Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Even the Wall St. Journal reports on adult figure skaters

I saw a link to this article and couldn't resist sharing.  Adults seem to be folks in their 40s and 50s.  Wait'll those kids get to be my age.  Anyway, enjoy.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A chance to help.

Kseniya and Oleg

This weekend coach K, plus my dancing partner, as well most of the competitive skaters from our rink are down at Yorktown, Virginia for the ISI District 4 competition.  This means that your old diarist didn't have a dance lesson yesterday.  So I hugged the pillow and surfed the internet instead.  Among the various sites I visited, I saw that Kseniya Ponomaryova and Oleg Altukhov are attempting to raise funds for the upcoming competition season.  I enjoy watching their youtube videos and have posted their excellent Canasta Tango video here and their explanation of the scoring for 2014 ice dance season here.

They have many, many other instructive videos, all freely available on youtube.  Long story short, I decided since I wasn't spending money on a dance lesson I'd donate that small amount towards their expenses.  I figure it's kinda like supporting a local npr station.  If you benefit, then you should.  Lots of other groups and causes ask for my money but few give me anything tangible in return.

Details here:  http://www.gofundme.com/7y3qbshttp://www.gofundme.com/7y3qbs

Postscript:  Bowie's ISI senior synchro team took gold at Yorktown this morning.  Whoot! Whoot!  Haven't heard yet how the three kid-couple ice dance teams made out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Warming up to the idea...

While I can claim to be a long time racer of small sailing dinghies (started at age 11) and an off again/on again ice skater (started in my late 20s), I've never been a high level athlete in any individual or team sport.  So while I'm aware that such people routinely "warm up" before engaging in their various activities, the concept of exactly what's involved has always been hazy to me at best.  When I was younger, looking back at my experience racing boats, warming up seemed unnecessary.  Yes, the first few times back in the boats during the spring would leave me aching, but in a week or so I'd "sail" myself back into shape.  Looking back, I now appreciate that if I'd have had an off the water training program, I would have probably done better at regattas, particularly the ones with strong winds, which put a high premium of the ability to hike the boat flat at all times during those seemingly never ending legs to the weather mark.

When I returned to the ice as a rusty recreational skater I was more interested in recovering lost skills than worrying about my aging carcass.  I figured a low level skater didn't need much if any sort of warm up.  To a degree that approach worked OK.  The skills I was working on were low level.  My edges weren't deep.  Timing was unimportant.  Now that I'm a slightly higher level rec skater with an eye on competing, the light bulb is finally coming on.   I'm becoming more aware of my limitations.  Limitations in flexibility, limitations in strength, limitations in endurance.  Don't even talk to me about the increased length of time required to recover from an injury.  At my age injuries are best avoided.

These limitations are very obvious to both me and my coaches during the first 15 minutes or so of ice time.  Given that my lessons are only 30 minutes long I've become acutely aware of how wasteful it has become to step out on the ice "cold".  This little epiphany got me thinking a little beyond looking at the web site which I'd posted about earlier.  So I asked coach K. to make a few recommendations.  It turned out that many of the stretches she listed were the same or similar to the ones listed in the link above that I'd halfheartedly visited earlier.  In addition she told me to warm up my legs first by taking a short walk--advice that I'd also heard before but had ignored.  Who has the time?  I barely get from work to the lessons and sessions on time.  Clearly, to advance that excuse must be retired.  Coach K. also recommended side lunges.  I didn't know what those were but a quick visit to youtube provided an education:

 So I went for a walk, dusted off the Canadian stretches and did some side lunges.  On taking the ice I have to admit that I seemed to be able to skate smoother sooner that usual.  Wishful thinking?  I don't think so.  The first time I did a progressive using a deep knee bend, I was immediately reminded of the side lunges I'd done just a few minutes earlier.  I think this is the first time I've been able to directly connect a stretching exercise to a skating element.  The light bulb got a little brighter.

Coach K. also recommended that I go to Kat Arbour's Ice Dynamics web site and pick up a copy of her training manual.  To tell the truth, I have visited this web site in the past but have resisted buying the book or any of the paraphernalia by telling myself that all the stuff would just gather dust like most of the other self-improvement gear I've bought over the years--Solo Flex machines, Nordic Trac gizmos--great for hanging laundry after the novelty wears off.  But, since I asked her for advice I made myself look again.  Much to my shock I discovered that Kat is discontinuing the manual and instead will be offering individual training programs aimed at competitive skaters.  She still has a few copies left, so if you're like me and have been on the fence, it's now or never.  Coach K. sang praises about this manual to the heavens.  I've ordered my copy.  For your diarist there's nothing quite so motivating as the panicky notion of missing the boat...

Will this book succeed where others have failed and transform a stiff, inherently lazy old dilettante into a rubber band man on skates?  Only time will tell.  I'm hoping it will at least help me avoid hurting myself!  I also like to think that my desire to continue improving as a skater will provide the real motivation, with Kat's and Coach K's guidance helping me avoid my natural tendency of slacking off.  Having a clear goal rather than some vague notion of doing stretches because they're somehow "good" for me may by the trick I've needed all along.  Stay tuned.  Once I receive the manual and start exploring Kat's recommendations I'll give you an update. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Check please...

While I'm ruminating about foundation figure skating terms which are simultaneously widely used but poorly explained, the one which *really* annoys me the most, (no doubt because of my personal lack of execution), is the term "check".  This was highlighted the other day when a fellow adult skater asked me to define the term.  After a bit of hem-hawing, the best I could do was to mumble something about moving one's arms and maybe the free leg in order to snuff out the rotational momentum initiated by the curve leading into a turn or jump or a spin.  I did a 3-turn to demonstrate "checking" but couldn't offer a concise description of the  actual mechanics of what was going on. 

Unsatisfied, I went home and did what any 21st century human would do; I went on a google-search safari.  My first stop was  USFSA's on-line glossary of skating terms.  Guess what?  It doesn't bother to list the word "check".  I suppose their stance is if you need to ask about something this basic, you probably ought to forget about figure skating and take up stamp collecting.

Googling a little deeper, <about.com> wasn't all that informative either, saying only that "In figure skating, when a skater lands a jump or completes a turn, he or she checks the landing or checks the turn. Checking prevents the skater from continuing to turn or rotate once a jump or turn is completed."  Don't you just love circular definitions?

Other on-line sources were equally vague and continued google-trolling quickly disintegrated into nonsense; disclosure: no porn sites were "surveyed" during the creation of this blog post.  I was left wondering is there no source brave enough to define exactly what goes on during this mysterious "checking" business? 

I next dug out my three favorite figure skating books, sections of which I reread like a hypochondriac attempting yet another self diagnosis based on whichever demon has resurfaced as my wonky element du jour.  Here's how those authors weigh in on the subject :

Karin Kunzle-Watson's Ice Skating Steps to Success  talks about "turning within the arms".  This description may be perfectly clear to some readers but it leaves your old diarist more, rather than less mystified.

Carole Shulman's The Complete Book of Figure Skating comes a bit closer in defining a check, stating that one checks "to stop or control rotation by reversing the arms against the hips".

Finally, turning to Robert S. Ogilvie's classic book Basic Ice Skating Skills  I came across the following sentence in reference to a three turn:  "Check is the reversal of the rotation that is deliberately set up to make the turn."

I read and reread different parts of each book, sifting through the words like a fortune teller examining tea leaves in an attempt to integrate these three statements.  Maybe I should have dug out my "magic 8 ball".

Where did this consultation with the skating oracles leave me?  For one thing, it made me realize that although check implies the ability to control rotational momentum, successfully obtaining that control is achieved by different means during each situation wherein one is handed the fleeting chance of either extinguishing left over rotation or quickly spiraling out of orbit.

Using Ogilive's example of a forward outside three turn, from personal experience I can report that successfully controlling this single foot turn requires different applications of "checking" depending on how much speed a skater is carrying into the turn.  If I execute a FO3 at a pedestrian pace, a slight tweak of the shoulders might be all that's required.  If I barrel into the same turn with a lot of heat the turn then requires careful control of the arms, the shoulders, the hips, keeping the chin up, remembering to smile, and oh yes, that free leg had better not drift around too much or I'll be forced to put the free skate down on the ice long before I originally intended.  Unintentional "dropped 3s" don't git-ya where ya wanna go in terms of demonstrating control--especially during the Waltz Eight portion of the Pre-Bronze Moves test.

So, to a degree, the amount of speed or perhaps more accurately, the amount of momentum preceding the element dictates what the definition of "check" will be in that particular situation.  Check then, is not a "one size fits all" kinda thing.  It turns out to be a moving target.  I'm going to need literally hundreds of check definitions.  Let's see, there are six or so turns, each with eight family members, a half dozen single rotational jumps (forget about doubles; ain't happenin' in my lifetime), and several spins, all of which can be entered into with differing amounts of momentum.  Yep, that's a whole lot of definitions.   This is why no one but a foolish old diarist attempts to nail down the term.

So, I feel better for all that.  Sort of.  At least for the moment.  Well, not really.  The true skating hypochondriac is never far from his next demon... 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cleaning up fuzzy logic.

My "dawncing" partner is off motor racing with her leading man so it was just me and coach K. for this week's lesson.  This was actually a good thing in that it allowed me to at least partially clear up some poorly understood concepts.  Things like what exactly does a coach mean when (s)he talks about "flow" or "power"?  You hear these terms all the time but nobody defines them.  Defining things is an adult preoccupation.  Kid skaters don't bother worrying about definitions.  They just get on with skating.  But I'm adult (regardless of what my wife might say) and definitions are important to how I come to understand stuff.  With that in mind, we invested five minutes at the beginning of today's lesson talking over a few concepts.

"Flow" in simplest terms equates to smoothness.  It's one of those qualities that's hard to describe but you know it when you see it.  A skater glides effortlessly across the ice, blades noiselessly skimming the surface with one skating element seamlessly blending into another without discernible beginning or end.  A component of Flow is "power".  Without power, flow doesn't happen.

"Power" equates to the ability to accelerate.  That's not to say that power is all about speed.  Speed without control is not "power".  The genesis of power is found within the push.

In ice dance one must push back rather than to the side in order to avoid your partner's legs.  Poorly executed back pushes do not generate very much power.  Since I began skating with V. I've been compensating for my reduced push power by engaging in the dreaded "toe push" style of stroking, no doubt subconsciously trying not to trade kicks with my partner.  Today coach K. worked hard to correct that.  Pushing back at first felt very awkward and didn't generate much power but as she got me to introduce more knee bend my pushes started to produce more glide.  This felt great as long as I was straight line skating and didn't have to think about turning, but as soon as I started to dial progressives or swing rolls back into the picture the wheels fell off my "flow" wagon.  Clearly it's going to take a good bit of work to hoist your old diarist up the flow and power charts.  Not to worry--I'll get there.

We next talked about the subject of "Leading" verses "Tracking".  Coach K. started drawing little x marks on the ice to represent Synchro skaters in a line.  Coaching Synchro is one of her other assignments at our rink.  After a while, sensing that I was glazing over, she dumbed it down to just two Xs side by side, a la a dance couple.  In ice dance it's not always about the man "leading" the lady during the dance.  The roles of leading and tracking tend to change depending on which partner is on the inside and which partner is on the outside of a lobe (for the non-dancers in the audience, you can equate the word "lobe" with "curve").  For simple elements like progressives or forward swing rolls, the skater on the inside "leads" slightly, while the skater on the outside "tracks".  This relationship changes quite often even in the relatively simple preliminary dances.  The Dutch Waltz is an example:

At the start, in Kilian dance hold, I would be to the left of V.  After our four optional entry strokes we would enter the first lobe of the dance which calls for a CCW progressive.  I would be on the inside of the curve and hence be leading V. slightly.  After step three of the progressive our roles would reverse with V. leading and me tracking as we execute the second lobe, a 6 beat swing roll to the right.  We would continue to swap leading and tracking duties all the way around the pattern.

This will no doubt become second nature but for the moment there's a lot of push-me-pull-me stuff going on due to the combination of our lack of pair unison, weak technique and the centrifugal inertia (pulling us apart) and centripital force (pushing us back together) generated by skating the lobes of the dance, even at the modest speed required by the DW.  It constantly renews my respect for pairs who skate these dances with flow and power (you knew I'd some how complete the circle didn't you?).

But don't take my word for it; I'm no expert.  Lace up your skates and get out on ice.