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!


  1. Bending the ankle is HARD!

    My coach suggested I stop tying the top hook to help me get lower in sit spins. It works. But now I don't feel like my ankle is secure enough for everything else (like taking off on waltz jumps or salchows).

    Do you think I can choreograph relacing my skates into my program? Because I can't have it both ways...

  2. That need for loose and tight at the same time on the top hooks is why I used elastic bands at the top. There's a commercial product for this called Katz Strapz. But if you want to try something cheap to experiment with, I also used thick elastic pony tail holders (they don't last very long). I'm going to do a post on Katz Straps as soon as I can find my camera.