Friday, March 24, 2017

Is it muscle memory or is it all in my head?

Last night I had my weekly ice dance lesson during an extra public session which our rink typically adds during the last two months of the skating season.  I wasn't feeling particularly perky on Tuesday, my regular lesson day, so we moved things around.  In truth this was good because at least for now, few members of the "public" have discovered this session and so one gets nearly empty ice at a bargain rate--perfect for an old geezer attempting to learn a dance.

I've been working or the Cha-Cha for about six weeks and although I have the steps pretty much memorized I just couldn't get my head around executing the first chassé step which is immediately followed by a wide step.  At the end of last lesson I could do those steps.  At the beginning of last night's lesson the feel of them had departed to where ever such bits of information go.  If they decided to slip off to the Keys I wish they'd taken me with them...

So, Coach A. and I burned the first fifteen minutes of my lesson reviewing those steps.  She'd demo them, and then I'd go through the motions--wrongly, but couldn't sort out how to correct the mistakes.  Finally instead of counting the beats while I skated she instead said: "PUSH, CROSS,  CHAAAA--SAY, WIDE STEP."  I can't tell you why, but somehow I could suddenly (and properly) execute those four opening steps and after being released from their grim grip, I could get on with skating the rest of the dance, including the pesky tuck and slide which makes up the Hors d'oeuvre  part of the end pattern.  In my limited and somewhat painful experience, if you make it pass that tuck behind and slide then you'll have no problem with the final step of the dance, which is an inside swing roll.  After that you either repeat the dance or take a bow.

People yap about muscle memory and yes, in order to capture the above mentioned steps I spent the remaining part of the session after my lesson trying to get the rhythm of her voice ingrained in my legs.  But--the initial part of learning is way too quick for muscle memory.  It's mental.  However, to consolidate a skill and make it stick I've got to move what ever I've just learned from my brain down to my legs or it'll be off in the vapor before I can take off my skates and go through the lobby doors on my way to the car.

We skated the dance a few times partnered and I made a mental note that next week's lesson will need to address that tuck and slide thing.  Yes, I can stagger through it but it's not a thing of beauty.  She'll need to coach me on upper body positioning so that I have my weight correctly placed to make those steps to happen without the sensation that I'm stepping on a banana peel, but that's next week's breakthrough.  And of course there's timing, pattern placement on the ice, extension, toe pointing and expression to polish.  I might have this thing test ready by Christmas.

We finished the remaining few minutes of the lesson reviewing the opening steps of the Swing Dance up to the Mohawk turn, after which I'll need to skate her steps going backwards.  That's fodder for another day.


  1. Sometimes, it just take a slight tweak and voila. Other times, yea I'm never gonna get this repeats in my head.

  2. Yes, this post document one of those Ah Ha moments for me. However, for every skater there's a plateau out there somewhere. I have enough back and spine issues that I know I'll never be much of a jumper. Fortunately I haven't found my plateau in dance yet. We'll see how things go after the Cha-Cha. The Fiesta and the Swing dance introduce turns and back skating and those elements must happen at specific points during the dance rather than when one feels prepared to do them. I'm hoping to at least get through all the pre-bronze dances before I hit my personal wall beyond which progress becomes increasingly futile.

  3. For some reason, I find dances like the Cha-Cha really hard to learn (maybe the order of the steps and timing doesn't seem straightforward). So hopefully the others will be easier to remember. Sometimes watching videos help. I totally sympathize with the banana peel feeling too!

  4. Now that I have the first four steps of the Cha-Cha down, the rest of the dance seems straight forward. As mentioned above, the next two pre-bronze dances will take much more time for me to master. The Mohawk turns are in my weak direction and I need to vastly improve back swing rolls and back chasse steps.