Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Countdown to Dance Test--Russian Expressions of Unhappiness

So the dance test of the Dutch Waltz is next Wednesday. I'm the first to test after warm up. That's either really lucky or coach told the Test Chair "If her legs get cold and stiff, she'll take a toepick and do a face plant." That's almost what happened Monday morning.

I was trying for more power, brought my right leg forward and clipped the ice with my toepick. Coach swore in Russian. Something like Biyalistockmutteranova. Whatever. I don't think I even came close to falling. Dear Coach, if you have time to swear, it's not a crisis.

Between the two of us, Coach is the Diva. Or is it Divum?  Since he's a guy I guess it needs a masculine ending (yes, I did have two years of Latin). Anyway, he's the prima donna. No that's wrong, maybe, primus puer? Oh, let's put it in English, he's got to be in charge at all times.  I'm getting tense over my first skating test, and he's getting bossier than usual because he wants me to do well. No minor infraction goes unnoticed.

For example, Saturday during lesson I did a Wingroll. Geeze louise, you could hear the shouting all the way down the rink. "What is that! That is not a Swing roll! That is awful!" (Small children were knocked over by the power of his voice, and sensitive adults cowered in the corners)

Me (waving my arms in frustration) yelling right back: "I know, I know. I did a Wingroll! I was using the wrong arm!"

Coach in bossy voice while he skates at me like a hockey player after a shot and yelling at the same time. "If you know what it is to be wrong, then why did you do it? If you know what it is to be wrong, then you be the coach, and I'll pay you!"

By this time we're  standing in the center ice yelling at each other to be heard over Christmas carols on the loud speakers.  I yell back. "Tizloy!"

We both burst into laughter.  I'd just told him "You're mean!" in Russian.

"You should learn more Russian." he tells me. So I have. Phonetically. In case you have a Russian coach and want not to,  here they are:

I'm Hopeless!    bez-na-diozh'-na

Not good           neh ho-ro-sho'

So now you can mutter these under your breath. The trick to saying things in Russian, is to sound angry. If you're not thee angry type, get a French coach.

Stiff Boots Rescue--Katz Straps

Since we're in the run up before Christmas, with prezzies and giftees on everyone's mind, I thought I'd add one more thing to the list: Katz Straps.

I use these every time I skate

Say you're breaking in new boots, or you have stiff boots and want more ankle bend, but you don't like the feel of your boots with the top hooks unlaced; What do you do?

Well, a few years ago I met a former professional skater turned coach, Kathy Hurd Carillo. She showed me how she used homemade elastic straps to loop over the hooks for speed lacing. I liked that idea, and I started using heavy ponytail holders to hold my top hooks together. These kinda held the top hooks together, but not firmly enough.  And they broke. And they popped off unexpectedly. And one pair stained my boots (thank goodness they weren't in my hair!). But they were (marginally) better than nothing.

Then, this summer, I ran into Kathy again, and she told me she had invented Katz Straps to do what I wanted! They hold the top hooks with enough firmness to keep them together, but have enough elasticity to allow for deep ankle bend even in new boots!

These straps are made of industrial grade U.S. manufactured elastic and come with their own little carabiner to attach them to your skate bag. They're sized to perfectly fit over your hook--not too big, not too small.  They're even USFSA approved, which I think means you can wear them in competitions. You can also dye them with RIT dye.  Although the ones in my pictures are white, I know there are guys that  use them so I guess she makes them in black too.

I'll never lose them
I've tried both the regular size and a slightly larger pair, so she can make custom sizes. They really make skating in stiff boots easier, and as a side benefit keep your lace ends tucked out of the way. On her website Kathy has other benefits related to jumping, of which I am completely Ice Dance ignorant, so check it out.


You can reach Kathy at her website, and order them from her there.

Love 'em. Love 'em. Love 'em.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hips, Knees, and Elbows--Part III The Elbow

This took a month to heal. You can't really see the green
skin in this photo. 
The first skating protection I adopted were elbow pads. Here's a picture of the reason why. I was doing figure 8's and abruptly fell off an outside edge directly onto my elbow.

Although it's unlikely that you can break your elbow, even a light fall onto the joint can be excruciating. 

I tooled around the usual sports stores and finally came up with the skateboarding pads below. I wore these for a year. In fact there's a lot of variety of these at Amazon. They all look equally effective.

I got stares when I wore these.
Then one day I'd had enough. These things took up too much space in my boot bag, and I hadn't fallen on my elbow in a year. I gave my set to someone's son, And started skating with bare elbows.

I know. You're thinking: She fell again. Nope, sorry, I've not fallen on my elbows since. But that memory of that fall stayed with me. 

So I was buying knee pads at the Skating Safe site, and I came across these molded elbow pads.

Drool. I love these.

Faster than greased lightning I added a pair to my order. They are designed not to show under a costume in competition. (Skating safe also has a less expensive square elbow pad that works very well. I think it would be hard to see under a costume's sleeves if they were loose.)

Rather than wearing the retention sleeve the company provides, I wear biker's arm warmers to hold the elbow pads in place. I like the arm warmers, since you can wear them instead of a jacket.

The only problem with these is that they are friggin' expensive. I've had jewelry that cost less than these. I'm on my second pair because, I once had cash, a cell phone, and a Flip camera in my skate bag, but someone stole a pair of these, leaving the rest behind. I guess they figured I wouldn't call the cops over a pair of elbow pads.

"Roger. We have a 10-211* in progress.
Send in the SWAT team.
We've got a freestyle session to frisk
and skate bags to search."

* 10-211 = Armed Robbery...Get it? Elbow pads--'armed' robbery? Sigh. Man, nobody likes my jokes.

Hips, Knees and Elbows==Part II Hips

I don't jump, and hip pads are usually reserved for jumpers.  So I'm just going to round up some samples and make some comments. There are more designs here that you can possibly imagine.

When will you need hip pads? Oh, you'll know. It will be the day you limp off the ice and beg for an ice pack, or it will be the day your coach says you do, or it will be the day you wake up in so much pain that you have to take two Advil to get out of bed.

Let's start with the under tights pads.

Skating Safe produces gel pads.These pads are almost invisible, and you can probably get away wearing one during competitions and tests.  If you're a guy, you'll have to wear compression shorts, or fit the pads under tights if you wear them.  There is also a Skating Safe pad to protect the lower spine when learning jumps.

Waxel Pads are a brand of pads that appear to be made of some very thick foam rubber. Like Skating Safe pads, they are placed under the tights.  They cost about half of the Skating Safe pad's price. I don't think they can be worn in competition or testing, the way the Skating Safe pads can. Waxel also makes a wrap around pad that appears to be unique.

The only disadvantage about these two kinds of pads is that some people feel awkward about sharing these pads between skaters, although they will clean off with soap and water. if you're creeped out by sharing, then there's the options of the padded shorts, of which there are many varieties. Some varieties can be worn over clothes, so you can share them between skaters. 

Padded Shorts--as if skaters' butts weren't big enough already....

There's so much variety, that I'll just point you to a few websites of online stores that sell these, and make a few comments.

Most padded shorts seem to try for neutral, but let's face it, they're designed for girls.

Here's a wide selection.  And here's the booty short variation.

Something for someone who want to cover everything. Also, at the same site, if you scroll down to the bottom of this page you'll see a selection of Se-Ku padded shorts. One of these says it can be worn in competition.

Let's see you getting a guy into any of those padded shorts. So what do men and boys wear? It needs to be something....macho.

These appear to be roller derby shorts. Perhaps these would be popular with boys and men. You know, pick the right music and theme, I bet you could wear these as a 'costume' in competition. And here we have an even more macho selection.   I don't know if these are flexible enough for jumping, but I mean, they look so mean and threatening. I could see Vladimir Putin being willing to wear these. You don't get much more macho than that.
Vear pads or I vill shoot you

Have I missed anything? Hip pads are often used by people learning jumps, although many younger skaters don't want to wear them. Still given the variation available, there ought to be something that will suit all but the most finicky skater. And as an adult, wear them. A broken hip can destroy your life.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Merry Christmas to Your Skater

I'm taking a one day pause in the skating protection series (Hips tomorrow) to talk about what to get your favorite  skater for Christmas while you have time to shop. First off, I'm not suggesting the usual things, I'm going for the new and unique.

Gloves, Soakers, and Blade Rags

How cheap are you? Did you think you could get away with buying some gloves from the Dollar Store? Not a very good gift are they? Same for blade rags and soakers. But what if you get them all in matching colors!  Maybe in your skater's favorite color! Not very expensive, and may take some work to pull together since you have to look for each piece individually, but it's a nice little touch.  I mate my freestyle boots with a yellow set, the dance boots in blue.

Blade Guards

No, not those cheap blade guards that everyone uses, there's special stuff out there now. Two companies have come up with blade guards that are drool worthy.

Kootsu has an extra wide non-slip sole. Requires a hacksaw to put together. Perfect for those times I leave the iPod in the car!

Rockerz makes custom blade guards (many colors!).  Requires you know the model and the size of your skater's blades. You can order the blades in any color combination you want here! Ooh, I could match them to my yellow and blue skating stuff!

Other Stuff
Don't want to buy them anything too personal? Why not buy them a public skate card or a few freestyle sessions. I got two sessions one year from friends. Good times.

Small video camera for the rink so they don't have to worry about their expensive smartphone getting broken or stolen. 

Skating Protection!  Read my posts for some ideas.

Gift certificate to their favorite skating clothing website. If your skater is a guy, Blue Skies is still making custom men's skating slacks. 

Touch screen sensitive gloves for those skaters who insist on having their smart phones with them at all times. Or if you can sew and want to modify a favorite pair of gloves you can modify them to be touch screen sensitive with some special thread.

So, those are my best skating gift ideas for this year. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hips, Knees and Elbow-Part I, the Knee

My experience in skating was that I hit my elbows, knees and hips more than I ever hit my wrists and head.  Fortunately, your hips, knees and elbows are pretty tough and seldom suffer injury. But, there's no reason you need to skate in pain or risk an injury while you're learning. Why not wear pads?

Well, most people don't wear pads because they look unattractive. But even the cheap stuff you buy at a big box store usually works for beginners. It's only when you get past the first few basic skills that you realize that these cheap pads can interfere with your skating mobility and body position. Let's look at knee pads today, since when you first learn to skate you'll spend time on your knees.

Knee Pads

There's three main kinds: volleyball pads, inline skating pads, and figure skating pads. I'll go over the pros and cons for each.
Volleyball Kneepads
Volleyball knee pads come in a variety of styles and quality. You can spot them because the pad is integrated into the leg sleeve. Some have foam pads (cheaper), others have gel (more expensive, but better). Depending on what you wear, you can probably get some styles of pads under a pair of slacks. If you go with these make sure they have an opening in the back of the sleeve to allow for knee bend.

Pros: They work and aren't too confining. I knew a man at Freestyle 4 level who jumped (and fell) in these without problems. I've seen higher level skaters wearing a single pad in practice (I assume to protect an injured knee). Cheap to moderately expensive. Widely available.

Cons: Can't wear them for testing or competition. Some people may feel they interfere with certain elements. If you have large legs, the sleeve may be too restrictive.

Inline skating kneepad
Hard shell

Inline skating knee pads come in a bewildering variety of designs and levels of quality. Hard shell (as in the picture to the left). Softcap (similar to the volleyball knee pad). Pad integrated into the sleeve, or pad held in place with straps. What distinguishes Inline Skating pads from volleyball pads is that inline pads are generally thicker and designed for someone falling onto concrete.

I have seen these types of pads on many small children in Learn to Skate and a very few adults in Pre-Alpha (Basic 1) type classes. Generally adults give up on these as they are too thick to wear under clothes and must be worn over clothes. Once an adult gets steady on the ice, they seem to go to other protection solutions.

Pros: They work really well. Cheap. Available everywhere.
Cons: Hard to get on. Hard to get to stay in place. Most are designed to be worn over bare legs, not slacks. Bulky and may interfere with moves like cross overs.

Skating Safe Pad
As far as I know, there is one figure skating knee pad. Designed by a company called SkatingSafe, they are a gel product. The picture to the left shows a pad in place on a knee. When you buy the pad, you just get the pad. You have to figure out how to keep it in place. The company sells a retention sleeve, but I don't know of any adults who use them.  If you are a woman you can hold the pad in place with your tights. I use capri length compression tights to hold mine in place. I suspect a man would use a similar solution. Carefully placed, these pads are invisible under clothing. I've heard of skaters wearing them under tights and they couldn't be seen.

For something so thin, they work like magic. I've taken some really hard falls in them and felt nothing. Zip. Nada. Zero. As I said, Magic.

Pros: Can be worn under clothes. Can be worn in testing and competition. Work well. Don't interfere with skating moves.

Cons: OMG. The Price. But my knees are worth it.

There's lots of options for different levels of ability. All of them work. There's lots of price differences so even someone on a budget could afford some kind of knee protection. As you advance you'll probably find yourself needing knee pads less and less as you gain stability. However, at some point you'll have a jump, or a piece of footwork than will land you on your knees and you'll take them up again. Ah, figure skating, the never ending cycle of pain.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wrist Guards

This is the second in my posts on skating protection. Today I want to talk about wrist guards.

NOTA BENE: This post is my opinion. There are people who disagree with my conclusions...NOTE: I've never been hurt wearing the guards I skate in, so personally,  I'm okay with my analysis. 

Some of you may have heard that wrist guards don't protect you from injury. Or you may have read this article.  I'm about to pooh-pooh someone's research with cadavers, so take a look at the description in the article of the force used: "bone crushing force".  And look at the results "The guarded forearms snapped under a force almost identical to the force needed to break the unguarded forearms."  I'm going to put on my system engineer's hat and go "pooh-pooh". Research like this draws general conclusions about all sports and all situations from a simple experiment. Extrapolation can lead to simplified conclusions that are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Here's the thing, a well designed wrist guard isn't intended to keep your forearm from breaking. A wrist  guard is designed to keep your wrist from breaking. Secondly, in skating we seldom encounter 'bone-crushing force'. Wrist guards are designed for people skating on concrete, not ice; so 'bone crushing' rarely applies to skaters. Finally, in and this is the most important thing, in the extremely unlikely case that you break a long bone (a forearm or a leg  bone), they heal much faster, and have fewer complications in healing  than a broken joint.

Some cases to illustrate this point. I broke my ankle in June of 2009. It was a minor fracture of a single small bone in the ankle. I did not get back on the ice for six months and did not lose pain in the joint for a year and a half. A woman in my group class broke a leg in a freak skating accident* and she was skating again in three months. A friend of mine broke her wrist in a roller skating accident. She tripped, stuck out her hands to break her fall and  crushed one wrist. It required two surgeries to fix and a year to heal. Don't you think she would have rather had a simple broken arm that would be healed in a couple of months?

So, I'm a big supporter of wrist guards. But only certain kinds of wrist guards. The ones I recommend to my friends are those that have a metal splint that bends away from the wrist. I've used Pro-Tech and Triple 8 guards. but there are others on the market. I make sure I get the guards where the splint does not touch the wrist. When you fall with this kind of guard, the force enters the metal splint, travels around the wrist, and the force transfers to the tough hard to break (easy to heal) forearm. Here's a picture that shows the splint.
The guard on the right shows the splint
that curves around the wrist

The wrist guards I feel comfortable with are ones designed for street skating (skateboarding and inline skating). When I took falls with these on I never had any problems at all. They were super. When I skate alone, I always wear these. When I'm skating with Dance Coach, I'm now comfortable not wearing them as my skills have improved.  

I've never tried any of the padded wrist guards that don't have a splint. From a common sense point of view, I can't see how they would be of any use, except to someone who is trying to keep their palms from getting skinned. I've also never used wrist guards designed for snowboarding as they are bulky and appear to be designed more for protection against brush and ice. Finally, there are guards that have a splint, but it lies along the wrist rather than arching away from it. I'm suspicious of these as from a physics point of view, they don't stop the force from going through the wrist.  Maybe if I was younger and a better skater, I'd find these other options suitable, but right now, I don't use them. 

If a friend were to come to me and say, "I'm a beginning adult skater, what should I wear for protection? What's the most important thing?" I'd say "Get wrist guards with the curved splint, first and foremost. You're going to fall on your hands, protect that wrist joint." 

*She was doing warm up swizzles(!), caught one blade in a rut and 'fell funny' on one leg, snapping both bones. (I said it was a freak accident). I saw her skating last week for the first time, 3 months after the fall.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Pad in the Hat

I want to ramble on here for a few paragraphs about head protection. I'm speaking as a person with both a skating and an engineering background, but this is all Opinion. I don't want any legal eagle saying I said "something was safer or better". No, I'm just examining the options. Since there is no figure skating ASTM approved helmet, figure skaters are left to use helmets or head protection from other sports disciplines. I want to explore the options available to skaters, and talk about the good, the bad, and the risky and the good enough.

Skateboarding helmets aka Flatback helmets

I am not endorsing any Product.
This is just a picture.

I've seen these on a lot of adult skaters who jump or are learning back threes. In fact my rink requires students in group who are learning back threes to wear a  helmet. This is an eminently sensible idea. I have a skater friend (ice dancer working on his Silver Dances and Moves) who took blows to the head three times while learning back threes.  I wold have quit after that.

What's good about this style of helmet?

If you fall backwards it will keep your skull from being smashed in. We've all seen that happen. Right? No, of course not. This helmet is designed for people going fast who fall on concrete. It's probably over kill for most adult skaters.  Most of us aren't jumping high enough and skating fast enough to rate that kind of coverage.  But, as a normal adult, one of these helmets with decent padding will probably reduce the trauma to your brain by spreading the  force of the blow from a point force to where it's spread out over a wider area to reduce the force to any single point on the head.  These seems to be a suitable option for adults as these kinds of helmets are easy to find and are inexpensive. It may give too much protection, but who cares about that? If it's not interfering with your skating, why not use it?

The cutback on the back, will not snap your head forward if you fall onto the back of your head. Trauma to the neck could happen if the helmet had any protrusions on the back. Which brings us to helmet number two.

Biking helmet with the Pointy Backend

And now we come to the biking helmet with the aerodynamic shape. I've seen these on many kids and a couple of adults. They scare me.
The shape of these helmets is to reduce drag at speeds that usually only professional bikers achieve. Little Johnny isn't going those speeds. Why people buy these helmets for any sport is beyond me. I guess they buy whatever is cheapest on the shelves.

But from a skating protection perspective they scream 'Danger!'. The protrusion on the back makes me think that if Little Johnny slips backwards and hits his head on that pointy back end, then his head may snap forward and injure his neck.

Fortunately, I doubt many kids are going to fall back hard enough or fast enough to make their neck snap while wearing this style. For one thing, I don't think I've seen one kid out of ten who is a. wearing helmet that fits, or b. is properly secured.  So the helmets are usually not doing any good at all.

As an opinion, I'd never wear one of these helmets on ice or put one on someone I loved.  If the helmet has to be shared between skating and biking, it's easier just to get a flat-backed biking helmet.

Ice Skating Protection

Then there's the Ice Halo.  This was originally designed for curling, but has been used by figure skaters as well. It is constructed of a band of thick closed cell light weight foam, and appears to be made of the same stuff as the foam in regular helmets. It is covered by different kinds of fabric.  It's been tested to reduce the force of a fall by 250 G.
Available in bunches of fabric covers

When I returned to skating I felt unsteady so I bought one (the black jersey).  I liked it. It gave me confidence to try things that I might have otherwise avoided. I never fell and hit my head in it so I have no testimony. From a protection perspective, I can't think of a downside to the Ice Halo. It's small enough to not interfere with jumps and can fit in your skate bag. It comes in two sizes (one for kids, one for adults) and is adjustable. It may not offer perfect protection, but it offers decent protection without the weight of a helmet. It is surprisingly hot.

I was happy with it. But I got comments about it. Every time I wore it coach would say, "I see you have your little hat." Then one day it disappeared forever and at the next lesson he said, "Where's your little hat?" He was polite, but I could tell he didn't like it.

So, from a performance perspective I think it works well for adult skaters if they get the right size (I needed a small), but it will raise comments.  I tried to get a couple of guys I knew to try it out (including one already wearing a helmet) and just got expressions of horror before getting a polite "No."

The Pad in the Hat

I'm now much steadier on my feet than when I was wearing the Ice Halo, so for long months I didn't wear any head protection at all. Then I had a fall backward in waltz hold and I decided it might be time to get something.  I'm short, and I don't go very fast. I felt I don't need a helmet until I get to back threes, and it would make Dance Coach frown to do dance in a helmet. So I went back to what I used to use when I skated years ago, I stuff a Skating Safe knee pad or two in a hat and wear that. (Mind you this is totally off use for these pads. These are designed to protect your knees not your head.) The hat is close fitting and presses the Skating Safe pads against my skull. They aren't flopping around.

Is it perfect? No. Do I feel comfortable with it? Well, I wouldn't want to fall backwards at speed and ram my head into the boards in it. I don't think it gives enough protection for that. But I'm not going to have those kinds of falls anytime soon.  I'm going to have falls where hitting my head on the ice is incidental to the fall and I'll be going slow. So I feel comfortable with it for those low risk falls. This is about risk mitigation. I wear the Pad in the Hat as something to reduce the risk for a fall at the  low level I'm at now.  When I advance a level and do riskier elements, I'll reassess the situation and decide at that point to move up to an Ice Halo or a skateboard helmet.

The best thing of all? Dance Coach just thinks I'm wearing a hat because the rink is cold! Totally slipped it past him!

Selecting your head protection is hard for skaters. There's no ASTM certified helmet for ice skaters so we have to make do. Many adult skaters use a flat back helmet when they feel they need head protection for learning elements which have a high risk of head blows. The Ice Halo advertises itself to a high standard of protection. Finally, there is my (temporary) solution to us the pad in the hat for giving me some basic protection while learning low level dances where falls are seldom to the head.

Review your options. What level of risk are you at? How fast are you going? What elements are you doing? It's all up to you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six Stages of Adult Skating

Updated and Illustrated version of this post.

1. Disbelief
"You want me to do what with my foot and put it where while I'm doing this with my arms?"

2. Disorganization
"Okay, I got my foot there, now why can't I do that at the same time?"

3. Denial
"I don't care what coach says, nobody over the age of 9 can learn this."

4. Deliberation
"Well, maybe if I alter my hip position, thus, and add a little upper body swing...."

5. Dominate the Move!

6. Disbelief
"What does coach mean it's not perfect? Coaches, they're never happy."

Starting after Thanksgiving I'll be doing a series on skating protection, starting with "The Pad in the Hat". Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Secret Life

A married woman I know slightly came up to me at a party and began chatting. After a while she got to the personal. "So, are you dating anyone?"

I was a bit surprised at this question. But, I'm resigned to the fact that the manners of my youth are long gone, buried in the 'faded memories cemetery' next to the grave of the last pantyhose in America.  "No, not really. But, " I said, thinking of my ice dance coach, "I pay a 28 year old man 50 dollars every week to hold my hand for an hour."

Her eyes widen in shock. Then she hunched closer to me, "So, how can I get some of that?"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Swingrolls gone bad--the Wingroll

I'm practicing the Dutch Waltz for my test next month, and like many things, when I over practice, bad habits creep in.  Without Dance Coach present to do the patented Russian Frowny Face, I find myself unconsciously slipping into sloppy skating. It takes mental effort for me to do all the pieces of an element, all the time.

So the move goes like this; Stroke and start a curve, free leg back--same side arm and shoulder forward, swing the free leg forward--and check by bringing the opposite arm forward as you bring the free leg forward.  There's inside and outside swing rolls, and doing them isn't hard. But doing them with flow has taken some persistence on my part.

Doing these the other day to get the consistent power and flow coach wants, I realized I was sticking my right leg out to the side during the swing for the outside swing roll.

Urrgh! I looked like a chicken. I was doing the Wingroll.

Coach ever catches me doing a Wingroll he'll not only have Frowny Face, he'll have the Pulling of the Lower Lip, and the Deep, Deep Sigh.  Then will come the Disappointed Voice.

I had to fix it and fast before Coach showed up for lesson.  Obviously I was sticking the leg out to the side to counterbalance something.  Tighten up the core muscles, give a stronger check with the right arm prior to the swing and start the check with the left arm a little earlier than I had been, mentally focus on the leg move, and Voila! I was back to swing rolls.

It took me 5 minutes of fiddling to get there, and I'm not sure I have the right answer. Doesn't matter for the moment. I'm swingin' it, not wingin' it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things not to do--on Ice

When I started skating there was no one telling me what not to do. When I was riding horses I was much more conscious of ring safety. Being run over by a 1200 lb animal can hurt. Also, I'd been riding since I was six, I didn't have the distractions in the ring that I did in the rink. When I was standing around on the ice, I didn't have the sense of immediate danger I could be to others. Instead I was worried about my danger to myself. So here's some helpful rules for public skates for absolute beginners.

1.  Be alert to what's going on around you. There's little kids going a million miles a minute, trust me, they aren't looking anywhere but where they want to go. They. Do. Not. See. You.  You have to keep an eye out for them.
     a. Don't skate with a hood up. I doubt any teenage boys are reading this, but this is a 14-17 year old guy issue.  These are the same guys who skate with their fists in their pockets. Why? Teenage Angst? Still it's a good way to meet Dr. Expensive Dentist if you trip and oops there goes your teeth.
     b. When you move into traffic, look first, then skate into it.

2.  Camping out and ice hogging
  Coaches do a lot of instructing using the hockey circles. Thus, out of habit, when beginners get on the ice they use the hockey circles to practice. As a courtesy to other skaters, you should moderate how long you spend on one circle. You can move around the rink practicing on different circles. Every rink always has one circle that is better than all the others so everyone wants to camp out there and hog the ice.   Not much you can do about that, except move in and skate. The ice hog will usually move away, but don't worry, they'll be back.  Some kids get an obsession with one particular circle and will spin there all session. That's sad. Don't be that person.

3. Parking at the boards
    Every beginner has things they like to practice at the boards, it's natural. But don't park in one spot at the boards.  Several things can happen: you can block traffic on publics, or you develop a dependence on the boards. Try moving around, so you get comfortable on all areas of the ice.

4. If you skate backwards either have someone spot for you, look over your shoulder and check, or only skate into clear territory. Skating around backwards but not visually clearing the way marks you as equivalent to a crazed hockey boy. Nobody likes them--except other hockey boys.

5. Backwards spirals. Never on a crowded public session.  If you can do them, you probably know this rule, but I still see this happening so it's worth mentioning.

6.  If you're an absolute beginner, there will by necessity be some board grabbing to stop before you learn how to stop on your own, but at some point you'll have more speed than you have ability to stop.  Please, don't skate as fast as you can then slam into the boards. When other skaters see this, they think "Is that person going to skate into me and not be able to stop?" They're not admiring your speed.

7. Don't park in center ice chatting with your friends. Center ice in most rink is reserved for lessons or skating practice (jumps and spins), or skaters working on skills. It's not a hangout for people to go to in order to avoid the traffic at the boards.  Coaches will ask you to leave. Other skaters will give you dirty looks. Teenage girls will spin right at you to make you leave.

Skating at a rink is like living in a little community. If you want to be respected by other skaters it helps to play by the rules, especially when you're just learning. As an adult skater, you'll be noticed by other skaters more than the little kids. You'll stand out because you're a rarity, and as an adult you'll be a role model.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Prepping for the Dance Test--It's more than just skating

There was a last minute addition to Freestyle session on Saturday, so Coach and I finally got to skate to the Dutch Waltz as if it was a Test Session. For the first ten minutes we were the only two people on the ice. And the ice was excellent! Coach kept stroking around making yummy sounds.  He was so happy I hated to subject him to my skating.

After a little warmup we got into the dance. Meh, I hope the proverb "bad dress rehearsal, good performance" is true. No, honestly it wasn't that awful. In separate go rounds, I did a 1, 2, 3 progressive, when it should have been a 1, 2, 3, 4 progressive. once missed the second pattern because my mind went to its default setting of 'one pattern', and stepped to the wrong foot on the presentation glide.  Coach wasn't pulling out his hair, but he had his 'serious training voice' in action.

But here comes the fun part, he trained me in the 'introduction to the ice'. We stand at the gate and he mockingly announces, "Number 38, Miss Babbette Duboise and partner".  The 4 kids on ice laugh at him. Then we skate 4 strokes, presentation glide and a stop. I asked him "Want me to do a T-stop?" Him: "Can you do a T-Stop?" Me (in irritated tones): "How long have you been coaching me?" Men!

I am duly presented. One of the kids starts the dance music on the CD player. We do my one minute of fame.  No errors. Coach is content.

This is followed by costume approval. I had to skate around stroking and crossovers in hold so he could be sure it wouldn't ride up. For those of you who care, I'm wearing a vintage red, cashmere jacket, black slacks, and a silk blouse (vintage too!). I've reached that age that clothes from my youth are now 'vintage'. Advice for your old age, never throw anything away. It may come in handy for skating.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Favorite Skaters: Usova and Zhulin

The other day coach complimented me on my swing rolls (both sets of edges!). These seemed really simple when I started, but like other skating elements, as you learn them you discover there are hidden depths. There's the checking with the opposite shoulder, the pointing. of. the. toe, and the knee bend in a flow across the ice. Everything thing has to be timed correctly and you have to maintain a nice edge, good carriage, and power. It's taken me time to put everything together and get to the level of a competent beginner.

In reply to the compliment I said, "I'm channeling Maia Usova."  Pronouncing it the Dick Button way, u-SO-va.
Coach gave me a puzzled look. "Who?"

"Maia Usova, Usova and Zhulin."

Coach Frowny Face said "US-o-va."

What! Dick Button was wrong!

Anyway, these are my favorite skaters to watch for compulsory dances.  Here's my favorite one. Her expression is charming and full of life. His expression is typical Russian male--one of a long line of Frowny Faces. (Hate her dress though, it looks like a negligee'. It looks like it was designed solely with the intent of showing off her tuchus. But if you're a guy, enjoy.)

Those Choctaws and swing rolls and mohawks. Oh, My!

Love their whole presentation, the speed, the carriage and ultimately the ease they show in this dance. Zhulin just does a wonderful job at presenting Usova.

I miss the compulsory dances already. Ice dance is starting to look like adagio dancing with all the ugly extreme holds. The compulsories were what made ice dance a sport. Alas, now it's just judged entertainment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Magic Marker of Doom

Why is it that when any coach brings out the Magic Marker of Doom, do I know I'm going to have a bad 10 minutes?

It all starts so innocently. Coach reaches into his/her pocket and pulls something out. It's never candy or gum. It's always that stupid magic marker with the ultra broad tip. You know the kind, it's used for making posters in elementary schools, and for coaches to outline something new and difficult on the ice.

Moves coach is all motivated to get me to do three turns on a bigger circle. Out comes the marker. On the ice is drawn a gentle curve for me to do a 3 turn on. I do my 3 turn and because I have a bad habit of pre-rotating the turn, I'm on a much smaller circle. I hate this exercise. I just got my 3 turns solid this year. I'm still having fun doing them pre-rotation and all. Making them on a better shape curve seems like real work. I just want to play with them the way a kitten plays with a ball.  Threes in a circle, alternating 3s, 3s to landing position. But it's back to work on big girl 3 turns. Urgh.

Dance coach will pull his marker out (where do they come from? Is there a special coach's store?)  and draws small dance patterns on the ice. He's got the patterns in his head. I can't remember them for more than 30 seconds.  I need a Heads Up Display, and laser pattern projections on the ice to get a dance pattern the first time.  It took me two months to learn the Dutch Waltz and Canasta Tango and that was with carrying printouts of patterns  so I could consult them when I got dance lost. With my memory, Coach needs to draw the whole pattern on the ice the first time for me. Ahhh! That would be perfect.

At what point do I get good enough skills that the marker never leaves the pocket? It has to happen sometime. Does Igor Shpilband carry one in his pocket and draw on the ice for Davis and White? Doubt it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nov 12 Lesson Post--Dancing with the icePod

I have a dance test--my first skating test--in three weeks. Unfortunately, my schedule and coach's schedule don't match for freestyle sessions. So, yes, I'm doing test preparation on winter publics. This means that until Nov 12, I had never skated the Dutch Waltz to music.  Did I hear a gasp of horror from one and all? Three weeks to the test and you've never skated to music! Quelle horreur!*

Coach had the idea I should bring my iPod (the icePod let's call it) and he would listen to one earbud, and I'd listen to the other. Sorry, that was silly. I got an audio splitter, and an extra set of earbuds from the 5 and Below store. Now we each had our own set. So we're on ice, and we plug in. Music is too loud for me too soft for him. Argument over the volume setting. Just like a man with the remote, he wants to take control of the icePod.

Finally we get going. Skating through the board clingers, the hockey boys, and the clueless. Overhead, Lady Gaga is wailing away. We can faintly hear the Dutch Waltz.

It was scary a couple of times going around the rink in dance hold and plugged into the icePod. Coach is the sweetest guy in the world with kids until he's in dance hold. Then it's all  gruff "They should stay out of our way."  What can I say, he's got a dance split personality. He wants to go fast, he wants the steps accurate, and he'll put me within inches of people in our way.  We passed through the crowd like eagles through the clouds.

I. Nailed. That. Dance.

On the beat, with power, good extension, stroking in time with coach. It was excellent!

Afterwards, I asked, "Have you skated sharing an iPod before with a partner?"

"No," coach said. "First time."

The things that man will do to get me test ready.  A coach like that is a keeper.

*Tip o' the hat to whoever is beaming in from Canada to read this.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Center of Mass is the Center of Everything

I find thinking about the Center of Mass (also called the Center of Gravity) is useful in helping me breakdown my skating failures challenges. As a beginning skater, I'm looking for stability, and understanding center of mass has helped me connect with the techniques my coaches are teaching me. Techniques that once seemed to be a set of arbitrary rules now make sense to me, and I now use them every time I skate.  I'm going to write about these in the simplest form, for this post I'm going to ignore biomechanics and treat the problem as connected rigid bodies.

First, what is the center of mass?  In layman's language, it's the average position of all the mass in your body. If you're standing up straight, the center of mass is a little bit below your navel.  But it isn't there all the time. If you bend over far enough the center of mass can actually move outside of your body. The picture below (Fig. 1)  shows some examples. If the arms are down, the center of mass is lower because the arms are close to the body. If the arms are up, the center of mass is higher because the raised mass of the arms has raised the average height of all the mass in the body. If the man bends over, he moves his upper body at an angle from his legs and the center of mass is averaged to a different place.

If the man in Figure 1 had weights in his hands while they were over his head, the center of mass would move even higher than shown in the picture. What would happen if he had weights on his legs in the picture on the far left? The center of gravity would be lower down, maybe even below hip level.

Figure 1
 If you draw a line perpendicular from the floor through the center of mass this is the line of gravity (an old fashioned term). Your mass is flowing through the line of gravity to the earth. If that line of gravity is too far away from a contact with the ground (your foot) then it's harder to keep from falling.

Is the man on the diving board (Fig. 2) ready to jump off? If he doesn't want to jump off, what can he do? He can lean back and bring his center of mass back, and the line of gravity will be closer to his feet, making it easier to stand.
Figure 2

It's easy to understand why we don't fall when the center of mass is over our feet, but why don't we fall when it's outside our body as in the man on the far right in Fig.1? Well, when we're standing we have big flat feet, and we have a superb feedback system in our brain keeping us from falling over.  We maintain our balance by moving forward and back at the ankle so subtly we don't even recognize it. But if you lean forward with your arms over your head and weights in your hands, eventually you will swamp your body's ability to respond and you'll fall.

Once we get on the rocker in skates the added bit of stability from our big feet disappears.  If you stood on your skates like the man on the right, in Figure 1, you probably would feel a bit of instability. But your body would make automatic adjustments to keep you from falling over. Unconsciously your body could do any or all of several things; e.g. bend the knees to move your rump back and pull the center of mass over the skates, or raise one leg behind you to move the center of mass backwards over the skate, even easing one leg back and moving the arms back might be enough. (But skating with your arms to your side brings in problems of a different sort.)

How does this help me in figuring out my skating fixes?  Well, barring any math at all, this simple model of human balance is very helpful. Let's look at a couple of drawings of skaters and see if you can use the center of mass method on them.

Figure 3
Where is the center of mass in these two figures? Even though one is static and one is stroking, I'll bet the center of mass is just about the same as if they were standing still; about at the level of the belly button or just fractionally lower and a tiny bit forward in the stroking figure.  See how the forward lean of the upper body balances the back leg. The bent knee will lower the center of mass just a bit. The line of gravity probably goes through the back of the center of the rocker. If the stroking skater was to lean too far forward what would happen? The back leg could come up to balance her, or she could trip on her toepick.
Figure 4 
In Figure 4 we see a young man doing back crossovers. Where's the center of mass? What about the line of gravity? Want to bet the line of gravity goes through the ball of his skating foot? What if the line of gravity is too far back? How do I think about correcting that? I admit back crossovers are a curse to me. Even though I understand them, I don't feel I've mastered them, but thinking this through has helped me improve them.

So how do I use this in understanding my skating flaws?  Well, coaches have told me 'Hold those arms up!', 'Bend that knee!', 'Don't look down!', 'Don't hunch!', 'Sit down on that crossover!'. Once I started analyzing this from a center of mass and line of gravity process (no math, just thinking about it), I began to realize that stabilizing my skating had to do with keeping the line of gravity in the right place. And thinking about my skating as a physics problem motivated me to  follow the rules. Coach wants me over the ball of the foot, I do exactly what he tells me to do to get there. And sometimes, I can figure out little tricks to help myself that he's never mentioned. Those little techniques of arm position, head position, and upper body etc. aren't just the arbitrary 'pretty skating' rules I used to think they were; they're newtonian physics in action.  And I love physics.

I'm post on these skating techniques (Don't.Look.Down, Don't.Hunch, Bend.The.Knee, Keep. Your. Legs. Close) from the perspective of the center of mass.  Then at some point, I'll get into moment of inertia (Hold.Those.Arms.Up), jerk (Move.Smooth), and  Independence of Movement.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Someday I'll look back and laugh-ha ..... ha....

So because of my schedule and the distance to the rink, I'm only able to take lessons on public ice. Mind you, I'm doing a mix of moves and dance with the emphasis on ice dance. Ice dance, even the baby dances that are all facing forwards and designed 'for encouragement', take up the whole rink. Plus there are two people locked together in a dance hold moving swiftly (or in my case 'relatively swiftly') across the ice.

So here is what the rink looks like when it's a public session:

My coach and I are moving around in the Killian hold or reverse Killian hold, side by side like a wall moving through the skaters. 

One thing I've learned is that little kids have no sense of how fast we're moving; they don't look before they  move away from the boards; and they only are able to focus on what they want to do.

Shockingly the adults are exactly like them. So it's up to Dance Coach to give me cues on 'break', 'skate here', and 'stop'. He has the lead, and he has the years of experience. 

Still once a little girl turned unexpectedly into our path and stabbed me in the leg with a toe pick. 

As another example, Coach and I will be in the center doing crossovers in hold around the circle. To me it seems scary fast, but to Coach I'm sure it's just a breeze. Anyway, adults will skate right at us.  We're a big black clad train who will crush anyone in our path if they skate in our way and we can't stop.  We're careful but I'm shocked at the number of people who blunder into the center as if we're not there. How did these people get driver's licenses? How can they not see us?

So here's what I want to wear the next time I take a lesson on public ice.  

The only thing that's missing are the laser eyes

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rust Beater

(Still working on the Center of Mass is the Center of Everything post. Here's some mindless filler)

I am not a coach. I'm not a high level skater. My comments about skating have no ring of authority.  I can give no advice except in one area.

Blade rags.

These often under rated tools of the skaters trade are known by low class names: blade towel, blade rag, and 'that blue thing at the bottom of the bag'.  Some people use any thing handy, an old bar towel, something from the kitchen or the bathroom, a piece of cloth cut from an old flannel robe. I dis those things. Dis them hard. Ptooey!

Cotton is okay for drying yourself off after a shower, but we're talking about your skates here. These are worthy of royal treatment. You must only allow the most absorptive, soft, scratch free fibers to touch your precious blades, or the skating demon with sprinkle them with rust. The towel must be made from the inner fiber of the rypoff tree from the deepest jungle in the forest of Bongo-bongoland. This fiber is harvested by artisans wearing special gloves dampened with the first dew of morning, and placed lovingly in handwoven pine baskets. The strict inspection regimen means that only half the harvest is ever used for these magical creations which are available for only $15.99.

SCREECHing halt!

Sorry, I've been looking at catalogs and everything has a little story to make the enormous friggin' markup palatable. But here it's not necessary. I'll tell you the secret. Yes, I've found a blade towel that is better than anything else I've tried.  I've used these for years and I swear by them.

Welcome to the freakishly cheap 'super-absorbtive' microfiber towels from the Dollar Store. I kid you not. A couple of swipes of these and my blades are dry. I dry my blades, pop on the cheap soakers, and leave everything in the bag in the car. According to traditional wisdom I should be skating on little red stubs of rust, but they're as perfect as the day I bought them (except for the fact my rocker is getting to end of life, but that's another story).

I tried cotton towels of various kinds when I started out, but they were almost worthless. They took a lot longer to dry the blades, and I don't think they did a good job. These sweet little one dollar babies (in various colors, and sometimes 2 for a dollar) do the job, do it fast, do it well. Got a dollar to spare? They're worth a try.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

AWKWARD moments in learning to ice dance

From day one coach has had the idea in his head that I wanted to learn back cross rolls, and that I wanted to learn them the 'ice dance way' (the hard way) by stepping straight to the edge rather than rolling back from the toepick.  His method to teach me was to have me do the back cross rolls while 'lightly' (his words) resting my hands on his, while he skated forward. (It began with a death grip on my part, but we got to lightly). Anyway, you should have this mental picture: I'm skating backwards with my free foot stuck forward pointing my toe with all the mighty power of my Tinkerbelle sized foot, Dance Coach is facing me and skating forward, we're about 18 inches  apart. My hands are lightly resting on his. He's skating in that negligent, easygoing way people who've been skating since they were 6 do, legs apart and just gliding along because I'm so slow.

Now, watchers of Three Stooges shorts, bad TV comedies, and America's Funniest Home Videos should know what happens next.

The blade of my skating foot hit a rut and I started falling backwards.

The natural reaction to this is my free foot kicked upwards.

Yes, I toepicked my coach in the crotch.

But, on the good side, it slowed down my fall.

My face went white. He was getting married in 6 weeks. "Oh my god," I cried, "I kicked you in the nuts!"

Coach started laughing, "No, no, you just got my leg." As if that wasn't bad enough.

I was trembling in horror and I didn't want to do another crossroll, but he made me do them down the rink again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Rhythm Blues Evil Step Behind

In yesterday's post Jessim commented about her experience with the step behind, and how difficult she found it. I was only using the step-behinds* as an example of how Point. The. Toe helped keep me centered and balanced, but it's not the only thing I do when I'm doing the step behind.  Since I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that Pointing. The. Toe alone was my answer, Below is a list of all the things I needed to do:

1. Keep my center of mass over the blade
   For me, this requires the following:
a. Bend. The. Ankle
b. Bend. The. Knee
c. Don't. Look. Down
d. Don't. Hunch

2. I also want to keep the moving parts of my body from pulling my center of mass away from over my blade. This requires:
a. Move. Smooth
b. Point. The. Toe
c. Keep. Your. Legs. Close
d. Independence of Movement

3.  Do the step behind without hitting the blade.

That's a lot of stuff going on, but they all apply to just about every area of my beginner level skating.  If you look at the list you'll probably see phrases your coach has said to you.

Starting in a couple of days, I'll begin a string of posts over the next few weeks that cover all of these. The first post in the series will be "Center of Mass--It's the center of everything".

*And, just a note, I have not tested the Rhythm Blues.

Monday, November 7, 2011


As a beginning skater I was able to get through learn to skate with only a moderate amount of extension and toe point. Then in ice dance I ran into the screeching wall of EVIL DEATH called the Rhythm Blues.
It is the third in the beginners dances, all forward steps, with one little trick to it. In the end pattern you skate forward and step behind your skating foot with your free foot.

See 00:15 for the beginning of the EVIL Step Behind

The picture to the left represents my expression the first time I did the step behind. OMG, there's so many things that can go wrong. Let me count the ways:
1. You can step on the blade of the skating foot--and fall backwards
2. You can jam the free foot toe pick into the ice behind the skating foot--and fall backwards
3. You can be moving the free foot behind the skating foot--and fall backwards
4. You can just raise your free foot up a tiny bit and fall backwards.

Then I went to Lake Placid Adult Skate Camp and took a lesson from Coach Amazing. She had me doing the step behind in 15 minutes. The points that I took away with me were: keep the thighs together (no wide stepping, no swinging) and when you bring the free foot forward POINT. THAT. TOE!  Suddenly I was doing the step-behinds. After a half hour they ceased to be scary. What was going on?

I did a little experimenting with  this. First I exaggerated flexing the foot. I stood on one foot, bringing the free foot forward and FLEXed the free foot. I felt a pull up the back of my free leg, through my glues and to my lower back. Since my center of mass is just below my belly button, that leg is acting as a lever arm pulling me backwards. Don't want to go there. I point the toe, point it with all my heart. Now the pull is on the front of the leg and up to my core. The pull  is now pulling me slightly forward over the middle of my skating foot. That's where I want to be.

Here's what I think is going on. When I point the toe I'm  keeping my balance forward over the blade because all the muscles in the front of my body are active and the muscles in the back of my body are more relaxed. Being centered and stable reduces stray movements that can cascade into losing my balance and falling backwards when I move the free foot back. I could certainly do the step behinds with a flexed foot, but as  beginning skater I would end up very subtly rocking to the back of the blade, thus creating a potential for falling backwards.

So the test for me was to use POINT. THAT. TOE. on inside swing rolls. The first time I tried this (pointing my toe with all the fierce force fervently forward) I sat on that inside edge like I was riding a rail. Excellent! I was channeling Maia Usova!

Now when my foot is forward or back and extended, my toe pointing is as hard as I can make it.  So far so good. At some point I may run into a case where POINT. THAT. TOE should be point. that. toe. but by then my skating skills will be better and I'll be able to judge what level of effort to use.

Fierce. Foot. Fervently. Forward! And beyond!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stupid Things I've Said on the Ice

Because I used to show horses before I skated, I used to call the boards 'the rails'. As in 'Can we do that at the rails?' Coaches would give me funny looks.

"I'm never going to get this." (said about many things, and proved wrong)

"Oh, that should be easy." (said about many things, and proved wrong)

"If this ankle is broken, I'm never skating again."  (said only once, and proved wrong)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nov 5 Lesson Post: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Dutch Waltz

For every lesson, Dance Coach manages to appear out of nowhere while I'm on the ice stroking around waiting for lesson to begin. Suddenly there is this Russian guy skating next to me saying "Ready to skate?" How does he do that? Are transporter beams involved?  

Today was all about the Dutch Waltz (DW) as I am testing next month. Since I take lessons on public, think of it as Dutch Waltz Obstacle Course as we have to avoid other skaters and the cones.   When I started out learning it, the DW was the way Dance Coach got me back on my feet after a year off the ice. Now it's my entry into ice dance.

The DW is the simplest ice dance. It has 5 elements: Progressives, forward stroking, swing rolls, skating in hold, and the presentation glide. In the DW the hold is called the Killian. The woman's left arm crosses the man's chest, his right arm is around her back, the skaters hold each other's hands. They do the same steps at the same time. It took me months to get this dance down. It's not hard but I was relearning skating, learning new skating skills, and my poor brain was overwhelmed. Now I can do it fairishly well. Will I pass the test? Cross fingers.

But today we're on a moderately crowded public skate, and we did the dance at the speed Dance Coach seems to feel is acceptable for a Master's Level skater (translation: elderly skater) We did it 10 times.  I nailed every single element. (Had some boo boos on timing that Dance Coach fixed). My legs were trembling at the end of the lesson. Then Dance Coach said the ultimate skater's compliment:

"You have nice knees."

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
She chortled in her joy.
My coach I have pleased,
I have 'nice knees'!

How many adult learner skaters never hear that? or only hear "Bend that knee!" 

But I know what he was really happy about, it's not just the knee bend, it's the whole skating package.  I was in the right place on the blade, and the extension was good, plus my power, edges, checking, carriage, and control. Put it all together and you have a skater with 'nice knees'.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I used to skate on the back of the blade. 

Yes, that's scary and it prevented me from progressing on a lot of elements. I needed to be on the middle of the blade for 3 turns, mohawks and every other move, but my body was having none of it.

Until I took up Ice Dance no coach had ever made me fix this. You know how it is in lessons, there's so many things to learn (*cough* fix *cough*) that even important, singularly critical instructions from your coach can zip through the air, bounce off your ears, and never reach the brain. Then one day Dance Coach put on the Russian Coach Frowny Face (trademark). "Don't skate on your heel," he said with such bossy Russian accented authority that it penetrated the outer ear and made it to my brain.

And then came the problem, I had to figure out how to not do that. Sometimes I could get it and sometimes not. I tried various things that ended up with me bending too far forward to get my center of mass over the blade. I think for a while I got worse.

I don't know how I got to the solution, maybe coach said it in bossy voice and it only penetrated my consciousness later, but the solution is: Bend the knee, and Bend the ankle.

How hard can it be to bend the ankle? Well, pretty hard in stiff boots. And as a beginning skater I needed to hear: BEND.THE.ANKLE. Which is the emphasis it deserves.

It wasn't easy for me to get to the point where I could consistently bend the ankle and get well tied boots. I could consciously know what to do, but my foot in boot wouldn't cooperate. So I tackled it like an engineer.

Yep, I kept changing stuff until I found something that worked. Here's my solution, I redid the way I tied my boots to free up the ankle without losing support.

This is how I used to tie my boots, with the official Maribel Vinson Owens surgeon's knot at the ankle.

Knot once, knot twice and finis!

But Maribel was skating in boots from a different time. Perhaps the boots in her era weren't as stiff as the ones of today, or she was so powerful that she could skate in a stiffer boot. I'm a fragile and delicate flower I need a little slack.

Step 1. I stopped tying a knot at the ankle to give the ankle freedom to bend. 

Well, as in all engineering problems changing one thing just introduces problems somewhere else. In my case it was that I was now pulling the lacing on the lower boot tighter and my foot began to hurt. But I needed the extra support since the knot wasn't there to hold my heel in. Then luck stepped in. I came across the video below. At 00:45 the host introduces a new way to tighten laces, pull down toward the blades rather than up. And it worked! I now had enough support in the boot that they didn't slip around and I didn't need the ankle knot AND my feet stopped hurting when I skated.

Step 2: Tighten by pulling down.

Now all I had to worry about is the lacing above the ankle. Over the hooks or Under the hooks.  I don't make a decision, I do both. Under on the bottom two, over on the second two, under on the top and tie off. That sill leaves the top hooks. I don't lace these, I use Katz Straps (these get a post on their own) or heavy duty pony tail holders. Elastic at the top give enough 'give' to get over the blade, but are secure enough to feel safe.

Step 3: Under/over/under. Elastic at the top.

Even with an engineering fix it took me a couple of months to reeducate my body and develop new skills. Then one day I realized I could put myself on any part of the blade whenever I wanted. Success! I had freedom at the ankle to move, and security in the boot to not move. Freedom and security, it's like a party platform running up to a Presidential election!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's in your boot bag?

Understanding someone is easy. Go through their iPod playlist, their purse or wallet, or the trunk of their car.

Understanding a skater is easy. Go through their bag.

Kleenex: This skater cares about the health of others.
Used Kleenex: This skater needs a mother to clean out the bag. Yeeeuch!

Gloves: Complete with little sparkly SK8R on the backs, This skater is under 10
Gloves: Missing fingers. This skater is either having trouble with jumps or skates with an iPod.
Glove color: Matching gloves--start of the season. Non matching gloves---this skater is normal
Glove color: Black--normal; Red--a rebel; Yellow--cheerful/perky/a fun person to be around; Purple and red--over 50

Soakers: Shaped like an animal--This skater is under 10; Shaped like an animal with a squeaker--under 8
Soakers: Leopard/Tiger print---This skater is a woman in her 30's and knows the address of every bar within 5 miles of the rink.
Soakers:  Brocade--this is a woman of mystery, she has secret connections with art dealers, Racehorse breeders, and museum curators. Always skates with earrings on, and wears lipstick. May speak russian.
Soakers: Terry cloth, plain, can be walked in--Do not stand between this skater and the ice. This skater is here to skate, not get style points.

Blade rag: Has their name embroidered on the corner--coach (xmas gift from a skater)
Blade rag: Cut up cotton towel: The skater who thinks anything will do
Blade rag: Microfiber super soaker towel: The skater whose blades don't rust

Jacket: In a color that is part of the marzipan spectrum--teenage girl
Jacket: Black, plain--an adult skater who is not a coach.
Jacket: Black, sparkly designs--everyone else

Head protection: None--coach. teenager . or an adult not working on back threes
Head protection: Yes--an adult working on back threes

Callus pads: This skater has been skating more than 1 year
Gel pads: This skaters is breaking in new boots.
iPad: Facebook junkie: "Hi I'm at the rink, I just flutzed. I'm going right out and do it again and I'll post an update."
Pencil and pad: Skater over 50.

Screwdriver: This skater is prepared for emergencies
Vodka Screwdriver: This skater is REALLY prepared for emergencies

Starbucks gift card: Coach
Nieman Marcus gift card: Brocade soaker skater
Tie Domi Sports Card: Someone playing for the other side. Hey! we don't let hockey players in here!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Warming up is more than keeping Warm

I wasted the first 3 years of my skating life by not warming up before I skated.

3 years of ice fees, 3 years of lessons, 3 years of time on the ice down the drain.

Then I was off ice for a year. This is about what happened when I restarted.

If you're a teenager or in your twenties you may not see the benefits of warming up. But once you hit your 30's the natural resilience of your body begins to fade. One day you say to yourself "I was a little 'off' today." and you wonder why. There's other little hints, the spiral that doesn't go as high as it used to, the sore knee that appears out of nowhere.  When you pass your peak of strength and speed in your twenties there is a gradual diminution of your skills; you can help deal with that with a proper warm up.

How did I get to be such a warm up hot shot?  I was taking a lesson with Coach Great Hair while Dance Coach was on his honeymoon. She flatly told me I needed to warm up, and that skating a half hour before a lesson wasn't enough. It was warm up tough love.

So before Dance Coach (aka Coach Frowny Face) got back from his honeymoon I had instituted a warm up boot camp. I stopped at a mall near the rink and did 45 minutes of fast walking including going up and down stairs as quick as I could without running. Then I got to the rink and did 10 minutes of stretching before I put on my boots.

After a month coach did his frowny face at the end of a lesson. "You're doing much better. Usually students get a little better a little at a time, but you just got better like an explosion. I've never seen it happen before."  Notice what he said: I had a SKILL EXPLOSION.  How many lessons is that worth? So even though it takes time, it's worth it.

Is there anything special about my warm up? Not particularly.  You want to get the large muscles of the legs warmed up and walking is excellent for this. Going up and down stairs warms up the knees. It's not rocket science. How long I take is due to my age. As I approach social security payment time, I find I need more time. It's a part of my life now. If I was younger I might jump rope or jog in place, but no one exercise is absolutely essential. What is essential is getting the blood moving into the legs.

What about stretching?

It's hard to do stretching at my rink because the party rooms are always booked, there's a hockey game in the rink area and no place in the boot changing area to do anything.  I've had to make do by finding a little corner off of the rink and doing 10 minutes of standing stretches. Holding each stretch for 30 seconds and repeating it 3 times does appear to be critical for me.  There's lots of books, articles and web pages out there about stretching. Pick the ones that work for you. I need stretches for my hips and I pick exercises for that.

Have I convinced you to warm up before skating? I hope so. I don't want anyone thinking as I do about the wasted money, time, and effort that I spent because I didn't think I needed to warm up before getting on the ice.