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.