Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Banner Week

Last week due to a rare confluence of a Monday holiday, the weather and work scheduling I was able to skate six days in a row.  Six days in a row--yep, it met the definition of a "banner week"--it was Ridiculously Great.  Looking back I'm amazed that my legs didn't feel gassed after about the third session.

This is how it all went down:  Monday was the MLK holiday.  I told myself that if I was ever going to get anywhere with the first three pattern dances I really, really needed to tow my butt out of bed and get myself to the 9 am public.  I had this very same talk with myself when I took vacation over the Christmas holidays but couldn't make myself do it.

Now I have skated this session a time or two before.  The thing is, I'm not a morning person.  Neither am I a nite-owl.  I'm sort of a middle of the day person.  I tend to peak and be the most agreeable around lunch time.  But as most of us know opportunity doesn't care about all that, so it was up with the lark.  I arrived at the rink at 8:30 full of good intentions about doing thirty minutes worth of gentle stretches and off-ice warm up "stuff".  I was the only car in the frigid, wind-swept parking lot.  The minutes ticked by inside my rapidly cooling car and I was beginning to wonder if the morning session had been cancelled when finally one of the rink managers drove in.  So much for 30 minutes of warm up.  Got in there, got skates on, got on the ice. My warm up consisted of perimeter stroking.  I was the only skater for at least a half an hour--glorious if a bit stiff.  I practiced the Dutch Waltz, the Canasta Tango and the Rhythm  Blues.  I had my iPod racked and stacked with coach-supplied dance music and actually started to get a feel for the dances once my legs started to cooperate. Not only that, but I surprised myself by getting the lobes of the dances more or less where the diagrams indicated they should be.  It was nice not having ice tourists cutting me off and busting the pattern.  Timing?  Forgetaboutit.  Timing will come later.  Right now I just let the music push me around the rink.

Monday night we had a snow storm.  Schools announced closure before the first flake drifted down.  In the morning the Fed Gov also closed.  Sweeeeet!  Much too treacherous to drive to the lab.  As an aside, when I started working thirty years ago the only thing that would cause OPM to throw its collect hands to Heaven was maybe a bridge collapse, and even that would probably only get you a couple hour delay.  Happily, we live in kinder, gentler times with grid-lock traffic density (on a good day).  Now days, just the tiniest bit of snow is all it takes to bollix the DC beltway and feeder roads from one end to the other.  Far be it from me to turn down manna from Heaven.  I hit the 9 am session for the second day.

Wednesday dawned and DC area bellwether indicators (including the much watched Crème de la Crème preschool) as well as the Fed Gov announced a 2 hour delayed opening. What's a diarist to do but go ice skating?  Again, the session was practically deserted.  I got in lots of dance practice.

Thursday night was my normally scheduled freestyle group lesson.  Friday I managed to get to the late afternoon public.

Saturday, my sixth day on the ice, rolled around and I went to my regularly scheduled ice dance lesson, now held during a 9 to 9:45 am Freestyle pickup (the 9 am ice thing is getting pretty routine--not that I'm liking it any better).  Coach K., who's Saturdays begin at a different rink in the darkness of 6 am, and thus, has limited sympathy about the subject of early rising said "go warm up and then show me where you're at."  After a couple laps of perimeter stroking I punched the iPod and solo skated the Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  After completing a couple passes of each dance I skated over to her.  She said "Obviously you've gotten in some practice.  Not only could I tell that you were actually skating pattern dances, I didn't even have to guess which ones."  High praise indeed.

We spent the rest of the lesson tweaking the Canasta Tango and then worked on the Rhythm Blues.  Immediately she pointed out that I was starting the step-behinds on the wrong foot (no wonder I was having trouble starting the next pass of the pattern!).  So, I had to invest valuable time unlearning a bad habit, making sure that I was on a RFI edge for the first one.  An extra step has sneaked in at the last progressive, but then I'm just coming to grips with this dance.

On the seventh day he rested.  What can I say?  I'm becoming a skate snob.  I could have continued my streak and skated Sunday afternoon, but crowded publics just don't do it for me anymore.  As noted in an earlier post, I've vowed not to skate the weekend public sessions until the crowd density goes down.  Maybe by March? 

In summary, it amazes me the amount of progress one can make if one has access to lots of uncluttered ice time.  The current week will be the opposite.  I did manage to skate yesterday afternoon but that's probably it until my next dance lesson this coming Saturday so progress will go back to slow and steady mode.

As I laced up yesterday, I was recounting the above saga with another skater whom I hadn't seen since back in December.  One of the coaches (not mine) overheard and said, "Yep, he did skate all those sessions and I can vouch for it."  She then looked at me and said "You should think about competing."

Oh Dear, Oh Dear.

Competition.  That's for young people not brittle old recreational skaters.  As I sit here and type this I have to confess I like the idea, but my skating needs a hell of a lot more work before anything remotely resembling "competition" is in the cards.  Besides that, I'd need a partner.  My bride, aka: the ever enchanting diaristwoman, flatly refuses to get out on the ice with me, indicating that she's much too young to spend the rest of her life in traction.  Testing, yes.  Competition?  Really?  Maybe if I lay down and take a few deep breathes the sensation will pass...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Nice Canasta Tango dance video

I tripped across this youtube clip featuring unknown, to me, ice dancers Kseniya Ponomaryova and Oleg Altukhov.  The fact that I've never heard of them isn't too earth shaking since I don't know much.  They're probably house hold names amongst all you quality people out there in blogosphere land.  Like most people these days, K & O have their own "official" website:

This video is a  nice addition to the videos one can see via the Sharper Edge Productions'  instructional CDs:  I've purchased the CDs from Sharper Edge Productions and they are excellent.  However, the more demos the better.  It's like having input from more than one coach.  Enjoy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hey Toe Walley!

Well, at least a half a Toe Walley.  The Half-Toe Walley is the final jump which I need  to learn in order to pass ISI's Freestyle-2.  One sets up for ths jump from a pair of back inside edges, first a left and then a right.  While holding the inside back right edge the skater picks with the left toe, springs up from the bent left knee, makes one half turn in the air, picks again with the same toe, but this time in the forward direction and demonstrates control by gliding a short distance on the right skate.  There's not much to see and it's over in the blink of the eye.  Sorry, no suitable youtube video could be found of this little jump.  After listening to and watching the coach, I gave it a go and actually did pull it off.  Not gracefully and not with much height off the ice but at least I was able to get my carcass around and glide away from the scene of the crime.  Of the three FS-2 jumps I think this will be the easiest for me to refine. 

Tonight was the final group lesson in the current flight of seven Thursday evening lessons and I wanted to skate away having made at least a nodding acquaintance with each element required of this level of skating.  To recap, the required FS-2 elements are: the Ballet Jump, the Half-Lutz Jump, the Half-Toe Walley, the One Foot Spin (entered from back cross-overs and sustained for a minimum of six (count 'em) revolutions,  two Forward Arabesques (aka: Spirals; either foot, either edge) and a ten step dance sequence.  In order to pass ISI Freestyle levels one must not only demonstrate the skills individually but also knit them together in a "program" as well.  For my first blush with FS-2 I'm happy to just learn the mechanics of the required elements.  Testing might happen at the end of the next flight of lessons.

I finished up tonight's lesson by working on the proper entrance for the one-foot spin from back cross-overs.  The video clip below shows this entrance.  Note to self:  she doesn't pull her arms in until she has established good control of the spin.  Yes, judges everywhere would note (and probably grade accordingly) that the spin below does "travel" a wee bit but all the same, I'd kill to have one this good.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Day(s).

Snow Day

Starting off with the Monday MLK holiday and stretching through to Tuesday (snow storm closed the lab--it was much too treacherous for your diarist to drive to work so he drove to the rink instead), and finally this morning (additional 2hr delay due to residual ice on the roads--again it was much, much too dangerous to drive to work but the roads to the rink were clear as a bell, go figure), I was able to indulge in a series of low population early morning public sessions.  I'm slightly giddy just thinking about it.  Most days, these highly desirable sessions are not an option.  I just hate it when this work thing cuts into my lifestyle.

How nice to be able to skate entire dance patterns!  Complete with appropriate music--via my little iPod shuffle, set to a volume the military reserves to harass Latin American dictators and low level terrorists, (to over-ride the rink's sound system, darling).  I'll need a hearing aid if I keep this up.  Is hearing loss an under reported consequence of figure skating?  WHAT, are you talking to me? 

In three days I've gone from of mucking through the Dutch Waltz and Canasta Tango, but not really getting the patterns where they must be (and having to consult my little maps), to getting those two patterns AND the Rhythm Blues pretty much down pat.  Of course my coach will break out the magic marker anyway when we next convene on Saturday--but that's her job and I gladly pay her handsomely for the abuse.  And, of course although I have the patterns pretty much where they need to go and am much better at remembering the steps, I'm only guessing at the timing.  As I wheel around the rink I attempt to remember the number of beats per step in the three dances and probably unconsciously mouth "1, 2, 3..."  Since I'm not at all musical I'm just letting the music move me through the respective dances in ways which may or may not (!) be appropriate.  We shall see.  But in the meantime I'm chuffed with my self-graded progress!

Now before I leave you with the impression that it's all a bed of roses between the hours of 9 and 11 am, I must report that first thing this morning I managed to step on the tail of my right skate blade while doing the step-behinds for the Rhythm Blues.  And yes, I went down like a ton of bricks.  Thanks to my padded shorts, once again this fall, although a good solid slam to the ice, did not define the rest of the session.  I almost decided not to gear up this morning due to the extra anticipated  time required, apres-skate, to change clothes before hurrying to work.  I'm glad that I decided to play it safe rather than sorry.  I made it to work with 15 minutes to spare.

And that's my snow day(s) report,

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On the benifit of testing

Granted, I'm typing this after too many glasses of wine, but I feel I must comment on the benefit of testing--if not for you, then for myself when I reread this.  For a couple of years, P. another adult skater, and I have been in group lessons.  I have gone up the ISI ladder while P. has not.  What is the difference?  Is it because I'm a more natural athlete than P.?  Or perhaps it's due to my earlier skating activity years ago?  To that I say HOG WASH.  P. is trimmer and more fit than I am, and prior skating experience means little at this stage of the game.  I think in a nutshell it is because I have driven myself to complete the various ISI levels including the "test" at the end.  P. on the other hand has not bothered.  He started off in hockey skates but has recently bought a pair of figure skates and has engaged a private coach, so I know that he's motivated about mastering the fundamentals of figure skating.  But he has never bothered to test.  By test I don't mean the formal test one does before a panel of judges, for example during a moves in the field test, but simply the demonstration one does in front of the group lesson coach to show that the student has indeed mastered the entire core set of elements which define a given ISI level--at least at some minimal level.

Ever student has his strengths and  weaknesses.  P. can easily do most of the skills required to pass several of the ISI levels such as Alpha, Beta and Gamma but he can't do certain skills in just about every one of those levels.  He refuses to test, and avoids refining specific skills, but yet wonders why his skating doesn't seem to improve.  My answer is because he doesn't test!  Every skater has elements which are difficult stumbling blocks and also elements which come naturally.  I am convinced that it is the stumbling block elements which teach you the most and permit you to advance.  If you avoid mastering, for example the T-stop, your skating will not advance, not because of the lack of that single skill but rather because the skills to which that element contributes beyond itself do not grow.

This is very much like when I was in grad school.  A number of us were in classes together.  Some of us were in defined programs and would sign up for credit and thus a grade at the end of the course.  Other students just "audited" the course. Those of us who were under the gun for a passing grade learned much more than the auditor students.  For us it was master the material or be washed out of the program.  Because of that, those of us who took a given course for a grade did whatever it took to master the material including coming to grips with the material which we didn't understand.  We reread our notes and cleared up uncertainties either by discussions among ourselves or by confronting the instructor.  For the causal auditors, if they learned something, anything, that was OK.  My  suspicion is that if you confronted those causal students a month after the course ended and grabbed them by the scuff of the neck and asked them pointed questions about the course material, they would have not been able to tell you the correct answers.  Bottom line: testing FORCES the student to dig in and really master the skill.  Any effort less than this will be as rewarding as kissing your sister.

But back to skating.  Time and again I find myself butting into one or two elements of a given skill level which stubbornly take months and months to master after I've conquered the rest.  It's infuriating, but it's the mastery of those impossible elements that pushes my skating skills forward.  The breakthrough generally goes well beyond the test itself and surprises me in how other related skills seem to magically improve.  Will my skating friend P. ever get this?  Maybe his private coach will hold his feet to the fire.  I can only hope so.  Geezers our age don't have time on our side.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The half-Lutz and the Ballet jump.

Tonight's group lesson had me working on some of the items required of ISI's FS-2 level which I'd been avoiding, namely the half-Lutz and Ballet jumps.  The half-Lutz is entered via right back cross-overs.  After a couple of those one rides a (hopefully) strong LBO edge and reverses arm positions so that the skating arm is forward.  One then picks with the right toe (while being careful not to drop to the inside edge on the left skate and thus "flutz") and jumps one-half rotation to the left.  Easy enough on youtube, another thing altogether on ice.

The Ballet jump initiates from a right inside 3-turn, picks with the left toe while springing up, again one lands facing forward after a half rotation.

These are relatively simple jumps if you are ten.  A bit more daunting if you're in your mid-60s.  These will give me plenty to chew on during tomorrow's practice session.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Moving to Free Style

After watching me skate one busted dance pattern after another (again, how do ice tourists know exactly where to stand to interrupt a dance pattern if they themselves don't dance?), Coach K.  threw her hands towards heaven suggested that we move my weekly ice dance lesson from the currently busy Saturday public session to a (hopefully) calmer freestyle session.  The two FS sessions which work for both our schedules are one at 6 pm Tuesday evenings and another that kicks off at 9 am on Saturdays.  The Tuesday evening session would be perfect except that it's "club ice" time and on top of paying the premium for freestyle ice (ten fold more expensive at $15 bucks for 45 minutes compared to $3.67 for 2 hours of public ice when I use my frequent skater card) I'd also have to shell out an extra $100 bucks and join Bowie's USFSA affiliated figure skating club.  I decided that since we're half way through the dues cycle I'll hold off for now on that extra expense.  Maybe I'll join next season if my skating warrants it and I want to test and compete.  So, it will be up with the Lark on Saturdays for your old diarist.  At least for now.

Freestyle sessions have their pros and cons.  In addition to being more costly, FS sessions are populated by skilled skaters zipping in different directions, usually with a coach close behind.  This is especially so as we move towards February, a month laden with competitions and skaters panicking over the unmet expectations of their programs.  The up side is that, unlike the skaters at a public, all the skaters on the ice during the 45 minutes of a freestyle session have good skills and can be relied on to either stop or take evasive action when required.  Another plus is that during a FS session I'll have the opportunity to occasionally have appropriate ice dance music over the rink's speaker system during my lessons--a thing impossible to have during a public session.  When the "public" is in the house the sound system is tuned to either classic rock or a country/western station.  Take it from me, it's next to impossible to skate the Dutch Waltz to "Tube Snake Boogie".  I have wondered how ZZ Top would sound if their music was massaged by the Tempo Magic App to the required 138 beats per minute in 3/4 time?  The words slow and deliberate come to mind.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Coming to grips with the Schafer Push

Just when I think I've heard all the jargon associated with this sport, up pops something new (at least new to me).  Tonight during my group lesson (when I should have been working on FS-2 elements) I talked one of the assistant coaches (we have four students on Thursday nights and 3 coaches assigned to adults--is that lux or what!) into helping me with the steps behinds for the Rhythm Blues ice dance.  After a few minutes of that I asked her to take a look at my back cross rolls.  I  knew I needed more curve and flow but also I told her that I'd like a better way to initiate them than starting off by doing back wiggles.  She introduced me to the Schafer Push.  The what?  Although I may be wrong, I believe this element was introduced by the Austrian skater Karl Schäfer.

The youtube clip above makes the push look deceptively easy.  It's not.  Again, I may be incorrect but I believe the  Schafer Push is an important element in school figures (aka compulsory figures), which once part of international competition, were eliminated after 1990.  But as my lesson tonight demonstrates, nothing is ever truly eliminated!