Friday, April 28, 2017

Cross Forward / Tuck Behind (Cha Cha Cha)

Skating refinements seem to come when I least expect them.  Case in point is the somewhat tricky right cross-in-front step, immediately followed by a left tuck-behind which in turn feeds directly into a CCW forward inside swing roll at the tail end of the Cha Cha.  Knowledgeable students of pattern ice dancing already appreciate that the cross in front step is optional.  Following the time honored K.I.S.S. system, that's the way Coach A. had me approach this segment of the dance. The notion being that it would be easier for a geezer skater to master.  Easy, Ha!  Easy for Meryl and Charlie.  For your old diarist?  Meh, not so much.

It didn't matter whether I skated solo or partnered.  Coming off that big swooping CCW swing roll with lots of speed  and then putting that left skate down on the ice was distinctly hit or miss.  During practice I could pull it off maybe 75 percent of the time.  The other 25 percent?  Can you say "Bawk, buc-buc, Chicken?

Scrolling back in time to a lesson a week earlier:  Coach A. queued up the next song on her smart phone.  We pushed off, more or less in time, onto the four intro steps of the dance.  We safely negotiated the opening strokes, the chasse and wide-step and plowed our way past the BK and slalom steps.  Psychologically I knew that tuck behind was out there, waiting for me.

We steamed down the ice with Doris Day ironically crooning "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" over the blue-tooth speaker on Coach A's left arm.  After the swing roll I slid my left skate down the inside of my right boot and was promptly rewarded with the sound and feel of a toe pick attempting to augur in as the blade touched the ice on too acute an angle. Whoa Lordly! Somehow I managed to reverse my foot and we stayed sunny side up.  Visions of Monty Python flashed before my eyes--no, not his entire life, just the bit about the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.  I did want to blurt out "Run Away!  Run Away!"   Did Doris know something I didn't?  There just had to be a better way.

The following Saturday found me at a lightly populated Public session. After looking at the Cha Cha pattern diagram I decided to try the cross in front step which leads to the tuck behind.  It's basically a forward cross roll and who doesn't like doing those?  Cross rolls are a feel good kinda element for me.  They're part of my warm-up routine.  I figured that the tuck behind might feel less spooky if both skates where already on the ice.  I gave it a go and much to my surprise the tuck was easier to pull off if one does the cross in front step before hand.  I confirmed this over and over.  Ha!  A minor breakthrough.

Last night we had another lesson.  I soloed my new found proficiency and after she nodded in approval we quickly got into partnered mode and skated the dance against every Cha Cha tune she had on her phone--Doris included.  She told me that if I made the proceeding swing roll a bit swingier (might be a word) the cross forward and tuck behind would be even easier because my direction of travel wouldn't be so  flat. 

So, I've mastered technicalities of all the steps.  Now I'm down to her nit-picking on style issues: think about free leg extension, think about toe point, think about keeping your feet closer together--she was quick to point out that not every step of the dance is a wide step--just one. 

Our club has a test session in mid-May.  The filing deadline is the 2nd.  Not much time to tidy things up.  We discussed whether or not I should test and she said "Well, you could put it out there and see what happens.  It would be good experience. "   The translation of that statement from coach-speak to English is "If you don't have a total brain freeze in the middle of the dance and if the judge is blind you might get lucky.  Otherwise it's good but expensive experience."  I think I'll wait and let her nit-pick polish me a bit more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A hot & steamy day at the rink

Today featured big T-storms, more so in the afternoon as the temps shot up to the 80s and made the air unstable.  But it was Friday and I decided to burn a couple hours of leave and go skate the late afternoon public.  The clock is ticking.  Our rink closes for two months at the end of April.  Gotta skate while there's ice...

When I walked into the lobby it seemed a little warmer than usual.  Then I looked out at the rink.

I could barely see the stick and puck guys through the condensation on the dasher board plexi and fog swirling around their legs.

57 degrees and 91 %.  Any higher humidity and I would've needed foul weather gear and an umbrella.

The rink manager said that the condenser was down and the system was so old that the company was having to have the required part made.  They should be able to supply it by Tuesday--ironically it will probably get installed just in time for the rink's annual shut down.  Over the weekend the outside temps are supposed to bounce back to those more normal for spring in this neck of the woods, so hopefully that will take some of the stress off the system.  She went on to say that they did have little stalagmites on the ice this morning from the drips coming down from the rafters and hockey banners.  Glad the Zamboni was able to shave those down.

I'd bought my ice pass so there was nothing to do but get on with it.  The ice was predictably slow--especially noticeable if you were doing spins, but very forgiving for jump landings--yes, yes, Madame skating director, no jumps above Free Style 3 during a public!

I caught a toe pick while practicing dance tuck behinds and landed flat on my butt.  Didn't hurt a bit.  This leads me to Adult skater observation Nr 1;  How to tell if you're old:

If you fall in front of a bunch of people and they laugh and make derisive comments, then you're still young.  If they get panicky looks on their faces and start rapidly skating towards you, then you're old.

Could've been worse.  At least I didn't flop down in a puddle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From the plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose dept.

Not being content to having me methodically master one dance before moving on to the next, Coach A. currently has me working on bits and pieces of all three pre-bronze pattern dances.  While this does eliminate boredom, it tends to increase my already messy attempts at mental processing.  Ever catch yourself doing the "Swingo" rather than either the Swing Dance or the Fiesta Tango?  Yes, it can be done--especially if you're a member of the short attention span brigade like a certain old diarist...

Oh, and I do have a bit of bad news for those in the audience who are struggling with the RB's tuck behind steps:  they don't go away.  Two out of three pre-bronze dances (Cha Cha and the Fiesta Tango) have cross-in front steps, in addition to cross-behinds.  At least the cross-in front step is optional in  the Cha Cha.  The Swing dance has a potentially tricky (but optional) slide chasse a couple steps before of the end/repeat of the dance.  Why do the choreographers of these dances always seem to add a "zinger" right at the end?  If they're doing this for my benefit, they can knock it off.

The Fiesta Tango and the Swing Dance introduce left forward open Mohawks and for the first time, a transition from forward to backward skating steps--and this is exactly where things remain the same for me:  my left forward inside Mohawk is not now and has never been a thing of beauty.  After watching me demo the Mohawk in both directions Coach A. opined that it was a shame the dances don't call for a right Mohawk--if they did we'd be in great shape.  Sadly they don't and so your old diarist must come to grips with not only an unreliable Mohawk turn in the unfavorable direction but weak back skating skills (more pronounced on the left side) as well.  My difficultly with the CC forward inside Mohawk is  controlling the exit edge.  We'll not even talk about the complications of somehow sliding from the reverse Kilian to the "regular" Kilian dance hold position during that Mohawk.  For those looking at the pattern this all happens at the top of the Fiesta Tango's dance card. 

Beyond that, I'm not sure what my problems are with back swing rolls and back inside chasses. Everything these days seems to be a work in progress.

In an attempt to help me (or at least stifle my whining), my skate technician set the toe of my left skate blade well in from the center when I bought new boots and blades almost three years ago.  This immediately helped me skate a straight line going forward on a flat rather than to veer off on one edge or another.  But I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to revisit the geometry of that left blade and move the toe of the blade back out to a more neutral position.  If we do that in small stages it may make counter-clockwise FI Mohawks better and may improve my left FO 3-turns as well.  Another idea to fix the CC Mohawk might be to shim the left blade on one side to introduce a little "negative camber" into the mix--potentially making it easier to get on and then control the required exit edge for that Mohawk, which of course happens on the left blade.  All this talk about toe in and toe out, camber and castor adjustments, etc. makes me feel like an old car that's been driven hard down one too many dirt roads.

Now that I'm doing more backwards skating I'm noticing that it's easier for me to control right back swing rolls and left back inside chasses than their opposite side/direction counterparts.  One way or another, I need to address my directional weaknesses.  In ice dancing, as in NASCAR, one needs to put the pedal down hard and (mostly) turn left...

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ice Dance Music

Ice Dance Music.  Dare I touch on this subject?  For many it's like tossing a box full of shotgun shells into a campfire--no matter how quickly you evacuate the area there's bound to be some casualties.   Some say (and you know who you are) that ice dance music is so bad that it "makes your ears bleed".

At the start of a new group of dances, Coach A. presents me with a disk with music for each of the three dances at that level.  Eighteen tunes, six for each.  She doesn't indicate the song titles which I find challenging if not a little annoying. She did this same thing to me when she supplied Preliminary Dance music.  I was able to ID some but not all of those tunes.  Around that same time my wife had a dinner party for her mother and several of her mother's friends.  I slipped the disk into my computer and asked these ladies to see if they could "name that tune".  They asked "what's in it for us?"  After lubricating their collective memory with an extra bottle of wine, they confirmed my suspicion, and supplied verifiably correct titles (who says youtube doesn't have it's uses) for each and every song on that disk.   Yeah, it cost me, but it was so worth it.

Now, I could delve into a discussion about ice dance music and it's target demographic but (a). I think that discussion would run down a very obvious and ultimately unprofitable path, and (b) it's already been whined about numerous times before and probably with better effect.

So, last week I got the Pre-Bronze dance music.  Same deal. We met in a quiet ice rink lobby. She wordlessly slid a disk across the table.  It was cryptically numbered "Track 1" through "Track 18".  Handwriting on the disk indicated that the first six tracks were Swing Dance tunes, the next six were for the Cha Cha and the remaining six were for the Fiesta Tango.  I returned her steely glance as I quietly slipped the disk into my coat pocket.  As I got up to leave, I turned around to ask her one more question about the disk.  The lobby was empty.

Once back at my computer I got to work, carefully listening to the various tracks, and was able to ID some of the more obvious:  Track 1 turned out to be "Red Sails in the Sunset".  I had no clue about Tracks 2 through 4.  Track 5 is "Once in Love with Amy",  Track 6 is "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime".  Moving on to the Cha Cha: no clue about Track 7; Track 8 is "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps".  I awarded myself a +1 GOE for also correctly IDing the vocalist (Doris Day).  Moving on, I had no clue about Tracks 8, 9, or 10.  Track 11 is a nice instrumental version of "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White".  Listening to that song I could envision timing the sweeping wide step of the Cha Cha to drawn out  phrase of the trumpet.  Track 12, in what I assume is a gesture to the "youth" of ice dance, aka 30 somethings, is "I need to Know" by Mark Anthony.  Moving on to the Tango selections I had more luck.  Track 13 is the "Jealousy Tango" (Coach A. refers to it as "Celos Amigo" but I'm going with my title).  Track 14 is "A Media Luz", Track 15 is "Cumparsita", Track 16 is "Adios Muchachos".  The remaining two tracks were unknown to me.  Maybe I should have played the disk backwards...

Night after night I wracked my brain trying to break the code of the remaining mystery tracks.  I had nothing. But then she took pity on me--right before last night's lesson Coach A sent a tightly worded email revealing all the song titles.

First, the mystery Swing Dance tunes.  Track 2 turned out to be "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" but the tune has been so ruthlessly massaged to fit the required beats per minute of the Swing Dance that no one this side of an ice dance judge would ever recognize it--not even my M-in-Law's wine loving pals would have cracked that nut.  Track 3 is simply entitled "Schottische".  The Schottische is a specific type of Nordic folk dance which my wife, originally from Sweden, would be familiar.  I'll have to see if she recognizes it, and if so what title she gives it.  Track 4 turned out to be "The Object of My Affection".  The mixture of vibraphone and pan pipe makes this tune so irresistibly cheesy that of the six Swing Dance tunes on the disk it's my current favorite!  Kseniya and Oleg use this same tune on their Swing Dance video so it's no doubt a good thing that I kinda like it--it's probably inescapable.

On to the Cha Cha.  Track 7 is "Sweet and Gentle"; Track 9 is "Enjoy Yourself"--again the tune has been tweaked beyond reasonable identity so that it fits the needs of the dance.  Track 10 is "Bodeguero" which has a pleasant Latin beat.

Finally, the two Tangos which I failed to ID are Track 17's generic "Tango Time" and Track 18 "Yira Yira".  They'll probably grow on me with enough repetition.

Latin dances such as the Cha Cha and Tango are pretty much tethered to specific music--and for the most part that music is good and there's enough variation so that the music doesn't need to be completely disemboweled to work with the ice dance in question .  As for the Swing Dance you'd think by now someone would have come up with some good alternatives to remixed tweaks of ballads from the 1950s.  Perhaps someone has.  Coach A. mentioned that US Figure Skating has a list of dances which serve as standards for solo competition.  I'll have to check these out to see if there are any Swing Dance winners.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a clip featuring K & O skating the Swing Dance to "The Object of My Affection". (Fritz, Fritz--turn off der bubble machine vhile I dance mit die Champagne Lady.)