Sunday, March 30, 2014

Swinging into spring.

Yesterday V. and I had our second dance lesson.  Coach K. had us start out reviewing the DW but soon decided that we needed work on the individual parts.  The first video shows us unpartnered, working on forward swing rolls.  Normally, I (at least I think) can do a decent forward swing roll, but knowing that your coach is skating next to you, filming away with an iPhone tends to make one a bit cautious.  In the video above, my knees need to be softer and edges need to be deeper.  Coach K. keeps reminding me that dance should have a lilting quality and not look so wooden.  In my defense, it is difficult to be "lilting" and "swingy" while keeping in mind that jumpers (off camera) have the right of way during freestyle sessions.

She then had us practice swing rolls while partnered.  I'd been reading one of my skating books earlier this week and the author emphasized that one should make an effort to point the toe of the boot during the swing-through and avoid giving the impression of punting a football.  I think I took that suggestion a little too much to heart.  But that's the power of videos--you get almost immediate feedback and can work on corrections.  Almost as scary as looking in the mirror.  The more times I watch these clips the more I see that wants fixing (yeah, basically everything).  Towards the end of the lesson we put the steps back together and attempted the intact dance.  I'm hoping that when we look at these vids six months from now we'll be able to say "Wow, look at how far we've come."  Making the Dutch Waltz look good isn't easy--especially when you almost steer your dancing partner into the boards (!)  Did I mention that the lady skater needs to be brave? 

Thursday, March 27, 2014


V. and I have been skating together as a pair for a total of two times.  She's a quick study.  Makes me glad I had a five month head start or I'd be looking pretty stupid at this point.  Tonight after I finished my freestyle group lesson and took off my boots, I noticed a dab of white polish on the outside of my right boot as I was wiping down the blades.  Dang!  Two laps around the course doing the Dutch Waltz and we're already swappin' paint!  Hot Damn--this is better'n NASCAR!

I'd best be careful--our Canasta Tango might turn into a "Canasta Tangle".  Note the gouges in the leather in addition to the white stuff.  That woman means business.
The other thing I've learned is that coming into swing rolls with the mass of another skater gives things a whole different feel than when practicing alone.  The extra weight equals extra momentum which carries you deeper and faster into turns, progressives, etc. than when skating alone.  Kinda like hopping out of a sports car and into an 18-wheeler.  We had a few near misses with the skating public the other day but (so far) haven't taken anyone out.  It reminds me of what mother always said--"Yeah you damn kids, it's all fun and games 'til one of yers gets hurt."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bad Dog.

I was working on my one-foot forward spin last Thursday during group freestyle.  A day earlier I was actually hooking the spin and getting a couple revs maybe every fifth attempt or so.  But during the lesson I just couldn't seem to get it to work.  Coach M. suggested several things and there were tiny improvements.  Finally he said "I like the preparatory and entry edges but after that things fall apart,  you're not keeping your back straight.  A skater at your level should get this."  Ouch!  A skater at your level should get this.  Ow, Ow, Ow!

I think every skater and coach have these "motivational" moments; the skater just can't seem to grasp and produce something that the coach has been going over ad nauseam and also thinks of as level obtainable.  It's a double edge critique.  On one side, the comment suggests that the student in question is good enough to be at a "certain" level.  The other side is, despite that, the student isn't producing the goods.  Along with this is the accompanying faint wave of disappointment which briefly washes over the coach's face as the student continues to produce one failed attempt after another.

Sigh...  Yes, I know exactly how your dog feels when you discover the broken lamp in the living room or dog hair on the sofa that the dog "knows" is off limits.

He left me with another observational tip to think about and turned his attention to the other students.  I kept plugging along and did manage to hook a couple.  I some how managed to hold on to one spin for at least four well traveled revs.  One of the better kid skaters who was practicing for the rink's up-coming showcase event next Saturday looked up and said "Wow, nice Twizzle!"  I thanked him and indicated that it wasn't supposed to be a Twizzle... He gave me an "Oh, sorry" and quickly went back to working on his program.  So, yeah, I now know what a Twizzle should feel like, just don't expect me to be able to duplicate it any time soon.

At the end of the lesson my coach skated over and said "I saw improvement in the ones you managed while I was working with the others.  Ah, the Carrot!  And--also confirmation that teachers really do have eyes in the backsides of their heads.

Sunday we skated the afternoon public.  It's March now and diaristdaughter and I agree that the crowd seemed a little thinner, indicating that the novelty of all those Christmas ice skates is starting to wear thin as the days grow longer.  The center circle didn't have as many kids milling about as in the immediate past few weeks and so I got to work on that forward spin.  It is getting better.  Maybe by this Thursday's lesson it will pass muster. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Meanwhile, at Mrs. K's Dancing Academy for Wayward Figure Skaters...

It seems like my ice dancing effort has planted a seed at Bowie Ice Arena and that seed has produced a tiny shoot.  At last week's lesson I heard the familiar music for the Canasta Tango coming over the rink's sound system and for the first time saw three kid-couples practicing that very dance.  I was momentarily jealous--I never get music over the speakers when I dance!  The kids were practicing the three preliminary dances in preparation for the ISI conference competition which I think is to be held in Chicago at the end of May.

Another sign that dance is making a comeback at our rink is that V., one of the synchro team ladies, expressed an interest in dance and asked if she could join us.  Another student was most welcome as far as coach K. and I were concerned. 

Now, for your diarist, this is kicking things up a notch.  Up to now, discounting one trip around the rink with coach K, I've been solo dancing.  That's probably a good thing in as much as I'm a slow learner and at least in the beginning it was enough to master the steps, the timing and (more or less) the on-ice placement of the pattern for the three preliminary dances without the added complication of partnering. 

Let me tell you:  skating pattern dances while hanging on to another skater is a BIG step.  The best way I can describe it is to say it's like the difference between arithmetic and calculus.  Most peeps can add, subtract, multiply and divide but being able to integrate and differentiate opens the door to a whole 'nother universe.  And so it is with partnered ice dance.  One still must concentrate on remembering the steps to each dance, the timing specific to a dance, and the placement of the pattern on the rink, but now one needs to do all that while maintaining "pair unison".   This introduces an extra layer of complexity.

Coach K. started off by having us simply stroke around the rink just to get used to the experience of skating as a pair--kinda like training a team of horses.  No progressives, no swing rolls, just stroking.  This was good because I soon found out even the method for forward stroking, the simplest of all skating elements, is different in dance hold compared to that used by a freestyle skater.  Freestyle skaters push the blades to the side for an elegant line that emphasizes full extension.  Do that in dance hold and you and your partner will have bloody legs and/or tangled skates.  One must push back and not to the side.  However, one also must NOT push with the toe.  This is accomplished with more ankle flex than your diarist is used to.  In ballet there's a word for this: relevé.

Thankfully the Dutch Waltz doesn't require the amount of ankle flexion demonstrated in the video above, but you get the idea and your partner will thank you for that.  The take home message is: flex the ankles, stay the hell off those toe picks and don't side push.

Coach K. ever mindful of the ticking clock for our rapidly dwindling freestyle pick up session told us to do it again but this time to incorporate swing rolls on a six count.  Did that.  Next she dialed in progressives and chassé steps and voilà we had all the elements required for the Dutch Waltz.  

V. proved a very quick study and was able to digest the pattern well enough for us to stagger around and ice in a rough semblance of the dance.  While doing this a strange transformation occurred:  I've been practicing this dance and several others with coach K. for a couple months now, but until today I've been invisible to other coaches and students.  Suddenly, now that I was clinging to another skater, we were on everybody's radar screen. As we glided by I heard one coach say "Oh, another dance couple, how nice!"   

The next thing I heard was the music for the DW over the rink speakers.  V. and I queued up behind the three kid couples at one end of the rink.  We were stacked up like airliners awaiting permission for takeoff.  The kids launched into the dance with 10 or 15 seconds between each pair and we followed.  We managed three repeats of the dance before the music ran out.  We did this without falling or shedding blood so I'm calling our first dance, shaky as it was, a success.  

Enough time remained for our coach to introduce V. to the steps of the Canasta Tango but we had to get off the ice before we could skate it.  Next week.

V. and her significant other are heavily involved with sports car racing, so as soon as the local tracks heat up she will abandon me and coach K. for the intoxicating allure of burning Castrol R and high octane motor fuel.  Our dance pairing is thus destined to be short and sweet.  Also at the end of May the rink will melt the sheet and close for its annual two months of maintenance.  We'll need to make good use of the time remaining.  It will be interesting to see what if anything I'll remember when the ice reforms in July.  C'est la vie.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Scratch Spin

Went to the Sunday afternoon public today.  The public was unflinchingly out enforce.  I got in one or two Canasta Tango patterns before the place went totally nutz.  After that I decided to migrate to the center circle, push a few wannabie ice tourists the hell out and work on my scratch spin.  No, no, I'm not that intimidating--just a teddy bear, but don'cha know I actually managed to hook a couple of those spins.

After working on this particular element for weeks, without success, today the penny finally dropped.  I think the thing that did it was me stepping back into almost to the beginning of the circle one creates, starting with the RBI edge.  I know, I know-experienced spinners are saying "well duh".  Granted, I can't cross my free leg in front of the skating leg, but damn it, I can occasionally hook the spin!  For maybe 2, sometimes 3 revs.  WooHoo! The crossed leg will come later.

The best part is that E., one of the rink coaches, sadly neither of mine, was out in the center circle when I hooked one of the better ones and she said "I saw that!"

Now, my rule of thumb is this: if a coach sees something, then it really happened.  Time will tell if I can repeat this next Thursday when coach M. is watching...

Towards the end of the session, a tall, lanky kid in rental skates with zero skating skills cut across my path while I was winding up for a spin.  I'd been watching him all session.  He and his pals had been skating waaaaay beyond his particular skill level and he was, frankly, one scary fall away from a busted leg.  Bottom line: I was standing after contact and he left the ice shortly thereafter (yes, under his own steam).  Just doin' my part to keep the ice safe.

Did I mention that last Thursday (the 13th) was my two year "armaverary" wherein I broke my right arm?  I tell ya, this figure skate crowd is rough--even rougher than the church choir singers and ex-English majors diaristwoman hangs with.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pre-Stone Age Skating

Yesterday, the 13th of March, marked the two year anniversary of me breaking my right radius.   That little episode of clumsiness side-lined me four months to the day; I finally returned to skating on Friday the 13th in July of 2012.  I told myself at the time that I still had unfinished business out on the ice.

Since then I've completed ISI's Gamma, Delta and FS-1 skill levels and am currently chipping away at FS-2 plus introductory ice dancing and, although I'm a much better skater now than then, I still have lot of unfinished business to transact.  As I progress, the new elements become harder and harder to master but in addition, I'm accumulating lots of sloppy lower level skills which I need to revisit--important skills which I mastered well enough to get a pass on a test but in truth have not entirely made my own.

At last night's group freestyle lesson, coach M. had me work on the entry for the one foot spin.  After 15 dizzying minutes of that he told me to move on to something different.  He asked if I wanted to work on FS-2 required jumps and I said "No, I'd like to work on foundation skills with the goal of joining the rink's USFSA club and taking the Pre-bronze moves in the field test."  For those unfamiliar with MIF, these tests, to a degree, replaced the skills which were called "compulsory figures" or sometimes "school figures" back in the early 1990s.

We talked about that for a couple minutes with me indicating that preparing for the MIF test would force me to refine all the basic elements like consecutive edges, back cross-overs, 3-turns, Mohawks, etc. which I hate doing in my weak direction.  He listened and then pulled out his water proof marker and drew two co-joined circles on the ice--a basic figure 8.  I spent the remaining lesson time attempting forward outside 8s around those circles.  The CW direction was no problem but hugging the CCW circle really forced me to think about keeping my free shoulder back if I wanted to make it around the circle on a single push without putting the free skate down on the ice.  By the end of the lesson I could just about do three continuous circuits of this "patch".  No, my tracings weren't on top of each other but at least I wasn't putting the free foot down. 

Exercises like this will help me get to the Waltz 8 pattern which is one of the moves required in the Pre-bronze level test.  Short video clips of the various USFSA Moves test elements can be seen here.
The Waltz Eight Pattern

Pre-bronze.  An odd name for a proficiency level. The more advanced levels are of course Bronze, Silver and Gold.  I suppose if I manage to pass the Pre-bronze test that I could claim to be at the Stone Age level of figure skating.  That implies that I'm currently Pre-Stone Age.  Some days that seems about right.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Joining the Choctaw Nation.


After a considerable amount of goat-roping, I've managed to elevate my FI Mohawk turns from horrible to merely awful.  Yes, they're still scratchy and need more knee bend but as long as my brain isn't wandering off-task they're no longer hazardous to my immediate health.

Speaking of turns, I have to admit that sometimes while concentrating hard on getting the entry edge just right, I find myself launched midway into either a FI-Mohawk or a FI3 and come to the sudden realization that I'm brain fading on which turn I had in mind at the onset.  I just hate it when that happens.  Reflexes quickly take over at that point and things always seem to work out in the end but there have been a couple of "iffy" moments filled with existential ennui and stuff; wordy stuff, not fit for a family oriented blogspot.  Well, enough of that.  Time for something different.  Why not add Choctaw turns to my laundry list of poorly executed two-footed skating elements?

Last Thursday I asked coach M., my freestyle group lesson coach, to start me down the path towards Choctaw enlightenment but he said that those were more of a dance element and he didn't feel qualified to go there.  Instead he attempted to sell me on forward inside brackets, a single-foot turn related to the better known 3-turn  If you think forward 3s are a bother wait 'til you're introduced to these.  I. Just. Could. Not. Make. The. Blade. Turn. That-a-Way. 

It's OK, brackets.  You've won this round but I'll be back.

Saturday rolled around and so did my next dance lesson.  This past weekend Coach K. and I were relegated to the afternoon public session due to a hockey tournament which  displaced the usual early Saturday morning freestyle sessions.  As is the norm for this time of year, weekend afternoon publics are never a good option for ice dance lessons.  This particular session was no exception.  As I skated over to her, coach K. said "A little bird told me you wanted to learn Choctaws."

These little birds sure do talk a lot amongst themselves.  Looking around at the swirling Maelstrom of birthday party kiddies darting all over the ice with no clue of anything remotely approaching rink etiquette or even herd instinct I quickly said "Yes!  Let's find a "quiet" corner and work on Choctaws!"

In much the same way that brackets are related to 3-turns, Choctaws are the evil twins of Mohawk turns.  For the sake of this blog post and my sanity I'll limit this description to forward inside Choctaws.  Rest assured, just like all the other common figure skating turns, Choctaws constitute a large family depending on which foot and which direction the turn initiates and whether or not the hips are "open" or "closed".

While a forward inside Mohawk involves a change of feet and a change of direction (front to back), the edge stays the same (forward inside to back inside) as does the arc of the curve one is skating.  The Choctaw turn involves not only the change of feet and direction (front to back) but adds in a change of edge (in this case, forward inside to back outside) which changes the arc of travel as well.

Here (to the best of my memory) are the steps involved for a RFI Choctaw:

1. Enter on the right FI edge; free foot behind and over the tracing.

2. Right arm in front, left arm behind.

3. Shoulders begin to rotate into a checked position before the left skate is placed on the ice.

4. Left foot is placed on the ice behind the heel of the right foot, on an outside edge.

5. Now things get interesting:  Your body (some how) rocks on the right inside edge as the hips twist to change direction-- sort of like that Schafer Push thing I was moaning about (and am still struggling with) a few posts earlier.

6. Final touch: the right arm leads, the left arm trails as you gracefully exit the turn on the back outside edge of the left skate.

Coach K. will no doubt tell me I've got it all or at least partially wrong, but until then this fuzzy logic model is what I'm running with as I go to an early evening public today.  A concept vaguely grasped, a thing dimly perceived.  Hopefully this won't be another example of me teaching myself a single evening full of bad habits which (of course) take weeks to unlearn...