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.