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 chass├ęs 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