dance continues with a LFO edge, a RFI edge, another left progressive into a RFO swing roll finishing with another pair of LFO/RFI edges.  At this point the dance pattern repeats down the other side of the ice.  The test involves three repeats of the pattern or basically one and a half laps of the rink:

I say a drunken stagger because this very unschooled dancer was constantly out of step with his partner and consequently we were alternatively tugging each other or bumping shoulders.  Can you say synchronicity--that lilting, graceful flow of two skaters skating as one?  Easy enough to say, very much harder to do!

Here's a youtube video of well known ice dancers Terri Levine and Mike Ricigliano showing proper form for the Dutch Waltz:

The coach spent our remaining time demonstrating back swing rolls, which she said I'll soon need.  These I was able to mimic in a crude way which, like the Dutch Waltz, will take much refinement.  At this point our thirty minutes was up.  No blood was drawn and I used the remainder of the session to practice those back swing rolls.

Monday, October 21, 2013

And so it begins.

Last Saturday I had my first private ice dance lesson.  I'm starting off at the bottom of the ISI dance ladder, learning (at least attempting to learn) the mandatory patterns for chasses, progressives, and forward swing rolls.  It seems that my life has been taken over by little maps and diagrams:

For the Chasse Sequence, after the entry steps, one holds a LFO edge for a count of two, lifts the left foot on the count of three (while on a RFI edge) and then finishes on a LFO edge to the count of four.  The pattern repeats on a RFO edge as one moves down the long axis of the rink.  At least I think that's what's going on.

The Progressive Sequence is similar but with a cross over (actually, a more refined "cross under") replacing the Progressive's lift at the three count.

For me, the Swing Rolls, each held for a count of six was the easiest.  I probably looked like an idiot going down the long axis silently mouthing one, two, three, four, five, six over and over...

So far I've been spared the typically dreadful music that accompanies low level patterns but I assume that will end soon.  In the meantime let's listen to something soothing.  If you ever get a miserable song stuck in your head, just hum the tune "the girl from Ipanema" and your misery will be over.

WARNING: under no circumstance should you ever sing the actual words from that song.  If you do then "the girl from Ipanema" will replace the first stuck song, and for that predicament there is no known antidote.

I'll not have a lesson this coming Saturday as the rink is given over to a Halloween party (free admission if you wear a costume or bring can goods for charity; I plan on doing both).  So, I get a week's reprieve before coming to grips with the  Dutch Waltz.  More then.  Ta.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Steppin' Out

FS-1 celebration is over.  I'm now coming to grips with the elements in FS-2, one of which is this 10-step dance sequence.  Apologies for the slightly crumbled copy but I needed it at first because although there are only ten steps I just couldn't keep them straight without a road map. I stuffed it in my pocket while attempting to run through the thing. The "sway" after the initial cross-over is just a left foot edge change before the open Mohawk.  The step behind (step Nr 7) isn't too bad as long as I keep the preceding Mohawk well checked and remember to bend my knees enough to keep the knee cap over the toes during that maneuver.  Not smooth yet but getting there.  Heading to the rink for the 3:30-5:30 public since I've time on my hands courtesy of our Tea Cup Congress. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Finally. I. Passed. Free-Style 1.

 Ta Da...

It only took me 32 years, but  I am persistent if nothing else.  Of course I probably should deduct all the years in between now and 1981 when I finished my Masters degree at the University of Delaware and moved to the University of Maryland before I was ready to test on the ice.  In those days Maryland didn't give a hoot in hell about figure skating and even now skating is a limited sport at UM.  Perhaps a more meaningful metric is that it took me almost exactly a year to move from Delta to FS-1.

So now I get to brag a little: how many skaters can claim they're better in their 60s than they were in their 30s?  Of course it helps to have a relatively small hill to climb, but bragging rights are bragging rights! To be honest, I did have to retest on one element: the two foot spin.  During my "program" I only got five and a half rotations of the required six revs.  Upon retesting I somehow managed stay off my drag picks long enough to squeak out the missing half rotation.

Up to this point most of what I was encountering during lessons was familiar territory.  Perhaps introduced in a diffrent order and taught in a different way from back in the 70s but still noddingly familiar.  Getting my body to do some of them again took a lot of convincing.  Beyond this point lies terra incognita.  How many rungs will I climb on the Free-Style ladder?  Good question.  I tend to take things a rung at a time so not to become too dispirited.  My current group lesson instructor told me that I'll hate FS-2, not because of how she judges my potential but more because all of her past students have struggled with this level.  I plan on engauging a coach for private ice dance lessons as well as continuing with FS in the group. With my current minimum of accumulated skills, I think now is the time to explore whether or not I have the musicallity to skate and chew gum at the same time.  We shall see!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Road Testing Pingi: Beating the summer munge.

Babbette first blogged about these dehumidifiers on her blogspot a month or so ago here.  She reports that her feet are dry and so she doesn't put the Pingi bags directly into her boots but just drops one into her skate bag.  Your diarist, on the other hand has sweaty feet and the confines of my Jackson free-style boots with their soft, heat moldable linings get quite moist with as little as a 30 minute lesson.  A two hour public session?  Soaked!  Skate four or five times a week during the summer?  You can image.

My attempts to deal with the smell have included trying those deodorizing balls one finds at sports shops.  Other skaters have recommended putting drier fabric softener sheets in the boots.  Those strategies basically just hide the problem with a weird smell which reminds me of old hiking boots abandoned in a pine forest.  Worse, the boots remain damp inside.  Nothing is more fun than sticking your feet back into clammy boots the next day--kinda like wearing wet diapers on your feet.  I'll save that sensation for when I put on my dinghy boots for the second day of a sailing regatta. 

I thought about getting those little heater/fan thingies that campers use to dry their wet boots but was concerned that the heat from the driers would ruin the inside shape of my heat-moldable boots.  I already have a love/hate relationship with the fit of these boots and since the boots and I currently have declared an uneasy truce, I don't want to rock that particular boat.   My best solution up 'til now was a home made one: put either kitty litter or Drierite desiccant into old socks and put the socks into the boots.  That actually works well but it's hard to get the right amount of desiccant into a sock without the sock getting too big to fit into the boot.  After reading about Pingi desiccant bags I decided to give them a try.

Pingi bags come in three sizes:  150g, 250g and 450g.  I ordered the smallest size but perhaps the 250g size would still fit inside a skate boot.

I suspect the ingredient inside the bag is my old friend Drierite.  The penguin changes color from blue (dry) to pink (water saturated) just like Drierite does.

To recharge the saturated Pingi one places the bag in a microwave for 3 minutes or until the indicator Penguin goes from pink back to blue.  This is a lot easier than removing the Drierite from old socks and baking it dry in an oven and then returning it to the socks (which by now have little holes in them...).

Here's a 150g Pingi nestled inside one of my boots.  The next day the interior of the boot was dry and Pingi was still blue so the 150g size appears to have sufficient capacity to dry out a very sweaty boot.  I bought two; one for each boot.  Dry, odor-free boots are happy boots!  I ordered my Pingi bags from Amazon but perhaps they can also be found at a big box store near you.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yin and Yang: автоФигурное Катание. Танец машин и фигуристов на льду

This is a cute little video that's making the rounds in ice dance circles.  I'll post it for those who might not have seen it yet.  Too bad the skaters don't do a lift...  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!

While driving to the beach this morning I tuned in to one of my fav programs on the radio: Even Stephen's "Bop Time" on WDUV, the campus radio station of my Alma Mater, the University of Delaware.  The theme of today's program was the year 1946. That is, all the music played in today's show came out in that year.  Now 1946 was the year I "came out" so I was very attentive.  The best song played, in my opinion, was Lionel Hampton's release of "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop".  Lionel is better known for playing the vibes, but this tune is a wonderful example of  "call and response" vocals mixed with skat.  The icing on the cake are the great trumpet and clarinet solos towards the end.  I could so solo-skate to this!  Granted I'll probably face plant, but I'll be so stylin' on my way down to that "up close and personal" encounter with the uncaring ice.  Somehow I gotta work out some choreography for my very limited skill set and get it into a program.  Put on some good earphones and see if you don't agree--get your MO-JO workin'!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Working on fundamentals

Whenever (make that most of the time) I'm struggling with a new skill, I tend to back away from it after a while and shift gears a bit by working on something else.  I have a seemingly endless array of fundamental skills to choose from which all need work, so no worries about finding something to work on.  The last two publics which I skated where for the most part devoted to refining the forward inside Mohawk turn that I use as the entry element for the half-flip jump.  It's getting better but at a glacial pace.

Sunday I gave myself a break from that and worked on another weak foundation skill: forward and back crossovers.  My forward crossovers are OK but those in the CCW direction could be better.  My back crossovers are the reverse:  I'm comfortable going CCW but very shaky if transitioning to the left back outside edge for the CW crossover.  Last Thursday night I talked to the coach who was substituting for our regular group lesson instructor about this and she indicated that my half swivel pump for sliding the cross foot ahead of the inside foot could be stronger/smoother.  I went home, thought about her comments and watched a couple youtube videos (and actually got something useful out of youtube for a change).  Yesterday, back on the ice, I focused on the pump phase of the back crossover and was immediately rewarded on my strong side.  Even the back crossover in the shaky direction got a little better.  Additionally, I worked hard to consciously deepen my knee bend   With more knee bend my forward crossovers not only became stronger and flowed better but also started to produce much more power and speed.  The rink suddenly became much smaller!   I might become halfway stylish if I keep this up...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thank God for good days: how much is too much?

Last Friday I stunk up the ice.  I couldn't get out of my own way.  Absolutely nothing was working.  Today--totally different.  My legs decided to report for duty.  What a relief!

I'm still trying to work out what is the minimum timing between sessions on the ice to permit my legs to recover.  Public sessions vary between an hour and a half and two hours.  Some of the other skaters that I'm on speaking terms with tend to come to the same publics but unlike your overly thrifty diarist, those skaters come late and leave early.  Do they know something about over-training that I've yet to discover?  I did notice today that with 15 minutes to go my legs were feeling distinctly "gassed".  Should I have stopped then and there?  I pressed on until the Zamboni came out.  Did I really do anything worthwhile with the last few turns, jumps, perimeter skates?  Or, did I set myself up for another stinky skate two days from now when I plan to next skate?  I'll find out Tuesday!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slow but steady

Diaristdaughter and I are back taking summer group lessons.  I've been skating with the free-style group while she's been sticking with the mixed bag of adults.  This past Tuesday my group was flooded with extra kids dropping in from Bowie's ISI team, so I decided to wander back over to the adults and skate with them since the two groups share the same time slot.  The usual instructor, coach Mike, takes the  summers off so there was a new person at the helm of this group.  I told the new gun that one of  my persistent issues in advancing up the free-style ladder is that my CCW turns suck.  She asked me to demonstrate and after observing a couple of LOF3s and CCW Mohawks she offered several suggestions that immediately improved those turns.  She also suggested that I try entering the half-flip jump from a Mohawk rather than my wonky left 3 turn.  I tried it and while the jump was not a thing of beauty at least I got in the half rotation.  This experience reenforces my opinion that I really need to concentrate on cleaning up foundation elements rather than beating myself up attempting jumps that require strong execution of those preceding turns.  It also was good to have a different coach take a look and make suggestions.  Sometimes you just need to hear advise from a different angle to make a concept click.  I plan to continue with group lessons but I hope to hire this particular coach for occasional private lessons to refine foundation stuff and give me fresh perspectives so that I continue to advance in the group lessons and don't plateau.

One of our pre-teen nieces from Georgia (that got me back into skating two years ago) is up visiting for a few weeks. I've tried to talk her into taking lessons while she's here but she's a hard head and just wants to skate fast and turn left.  Must be that southern NASCAR influence!   I've tried to teach her the snow plow stop without much luck.  Her mode is to just hit the boards when she wants to stop and that's OK since it's summer and the public sessions are relatively uncrowded.  She is enthusiastic, and has become noticeably steadier each time out. She's taught herself a couple of little spins and things like forward swizzles mainly by observation so I know she'd benefit from formal instruction.  But while you can lead a mule to water you can't force one to drink.  In her defense, back home there are no ice rinks close to home, just roller rinks.  I recon she'll be prefect for roller derby some day...  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I'm Baaaack! I'm tanned! I'm rested! (Did you miss me?)

At the end of June Bowie finished the annual two month cycle of maintenance and painted the ice as shown here.
Like fresh powder snow to a skier, freshly done ice looks beautiful to the skater!
Our pro shop is under new ownership. The long time owner of "Blades of Bowie" sold out and "Pro Skate" is the new name for our rink's skate shop.  Rumor has it that one of the pair of new owners works for the Caps and the other works for the LA Kings.
This is this year's skate camp mascot.  He needs a name.
Today, the 6th of July, was the first day Bowie Ice Arena reopened for the new season.  Diaristdaughter and I were there for the first public session.  We hadn't been on skates since mid-May and so we were a little nervous about how much rust had formed on our respective muscle memories. As it turned out mercifully not too much but I'm glad we did get a chance to knock some of it off before lessons kick off this coming Tuesday evening.  I fell hard once at the very end of the session but no damage was done to either your diarist or the new ice surface!  Photo credit for this post: Bowie Ice Arena.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What color is your ice pass, and more observations about Wheaton Ice Arena

Around here ice passes come in two flavors:  your basic stick-on rectangle or a wrist band.  Bowie issues the different colored stick-on passes while Piney and Wheaton prefer the wrist band thingies.  I like the  stickers because I can't get the wrist band type around my wrist when I have my wrist guards on.  Otherwise the band is hidden and the ice monitor must either take my word for it that I've paid or I have to remove the wrist guard to show the pass.  Are there other types of ice passes?  What does your rink issue?
I skated at Wheaton again this past Saturday and made two interesting observations: 1. the ice monitor was on figure blades rather than the ubiquitous hockey blades and 2. when conditions permitted she wiled away the time practicing swing rolls and double 3s.  When was the last time you saw an ice monitor do either?!  Of course I should mention that Wheaton Ice Arena is one of three rinks which the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy uses for training.  The other two are Cabin John and Rockville.  More about WISA can be found here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Displaced to foreign parts: wherein the wandering Bowegian goes to Wheaton Ice Arena

Wheaton Ice Arena is located just off of Arcola Ave. in Wheaton, Maryland.  Like an endangered Polar bear one sees in a public television nature program devoted to global warming, your diarist has been forced to desperately scan the horizon for an ever dwindling source of new ice in order to survive.  First Bowie Ice Arena shut down for annual maintenance and then Piney Orchard also closed in order to resurface their rink.  This week I'm taking Horace Greeley's advice and find myself "going west".  Wheaton is a bit of a hike around the beltway from Bowie but isn't too far from my lab at Beltsville.  Yes, the Ice Garden at Laurel, Maryland is closer but their public session schedule doesn't jive well with my work schedule, so over to Wheaton I went.  I took off from the lab at 3:30 this afternoon which allowed plenty of time to arrive for the 4:30 to 6 pm public session. I inquired as to whether or not they had a geezer rate and was rewarded by saving a buck ($5.50 vs $6.50).  While I was lacing up a kid in hockey skates jumped out on the ice before the Zamboni operator had closed the end rink doors which is a major no-no on every rink I've ever skated.  He was promptly chastised for his breach of etiquette.  After we were finally allowed to step out on the ice I saw the ice monitor setting up cones on the four red dots which surround the center circle.  Since this is something not done at my home ice I asked her about the significance and she said they put the cones out to create a space where traffic doesn't cross into so that folks can practice their edges, spins, etc. without fear of an ice tourist invading the space at an inopportune time.  How civilized!  When I revealed that I was a displaced skater wandering from rink to rink while my home ice was being refurbished, she indicated that this rink will also close for a few weeks in late June or early July. When that happens most of the Wheaton skaters will migrate to the rink at Cabin John.  For me the exodus will probably extend to the rink at Rockville.  My wanderings will finally end on the 6th of July when Bowie reopens.  The Wheaton rink is part of a large county sports complex that features a park with soccer and base ball fields.  Along with the above indoor rink. this complex also has an outdoor rink which functions during winter.  Wheaton Ice Arena is the home of a well known ice dance school.  My impression of the rink is that the facility is very nice, well lighted and has the sensation of good management and maintenance that one comes to expect from a county or city run rink.  Although I skated a late afternoon public session that featured on-going LTS lessons, (which put about a third of the ice off limits), it was never crowded.  My main problem was that I hadn't skated in roughly a week and it took me most of the hour and a half just to claw my way back to where I was when I last skated at Piney last Friday.  But when one only skates once a week instead of four or five times, skills do erode.  I commiserated with a girl who, like myself, was trying to get her half-flip jump under control.  After the public session ended I headed home.  The next session was a level-2 free-style session.  Both too advanced and too spendy for your thrifty diarist.  I'll probably return to Wheaton a few more times before moving on to Rockville.  If you skate at Wheaton and see a white haired geezer come over and say "hi"--I won't bite!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Piney Orchard: another rink goes off-line

Piney Orchard Ice Arena, Odenton, Maryland; the new "not" home of displaced Bowie skaters.

  We've been skating here since the end of last month but last night was the last public session before Piney also shuts down to redo their sheet.  They reopen the Tuesday after Memorial Day, but my schedule doesn't jive with theirs until the first week of June.  This is particularly annoying since my funky LFO3 is finally just starting to click in a reliable way, and in turn, I'm getting a little better at executing the half-flip jump which depends on that turn.  We'll see if my progress has stuck or evaporated by the time I get to skate again.  Piney generally doesn't shut down, but last year's hurricane knocked the electricity off long enough for the ice to melt.  When the juice came back on and the ice refroze on it's own all the hockey lines, logos, face off circles etc. were blurry and faded.  There's been enough complaining that rink management decided to shut the place down and repaint the sheet and bring up new ice.  This should  be a major improvement for Piney, which in my opinion needs a bit of a spruce up.  Now if we could just get them to leave more of the lights on during publics...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Painting Ice: How do they do that???

Ever wonder how an ice rink surface is painted?  All those lines, circles, face-off dots, team logos, advertisements, rink names, etc., etc.  Most people think the paint is applied to dry concrete and then the rink is flooded and ice is built up.  Not quite.  Watch this video first (for some reason it won't download from youtube properly, so click the underlined link).  It best explains the process.  Then watch the time lapse videos of crews painting the ice below.  They will give you an appreciation of the work that goes on before your blades touch the ice.  I hope to get over to my rink in June when they start the painting process to see it first hand.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May is the cruelest month.

My apologies to T. S. Eliot.  April may breed lilacs out the dead land, mixing memory and desire, but in May the City of Bowie melts the ice for two months just as many skaters are right on the cusp of passing the next ISI level!  Two months of struggling to find higher priced ice time close enough to get to after work.  Two months of struggling to keep from going backwards skill-wise.

I'm just back from the last public session of the skating "year".  The usual crowd was there plus a coach with two very good women hockey players going through drills.  I'd not seen this trio before but they were a welcome addition.  I've got no beef with actual hockey players (they very seldom show up at publics and as a rule are VERY good skaters).  The coach was a tall, shaven dome man with hawk-like eyes.  The women went through their drills like greased lightening.  Later I overheard one of the rink staffers ask how they did this year and the young ladies indicated that since their team finished number one they reckoned they'd done OK...

But enough about them--what about me?  I savored my last swing rolls and waltz jumps and will no doubt be grumpy later in the week as withdrawal settles in. My choices in order of length of drive distance from Bowie are:

Piney Orchard ~9.1 miles/15 minutes away

Wheaton Ice Arena ~22.8 miles/32 minutes away

Columbia Association Ice Rink ~22.9miles/34 minutes away

Capitol Club House ~32 miles/43 minutes away

Piney is the obvious choice.  They have a public on Friday evenings (hopefully not a DJ/disco ball affair) and a Sunday afternoon public which diaristdaughter and I can make.  Trouble is that Piney is a dark hole with so-so ice.  Yes, I'll skate there but don't be surprised to see a "new" geezer show up on your ice if you skate at Wheaton, Columbia or Waldorf.  Tis the season for Bowegian skaters to become wandering ice tourists--sigh....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Free Style 1: Still a work in progress

Today was the last group lesson of the current set which I signed up for back at the beginning of this month.  We did skate our program and afterwards coach Mike handed us our assessments.  None of us passed but all of us made progress.  For comparison, above are my two scores.  The first is from January of this year and the second one is from today. Back in January I got a passing mark for three out of the six FS-1 elements (5 is the minimum passing mark for a given element).  Today I increased that to passing five out of six.  The only thing holding me back is the 1/2 flip jump, but since I've discovered how to make my boots snug I'm confident that both the jump and the left FO3 turn which proceeds it will quickly improve.  On Wednesday, 1 May, our rink melts the ice for two months in order to do annual maintenance of the building and ice making machinery.  I'll skate when I can at other rinks and I plan to enroll in group lessons during July and August.  Hopefully I'll be able to get over the top of  FS-1 before I'm 90!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Heel cup update

Of all the various things I've tried in an attempt to get my Jackson Freestyle boots to fit properly the gel heel cups which I blogged about earlier today are easily the most effective mods to date.  I skated the late afternoon public session today and slipped them in my boots just prior to taking the ice.  Truth be told I still had to come in and retie my laces after about twenty minutes but that's twice as long as previously and once retied, my boots stayed pretty much spot on for the remainer of the session.  For the first time my heels felt locked into the boots.  As a result all the elements which depend upon the left foot improved immediately.  That not only included left outside 3s but also alternating back cross-overs at speed.  I can't wait for power stroking tomorrow!  Maybe it's all in my head but I don't think so.  My confidence increased with each successfully completed jump and improved turn, spin, etc.  I just wish I'd tried this sooner.  The heel cups I purchased were relatively inexpensive at $11.65/pair (tax included) at my local Sports Authority store compared to the similar Silipos brand items listed at one on-line site for $29.99 plus shipping.  If you are experiencing heel movement with your boots by all means give these a try.

Boot Fit: The Saga Continues

Above is my latest gambit in the seemingly never ending war of boot fit--yes, my boots and I are still at war.  When the laces (and boots) are snug then my clockwise skating is markedly better than usual but after ten minutes I can almost always feel my heels (left one in particular) moving around in the boots when I do forward swing rolls, for example.  Hopefully these gel heel cups will take up just enough space to eliminate the slop without elevating my heels to some new weird angle.  I'll find out this afternoon.  Little by little I'm getting these boots to bend to my will.  Being somewhat fatalistic, I'm inclined to believe that I'll finally achieve perfection about a week before they wear out!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ain't no cure for the summer time blues--or is there?

I don't know about you but after an energetic skating session the insides of my boots are good and sweaty.  Maybe it's a guy thing.  Maybe I just have sweaty feet.  Don't know.  In winter this is usually not a problem since in between skating sessions I take my skates out of the bag and open up the laces while they "rest" in our heater room.  With the utility room door closed and the gas heater cycling at regular intervals, the interior of the boots usually dry out by the next morning.  However, now we're in spring here in central Maryland.  The heater is off but we haven't turned the air conditioner on yet.  Spring is nice and green and humid. I skate four to five times per week and my boots most times are still damp the next time I put them on, but the worse thing is that this is the time of year that they get mungy (might be a word) smelling.  If other people can smell me coming that's their problem, but when I can smell my own equipment it's problematic for me!  In the past I've tried baking soda and a house-hold product called febreze. Neither one worked well in my hands.  The baking soda simply caked inside my moist boots and then got all over my socks the next time.  As for the febreze, the boots still smelled like stinky boots but ones now parked in a vaguely scented meadow.  Yep, in both cases the boots still smelled and took forever to dry out.  This year I decided I'd needed to do better.

I started out by calling the folks who made my boots.
If you live in North America you can call up Jackson: 800.263.1666 and talk with their tech peeps.  I asked if I could use a typical boot drier with electric heating elements, like the ones used to dry out wet hiking boots or cycling shoes.  My concern with that approach was that the drier might not be consistent with heat moldable skating boots.  The nice lady fielding my call put me on hold for a few minutes and  came back to say that her supervisor didn't think that this was a good idea.  She then asked me if I'd tried baking soda.  When I told her that I had and didn't like the results her reply was that everyone has this problem and to have a nice day!  So much for the manufacturer.  They probably gave me the correct information but it didn't add up to a solution for the problem.  My next step was to go to my local sporting goods store (Sports Authority) and ask for their advice.

The products above are what I came home with.
The Sneaker Balls are the same strategy one might find in a powder room; basically an "air-wick" type substance enclosed within a plastic sphere.  You twist the ball to open the vents and drop one into each boot.  The vents on the sides permit the contents to volatilize and diffuse within the moist boot.  The Fresh Fogger is an athletic take on febreze.  Neither product will dry the interior of the boots and it remains to be seen (or smelled) if either one has a leg up on febreze.  In the end I just may go ahead and see if there's a boot drier that has a temperature setting.  Ideally, what one wants is just a smidgeon of warmth to complement a fan blowing air into the boots.  Too much heat and the boots will lose their shape.

Now if any of my readers has cracked this nut I'd love to hear what works in the comments box.  I promise not to make any snide jokes about your smelly skates!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Ice for Bowie?

The city of Bowie has hired a consulting firm to investigate the level of support for a new indoor sports complex that would feature two sheets of ice along with a fitness center and perhaps an aquatics center.  This is hopeful news, particularly in an era where local government support for any "frills" (yes, believe it or not, that includes ice skating) is generally shrinking rather than expanding.  If you live in central Maryland and think you might skate at a new rink complex here in good ol' Bowie, please take the ten minutes or so to complete the survey.  The survey closes at the end of April so don't put it off.  I may take it several times! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Free Style-1 Programing Continued

OK, the district championships are over and while they were great fun to watch, coach Mike says it's time to get back in the harness (figuratively--I'm not advanced enough for the jump harness).  A couple posts ago I outlined the first half of our FS-1 test program.  You can refresh you memory by clicking on the link in the preceding sentence if you don't want to scroll down a noodge.  Last Saturday he gave me and my three foot tall classmates the rest of the moves.  The kids quickly caught on but I realized that I'd need some practice time to knit all the parts together without ploughing a furrow.  With only a couple of lessons to go the heat is on.  So it was off to a couple of public sessions earlier this week.

Recall that our program left off with us doing a forward spiral and dropping into a lunge.  The last half picks up at that point.  We rise from the lunge, do a couple of forward inside edges and then a forward inside Mohawk which places us in position to do our required outside and inside back edges.  From the last back inside edge we step around and do a waltz jump, then a couple of back cross-overs, step into a two-foot spin and finally stop with a presentation pose.  The required elements for FS-1 are the forward pivot, back inside and outside edges, the waltz jump, the half-flip jump, a forward spiral and the two-foot spin.  The lunge, forward and back cross-overs, forward edges, Mohawk, etc. that knit the program together are from lower test levels and are not graded--which is a good thing.  That blasted ccw Mohawk cost me a broken radius last year.  I'm rigging the order of my forward edges to set me up for a cw Mohawk instead!  We'll see if Mike buys it...

Monday afternoon I got to the rink and saw one of my classmates.  Lydia, smiling as ever, quickly got down to practicing the program.  I was distracted by a couple of adult skaters and instead of working on the program I got involved in learning the steps for the chassé which of course has nothing to do with the business at hand. 

Now the several figure skating books that I have attempt to explain the chassé but either they don't get the job done or I'm a poor reader because I could never quite figure out what now seems to be a simple sequence of a stroke, followed by lifting the skating foot followed by another stroke by the original pushing foot.  This is followed by the same steps but with the roles of the feet reversed: push, lift, push; push, lift, push.  I circulated the rink practicing this over and over, mesmerized by the rhythm of thing.   I guess it was one of those elements I just needed to see done on-ice.  All this was a nice revelation and definitely worth learning, but before I knew it the session was over and I'd accomplished diddly-squat in terms of practicing the program!  Yes, I'm easily distracted, sigh...  Why is it that when you have a test coming up that almost anything but the assigned task seems so irresistible? 

Fortunately for me, Tuesday also offered a late afternoon public session and I was able to get away from the lab in time to take advantage of it.  Equally fortunate for me, neither Lydia or my adult skating buddies were present this day and with the rink almost deserted I got down to work. I was able to run through the entire program several times and iron out a few question marks that were part of my faulty recall when making notes after the lesson.  And it appears that my half-flip jump is slightly improved.  I think at this point if I can get the required six revolutions for the two-foot spin I just may be able to pass this thing.  Towards the end of the session I knew it was time to get off the ice as my ability to execute deteriorated.  At least I had the satisfaction of a couple of good run-throughs before my performance started to go pear shaped.  I'll get another shot practicing all this on Friday afternoon.

The remaining missing puzzle piece is the music.  This coming Saturday Mike will no doubt introduce that.  I'm not sure how I'll be able to practice timing the program to the music after the lesson unless I can download what ever he selects to my iPod shuffle.  Our test will take place on the last Saturday of the month, the 27th.  On the 1st of May the rink closes for two months.  It would be nice to escape FS-1 and have the last couple of skates before the annual shut down just to enjoy skating!  We shall see. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

ISI District IV Championships--this weekend at Bowie Ice Arena.

Although I'll have my usual power stoking session and performance class on Saturday morning, from 2pm on, my rink will be given over to the above mentioned ISI District competition. Even though I won't be able to watch all the Saturday events due to other commitments I do plan to watch the Artistic Silver group, from 6:30 to 7:00, since a couple of my adult skating buddies will be going head to head (I'll need to know who to congratulate and whom to console the next time we're on-ice!).  The schedule of events for the two days can be found here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Programs, Programs, get yer Program. Ya can't tella Knight from a Day without a Program...

My sincerest apology to Bugs Bunny for today's post title. This line bubbled to the top of my memory bank from the hours upon hours of watching "Loony Tunes" as a kid and I just had to steal it.

Today was my first class in a group lesson series billed "Free Style Program".  Basically this is a 45 minute Saturday class, spread out over the next four weeks that follows my power stroke session, so for once in my life I ought to arrive at a lesson warmed up!  The idea is to take skaters of similar free style abilities and for the first 30 minutes work on the skill elements that are part and parcel of whatever free style level they are attempting to pass.  The last 15 minutes of this class is devoted to stringing those isolated elements together in a pleasing-to-watch array set to music. 

Now this class is a bit different from the Adult group lessons diaristdaughter and I've been taking on Thursday evenings.  The class density is roughly the same but instead of having a broad spectrum of skill levels typically ranging from nervous board-huggers to free-stylers, this class was subdivided into skaters all at about the same level.  It was more like a true lesson rather than like being in a one room school house.  Our instructor didn't have to split attention between folks attempting vastly different skills.  Instead he could focus on specific elements within a given ISI free-style level and work all of us through a specific skill and after watching each of us attempt the skill have the luxury of time to break a given element, say the half-flip jump, into pieces for us to practice, according to our individual weaknesses.  As a result, my forward inside pivot greatly improved with the very first lesson and I now have a piece of the half-flip to practice the next time I'm at a public session.  I suspect this is why young, competitively driven skaters have private coaches!

Oh, and the other major difference between this class and my regular adult class is that my three classmates were "perky" and on average about three feet tall--the kind of skaters adults usually worry about tripping over.  Fortunately, for the sake of my ego, they weren't too much beyond me skill-wise!  The young ladies could all do pivots and two-foot spins more gracefully than I but my Waltz jump and back edges were better than theirs.  As the thirty minutes progressed we all worked through the half dozen required FS-1 elements: forward inside pivot, two-foot spin,  half-flip, Waltz jump, forward spiral and back inside and outside edges.

For the last 15 minutes of this 45 minute class our instructor told us we now needed to knit these skills together to form an interesting program.  We quickly ran out of time but so far our "program" is as follows:  we start off facing the long axis of the ice and do an inside pivot (two turns, then freeze facing the original direction) we then take a couple of forward strokes, do a couple left forward cross-overs into a left forward outside 3 turn which provides the entry edge for the half-flip jump.  The jump is followed by a couple more forward strokes and cross-overs to bring us into position for a forward spiral.  The spiral is followed by a lunge.  Time ran out and we still have to figure out how to incorporate a Waltz jump, the two-foot spin and the required FS-1 back edges.  That will be work for next Saturday.  After we have the basic program figured out the next step is to make it work to music.  Ah yes, the music.  I'm a little antsy about this.  Will the music be something classy or will it be something dripping with teeny-blopper angst? 

Now it's one thing for a grown man to attempt to do something "graceful" in the arm gesture department and something else again to do so while skating to music from the discography of, oh I don't know, maybe Miley Cyrus--oh the humanity!  The risk in all this is that some smart-aleck will capture the moment with a smart phone and with my luck the resulting video will go viral on youtube.  It's so true--one must suffer for one's art!  Programs, Programs, get yer Program!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Figure Skaters and motion sickness--is Dramamine a good idea or not?

Skaters who are determined to climb the free style skill ladder sooner or later encounter two foot and single foot spins.  Most beginning spinners, myself included, can only practice spins for a limited number of episodes before becoming slightly or in some cases violently motion sick.  The commonly accepted notion is that one becomes habituated to these cycles of unusual vestibular stimulation and over time adapts to the point of being able to do a rapid spin and immediately after finishing, carry on with another element requiring good balance and timing, for example a jump, without requiring time to "clear" one's head.  Below are a couple of abstracts from research articles which indeed strongly suggest that free stylers in fact do adapt.  So if you're currently suffering, hang in there! 

As an aside, can anyone comment on the efficacy of taking over the counter motion sickness drugs such as Dramamine prior to practicing spins?  It and other OTC remedies have a long history in dealing with the off vertical axis rotational stimulation produced during episodes of other types of motion sickness such as car sickness or sea sickness.  Would they work for figure skaters doing spins?

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Dec;104(6):1031-7. doi: 10.1007/s00421-008-0859-7. Epub 2008 Aug 30.

Vestibulo-ocular reflex and motion sickness in figure skaters.


UPRES-EA 3917 Mobilités: Cognition et Temporalité, Faculté de médecine, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, 14032 Caen Cedex, France.


In order to determine the effect of figure skating on the functional plasticity of the vestibular system, we quantified vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) and motion sickness (MS) intensity in 11 female figure skaters and 11 matched control subjects. Vestibular stimulation consisted of three cycles of sinusoidal rotation (0.025 Hz, +/-60 degrees /s) and two velocity steps of 60 degrees /s (acceleration 60 degrees /s(2)). Nauseogenic stimulation consisted of a constant velocity (60 degrees /s) off vertical axis rotation (OVAR) using a 15 degrees tilt angle. Subjective sickness symptoms were rated immediately after OVAR with the Pensacola diagnostic index. During sinusoidal stimulations, the skaters' VOR, as compared with that of the controls, demonstrates a gain that is 27% lower (0.44 +/- 0.12 vs. 0.58 +/- 0.10; P < 0.01) and a phase advance (10 +/- 12 degrees vs. -0.3 +/- 6.4 degrees ; P < 0.05). During velocity steps, the VOR gain is 32% lower among the skaters (0.52 +/- 0.14 vs. 0.71 +/- 0.12; P < 0.01), but there is no difference in time constant (10.8 +/- 1.8 s vs. 10.5 +/- 2.7 s; P = 0.78). Nauseogenic stimulation evokes significantly less MS in figure skaters than in control subjects (2.8 +/- 2.8 vs. 16.2 +/- 13.7; P < 0.01). Quantitative alterations in VOR parameters observed in figure skaters probably result from vestibular habituation induced by repeated unusual stimulations when practicing figure skating.

Neuroreport. 2008 Mar 26;19(5):565-8. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e3282f9427e.

Are otolithic inputs interpreted better in figure skaters?


EA 3917 Attention, Orientation et Fonctions Exécutives, Universite of Caen, 14032 Caen Cedex, France.


The aim of this study was to investigate whether figure skaters, as individuals who experience intense vestibular stimulation, presented modification of the otolith-ocular reflex. The reflexes of 12 figure skaters were assessed using off vertical axis rotation (OVAR). Horizontal otolith-ocular reflex during OVAR is characterized by two parameters: the eye velocity horizontal modulation, assumed to compensate for perceived lateral linear translation, and the bias, assumed to compensate for the perceived rotation. We observed that skaters presented smaller amplitude of modulation and truly compensatory bias compared with control participants. Thus, the otolithic signal during OVAR seems to be interpreted more as rotation and less as translation or inclination in figure skaters.