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 d├ębut, 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...