Monday, December 19, 2016

Cousin Agnes comes for a skate

My wife and daughter sing in a Swedish song group.  Every year, the first half of the month of December is given over to performing St. Lucia processions at various churches, the Swedish Embassy in DC, local schools, etc.  Saint Lucia's day is the 13th of December but like most things in the USA, poor old Lucia gets stretched into an almost two week long phenomenon.  It seems like every group that has any sort of Scandinavian connection wants one.

This year a group of my wife's female relatives came over to take part.  I occasionally get pressed into service as a chauffeur when more than one car is required to haul the number of people involved.  But it's not all work.  Each time we get visiting relatives from the old country I usually have at least one visitor interested in joining me at the rink for a public session.  This year it was one of my wife's cousin's daughters that bit on the hook.  I think that makes Agnes my wife's second cousin but I easily become confused by the nomenclature of extended family relationships.

Cousin Agnes--she did fine!

Now Agnes, as one might expect of a girl from the north land, has skated many times before but has never taken any formal lessons.  Her main interest is horseback riding.  With that in mind, I figured she would have a reasonable sense of balance and generally good muscle tone.  A day or so before we went to the rink I asked her what she was interested in learning.  She immediately replied "backwards skating".

 I have yet to figure out what it is about skating backwards that seems to be a touchstone for almost every novice skater I've talked to.  I guess skating backwards is some sort of major divider between those who can and those who can not.  If you can skate backwards then you're "in with the in crowd".  No one every mentions acquiring the ability to stop safely.  To me that would be up towards the top of my list!  I guess, excluding the somewhat showy hockey stop, there's nothing flashy about the ability to slow down...

Anyway, before we went, I wrote down a short list of skills to review.  Simple things like explaining that skate blades have an inside and outside edge, the use of the proper part of the blade when stroking forward,  good posture while skating, how to do forward swizzles and slaloms, how to snow plow stop and yes, finally, how to do back wiggles and C-pushes to go backwards.

I would introduce a skill, watch her do it, make a comment or two and then tell her to practice while I worked on my back tuck behinds.  After a while I'd return and introduce another skill.  She turned out to be a quick learner!  By mid-way through the session she had absorbed all the topics I had introduced and indeed was skating backwards.  She did fall a time or two but nothing serious.  I'm hopeful that now that she's back home she'll look into lessons.  She didn't know if lessons for adults were offered at the various rinks near her home town.  It would surprise me if the Swedish rink system only has lessons for small kids, but having never skated over there I can't say.  I'm hoping that the next time we meet she'll be breezing around the rink like a pro--hopefully I've planted a little seed!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Another carrot for the old donkey

While we were in lesson, Tuesday, coach A. mentioned that the Gardens FSC in nearby Laurel, Maryland was having a test session in early February and that the deadline to submit paperwork was the 3rd of January.  That doesn't leave much time to get required signatures and a permission letter from our club's test chair since I'm not a member of that club.  The month of January will absolutely fly by now that I know there's a test session with my name on it.  With that in mind we got down to business.  But first, as in most things, there's a back story.

During the previous Sunday's public session I decided that I wasn't going to settle for the standard two tuck behind end pattern for the Rhythm Blues.  Nope.  It will be the optional three tucks or nothing.  After a bit of nervous exploration I got to the point where I was getting that middle (left skate) "tuck behind" down on the ice with a half-way decent extension of the new free skate without too much clickety-clack or scratching.  The rink was crowded (typical birthday party Sunday) so I didn't attempt the entire pattern.  Instead, as I came down the long axis I'd set up the left progressive at the bottom of the hockey circle and then, traffic permitting, do the three tucks across the short axis, attempting to carry enough speed for the progressive which starts the repeat.  I did this over and over. Several of the other adult regulars (who have reasonable skills) noticed my monotonous practice and wanted to know what I was doing.  So I explained that it was the end pattern of the RB, demonstrated the tucks (which by that point were feeling fairly good, if I do say so) and then invited them to give it a go.  Much to my relief they wobbled around and quickly pronounced them to be very spooky--I would have been more than a little annoyed if they had be able to do them straight way and say something along the lines of "Oh yes, tucks behinds--a rather nice little move!"  Occasionally my ego doesn't get taken straight to the wood shed...

But--as I found out during my lesson, doing the tucks behinds while skating solo and doing them when partnered are two different kettles of fish.  Yes, I was able to do them while skating in Kilian hold but, as has been the case of almost every other tricky element I've encountered, once constrained by a partner and with the additional complication of music, I was nowhere near as fluid as I had been on Sunday.  Granted, it was a busy Free Style session and granted there were skaters and coaches camped out precisely where we needed room, but I quickly learned that it didn't take much of a change in the approach angle of that final progressive to throw off my ability to do the three tucks with any sensation of comfort or verve.  Very frustrating.  Coach A. reminded me that I have two beats for each tuck and that I don't have to rush them.  I tend to also rush the last two strokes of the Dutch Waltz end pattern.  I think, psychologically, I just want to finish one of the two circuits required for testing and get on with the next one rather than settling down and enjoying the experience.  I need to rethink that. On the plus side, at least I'm breaking the bad habit of putting the tucked blade down on the ice heel first.  So things are getting a little less scratchy and I'm not loosing as much speed during the end pattern.  Yes, January is going to fly by.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A carrot on the string.

Every skater needs something to aspire towards.  I found this youtube video of up and coming Canadian Junior Champs Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha flowing effortlessly through the Westminster Waltz.  This of course is a difficult Gold test level dance.  A bit of unobtainium for an old geezer who still hears the click of death occasionally while doing the Rhythm Blues tuck behind steps.  I'd probably hear that click more often if my hearing was better.  Some skaters dream of getting a double Axel or a triple-triple combination, but at least for now this is my carrot on a string.  It's just as far out on the horizon as the aforementioned jumps.  Don't know if I have enough years of skating left in me to get there but I certainly can hope! 

I cribbed the following notes from Skate Canada's description of the dance (  The patterns for both the man's and lady's steps can be found there as well :

  • Waltz 3/4
  • 54 measures of 3 beats per minute
  • 162 beats per minute
  • Optional
  • The time required to skate 2 sequences is 58 sec
The Westminster Waltz is characterized by stately carriage and elegance of line. It should be skated with strong edges and a softly flowing knee action. An upright stance without breaking at the waist is essential to its stately character.
The dance is commenced in Kilian hold that changes to reverse Kilian hold between steps 5 and 6. Steps 1 to 3 form a progressive sequence. Step 3, however, changes to an inside edge after 2 beats so that step 4 may be directed with a lilt and quick body weight change towards the center. Steps 5 and 6 form an inside open mohawk. At the start the man is on the woman’s left but, during the turn, both rotate individually, thus the man exits from the mohawk on the woman’s right. Step 7 should be highlighted by strong edges and good carriage. Step 8 should aim toward the side of the ice surface then step 9 should continue around the lobe.
On step 10, which starts as a cross roll for both partners, the woman turns her three in front of her partner. After the turn the partners join in closed hold, then almost immediately change to open hold for steps 11 and 12 which are cross behind chassés skated on a curve. Step 13 for the woman is an inside forward swing rocker where the swing is held for 6 beats before the turn on count 1 of the second measure. Step 13 for the man is an outside forward swing counter with the same timing. At the moment of turning the partners must be in hip-to-hip position. Step 14 must be taken from the side of the preceding foot.
On step 15 the man follows the woman’s tracing as she turns an inside three on count 4. Steps 16 to 20 are skated in closed hold. Step 16 is a cross roll for both partners. Step 17 has a very moderate progressive movement and afterwards both partners step wide for the start of step 18. Step 20 begins as a cross roll for both partners.
On count 3 of step 21, the woman turns a three aiming for the man’s left shoulder. On count 4 she steps onto a left backward outside edge and extends her right hand across to her partner’s right hand to assume reverse Kilian hold. On step 22 the man assists his partner in shifting across in front of him into Kilian hold in preparation for the restart of the dance. Care must be taken in swinging the free legs on step 22 during the RFO so as not to interfere with the transition of hold. A one-beat change of edge onto an RFI is skated at the end of step 22 to assist in changing the lean for the restart of the dance.
  • Eric van der Weyden and Eva Keats
First Performance
  • London, Westminster Ice Rink, 1938

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

En Garde!

Unlike a lot of rinks which have rules about which skater has the right of way, free style sessions at our rink tend to be like wild west cattle towns--lawless and unregulated.  Music will suddenly come on and coaches just assume that everyone in our relatively small community of serious skaters will somehow recognize (perhaps via osmosis) who's music is playing and thus which boopsie is "in program" with the attendant right of way.  Well, sorry to disappoint but a lot of us simply don't know which music goes with what skater.  As can be imagined with 20 or so fast skaters simultaneously on the ice, things do get a little hairy from time to time.  Week after week I find myself wondering why don't the powers that be institute a belt or vest to indicate the skater who's music is playing so that the rest of us know who the hell to stay clear of?

As seen at most civilized free-style sessions.

This past Tuesday I had my usual dance lesson during the latter half of a free-style session which stretches from 5:15 to 7:15 pm.  The usual crowd was on the ice but I immediately noticed that one young skater was wearing an orange vest.  Could it be?  Here on my home ice?  Well, yes!  The music played over the rink speakers and the vested skater went through her program, clearly as the Queen Bee with the right of way.  Wow.

Not only that but there was a second orange vest for the next skater such that precious seconds of expensive free-style ice time wouldn't be wasted while the exiting skater handed off the vest to the next in line.  Not every coach and skater adhered to the newly instituted vest system but, hey, it's a start. Someday brittle old men will be able to dance without quite so much body armor.

Meanwhile, dance coach and I continued to refine my progressives and tuck behinds.  The RB is getting to the point that an ice dance couple, who are streets ahead of your old diarist, told coach A. that she needs to get me to smile more.  Apparently my facial expression is a bit grim as we charge down the ice.  No doubt an outward reflection of me holding on for dear life while attempting to apply all those coachly admonishments that are racing around in my head.  If that's all they can find to pick at perhaps I am making a little progress!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bogata by bus.

I found this tune on youtube.  I must go see if it's available for downloading.  I can see myself going down the long axis of the rink practicing alternating progressives and swing rolls to it.  It's four count beat is strong enough that even guys, like your old diarist, who have limited musicality can ID the strong beat.

As for my progressives, they're progressing.  This week's tip--Coach A told me to think "toe point" as I skim the progressing foot forward as a way to keep my right foot from dragging the heel of that blade.  I think I'm making "progress".  Anyway, enjoy the tune:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Progressing with progressives

Depending on your viewpoint, our long National nightmare is either just beginning or just ending.  But this is a skating blog so I'll not dwell on that.

At the beginning of my own nightmare weekly lesson, I told coach A that I wanted to devote the lesson to coming to grips with progressives.  The week before she'd given me a homework assignment which included practicing progressives in an effort to more smoothly skim the ice with the progressing skate; I can do that if I'm actively thinking about just that, but in the heat of the moment (while thinking about the next step(s) of a dance) I tend to lapse back into lifting the skate off the ice--which one does during the extension part of a forward stroke, but when returning the blade to the ice for the progressive I tend to put down the heel of the blade rather than the entire length of the blade.  I soloed my current status for her comments and then we skated together doing just progressives down the long axis and again while skating the RB pattern.  Even while consciously thinking about it my progressives were still pretty much hit or miss.

Coach A then introduced the following drill for this week's  practice assignment:  start a progressive from a forward swizzle--sort of a cross and tuck.  Basically, one does the swizzle and while keeping both skates on the ice, one slides the progressing skate forward (think two foot glide) and in front of the skating foot, and at the same time tucks the skating foot back and to the outside for the extention.  At first this felt very precarious and she had me to try it at the boards.  Before the lesson time was up, I was able to do this drill on the circle.  Counterclockwise currently feels steadier than clockwise but with practice that should sort itself out.  I must remember to keep a bit of space between my two feet so to avoid clacking the blades together!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hey Nonny Nonny and a Hot Ch@-Ch@!

Coach A. introduced me to the Cha-Cha the other day.  I can't decide whether she's supremely confident in my ability to pass the WD and the RB or she's straight out of her mind with boredom having to plough the same furrow week after blessed week with a creaky old white haired man.  Either way we're entering Terra Incognito.
Image result for cha cha ice dance pattern
The Cha Cha.  What does "BK" (step 6) mean?

So, I'm at that phase of a new dance where just attempting to remember the steps and the pattern are trouble enough.  Some day I hope to get to the rarefied stage where I can look at a new dance pattern and think to myself "Ah yes, the so-and-so element which I diligently mastered in the previous dance has provided me with the firm foundation to tackle this new bit" rather than "Good God, I'm back at square one".  But enough of that.  Today diaristfamily decided to go to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis for a "therapeutic walk" after a hectic work week.  The sun was shining, the temperature was in the upper 60s, and there was a pleasant breeze--just enough to offset the heat of the sun without making one chilly--perfect for walking and sunbathing.

We followed the trail through the woods down to the South River.
Looking across to the near shore.

I was standing next to this tree when I took the two previous photos.  Judging from the erosion under the tree's roots, perhaps not one of my smarter ideas!
I was surprised to see only a few boats out on what was a beautiful day.  Not many days like this are left in this sailing season.
Diaristwoman and diaristdaughter decided to grab a bench in the sun with a view.

It was deliciously lazy to sit in the sun, watching and listening to the water lapping against the bulkhead. 

We walked back to the main park building.  There was an outdoor art show with vendor tents.

Mostly hand made jewelry, watercolors and the like were on offer.

However, this is my main interest in Quiet Waters park.

The Zamboni entrance.  It's still a bit warm for ice dancing.  Give it another six weeks.  Diaristdaughter and I will return!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yep, I'm still alive (and skating!)

I haven't posted in a while.  Mary, over at the Fit and Fed blog, got so bored she started reading the posts on my sailing blog spot--how bad is that?  Babbette over at the Ice Doesn't Care wondered if I was still skating.  Now this is better than when Jaston Williams, in the role of church lady Vera Carp, gives a long absent parishioner a startled glance and blurts out "I was told you were dead!"  "Now I don't know who told me that but I'm sooo glad they're wrong!"

 The short answer is yes I'm still kickin'--but with my dodgy history of busted arms and cracked heads the question is justified--and thanks for asking!

The longer answer is that I've been in the trenches all summer.  You know the drill:  take a coached lesson, go practice, repeat.  Glacial progress with nothing particularly juicy and delicious to blog about.  My goal is to finally test the two remaining pre-bronze dances before year's end, but those judges are sooo picky.

Coach A. tells me, week after week, to bend my knees more, and to pay attention to extension of the free leg.  Who hasn't heard that a few million times?  Aside:  Coach A. is a lovely young woman, about the age of my daughter.  I give her full marks for working overtime to make the same comments such as "bend your knees and ankles more" seem like new revelations heard for the very first time.  I'm sure internally she's thinking "for the love of God, man, just bend your knees."  Or, "Please, just once show me that your joints are actually capable of articulation ."

So this past Friday at the late afternoon public session I worked on just those two items.  I won't bore you with my attempts to remember to extend my free leg and point the toe of the boot (esp, the left leg), but I will weigh in on the subject of knee/ankle bend.

Without mirrors it's hard to see whether or not you're actually bending your knees and ankles while keeping your back straight.  The plexi above the boards can reveal only so much as you sneak a peek.  So, I decided to bend grotesquely, as in more than usual, while doing swing rolls and progressives.  Down, down, down.  Finally I could feel my ankles against the tongues of the boots.  The first thing I noticed was that progressives became smoother.  After a few more laps I realized that if I got down deep enough in my knees and ankles to feel the tongue of my boots this posture forced me back on my blades, away from the toe picks.

No doubt most of you reading that last sentence are thinking "well Dumbo, what took so long?"

Sometimes the big Ah-Ha moments in skating as well as life come from self experimentation.  But before I get too comfortable with this nugget of serendipity I'll run it by Coach A.  She'll probably nod in agreement but then tell me that I additionally need to keep my back straight(er) or some such.  Or worse, she'll tell me while the basic concept is OK I'll need to unlearn it so that I can do it in a more contorted but correct fashion.  Axel Paulsen may have gotten away with teaching himself to jump on speed skates in the 1870s but in this day and age, self taught "keepers", at least in my experience, are few and far between.

Oh, one other thing she's been working on with me is that groups of moves which fall under the category of "presentation moves".  You know, those fancy little flourishes at the beginnings and ends of dances.  She tells me that just because the music ends abruptly I shouldn't quit the dance abruptly.  Instead she wants us to glide, hand in hand on one foot towards the judges.   Additionally, I'm supposed to smile at the judges.  "No, that's not a smile, that's a grimance." All this grooming and good manners stuff reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon which featured an after hours janitor answering a telephone with the punchline "Mrs. Farthingale's Charm School--what the hell you want?"

Anyway, that's what I've been doing on my summer vacation.  To rehash, goals for the remainder of the year include getting the Dutch Waltz and the Rhythm Blues successfully in my rear view mirror.  Since my coach is starting to nit pick over relatively small items like presentation moves, these goals might actually happen!

I'll leave you with this short youtube clip which introduces the topic of posture, knee bend, etc.  One thing that I found interesting in this clip is a dance called the Novice Foxtrot (about at the 3 min mark of the video).  Although the progressives are being done on a  4 beat count they seem short changed a couple beats by the immediacy of the following swing roll.  I've tried this and while it's a "feel good" kinda thing, it doesn't directly feed into any of the dances I'm working on.  If nothing else you can enjoy (or not) the plumy Brit accent of the moderator!  And mind that posture!


Friday, July 29, 2016

Say, who's skates are these?

Like many if not most skaters, I find that many times I need to retie my laces after the first twenty or thirty minutes of a session.  Usually it starts off as the sensation of looseness in one or sometimes both boots.  I ignore it as long as I can but eventually the slop  between my foot and the boot gets to the point of being more than annoying--it can get downright hazardous.  At that point I limp towards the entrance/exit door and plop down on a bench and look at the digital hockey clock that most rinks have which shows the time of day when not used for an actual game.  I dislike coming off ice just to futz with my laces-- ice time is money!

What happens next is that I untie the offending boot's lace and release it from the hooks.  At the top of the eyelets I always tied a surgeon's knot (fancy name for a simple over hand knot with one extra cross) before going over the hooks.  When retying I generally stop at the eyelets, kick my heal into the boot and yank on the laces to snug up that surgeon's knot.  Then I carefully rehook the ankle part of the boot and tie the lace with a double bow knot.  It's at this point that I look back at that hockey clock to see how much time I've lost.  I then have a mental argument with myself as to whether or not retie the remaining boot because I know from past experience that I'll wish that I had just as soon as I go back out, even if the second boot feels fine while I'm parked with my butt on the bench.  By the time I'm done I've generally lost ten minutes or so.  But the fun's not over--not yet.

Upon retaking the ice my boots and blades feel extremely spooky and "fast".  Too fast for comfort is the sensation that the blade telegraphs to my brain.  That and the sensation that I can no longer confidently commit to a deep edge in the manner in which I was doing without much thought prior to coming off and tightening those laces.  And so I wind up skating cautiously for ten to fifteen minutes (more wasted ice time) until I somehow reacquaint my proprioception with the new environment created by retying my boots.

I ask myself why does this happen and what can I do about it?  The why part seems fairly obvious:  retying the boot(s) shifts my feet ever so slightly within the now fully warmed up interior of the boots.  Most skates know that it only takes a millimeter or two of movement along the blade to give one a very different feel when skating.

Last Tuesday I skated the early evening public session (two hours long) which is part of the rink's summer schedule.  I have things set up with my coach so that I take my weekly lesson at the half way point of that public.  So I'm skating along, happy as Larry, with about 15 minutes before my lesson when the dreaded skate boot slop sets in.  I quickly exited the ice and starting unhooking the laces.  I knew that once I re-tightened them I'd have that uneasy thing going on and not enough time to skate myself into feeling at home on the blades before the lesson started.  What to do?  I tried to think through putting on the boots when I first arrive.  The skates always feel fine from the first step onto the ice until I retie them.  What was different?  I decided that instead of merely untying the laces from the hooks that I would loosen the laces all the way, take the boots completely off my feet, wiggle my toes and then put the boots back on just like when I first arrive at the rink.  I figured I had nothing to lose and only about ten minutes get this done.  And so off they went and back on they came.  I cautiously stepped out on the ice and the skates felt--fine!  Was this voodoo or am I on to something?  At present I don't know.  I'll repeat this experiment today (I'm sure I'll need to redo the laces after the usual amount of time) and see if I get a consistently "feel good" sensation.  If so. I may have to formalize my protocol and get it copyrighted or monetized or whatever it is that the smart rich people do!       

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gaining an appreciation for inside forward swing rolls

OK, it's a new season at Bowie, the newly generated ice surface is nice as expected and coach A. and I are dusting off where I was waaaay back at the end of May.  You may recall that I had passed the CT but rec'd a "retry" on the DW.  I was also working on the Rhythm Blues.  During last night's lesson we worked briefly on the RB's lilt step sequence but spent most of our time working on the inside forward swing rolls which follow the lilt steps.

Until last night I didn't have a good understanding of inside swing rolls.  I was basically attempting to do an inside edge version of the outside forward swing rolls familiar to those who've done the DW and CT patterns, i.e. : holding the free leg back and extended for two beats followed by swinging it forward for two beats.  This approach was not only ugly but more troubling, it left me on a flat most of the time rather than the correct inside edge. 

Coach A. broke the element down and pointed out that the inside swing roll consists of four distinct parts, each held for one beat of the four beat roll.  What follows is my recollection of that demo:

On the first beat, one pushes onto the inside edge while extending the free leg back.  On beat two the free leg is bent slightly at the knee and brought to the back of the skating foot (raised above the ice).  On the third beat the free leg is simultaneously straightened and extended forward with the toe pointed in the direction of travel.  This helps pull the inside edge around the semi circle which the swing rolling skater supposedly carves.  In beat four the free leg is slightly bent as it returns to the back of the skating foot, again raised off the ice, in anticipation of the next swing roll in the pattern.

This was a small revelation to me and while it looks quite elegant when coach A. demonstrates, like most things she demos, it will take your old diarist a good bit of practice to make all it work instinctively at dance speed!  I hope that woman doesn't think I'll be testing this in August...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The season of the ice tourist

Dear constant reader, as you know from previous posts, Bowie Ice Arena shuts down each spring during the months of May and June for maintenance and general cleaning.  This is a good thing from the standpoint of having good ice during the ten month season when the rink is up and running but less good for me getting ice time in late spring.  So for the past  few weeks I've been skating at Piney Orchard and when I was at the beach, the Flyers' Skate Zone in Atlantic City.  Last Sunday dawned with rain (for the umpteenth day in a row) and with Piney's ice tied up with hockey all weekend (the Skipjacks) it was time to look a bit further afield.  My choices were Wheaton, Colombia, or Cabin John.  All three rinks require a bit of a drive, with the Cabin John rink the furthest from my house at roughly 30 miles each way.  I've skated at Wheaton which has excellent ice and has an ice dance subculture but Cabin John is also known locally for ice dance, and so it being a dull day I decided to do a bit driving and see something new.

Like the rink at Wheaton, Maryland, Cabin John is owned and operated by the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department.

I kept my iPod shuffle and ear buds in my pocket.  So much for having ice dance music.

My initial impression of the rink was that it was clean and seemed to be well run.  The facility has two sheets of ice, one is Olympic sized and the other in NHL sized.  When I first arrived there was a game in progress on the NHL sheet and a Free Style session on the Olympic sheet.  I saw lots of kids who were obviously advanced skaters head off to interior parts of the building with gym bags and since none of those kids appeared on the ice I assume the rink has off-ice training rooms as well. The ice was reasonable and was resurfaced half way through the session.  The session in question was billed as a "family public" and so it was heaving with kids.  While there were a few adults in the mix it looked more to me like "Sunday afternoon baby sitting" might be a better billing!  It seemed like every time I set up to string  some progressives or swing rolls together a kid would show up in my path, usually skating against the grain.  But, ice time is ice time--even if it is a bit unproductive.  I'll be back at Piney for a lesson this afternoon and who knows where I'll turn up over the three day Memorial holiday?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...

Our scene: a USFS test session for pre-silver and lower ice dancers plus a variety of moves in the field testers.

The deal:  There are three judges.  You need passing scores from two to pass.  I'm testing two of the simplest dances. The Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  I feel good about one.  The other not so much.

I put it out there.

The outcome:  Three judges saw three different things.  Judge Nr 1 loved both dances and gave me passing marks for both technical and timing/expression.  Judge Nr 2 hated the DW but passed me on the CT.  Judge Nr 3 hated every minute of what I put down.  Well, maybe not everything--she did indicate that my timing was "ok" on the CT.

Bottom  line:  I passed the CT but will have to retest the DW.

Judges comments (DW):

Judge Nr 1: technical--"correct progressives, edges shallow but most defined as O.S.; good flow, P". (pass); timing/expression--"on time, P".

Judge Nr 2:  technical--O.S. edges are mostly flat.  Right foot O.S. edge is deeper than left. R (retry)."  timing/expression--"ahead of the music in several places. R"

Judge Nr 3: technical--" edges and patterns flat, no curvature to lobes, unison lacking. R"  timing/expression--timing rushed so a little ahead of the beat. R"

CT comments:

Judge Nr 1: technical--"shallow but correct; weak on free leg extension, P.";  timing/experession--"right on, P."

Judge Nr 2:  technical--"good pattern, please turn out free leg; ok pattern, some shallow edges, P."
timing/expression--"well timed.  P."

Judge Nr 3:  technical--"edges & lobes flat; stepping rather than stroking, R."  timing/expression--"timing ok, P".  (NB: one needs to get a passing score for both technical and timing/expression or the overall result is a fail.)

I'm sure that the comments do somehow accurately reflect my skating today.  The DW has always been my least favorite dance and I think it's because it's a six beat dance--you have to hang out on an edge like forever.  The CT is a four beat dance and things happen quicker, which is a good thing for short attention spanners like moi.

So it's back to the drawing board on the DW.  This helps keep my coach gainfully employed.

Now, the best part of the deal was watching the pre-silver skaters test the 14-step, the foxtrot and the European Waltz.  All the test takers were female and about two thirds of them had lined up Ian Lorello (a local male ice dancer, formally a Team USA member and currently a coach for the New Ice Age ice dance troupe) as a partner.  Ian danced with woman after woman without taking a break.  Awesome skating.  See if you don't agree:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Testing times ahead

Coach A. keeps surprising me.  First it was an out of the blue push to enter the ISI competition which I did last month.  At our final April lesson she mentioned that our USFSA skating club was hosting a test session on the 17th of May and that I should consider testing the Dutch Waltz and the Canasta Tango.  Some how I'd managed to block that piece of information out of my memory banks.  Testing has always been on my horizon but suddenly that horizon got a whole lot closer.  The deadline for submitting the application and payment of fees was the following Tuesday!  That night I printed out the form, filled in my part and gave it to diaristdaughter to take with her to her group lesson the coming Thursday (Coach A. conveniently is her group lesson coach) for the coach's signature.  She did so and brought it back.  In turn I mailed it to the Test Chair.  I saw the Test Chair over at Piney Orchard ice rink (Bowie is closed for annual maintenance) and she allowed as how my paperwork and check had been received.  Last weekend the test schedule was published and my name is on it (twice) so there's no backing out.  I will test these two dances, ready or not.

Ready or not.  That's a big assumption, but I suspect my coach wouldn't hang me out there if she didn't think I was close.  I know the patterns and I know the steps.  Timing is still an issue.

Over the past couple of lessons we've also been trying to get my feet to consistently do progressives rather than reverting to crossovers during the heat of battle.  Old habits die hard.  I seem to be making small gains in that department but will it be enough?  I have one more coached session and maybe one additional chance to get on the ice before the test date rolls around.  A test for a well prepared student is essentially nothing more than filling out a form and smugly turning it in.  I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being that prepared.  I'm more in the position of putting 'em out there and seeing what the judges have to say.  It would be nice to put this pair of dances to bed so I could get back to working on the RB which has been on the back burner far too long.  I just wish I had a little more time to get test ready.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Post competition rehash.

Although Sunday was the day in which I inaugurated my competition "career", I'll back up a little bit into the tail end of the preceding week.  On Thursday afternoon I had an appointment with Mike C. down at Skater's Paradise to sharpen my blades.  With over 60 hours since the last sharpening I could feel them going sideways every now and then.  I debated having them sharpened right before the competition but I figured I'd be able to skate on them for a couple hours during the late Friday afternoon public at Bowie.  So off to Waldorf I went.  Mike did a great job and just to make sure my blades weren't squirrely or grabby he put me on the ice for 5 minutes or so before I left.  The blades felt fine.

The next morning as I prepared to go to work, my old Volvo wagon coughed up an error message on the dash board indicating that  I had a transmission issue that needed immediate attention.  I dropped the wagon off at the  garage, and drove my wife to her employment in her car.  Late in the day (too late for Bowie's last public) the garage called to say my wagon was ready for pick up.  The problem was not the transmission but rather a sensor which communicates the engine speed to the main in-car computer which in turn tells the transmission which gear it needs to be in.  I looked on-line and Piney Orchard Ice Rink had a late (8-10 pm) public.  I decided to go put a couple hours on the newly sharpened blades.

I arrived at Piney just as the preceding Stick and Puck session was winding down.  The Zamboni came out and the young lady at the helm drove over the sheet like she was chasing an ambulance (more likely she was late for the pub).  The resulting ice surface was something akin to Belgian pavé.

A stretch of an old Napoleonic road covered with pavé, or as we would say "cobble stones".  This is used annually during the Paris-Roubaix cycling race (aka: "the hell of the north").  A bit rough to say the least.  The brown stuff is slippery, liquefied cow dung.  Yes, it does rain a lot in rural Belgium.  I've been told the only way to ride pavé on a bicycle is to take it flat out and never ever touch the brakes...
 With time running out I decided if I could skate on Piney Orchard's "pavé" I could skate on anything.  Besides, I'd already paid for my ice pass and I'm a sticker for getting value for money spent.  So onto the lumpy surface I went.

Staying sunny side up over the lumps and bumps while practicing the Canasta Tango's swooping swing rolls and progressives was a challenge but since I didn't crash and burn I decided it was valuable practice time.  My blades would not be an issue on Sunday.

Saturday was burnt up doing honey-do's--although after sunset I did manage to go over to the rink and watch a group of skater friends do a production number based on a medley of tunes from the  Village People.  Big fun.

Sunday dawned and with my group's warm time set for 8:09 am I hauled my butt out of bed and made my way over to the rink about 7 am.  As I drove I idly wondered if my brain and feet were on speaking terms at this unreasonable hour. I checked in and told the person behind the counter that my coach had already provided my music, received my check in goodies and went back to the locker room marked "boys" to put on my skates and stow my bag and street shoes.  I noticed that there was glitter all over the padded floor of the rink, lobby, etc. and later discovered that the glitter trail extended into the men's room(!)  One of the items I received at check-in was a Team ISI T-shirt:

Nice!  A keeper.  Love the logo.

This T-shirt was also included.
The White shirt has this on the back.  Since Bowie's ISI Team was hosting the district competitions, a bit of  mandatory volunteerism was unsurprisingly dialed in.  After skating my event I spent the bulk of the afternoon checking in other skaters---and their music.

Since solo ice dance events started at the beginning of the second day, we were bang on time and the level two dancers did their warm up and skated their Dutch Waltz in a flash.  Next up was level 3 which had two groups: females aged 15-16 and mixed adults of undetermined age.  One thing I'll comment upon is that four minutes makes for a  v. skimpy "warm up" for an old gizzer.  That's just my opinion of course.  Yes, yes, if every old gizzer got 20 or 30 minutes to warm up the competition would drag on for weeks...

The second thing, which I will kvetch a bit more loudly about, is that when I lined up at center ice to skate, the girl in the sound booth stuck in a disc and cranked up the wrong music!  Talk about tough love from your home rink.  I had practiced to Hernando's Hideaway and although the music oozing out of the rink's sound system was Canasta Tango appropriate, it wasn't what I was banking on given my rather limited sense of musicality!  Deciding to make the best of things, I managed to launch into the dance on the wrong beat and attempted to skate the pattern as best as I could while mentally digesting the new music.  It didn't go well.  I was so busy thinking about the bloody music that I got lost in the dance and did an extra pattern! About half way through I briefly thought "ya know, maybe you should just bag the Canasta Tango and launch into an improv skating thing-- ya might get scored higher".  Seemed like a fair assessment at the time since I'd never heard the music before.  To be honest, I would probably have come in second no matter what, but I would have felt a whole lot better if I'd have skated my best rather than whatever I did do out there.

All said, the better skater prevailed.  I gave my competitor a congratulatory hug, collected my medal (undeserved from my perspective) and got a  debrief from my coach.  She was equally mystified about the music switch but had no explanation.  She told me it didn't look as bad as I thought.  Ah, coach A.--a great coach.  One should always remember that great coaches, like great story tellers, also tend to be excellent liars.

I told her that as we ramp up for USFSA testing later this summer that she should pull out, at random, all of the likely music the judges might throw my way.  The next time I encounter a CD player in an ice rink I plan to be prepared.  So, an interesting if somewhat frustrating day out, but with an important lesson learned--if the wrong music gets queued up I need to slam on the brakes and say something or else be prepared to unflinchingly deliver the goods.

My 2nd place medal.  At least I wasn't beaten by the book!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book? I don't need no stinkin' book.

Real Carmens getting their game faces on.
Dear constant reader:  When I first mentioned that I'd been sucked into the competition vortex, I pointed out that as an adult male skating under ISI rules, I might (probably would) have to compete against the book.  The rink finally posted the competition schedule today and lo and behold I've got a real live human bean to compete against!  Having said that I'll more than likely still come in second but if so, I'll have been beaten by a better skater rather than by a lousy book.  When I first asked Madam Skating Director if she was going to combine adults doing solo ice dances she said she wasn't sure she could combine genders within the same "technical group".  She needed to consult the ice dance gurus within her posse comitatus.  I quizzed my coach about this topic during our last lesson and her take was that USFS competitions do this all the time, even factoring in that with higher level dances the men's and ladies' steps are quite different.  Since the schedule indicates that I'm skating against a lady I guess the consulting oracles quacked the same tune for Madame SD.

My event takes place bright and early on Sunday morning April the 17th; warm up time is at an uncivilized 8:09 am for the two Solo Dance-3 groups (first group on ice is Females 17-23 years old; my group is Mixed Adult).  We skate at 8:17 with my competitor skating first.

Sizing up my competition: She's a better skater than I am (she's passed her preliminary dances with USFS) and she's a member of the adult synchro team.  Plus, she's competed before.  I assume she and I are both dancing the Canasta Tango, although technically she could do the Rhythm Blues instead--we shall see!  Either way it'll be fabulous darh-ling, the highlight of the competition weekend:  The Battle of the Carmens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The proof is in the Badging

Earlier I mentioned that in order to Dance the Canasta Tango, instead of the dreaded Dutch Waltz during my up-coming competition début, I had to pass ISI's Ice Dance level 3 by the 15th of March.  I did so and yesterday Madame Skating Director fished around in her cigar box full of various awards and pulled out my badge:

Thar t'is.  Hopefully this isn't my high water mark.  We shall see what the future brings after the competition.  This ice dancing lark gets progressively trickier after these dances and they're already tricky enough for this old dog.  Question:  Why does the man have two differently colored legs???  I plan on wearing a  pair of plain ol' black slacks and probably a black turtle neck shirt.  Am I missing something?  Keep it real.  We're talking two patterns of a relatively short dance.  Probably 45 seconds (tops) on the ice.  From the bleachers I'll probably look like an ant standing on a white frosted pop-tart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A neat way to have your own music on-ice

The only real beef I have with the younger generation is that I'm no longer a part of it.  Young people constantly teach me new things.  Along with teaching me pattern dances Coach A. has also taught me a great way to have ice dance music which both partners can hear without the complication of earphones or wires:  a wearable Bluetooth wireless speaker.  You're probably thinking " well, duh" as you read that last sentence.

Yes, I'll admit that I'm kinda a Neanderthal when it comes to new technology but I'm a fast adopter once I'm introduced to a gizmo that has obvious utility.  When I first started ice dancing the options were to either have the music played over the rink's sound system, a thing only done at our rink for competing skaters and only done one time per skater during a given Free-Style session--or alternatively, your coach could chase you around the rink with an MP-3 player in her hand or a boom box on her shoulder(!)--stylish coaches could do that with one hand, freeing up the other for handling the requisite over-priced cup of coffee.  A little later on, one could some how wear a smart phone around one's neck with the sound high enough so that both you and your partner could hear the music. I figured with my history of taking big swan dives on the ice that I'd be buying a new smart phone on a weekly basis.  Lastly, I've heard of people skating partnered with each combatant sharing one half of a pair of earbuds connected by wire to either an iPod or a smart phone.  I hope to never see that--sounds like a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Now, most wearable Bluetooth speakers that I've seen up until Coach A. showed me one her brother gave her for Christmas didn't look all that practical.  They dangled by carabiner clips or the like.  Her little speaker is a Mifa F20.  It is compacted and comes with a Velcro strap (however some Mifa speakers don't so it pays to check) that fits easily and snugly around one's arm.

The MiFA F20 Bluetooth Speaker
This little guy is available from a number of on-line marketers and comes in a variety of colors.  Just google it.  The volume is adjustable via push buttons on the speaker so once the smart phone is paired with the speaker the vulnerable phone can be placed in a safe pocket.  The range (i.e. distance of separation between the phone and the speaker) is at least the length of an ice rink.  Coach A. can be at the opposite end of the rink (with the phone) while I'm solo dancing (with the speaker on my arm) without loss of signal/music.  When partnered we both can hear the music.  The MiFA F20 weighs about 5 oz and costs less than $40.00 (shop around for the best price).  It has the typical USB port for recharging and I think (but don't quote me) that it may have a provision to accept a small SIM card.  If that is correct one could conceivably load the required music on the card and then skip the smart phone part of the story.

Anyway, if you're looking for an on-ice music solution, even if the SIM card thing is a misunderstanding on my part, the pairing of your smart phone with this little speaker just might be the answer you're looking for.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Was Kafka's dog an ice dancer?

L to R:  Hansi Szokoll, Dog (name unknown), Franz Kafka

Dear constant reader:  As you may recall, I'm going to compete for the first time in about a month.  Yesterday my idle curiosity led me to the ISI's web site for a look at the rules governing competitions.  Now most competitions are straight forward: there's a winner followed by individuals or teams placing 2nd, 3rd, etc. all based on a logical points system of some sort and it's pretty much cut and dried.

In ISI's figure skating competitions this assumes that there are more than one individual in a given competition group.  That is almost always the case if the discussion is limited to kid skaters.  With kid skaters the scoring problem can be too many competitors in a group.  ISI takes the goldilocks approach of not too many, not too few, just right and discourages more than five or so per group.  Groups are based on age, gender, skill level, type of competition etc.  If, for example there are more than five teams or individuals in a group and there's no good way to pare that number down, the first five will be graded and the remaining teams/individuals will be scored as "tied" for 6th place.  No kid wants to come in 12th or 38th no matter how much they deserve it...

But what about the case of a 69 year old male, doing a solo ice dance?  What are the odds of that guy having another warm bodied skater to actually compete against?  Can you say "snow ball's chance in Hell"?  Does that guy breeze to a gold medal no matter how poorly he skates?  No, no, no, Mon'Ami.  ISI rules state that in the case where there's only one contestant, the skater skates against "The Book".  The Book?  Yes, The Book.  ISI has developed a calculus grading each possible type of competition, toting up a score for all the required elements, edges, turns, the duration of the program, etc. within a particular competition, let's say Free Style-1 for example,  and the best possible score (perfection) is 100%.  In order to be declared a winner, the skater competing as the sole entrant in a group must score at least 80%.

Although it sounds a bit bizarre, there's the real possibility that I could be the only entrant in my group but could still manage to come in second!  A score of 79.9% will do it.  Thankfully ISI revised their scoring rules in 2010 or else there would have been the possibility of me coming in 3rd if I stink up the house and my skating is scored at 60%.  So, there will be no "give me" at this competition! If Franz Kafka had written a short story about figure skating I'm sure he'd have touched on this very subject.

This little corner of scoring Hell is generally reserved for adult skaters.  Kid skaters are pretty much shielded from skating against The Book due to their sheer numbers.  My course of action is clear cut: I either have to get my Canasta Tango up to the 80% level or start encouraging adult male skaters (the ones who skate worse than I do) to enter the District IV competition.  Where's the Devil when I have a soul to sell?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Black Bird singing in the dead of night.

Yesterday, and I don't know how, a black bird (my generic term for this creature--I'm not a "birder" or even a "bird watcher") somehow got inside our house and flew upstairs to our bedroom.  We vainly attempted to coax Mr. Bird out via any number of opened windows but our terrified visitor instead flew into my bedroom closet which is stuffed to the gunnels with my treasured junque.  After carefully removing lots of boxes (boy were they dusty!) we finally managed to trap our avian friend (unharmed) in a waste paper basket.  I then succeeded in taking this outdoors and released our birdy back to where he belongs.  What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with a skating blot?  The answer, my friends, while not blown on the wind, is contained inside one of those dusty boxes brought to the light of day from the depths of my "archive".

Yep, 1976.  Some of the skaters at my home rink weren't even born then!  I was still 29 on the 8th of May so you can trust me--this really is my card.  I wonder what is the meaning "IST" Gamma?  First? Gamma?  Is that like being First Trumpet?  Perhaps it distinguishes this early gamma success from my more recent re-passing of that milestone a couple years ago.  Perhaps now I'm merely 2nd gamma.  I may never know.  I wonder if the requirements for gamma have changed over the years?
 When I earned this card I was less than a year out of the service (I was discharged in July of '75) and back studying at the University of Delaware.  Ice skating at UDEL was not particularly well known in those pre-Johnny Weir/Kimmie Meissner days.  The Skating Club of Wilmington had yet to join forces with the University's skating club but, even in those prehistoric days, figure skating was listed as one of a handful of "activities" which students could sign up for as part of the student activity fee--a fee which we all had to pay.  Fresh out of the service and living on the slim combination of a graduate stipend and VA benefits, I was bound and determined to get something back for the fee collected so figure skating it was.  That ancient history can be revisited here  

This was our textbook.  Still useful reading.

It amazes me that my old gamma card has survived several moves of house.  It shows just how infrequently I revisit the contents of the particular box it was in.  I had completely forgotten it.  On a whim I sent the pix of my old card to ISI and asked them if their records go back this far.  ISI itself was still a "teenager" in 1976 (founded in 1959). If their records are intact I wonder if they have a record of me passing Delta.  Didn't find that card.  I do remember working on FS-1 elements before leaving Delaware.

Opening an old box introduces so many questions.  I still don't know how that bird got into the house.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Alea iacta est (the die is cast)

Unlike Suetonius, in his famous comment to Julius Caesar in 49 BC, I don't plan to cross the Rubicon in defiance of the Roman Senate.  But in a similar sense, my fate is now defined.  I will compete at ISI district IV's spring competition.  There's no turning back.  I've paid my $55.00 for (maybe) 45 seconds of skating time in front of my adoring public--oh, how they love me (big news for them).  What was I thinking?

For the sake of my two dear constant readers I should back up just a tad and provide the back story from this afternoon's lesson with my long suffering Coach A.

As noted in a previous post Coach A., as befits a good coach, was busy imploring her students (which includes moi) to consider the upcoming spring comp.  Up until now I have resisted the notion of competition.  Testing is one thing but competition seemed beastly and undignified for a person of my considerable gravitas.  However this cunning woman had a card up her sleeve:  She said "I know you want to dance the Canasta Tango rather than the Dutch Waltz but in order to do that you must pass ISI Dance 3 no later than today."  I've been trying to pass Dance  3--like forever.  As an organization, ISI is a stickler in that skaters must have passed the level which contains a given skill prior to competing at a level containing that skill.  USFSA, in contrast, allows skaters to "punch above their weight" so to speak.  But this is an ISI competition and the CT is a Dance 3 level skill.  I had previously  passed Dance level 2.

Dance 3, in addition to the CT also demands that students pass the Rhythm Blues--an evil dance which posses a series of  tricky tuck behind steps in the end pattern.  Many times has your diarist crashed and burnt while attempting "blues expression" in this particular dance.  I was in a grim mood.

But Coach A. was insistent.  And so we gave it a go.  And much to my surprise I pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.  We somehow managed to skate the RB cleanly twice and with that I passed!  With that hurtle out of the way we shifted gears and spent the rest of our time cleaning up my CT skills.  No, I can't show you the Dance 3 badge today but "soon come, Mon, soon come" as they say down in the islands.

I now have roughly a month to make the CT competition worthy.  Coach A. threw me one last curve:  she prefers Hernando's Hideaway over Besame Mucho.  The things I suffer for my art.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Entering the Twilight Zone of Expression.

Canasta Tango pattern

So I'm back to having coached ice dance lessons on a regular basis.  My rink added a late afternoon public on Tuesdays which so far, has yet to be discovered by the general public.  Since coach A. had no one lined up for this new session I was able to book a half hour at 4pm for the whole month of March Tuesdays.

This past Tuesday, as we're leaving the ice, she said "the skating director asked me whether or not you'd be interested in competing at ISI Districts."  I had seen the face book posting that announced our rink was hosting District IV's spring competition but hadn't given it a second thought.  I had let my dues slip--after my big face plant last July it was not a given that I'd be skating well enough to test let alone compete.  Coach A. expanded the subject:  "The deadline for paying your dues and filling out the form is the 15th of March.  You'll skate either the Dutch Waltz or the Canasta Tango.  I'll see how they look at next week's lesson and then we can decide."  March 15th--that's like this coming Tuesday.  Yow!  The competition itself is not until the weekend of the 16th of April, so I'd have a month to knock off the rough edges--and a deadline.

OK, I've been skating these two low level dances off and on for a couple of years now and pretty much can remember the steps.  On a good day I can even place them on the rink where they more or less need to go.  But a dance needs to be skated with feeling.  One hears of skaters possessing great Tango or Waltz or Blues expression.  It's one thing to go through the motions and execute the steps correctly and another thing to skate a dance in a way that captures something of the emotion of that dance.  Somehow the expression thing is a quality that continues to elude me.  Coach A. has the unenviable job of attempting to teach a Clydesdale to dance. 

Last night diaristdaughter and I went to the rink for a Friday night public.  I figured it would be packed but with that deadline now looming in my near future I needed some ice time before the next lesson/decision.  While I was there I paid my team dues.  I decided why not use the ISI competition as a warm up for skating my USFSA prelim dance tests?  Having people watch me skate isn't new.  The major difference would be that all those aggravating people would be up in the stands (where they belong) instead of on the ice blocking my pattern.  It continues to amaze me: ice tourists don't know any of the dance patterns but they instinctively know exactly where to congregate in order to screw up an ice dancer attempting to practice a pattern dance.   Anyway, now that I had an nonrefundable stake in the game it was time to come to grips with these dances once and for all.

We bought our ice passes and for a while were the only skaters on the ice.  A half hour into the session there were still only four or five skaters in addition to us.  Very unusual for a Friday night.  But then again, this was another March only add-on session and it replaced the usual late Friday evening "disco ball/DJ" session.  Maybe all the crazy kids that love to crash into each other in the dark during the DJ thing were off doing roller derby instead.

After warming up I scrolled through the music on my shuffle and queued up my file of ice dance music.  I have half a dozen different tunes with the correct beats per minute for each of the three preliminary dances.  I alternated between tunes for both the DW and the CT as I practiced.  Towards the middle of the session, while skating the Canasta Tango, I had the sensation of actually connecting to the dance.  My feet were finally executing the steps on what seemed to be the correct beat of the music most of the time.  Sort of a WOW moment.  The ability to hook up with the music seemed to depend on which tune I was playing.  After experimenting I came to realize that the tune Besame Mucho worked best for me.  Hernando's Hideaway didn't work nearly as well, nor did any of the other CT tunes in my file.  This seemed kind of random since they all possessed the same number of BPM, but I decided to stick with Besame Mucho for the rest of the time I spent working on the CT.  Once I settled on the music I started cleaning up the steps and soon discovered that I was executing the slide chasse and swing roll steps with a little more style than usual.  Was I crossing over some sort of a threshold and entering the realm of "Tango expession"?  The short answer seemed to be YES (!)  My steps were crisper.  My demeanor and movements seemed to have been taken over by another spirit--one with an "attitude".  It was sort of like a dreamscape.  Who the hell was this skater?

I reverted to the Dutch Waltz and tried different tunes in the hopes of a repeat of my Tango revelation but try as I might I just wasn't feeling it for the DW.  This is odd in as much as I truly enjoy listening to Strauss waltz music.  Perhaps this is a reflection of me having a harder time with the basic skills required of the DW.  I almost always have trouble with the end pattern of that dance.  Unless I place the last progressive and swing roll just right I flirt with the risk of running out of room for the two last 3 beat strokes before the dance repeats.  You can ask my ex-dance partner V.  She took up riding horses in steeplechase events, figuring that it was safer than doing the Dutch Waltz with your diarist.  Maybe once I get the end pattern under control I'll be able to enter the "Waltz Zone".

As for next Tuesday's decision--it's a done deal in my mind.  Just need to sell it to my coach and hopefully not forget the password for getting back into the Tango Zone--Besame, Besame Mucho...   

Friday, February 26, 2016

How do they do it?

Last week I was blessed by a cancellation which resulted in me having a coached lesson; a rare thing since I lost my regular time slot with a popular coach.  The timing of the lesson was set to begin after the first thirty minutes of a public session which was an hour and a half long.  Perfect.  Thirty minutes to warm up my legs and warm up my dances.

Now I don't know about all coaches, but this particular one, plus a few others at our rink which I've not taken from, have the remarkable ability of showing up at almost the last minute for a scheduled lesson.  They're never late but never are they overly early.  They show up in the lobby with just enough time to lace up their skates and hit the ice.  It's as if, like migrating birds, they have very precise internal clocks and GPS systems which infallibly get them to which ever rink and lesson bang on the dot every time.  Traffic snarls don't seem to impact their equation.  The efficiency of this is to me impressive.  Whenever I cut a trip to the rink close it costs me at the minimum ten minutes of ice time.

The other noteworthy thing about this "just in time" delivery philosophy is that coaches don't seem to
need warm up time.  There's none of that six minute warm up hocus-pocus that competitors get.  Nope, a coach steps out on the ice ready to go.  By way of comparison, your old diarist likes to arrive at the rink with enough time in hand to briskly walk around the rink perimeter for 15 minutes while the Zamboni operator does his thing prior to the beginning of the session.  Following that bit of brisk walking I lace up but then need at least a couple laps around the rink with forward stroking, some power pulls and my latest warm up trick, doing forward cross rolls down the long axis of the rink, before even thinking about turns, backwards skating or the like.  I realize that coaches are younger than me.  That's hardly news:  practically every skater out on the ice is younger than me.  Having said that I still see many thirty-somethings putting in their warm up time prior to attempting any demanding elements.  How do coaches perform without warming up?  Do they have electric socks which send jolts of stimulating energy up their legs as they drive in for the lesson?  Are the individuals who gravitate to coaching those genetically endowed with perpetually warmed up legs?

We could eat up a lot of time pondering these things.  But for now I'll just have to accept my observation without any meaningful experimental test to demonstrate the validity of one explanation over another.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Going the distance Dutch style: ice skating and all cause mortality.

One of the  benefits of working in a human nutrition research lab is that my work computer gives me access to peer reviewed journal articles which delve into many arcane areas related to human health.  After reading a post about the figure skater Anna Galmarini, who died at the relatively young age of 54, I started to wonder if  any research had been done on the beneficial effects of ice skating on longevity, or if not longevity then perhaps all cause mortality.  Intuitively, one would think that exertion resulting from skating would generate some benefit beyond, say, channel surfing on the couch.  And so to the internet and  PubMed I went.  My search was not long.  In fact I found only one scholarly article when using "ice skating" and "longevity" as search terms, but it never the less opened a door to an unknown (at least to me) world of long distance canal skating in the Netherlands and specifically the Dutch Eleven Cities Race/Tour.

The eleven Cities event is not an annual event but is held only on years in which the ice on the 200 kilometers (that's about 120 miles in old money) of canals which link the cities freezes to a thickness (15 centimeters/ 6 inches), a thickness deemed suitable for the event which is limited to 20,000 participants.  Sometimes the race takes place on consecutive years, other times there may be a break of 20 years between races.  The organizers make a preliminary announcement of the possibility of a race within 2 to 3 days and if conditions hold up, the race takes place.  This wiki page explains the whole deal.  One thing to keep in mind is that since this event isn't a predictable date that one can circle on the calendar, perspective participants need to continuously maintain their fitness levels in anticipation of a race.

So, getting back to our scholarly research paper, did the authors see any benefit from all this skating on lifespan or healthspan?  Recall that I introduced this event as a "Race/Tour" so there are two major divisions within the participants: serious races who complete the event in less than 7 hours and recreational skaters who get a completion award if they finish by midnight.  The race itself starts at 5:30 in the morning.  The race has taken place for a number of years and the authors, epidemiologists at Leiden University Hospital, were able to track down skaters who participated in race/tours between 1956 and 1988.  Of that cohort there were 259 men  took part in the speed event, 1000 men who finished within the time limit and finally, 1000 men who did not finish in time to qualify for an award.  Women, although their numbers have increased over the years, were not included because their sample size was too small to be statistically reliable.  The results demonstrated that although there wasn't an increase in longevity, there was a 24% reduction of (premature) all cause mortality among all of the skaters observed, with the strongest reduction found during the first ten years after the race.  And although the benefit decreased over time there was a persistent 17% reduction, compared to the general population, even after more than thirty years.

Closer examination of the stats break out differences between racers and tourists and between tourists who finished within the time limit and those who had to give up.  I'll let those interested do their own reading but as a teaser I'll point out that although there was a slight benefit for finishing, even the tourists who didn't complete within the time limit benefited from participation in the event.  Bottom line: even the recreational skaters benefited.

So, does recreational figure skating several times per week benefit the skater?  My guess is that it probably does, although the benefit is no doubt rather smaller than that seen for long distance skaters who, like long distance runners, continuously maintain their fitness in anticipation of the next event.  For figure skaters like me, one would need a very large cohort and would need to be able to control variables such as age, gender and life style choices (like smoking for example), but yes, a small benefit is probably hiding within those numbers!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Sign of the Times?

Yesterday, while in south Jersey, I went over to the Flyer's Skate Zone on Albany Avenue for the 12:30-2:30 pm public session.  While the local economy is reeling under the weight of a collapsing gambling industry to the point of driving the city to seriously consider filing for bankruptcy, one would never know it from the size of the crowd gathering at the rink.  I had to circle the parking lot twice before finding a space.  A healthy ice tourist presence does help keep the doors open. 

But the  thing that really grabbed my attention was a notice printed out on single sheets of computer printer paper, scotch taped to the rink Plexiglas windows which stated " No Chewing Tobacco out on the rink."  My reaction was  Oh my Gaud---ewwwwwww.  I next wondered is this a hockey thing or an unwashed public thing? 

Is chewing tobacco spital a  common thing or a hockey thing?  

 A quick trip to the internet revealed that this was not an isolated case.  You can read about it (or not) here:

Is this a problem at your rink?  It's news to me--lips that touch chew will never touch mine.  Up til now I've thought that it's bad enough to skate over stick-on skating passes which have liberated themselves from their purchasers.  But then I probably live a sheltered life. 

Well, although the rink was heaving with people, ice time is ice time.  No lick-spital was encountered yesterday by your diarist.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Withdrawal symtoms

Way back on the 12th of January I finally got back to having a coached lesson with Coach A.  That was also the last time I was able to get on the ice.  The following weekend was the three day MLK weekend and I was out of town.  This week has been eaten up with snow storm preparations.  I was looking forward to a spot of practice during the Friday 3:30-5:30pm public when the city posted this:

CHANGE IN FACILITY STATUS: The Bowie Ice Arena will be closing at 2 pm today and will remain closed through the weekend.
For updates you can call 301-262-6200 or visit us online at

What a kick in the head! Yesterday they indicated that they'd trim off the last 30 minutes of that session and close at 5pm so that rink employees could safely get home.  Fair enough.  But that was then and this is now and the storm's predicted to arrive a tad earlier than previously thought.  Pesky storms!  The earliest possibility for me to stagger out onto the ice, assuming they re-open Monday, would be the 9:00am public, which is a lovely session but if the rink is open, so too will my lab.  Sigh.

The good news is that coach A. seemed pleased that I hadn't lost as much ground as I'd thought and so we worked on back edges (never one of my strong suits) and then ran through the three low end dances that I've been working on since, since, I don't know, probably since Moses was a mess cook.  Progress seems so glacial. Since we're talking ice maybe that's appropriate.  I'll think that over on my way to the liquor store.  It appears the only ice I'm destined to see this weekend is that in my glass and whatever plops on the ground outside my house. 

As we're now deep into competition season, coach's schedule is chock-a-block full and I'm living for the rare cancellation by one of her other students.  My next shot at a lesson isn't until the 16th of February.  This is what happens when you're clumsy and do a big face plant--you lose your slot in the coach's calendar.  Double Sigh.

So, that's all I have to report other than the ice halos which I ordered weeks ago for myself and diaristdaughter have finally cleared Canada Post and crossed the border and have been handed off to USPS, and may actually beat the impending snow storm and arrive today. If so, I'll wear mine while going up and down the stairs!  It's the best I can do under the circumstances.  Stay warm.