Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pronation Nation

 I am not a medical doctor or a podiatrist. What I say here is based on my own experience. It's not advice. Use at your own risk. Your mileage may vary.


Stand in your bare feet in front of a mirror, posed so you can see the lower half of your legs and ankles as well as your feet.  Do your ankles bend inwards, like in the image below? It can be on one side, or on both. If your ankle bends inward, that's pronation. Don't panic. It's so common that most people have some form of it, and it doesn't bother them.

So what causes pronation? Lots of things. But I've read of two. First one, the first metatarsal bone is too short. (I've got that one). In the second, there's something in the construction of the ankle or heel bone that effectively makes the heel roll inwards. You cannot believe how complicated the bones of the ankle and heel are. Let's just call this a 'stubby heel'. Really, I don't suppose it matters. We're kind of limited as to our fixes in our boots, I just wanted to show that it wasn't just one issue that causes it.

Because we're skaters, pronation can be a real problem. It can drive us onto our inside edges and make it difficult to get to our outside edges. Remember, my posting on the line of gravity? Well, it comes in here too, The line of gravity wants to go straight down from your hip to the center of the earth. If you don't pronate, then that line will go straight through your ankle and heel and you'll be beautifully balanced. If you do pronate, that line of gravity will bypass your ankle and you'll never get good balance, unless you can get your ankle set so that line of gravity passes through it.

 Here in this picture on the left, you see the figure with a pronated right foot. See how the line of gravity bypasses the foot and ankle? Hard to balance on that, right? Well, if the foot's not too badly pronated, you can curl up your big toes and rotate the foot outward. That will put your ankle and heel in line with the line of gravity.

See in the left leg of the figure, how the line of gravity passes straight through the ankle. Much easier to balance.

If you have pronation, stand on one foot. What are you doing? What I do it put my weight on the heel and curl my first two toes to rotate my feet outward. If I was able to put a wedge under the inside edge of my foot, then I would be much more stable, and would't have to strain my toes.

If you want to see a close up picture of the line of gravity passing down the leg here's one below.

The pink outline shows a neutral foot  The black line shows a pronated foot         

So, how do we fix this in our skates?  There's blade adjustments (I don't want to do that), wedging in the boot, and well, something that I've never seen mentioned, strengthening the feet.

Tomorrow I'll start with strengthening the foot.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wearing a Costume

[Just some filler while I work on the pronation posts]

Russian for the day:
Ang-yel Smer-tchi--The Angel of Death. Not likely to come up in conversation, is it?

A few weeks ago Coach Amazing asked me to come to her rink to reprise my role as Death (short, cute Death) in her rink's spring ice show. So I was explaining this to Dance Coach. "I have to skate in this horrible mask." I said. "When you were in Disney on Ice did you have to skate in a mask?"

There was a long pause. Then in a low voice Dance Coach said solemnly, "You wouldn't believe the things I've skated in."

Maybe as a wish?

As a Dish?

Or a  fish?

Anyway, I'm not asking. (Although rink rumor is he was a Prince to Snow White.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Yet another pause

I've been here all day.
But later this week I plan to start my string of posts on fixes for pronation.

Yep I got it, and I got it bad. But I'm now skating on skates with the blades right down the center, and without any expensive orthotics either.

I think it's worthwhile for an adult skater to take a stab at fixing their own pronation before going to expensive orthotics or blade adjustments. I had expensive orthotics, and blade adjustments until after a lucky happenstance, I had to develop my own fix. It's a 3 step program, but it's a lot cheaper than orthotics and a lot less stressful on the boots than offsetting the blades. 

So, I'll post my personal solution, and I look forward to hearing about yours.

I Love Swingrolls!

The swingroll is the first element that I learned in ice dance that's really 'dancey'. Do freestyle skaters use swingrolls? I don't think I've seen it.

Anyway, I like swingrolls because they really exercise several aspects of skating all at the same time. They're easy to learn, but offer a challenge to master.

First off, the base component of the swingroll is the edge. I love doing edges. Getting the deep curve and the edge is one of the few skating skills I have where I actually look good.

Secondly, comes the shoulder action. I think this is what makes the swingrolls work. When I stroke, the shoulder on the same side of the stroke moves opposite to the leg. That is when the leg goes back on the stroke the shoulder moves forward. When the leg swings forward, the shoulder on the same side goes to neutral and the opposite shoulder swings forward.

But for me to get that shoulder action to work,  I really have to have strong upper body and good 'ice dancer posture'. So that's point three: good posture--no hunching, no leaning forward, no looking down.

Finally, there's the kneebend. Can't do a good swing without  kneebend. As the swing comes forward the knee straightens as the knee passes, then deepens again as the foot goes forward. 

There's so much stuff going on! Three or four things have to happen at once. The knee is going up and down, the free leg is swinging back to forward, the shoulders moving, and I have to have a solid edge.

Right now Dance coach is making me work on the height and extension of my swings and depth to the edges. After that will come more power.  What can I say. Easy to do, but a challenge for me to master.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Ice Warmup

Everyone has an on ice warmup. Those of you who are younger may just be able to step on the ice and do a few strokes, then do some jumps and spins. Not me. I have to actually do both an off ice and an on ice warmup. I've written about the off ice warmup elsewhere. This is about the on ice warmup.

I start out with stroking around the rink twice, doing double knee bend stroking. This is where you stroke onto the outside edge, with a deep kneebend, then rise upward, and as you drop down again, stroke into a deep kneebend onto the right outside edge. If my legs are still cold I do another round.

Next I do alternating crossovers. This is just crossovers down the rink the first set CW, then the next set  CCW,  The first couple of sets are clunky, but once they're smooth, I add a strong underpush complete with the toepick being the last part of the blade off the ice (The Twinkle Toes Maneuver) and a strong  free foot extension to the rear.

I'm now on exercise 3--outside swing rolls. I like to get  strong shoulder action here, and after one or two sets, I really start to work on getting the extension of the free leg as high as I  can both forward and back.

When I'm happy with that, I switch to inside swingrolls which I'm finally comfortable with.

One of the things I haven't mentioned is that I work on starting from a stop for all exercises without favoring either leg as a starting leg. My right leg is my power leg, and it's my prefered starting leg. However, I make myself alternate legs as the initiating legs for all exercises. I think favoring one leg is a real beginner skater habit, and I'm trying to break it.

After the exercises down the sides, I usually do inside and outside edges across the rink a few times, and then take a stab at both outside and inside figure 8's.

If I have time I do some chasse's down the rink and work on my power. Finally, some 3 turns and mohawks, aiming for smoothness and elegance,

In all these exercises I work on positioning of my upper body, and my extension. 

Nothing spectacular here. I'm a beginner skater and I spend time working on beginner things: edge control, power, finesse, and posture. I'd like to add alternating back crossovers and power 3's, but in midwinter, the rink is just to crowded to go backwards without a spotter.

This warmup is long because of my age. I know you youngsters don't have  to do long warmups, but I think everyone benefits by establishing a warm up program with set goals and objectives. Mine will change,  and as soon as the crowds go away, I'll make some adjustments to mine.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Style points in ice dance

One of the idiosyncrasies about skating is that when you take up serious skating--I'm not talking about competition, but about serious recreational skating--you'll find your relationship with your coach becomes an apprenticeship. No matter how many books you read, or videos you look at, there's stuff that never gets taught there. You have to learn it from a coach.

Ice dance is full of that. Let's call it 'style points'.

Style Points

First off, what's with all the ice dance hand holding? When I started, Dance Coach would extend his hand and I was supposed to take it and hold it while we skated around the rink. Where does this stuff come from? Is it part of the Ordo Sanctus Taberna? Yeah, I saw it in the Olympic warmups,  but never really thought about it until Dance Coach took me by the hand. And, I've seen other male dance coaches do it. Once I saw a dance coach in his 30s skating around hand in hand with a woman a lot older than me.  As near as I can figure it out, it's a way for the male coach to keep the lady in position while he gets ready to sweep her in position for the dance. Or maybe he wants to make sure she doesn't escape without paying the bill.

 I didn't like it when I started dance, and I don't like it now. It looks silly on public, because the public doesn't know what's going on. I sort of compromise by resting my hand on Dance Coach's arm instead of taking his hand.  However, sometimes it amuses me to imagine Dance Coach as a young skater getting an initiation into ice dance from an older male coach: "Take the lady's hand and skate around with her." the older coach says.  Dance Coach asks, "Even if she's old and wrinkly?" Older Coach, "Especially if she's old and wrinkly. They're the ones with money,"
After I had been doing ice dance for a while and was getting ready for my first test, Dance Coach taught me my presentation glide. This is the little 'bit' at the end of a test where the gentlemen presents the lady to the judges. This is pure style, and I've seen two ways; The legs in the shape of a 4 (the free foot at the heel of the skating foot), and the one with the free foot extended ahead of the skating foot.  Oh, the competitive skaters have little twirls and elaborate holds at the end, but I'm talking about recreational skaters.

I don't know if there's anything other than style points for this. Some coaches do it one way, other coaches do it another. I've asked other recreational ice dancers and there doesn't seem to be any rational reason for a preference. I'd like to know if one way is the Russian way and the other the American way, or if one way is for beginners and the other for silver and above. Just curious.
Now that I'm learning the Swing Dance I've learned the 'proper' entry into the hold.  One day I was waiting for him to step up to me, and he just stood there silently, making significant eyebrow twitches. So, I can take a hint, I stepped into the hold and he smiled. Now see here, I know this from my dog training days. You just ignore the behavior you don't want and give a reward when the dog does the behavior you do want. Maybe I'd learn faster if Dance Coach kept a pocket full of kibble.

Anyway,  the bit where I'm supposed to step into hold, must be a remnant of ballroom dancing.  The lady is supposed to be the weaker of the pairs, and the gentleman is supposed to sweep her off her feet. I'll do the step into hold as long as I don't have to swoon.

What is a progressive?  It's not a crossover.  Unfortunately, the progressive (or run) is poorly defined by the ISU: "A step or sequence of steps in which the free foot passes the skating foot before it is placed on the ice, thereby bringing the new free foot off the ice trailing the new skating foot."  Someone has to teach you how to do this.  Unlike a crossover where you step over the foot,  instead you slide the free foot directly ahead of the skating foot. Then in a mystical miracle of ice, the old skating foot does an underpush and the free foot becomes the new skating foot. The operative word here is "smooth". With my old knees, it's harder than it looks. There's some technique I don't have yet.

Then I was reading Mer's blog Ice Pact. Her coach Dmitri Ilin says "that forward progressives are really just crossovers. Apparently everyone calls them crossovers except dancers, so there's your figure skating semantics lesson for the day."  Funnily enough, Dance Coach also says "progressives are crossovers but smoother." I don't think I'm going to take this as literal truth. I prefer to think it's something to tell beginners. Or maybe, here in the US, progressives just aren't that important.

Do you see many progressives in ice dance at the Olympics or the Grand Prix? I haven't. Maybe they're just reserved for test situations, and will become a style point that's only done by amateur skaters.  Although I understand that the UK dance coaches are strict about maintaining the correct form, progressives may eventually become a relic as the pattern dances fade away into a memory along with the circle dances.

So that summarizes some bits and pieces of ice dance style points that I've observed. I'm hardly authoritative, and if you want to chime in, have at it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Boot Fix--Right!

Just a brief little note. I went to freestyle Sunday and tried several fixes for the too loose right boot. I finally have the right boot fixed. Here's what it took:

1. In the toe of the boot, layer 1, a gel pad under the toes. This started out as a heel pad for ladies shoes. A little cutting and it was perfect.
2. In the forefoot of the boot, layer 2, the front half of a cheap neoprene insole. It fits above the gel pad, and ends about halfway up the boot footbed. About the middle of the arch in fact.
3. Finally the insole. A nice Superfeet skate insole.
4. Gel tube over the heel
5. Tie the hooks on the shaft really tight. I may need a lace puller.
Voila! Perfect! Solid as a rock and my foot doesn't hurt (much) either!
At this point I'm hesitant to go back to my fitter and get the boots remolded. That would entail yet another round of fixes. Why mess with perfection?
Don't mess with Perfection! It will explode in your face!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rink Gossip

I'm not at my rink everyday, but there are people there I know from my old rink, and I've made new friends and new acquaintances. So, while I'm not the center of popularity, I'm a regular, and a lot of people (coaches, skaters, and staff) stop and talk to me. I'm interested in their skating, and sympathetic about their personal trials and tribulations.

There's a rule for this: Whatever someone tells you that's 'gossipy', don't repeat it (Skater Moms, this includes you).  The one exception is if it is something others could have witnessed: a passed test, or a new jump, or some other public event. Remember, you're an adult. This is real life, not high school. People's reputations and careers can be ruined by gossip.

Yeah, it can come back to you.
Let's move on to coach gossip.

Anyway,  here's the thing, some coaches I've had (I've had about 9) have told me stuff about other skaters and coaches. I mean I've heard more gossip about people I don't care about than it's possible to remember.  

Coaches have told me about coach scandals, problems with other students, problems with students' parents, their husbands, sons, daughters, neighbors, relatives, name it, I'm the repository. If you're a former coach of mine, don't worry, most of what I heard I don't remember past the end of the lesson, for the rest, my lips are sealed.

Why does this happen? Maybe I have a remarkably sincere and conspiratorial face, or maybe coaches have so many child students all day that the occasional adult is an opportunity for adult conversation and they slip up, or maybe, behind my back, they talk about me.

So is there a moral to this story? Yes. Pay your bills on time. Don't tell your coach about your love life. Don't expect anything you tell a coach to stay private. Maybe your coach is the soul of discretion, but they're not your BFF and they're not your priest. Zip it, sweetheart.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Lesson: Boot Issues

"Yeow!" Dance Coach swears some long Russian thing as he pulls me up from a near fall.  It's like being hauled up by a winch into a helicopter. "What is wrong with you?"

"Did you hurt your back?" I ask, "You should let me fall, I've got the pads on."

Dance Coach just rolls his eyes. "I do not let you fall." I guess he's a member of the Ice Dance Coach Order of the Sacred Boot. In darkness, under an arch in a spooky square they all get together once a year and take an oath, "The Old Lady Does Not Hit The Ice." And I nearly fell 4 times.

Ordo Sanctus Tabernus
etus domina non ledo glacies"
Unfortunately,  there is a still problem. And it's me.

I'm skating in my new dance boots, and they've started to break in after only 10 hours. That's unheard of for me. Unfortunately, the right boot is enlarging like a yeast raised loaf, I can hardly keep up with it. I've put the silipos pad around my heel and put an extra layer of insole underneath. My right foot is still flopping around like a fish inside. Well, Jessim did warn me in her comments. If it doesn't snow tomorrow I'll take them to freestyle and try it with yet another additional insole in there.

The left boot is a perfect fit. I hate inconsistency. Right now it's like I've got feet from two different people. Unfortunately, my skate tech is away to competitions. It will be weeks before I can get the right boot remolded. Push comes to shove I may have the local sharpener switch the blades to my freestyle boots and default to them.

And despite all this kerfuffle, Dance Coach said out of the blue, "You are much, much better in these boots."

Stuff like this just makes me want to scream!

Nope, not me. But you get the idea.
So the ice was pretty empty except a party of hockey boys in the fateful 11-14 age group. Dance Coach caught them and told them not to come in the center. Apparently he either impresses or scares them, they would skate right up to the blue lines and do a dead stop then turn around. Maybe it was sarcasm but they stayed out of our way.

Since there was open space we did the Canasta Tango and the Rhythm Blues. The CT is okay. The RB is needing work. None of this is helped by the fact that I irrationally feel the right boot is about to fall off.  Yet, I can really get that forward foot way up in the air for the slide chasse' and the swing roll. Too bad I occasionally fall backward.

Moves Coach was on the ice with Hockey Harold as her student, and Dance Coach did his usual act of driving us right into her. I so..o..o don't get this. They're friends, but put them on the ice together and Dance Coach turns 11. They squabble back and forth for a few seconds and it's fun to watch. Hockey Harold and I catch our breaths, then it's off again.

We start progressives. I've got a long way to go. It requires some technique I just don't have yet. We work on my back crossovers, which like so many adult learner's are not my strong point. They're a bazillion times better than they were last year, but not pretty. Some tidying up work on the Waltz 3 in hold; getting ready for the Cha-Cha. Then lesson is over and I limp to the benches to tear my boots off.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hernando's Skating Hut--If Club Med ran a Rink

Good evening adult skaters. I'm Hernando, general manager of Hernando's Skating Hut. We are here to make your stay with us as relaxing and enjoying your skating vacation. You will notice that the ice--four sheets--is dedicated figure skating ice. We are open 25 hours a day, with a full staff at your service.

We have an excellent coaching staff.
Tough Coach Track: All coaches are former soviet Union and have mastered the art of the soviet skater experience. There will be swearing in Russian, yelling, temper displays, disappointed glares, and a threat to go to the Gulag unless you get your Axel. When you leave, you can brag to all your friends: "I skated under the meanest Russian coaches alive". Your figure skating ice cred will jump up enormously in the freestyle cred ratings at your rink.
Nice Coach Track: If you are not looking for the 'tough coach' experience, we also have the 'mother figure'. An elderly British skater will patiently works you through your figures, and offers you fairy cake when you stop hammering in your lutz.
Ice Dance Track: We haven't forgotten our ice dancers either. Famous ice dance coaches will work with you through all aspects of your dances. Especially trained escort dancers will accompany you through the lesson.  No looking for a partner here!

But the instant you step off the ice, you are pampered to your hearts desire. Your own heated vibrating Barcalounger will be waiting for you at the gate. Your own skate boy/skate girl will remove your skates, wrap your feet in heated towels and cover you in a blanket. You will then be wheeled into our especial pampering room, where you can be directly rolled onto a massage table from the lounger.

Our spa has special services for skaters. An on call podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, masseur, skate technician media specialist, costume designer and for the adventurous skater an especial climb up Saworski Crystal Mountain. If you wish to take the day off, you can enjoy yourself in stoning class, spandex sewing seminar, or beading experience.

Eduardo will meet you with a mojito, and take your order for apre's skate snacks. May we recommend the Torvill Dean Delight for the afternoon skaters, and the Lysacek Links for those who enjoy a hearty breakfast.

Come enjoy! All are welcome! (No hockey skaters need apply)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Skater's Butt

Don't have a badonkadonk? Want one? Take up figure skating.

And to think I took up this sport to slim my hips.

Even Michele Kwan despairs of her skater's butt. She says "it sticks out like a bubble".

But guys? Oh, wow, what skating does for a man's legs and body. I've never met an adult male skater yet that didn't look attractive as he was walking away from me. Not even the Big Guy and he weighed in at 280 at 6'3". I'm sixty, but I still notice (from a purely aesthetic point of view you  understand--honest). I totally don't get what this article is talking about. Sorry Gawker, that's how a man's tuchus is supposed to look. You thin pale little guys in skinny jeans living off of caffeine and Twinkies while you desperately type underpaid articles for that slavedriver GAWKER need to get out more and get some exercise. Preferably at the rink.

Once you skate enough, it is hard to find clothes. Spandex is my friend. Also catalogs that cater to women with small waists and curvy behinds. Unfortunately, most of these seem to be for women over 50, so those of you in your 20-40's probably won't find them useful.

What can you do? Well, women can find plenty of slacks  and some skirts with a bit of spandex in them. Ladies should avoid full skirts and pray that the dirndl never comes back into fashion. Men can wear slightly looser slacks. Although, gentlemen, if you've got doubles or triples, be proud. Wear what you  darn well please. Someone comments on your shape, look them in the eye and say, "Thank you." You earned that muscle.

Now for some science, here's some slow motion jump video from the early 90's. Notice how the force of the rotation actually is so strong that it deforms the skater's buttocks. That's a lot of force.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fun Rink vs Tough Rink

I've always skated at 'fun rinks'. Now I'm moving to what may turn out to be 'tough rink'. (I'm still taking lessons with Dance Coach at the fun rink.)

This is my own designation, and it's kind of hard to pinpoint, except I know one when I see one.

A 'fun rink' is inclusive. None of the coaches are former world champions or national competitors.  Winning a title doesn't make you a good coach. It makes you a retired competitor.  Good coaches have good teaching skills.

In a 'fun rink' an old lady like me is welcome on freestyle. None of the coaches give me grief over skating on FS.  ISI rinks tend to be fun rinks. (TEND, mind you, TEND TO BE.)

Leading indicator of a fun rink: No high or low freestyle. Just Freestyle.

Second indicator of a fun rink: No one's going to Nationals, unless it's Adult Nationals or ISI Nationals.

Third indicator of a fun rink: People love skating.

Fun Rink interpretive program

Tough rinks on the other hand, have high and low freestyle, obscure rules on who can be on what ice. Lots of competitive skaters. Lots of team coaching. Specialized coaches. Some skaters have a chance at Nationals or have already been. You go in one day and there's famous people on the ice.

Leading indicator of a tough rink: Well, for now I'm going to say it involves the statement "Elite Freestyle requires the permission of the HEAD COACH." (This is a quote from a tough rink, just not the one I'm going to.)

Second indicator: Weird skating mom stories. I just can't wait.  I need material for the blog.

Meow Asada works on her new spiral position
at her Tough Rink

The real question should be, Why am I leaving my fun rink? I like to take group lessons, and I'm not getting anywhere in the ones at my present fun rink. The (potentially) tough rink has a greater variety of group lessons for adults,  plus an adult public. I think it's worth the effort. Plus the psychotic skating mom stories. Excellent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Underwear No No

So over on Xanboni, Xan wrote a post about skaters who wear their granny pants under their costume pants and they show.

I'm talking about something else entirely.

Xan was writing about girls in performance costumes, for competition. I'm writing about older teens who like to skate in skating dresses for group lessons or public skate. These are not skaters in competitions. These are kids who want to look like skaters. To save this group embarrassment I'm going to make a firm rule. I will now deploy my Duluth MN accent.


I was reminded of this last week when I attended the dress code committee at work. I am the only woman of 150 female employees who still wears pantyhose to work.  This means not only is there an entire generation of young girls who don't understand when not to wear them; their MOTHERS don't know when not to wear them.

Young ladies and mothers, here's the trick. Nothing is supposed to extend below the panty of the skating skirt. Not the regular panties (I see this a lot in small girls), no pantyhose (I see this in teens). The dark part of the pantyhose is the actual 'panty' part of the hose. MUST NOT SHOW. No wearing of the panty hose under de skating dress!

No no, no the panty line must not show.

But what about tights? 

I suppose you can wear tights, but only if they're the kind that are made so that you don't see the panty on the thighs. But really, just give it up. Buy skating tights. 

If you want to look pulled together, go to a dance store and get some dance or skating tights. Order them from Amazon. Just don't wear pantyhose. Save that for work.

If you don't want to look silly on public session (especially if you're wearing rental skates), wear what the real skaters wear; they wear athletic clothes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dealing with Ice Tourists

Public skate is for 'the public'.  Most of 'the public' are Ice Tourists  who don't skate regularly and only visit the rink on public sessions. I'm happy they're there. They help keep the rink open.

I don't expect them to know about the coned off center. Really, rinks should post signs, "The coned off center ice is for lessons, jumps and spins." for it to have any meaning.

I don't expect the children to exhibit good sense. It's my job to look out for them.

But older teens and adults? Sadly, 20% of them appear to be lobotomy survivors.

The dads and moms that carry their children in their arms. Yes, I saw one mom fall on her little girl.

The dads that take their son out on the ice in hockey skates then act upset when the 4 or 5 year old can't figure out how to skate, sits down and cries. 

The grown men who skate backwards fast without looking behind them.  

The older teens who link arms and play crack-the-whip, never mind that they're surrounded by tiny kids.

The young men who get in a fight in center rink. Ditto the ones who get in a shoving fight along the boards. Ditto the ones who play tag through the stream of kids.

The adults of either gender who don't look before they step into the stream. Or who have some skating skills, but don't look before they turn or step in a new direction. I don't mind that they change direction. I just want a hint. Anything! PLEASE! 

And for me here's the kicker. I said I don't expect them to know about the coned off area, but I do expect them to have enough sense to see Dance Coach and I practicing fast crossovers in hold. We're a big fast moving train going in a circle and someone (always a man for some reason), will skate into the center and stand there in our path gawping at us. You know, I just want to give them a dope slap! How do these people drive to the rink? 

But public ice is for the public. I'm lucky my rink allows lessons on ice, otherwise I'd never get to skate. Thank you rink.

Hey, You. You, fat guy over there skating backwards....kid behind you...stop!....stop!....stop!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ice Dance is Good for Your Skating: Part 1

The more ice dances I learn, the more respect I give to the coaches and pros who developed not only the dances but the structure of the testing program. Since I'm a system engineer,  I started doing a matrix in my head of the skill building that comes out of ice dance. Then I decided to do an irregular series of posts on what I see are the skills coming out of learning the compulsory dances.

Dutch Waltz-Swing Rolls & Progressives (or Crossovers), Stroking
This is the dance where I felt the emphasis on edges really comes to the fore for a beginner skater. To do the swing rolls you must have confidence in your edges, and the fact that it's a swing roll rather than an edge, emphasizes the independence of the body from the motion of the free foot. At the end, there is a change in the rhythm of the progressive that gives the dance enough variety to keep the new skater alert and keep the dance from being robotic.
Skills: Edges, Independence of Body, Rhythm

Canasta Tango--Swing Rolls, Progressives (or Crossover), Cross Roll, Chasse', Slide Chasse'
There's no real stroking in this dance, but I've come to respect it for what it does for your stroking. Not only do you have some interesting footwork, but to make this dance 'go', I feel you need strong impulse on every single push. Since you're pushing into a different element every time, you have to lead the curves and anticipate how you need to hold your upper body for each new element. The slide chasse' prepared me for those future dance moves where I needed to hold my foot ahead of me and develop the skills not to rock back when I do hold the foot forward. The cross roll to swing roll on the end pattern has some quick changes in upper body required, and anticipation of the next edge.
Skills: Power, edges, anticipation of curve, getting used to the forward foot

Rhythm Blues--In the Canasta Tango the second curve of the dance was a mirror of the first curve. In the Rhythm Blues you have something different with every step with no mirroring. This dance really makes you work on your kneebend and your rhythm (coating of beats). Also, the swing roll on the inside edge is introduced. On the side pattern you have two progressive/crossovers. The first you rise up on the skating leg before you cross, the second you hold the under leg, well, under for two beats. No just sliding through a couple of progressives here. You have a pause before one, and a pause after the other. You now have to break up the rhythm of your stroking, hold and then move on at the right beat. The second of this series, the progressive with the 'hold under' is immediately followed by a step into a FI Swing roll. Although it's never explicitly stated, I think this beautifully prepares you for the wide step in the Cha-Cha.
As for the Evil Step Behinds? Remember the slide chasse' in the Canasta? That slide chasse' prepared you for the forward position leg in the step behinds. Elegant planning. And the step behind itself? Ah, that preps you for the little step up/step back down in the Cha Cha. It also got me over my fear of putting one foot behind the other.
Skills: Inside edges, varying steps, counting the beats, preparing for the Cha-Cha, knee bend.

I spend an hour today on a freestyle session. Every single coach was working with their student on spins or jumps. Not one student was working on any skating skills. Sad. I guess Ice Dance will remain the last bastion of good skating. Certainly the beautiful planning in the compulsory dances could be used by anyone to improve their skating skills. The more I learn; The more I admire.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Twinkle Toes Maneuver.

Today's Russian
Ja Bun-yee My-Oh--I understand. Don't pronounce it Ja Bunyi May-o. Coach laughed so hard he nearly fell over.

Coincidentally, today was the reunion for skaters from my old rink. All my old ice dance friends were at this rink, and all staring at me in my lesson. The comment from the ladies, "Ooooh, your coach is a cutie." I am so past that.

It was the usual round of warm ups until we started forward cross overs. For those of you who say, "I passed crossover ages ago." Sorry, Buttercup, crossover work never goes away. You get to work on power, smoothness, extension, position. I'm pretty smooth now. I really rarely clunk one down anymore, and if I do, it's more of a 'chink' (although according to Dance Coach I'm causing earthquakes in China. Meh.) So I am extending my crossing leg, then I start extending the under push and putting a little extra push and lift with the toepick at the end of the under push.  I learned this a long time ago, and I don't know what it's called. I think of it as the Twinkle Toes Maneuver.

Dance Coach goes wild. "Let me video this! Is beautiful! I want you to see this!"

I shudder. Being photographed is torture. But Dance Coach is the boss. I start the crossovers again and put extra stretch in my extension. I do the Twinkle Toes Maneuver. I Move.Smooth. Coach is making happy sounds and calls me over.

I look at his camera and see a short, fat elderly woman in a hat, with no extension and boots hanging off her feet like space junk. Where's my extension? I can feel it when I skate. Where's my toe point? I'm pointing with every fiber of my being. The smooth I can see. The speed I can see. Whatever else Dance Coach sees, I don't see. It hurts to watch. WHEN DID I GET OLD? At least I'm not hunching. That ends up on YouTube, there'll be one less ice dance coach in the world. I turn away from it. Dance Coach plays it again, looking pleased with himself. 

I learned the Cha-Cha today. I'm a little concerned about the step where you do a swing roll, bring the free foot in front of the skating foot, make it the new skating foot, and bring the old skating foot halfway up your calf, before making it the skating foot again. If you can master the Evil Step Behinds in the Rhythm Blues, this is okay. Then we start learning the bit at the beginning where you do a RFO Chasse, then immediately step wide into a RFI 'double lift thingy'. (If I have written this wrong, it's because there's stuff in the Cha Cha that's indescribable.) Dance Coach takes my hand. I stare at him. All we're doing is a progressive, to a chasse, into the wide step. "Why are you holding my hand?"

"It's the wide step." he says.

I waved him off. "You do realize people have been telling me for 5 years not to step wide.  Now you're worried about it?"

I admit that at this point, I have absolutely no clue about the rhythm or the flow of the Cha Cha. I think if I draw it out on a piece of paper with notation that means something to me, I might be able to get it. With all the double stroke, funky footwork, and saucy music it seems fun. Dance Coach says, "Will go very fast." Whether that means me learning it, or the pace of the dance, I have no idea.

We fiddle around with some more dance stuff, and work on my Waltz 3's in hold. For once I nail them like a pro. Then, I go to my reunion. All in all, an exhausting lesson.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ice Bullies

So you're an adult and you're learning to skate. You're hunched over (even though I warned you not to), and your knees are stiff, and although you're not clinging to the boards, you're moving slowly.

If you're like every adult in the first few months of skating (me! me!) your arms are spread like wings as you push off onto your brave attempt at a one foot glide.

You know what you are? You're a target.

There are predators out there on public sessions. 90% of them are male and between 11-14. These are 'hockey boys'.

(EDIT: I want to emphasize that of the ice bullies I'm talking about on public sessions, there's usually only one or two per rink. The inattentive skater, the careless skater, the self-centered skater. Oh, there's plenty of those. The Bully is the skater that skates directly at you with the intent of scaring you.)

This is their technique. The boy will circle the ice, looking for a victim. He'll spot you. Then he'll skate directly at you as fast as he can then he'll do a hockey stop and dust you with snow. The picture below shows the effect that he's attempting to achieve.

Jeff Friesen demonstrating a hockey stop.
He's tough guy cute.
The first time this happens, you'll be terrified. You may even fall.

Now that you've got that out of your system it's time to toughen up, Babycakes.

You're being bullied by a child. You don't have to suck it up. You can fight back. My experience is sarcasm and irony work best. 

Option 1: You're elderly and female look at the boy and say "Dearie, you're such a good skater. Would you show me how to do that?"  You must say 'dearie'. Also, you may have to yell it to be heard over the music. 
Option 2: You're a guy of any age. Look at the boy and yell, "Calm down, willya!" 

Option 3: General technique (I used this one) Look at the kid and with great annoyance yell, "IN A PATTERN HERE!" 

Option 4: Look at the kid, roll your eyes blow out your breath, and say nothing, just start skating again.

Don't explain to the kid about 'respecting others', or 'I'm a beginner'. He doesn't care squat about that. He wants to annoy a helpless adult. You're not his skating equal, but you're an adult, your verbal skills are better than his. Keep it short and sweet.

If the kid does it to you more than once, you'll have to complain to the rink guard (who is probably one of their friends). Don't get huffy about it, just tell the guard, "That kid's pestering me.  Willya tell him to back off or something?" If THAT doesn't work. You're on your own. I've never had to take it past the sarcasm stage. Once they figured out I wasn't going to fall and I wasn't going to flinch, they went off and pestered someone else. 

Note, the age spread of the boys doing this. Eleven to fourteen. Thee are boys who are hockey player wannabes. I don't know if they're actual players. The real league players that are older are usually very nice. I think they have behavior rules on ice. It's the boys under 15 that are the brats. 

Now we shift to the girl bully. You may see her in the center of the ice. This was my initial encounter. My coach had told me to go practice my baby crossovers in the center circle. Every time I did this girl would spin directly in my path and I would go off to skate somewhere else on the ice. This happened over and over. She would stand in the center with her friends talking (a rink no-no), I would come in to the center to practice and she'd spin at me. 

My coach chanced to see this happening. She signaled me over and grabbed me by the arm. Shaking my arm she stormed at me, "You do not let that girl do that to you. You go out and you OWN the ice." (As an adult skater, I learned early that most coaches despise girl bullies.)

So I did. I put my bossy hat on and when it happened again I just stopped and told her "Don't hog the ice." And then continued on. She never did it to me again.

This hasn't happened to me in a long time. Eventually your stroking gets smooth enough that no one bothers you anymore, or you become accepted like the rink furniture.

Remember, no matter what you say, keep it short. We're talking about teenagers here. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Too Big Boot--A Temp Fix

Padawan, learn from my experience. How to handle a boot that just doesn't quite fit.

I have irregular feet. There's the left, or fat foot. And there's the right, the slim cute foot. I get fitted for boots that fit the fat foot, but once I start breaking them in the right boot becomes just a tiny bit too big for the cute foot. Since I buy Jackson skates that are heat moldable, after a couple of go rounds I can get the boots to fit perfectly so I don't need to buy custom boots. The problem is what do I do in the mean time?

Ah, Padawan, the force is with you.

It's actually pretty easy. If the boot is properly fitted in length and only just a tiny bit too wide and too deep,  all you need to do is put an extra insole underneath the regular insole. This pushes your foot up into the boot so your foot is set just right.

I don't like to do this except as a temporary solution. But it takes me six to eight weeks to get in to see my skate tech, so I need just that little extra padding to keep me going.

If you feel you need the padding in both probably need to get boots that fit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wood Skate Guards

I know it sometimes seems like the rink guards are wooden headed, but I'm talking about skate guards. Yes, the plastic thingies you put on your blades so you can tromp around. These were actually made of wood up until sometimes in the 60s. I first read about these in the book "I can teach you to figure skate" by Tina Noyes.

I've seen these with the customer's name painted or carved on
Don't these seem classy? One problem. They rotted.

So when plastic guards were invented, people dumped the wooden ones right away. I've got some serious issues about plastic blade guards, but they are an improvement over the wood ones.

But I recently came across some wood ones on Etsy. I think the guy who makes them thinks blade guards are used for storing the skates. I don't think these are walkable. They don't have any clips, instead they use magnets. The curve up front is too shallow to really walk in. Maybe if he changed the front end to something like the other guards pictured above, and curved the bottom a little, these might be walkable, and a cute gift for the skater who has everything.  It would be super cool if the skater's name was painted on the side.

On the plus side they're probably waterproofed.
They have an exterior grade finish.

Ever hear the story of how Maribel Vinson Owens used to whack Frank Carroll with a skate guard? Now you understand why after 50 years he still remembers it. He was getting whacked with two pieces of wood!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Back Edges and Death

So, I signed up for an edge class at a new rink. Coincidentally, a coach I know at the new rink asked me to skate as Death in the Spring Ice Show.

Yes. Death.

Technically, the short cute version of Death.

I do have an interesting skating life don't I? How many readers have skated as Death? Anyone? Anyone?

As a friend of mine once  told me, the worst transition she ever saw while grading college papers was "Speaking of dolphins as we were." So, here goes: "Speaking of Back Edges as we were."

I've decided part of my problem in back edges is not only my leg position, hunching, and the push off, it's that I really fell uncomfortable holding the position. This rather came to me today as I was tramping around the building where I work and I thought, "These high heels are the same height as my skating boots. I wonder what I can do with that?"

I tried it out in a spare moment of work privacy (the handicapped stall in the ladies room) and yes I can get into a really good back edge position with my body. Since I'm not worried about falling backwards, I have the luxury of working on getting my weight over the right part of the foot while at the same time getting head, knees, ankles, arms and anything I left out into the correct position.

As a shaping and positioning exercise, I think it has promise. I'll try it for a few minutes a day for a couple of weeks and let you know if it makes any difference.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Building the Swing Dance

The Swing Dance is another of those pattern dances that was introduced as a teaching dance in the heyday of roller and ice dance in the 1940's. Dance was immensely popular; it may have been a fad, but it was a fad that lasted three decades until the mid 50's. But as people began to learn ice dance without having learned figures, the beginner dances became necessary.

The inventor of the Swing Dance was Hubert Sprott, a 'pro' (what we now call a coach) at the All Year Skating Club of Los Angeles, California. The dance was introduced in Skating magazine in the November 1948 issue. Amusingly, it was published with an error in the official 1951 USFSA Rulebook. There was a RFO swing roll, LBO swing roll, followed by an RFO swing roll. The LBO should have obviously been an LFO. No one is known to have skated it 'as written'.

The Tropical Ice Gardens in the 40's--where the Swing Dance was invented

Coach is now working with me on the elements and has broken it down so far into doing the swing rolls and chasse's in waltz hold. I have to do them forward and backwards. Fortunately, I don't appear to have any problems with this (with the possible exception of NOT ENOUGH POWER!). Anyway, I interpret Dance Coach's comments as 'better than I expected.'

But we're not to the hard part yet. The Swing dance starts out in hand to hand, then the lady does a FO3 directly into a back swing roll in waltz hold! Who invented this thing!? Oh, right, Hubert Sprott.

I can do a waltz three in waltz hold. I can do a back swing roll in waltz hold. But mix the two together?  That's going to take time to learn. I feel that part's like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup. "You got chocolate on my peanut butter!" "No, you got peanut butter on my chocolate!"

You got swing roll in my waltz three!
NO, you got waltz three in my swing roll!
This will be the first tricky bit that I get to handle as an ice dancer. I'm rather eager to see how Dance Coach will break down the skills and teach it to me.

But as I continue to learn ice dance, I've developed an enormous respect for the pros and judges who developed the ice dance testing structure. It's actually a very well crafted program to teach advanced learners better skating skills. By skating skills I don't mean the jumps and spins, I mean the actual skating of edges, with turns  and body position all designed to create a graceful balanced skater. I now see why solo ice dance has exploded as a sport. If you want to skate better, it's really the best way to go.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Power! More Power!

Russian word for the day:

"идиот" Dance Coach mutters under his breath, after a teenager rams into him while we were doing Killian hold inside swing rolls, then speeds off. It wasn't an accident, it was deliberate. I missed my one chance to legitimately say "The little  ублюдок" before coach streaks after him and gives him a talking too. It's a typical day on a Saturday public session in mid-winter; lots of ice tourists, hockey boys, and three coaches with students in the center. Amusingly, Dance Coach keeps skating us directly at Moves Coach but very carefully skates us around everyone else.  I finally found out why. Some years ago, Moves Coach was demonstrating a jump and did the landing glide directly into Dance Coach's leg, leaving a walloping big bruise.  Apparently, he's still seeking revenge.

I hab a code in de head. A code! A code I tell you! I'm slowly filling up the trash can in the hockey box with phlegm filled tissues, but Dance Coach shows no mercy. He starts off the lesson with zippy elements in foxtrot hold, then rapidly goes back and forth between killian and reverse killian doing inside and outside swing rolls, forward stroking, progressives, chasse's, and every other dance element he can think of. Then we start on elements of the Cha-Cha and the Swing Dance. He thinks I can't tell what's going on, but I can. We're going fast, really fast -- for me.

Finally, I back him up to a blue line, "You're trying to make me skate with more power without telling me, aren't you?"

The look on Dance Coach's face was the following:
Dance Coach's  'expressionless' face
So, yes, even though he doesn't say anything, I know my answer.
Power! More Power!
Getting more power in these new dance boots is tricky. The dance boots aren't exactly hinky, but I have to  be very precise with my blade placement when I do the strike. The boots are unforgiving of any error in the angle of the blade when it hits the ice. Still, I only have a couple of instances where I jerk forward. Not bad for a beginner. 

For the swing rolls and slide chasse's I'm supposed to bring my foot higher, point it harder, and keep my back straight, head up and look like I'm having a good time while keeping my thighs together and not thinking of how big they are.  I'd be more sarcastic about this, but actually it works pretty well. Then we do back swing rolls, back chasse's and back stroking in waltz hold. By 'back', I mean I'm going backwards. This is actually rather relaxing, all I have to do is keep my arms stiff (but not rigid) and my weight slightly back of the rocker while moving my legs and feet appropriately. I'm along for the ride. Dance Coach is  driving me like a truck. If I have my body correctly aligned, and the hold solid, he could skate me as fast as he wants. I just stare at his chest, move my feet and legs appropriately and mentally plan a grocery list.

Finally, we start doing three turns in Waltz hold. "Skate between my legs, " Dance Coach tells me. As will be seen in the next few sentences, there's a reason he's making that odd statement. "Not to the left of me, not to the right to me. Skate directly at me as if you are aiming between my legs." For a moment I flash back to the time I fell backwards and toe picked Coach in the 'inner thigh' right before his wedding. But what he's telling me is typical waltz 3 advice, the lady skates directly at the coach. Apparently, I have not been doing this adequately, hence the  inadvertently risqué tone to the advice.  We do a few waltz 3's and Dance Coach is pleased.   I'm not skidding or going around him. We do several waltz 3s in a row successfully without me becoming dizzy. Just don't ask me to do more than 3 one right after another. 

As we finish with the waltz 3 exercise, we stop short of a half dozen 13 year old girls, all legs and giggles.  With his wavy Russian ice dancer hair, and good looks he's very striking and the effect on unsophisticated teenagers is amusing. They're staring at Dance Coach in awe. A few minutes later I see them trying to figure out how to do the waltz hold with each other.  

We end with a few rounds of Obstacle Course Canasta Tango around the dozens of people on the ice, "With power," coach says.  We zip right along and don't hit anyone. The kid who blindsided Dance Coach at the beginning of the lesson, carefully stays out of our way. He's pestering other people, so I just death glare at him occasionally to keep in practice. 

Am I going faster? Yes. Is it scary? Not if I'm in hold. I have complete confidence in Dance Coach's preservation skills. Even when idiot kid rammed into Dance Coach when we were deep into inside swing rolls, Dance Coach didn't budge. It was like a fly ramming a mountain, Dance Coach is that solid a skater. So I have complete faith in him. Am I going scary fast alone? No. Scary fast alone is a long time in the future. I want to gradually work up to it.

Whatever. I'll get over it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I Want to skate THERE!

One of the things that puzzles me about the rink business, it that most of the rinks have the most appalling websites.  I've  been in some heavy duty software training for the last week, with nothing to do in the rare breaks but surf the internet, so I started randomly looking at rink websites. Most are awful, some are god-awful.

Sin Number 1:  A web page that looks like it was designed in 1998. Mysterious resolution changes between the home page and the rest of the webpages show up at the Pittsburgh Ice Castle along with a host of other formatting issues. At least they don't use <blink>,
Sin Number 2: Pages that run on, and on, and on. People don't scroll down to find your latest update, or older up date. The Ice Castle was bad, but I think Prince William Ice is even worse. Major items of importance such as the schedule and the map are at the bottom of the home page.
Sin Number 3: Rink information that is written for the 'entre nous' group. I give as my primary example, the Robert C. Crown Center, Evanston, IL. The new customer will type in the name of the rink or 'chicago ice rinks' into Google, and for this (apparently) huge facility, get a single web page with a few PDFs linked to it. There doesn't even appear to be any online Learn to Skate registration. This must be the few rinks in the US without online registration. There may be a better webpage for the rink with better information, but the one that comes up at the top of the Google list is the one new people will go to. Way to go Evanston!
Sin Number 4: Limited coaching information. Voila! The Desert Ice Castle. This rink has Frank Carroll, the premier singles coach in the US and 4 other coaches. They all seem pretty high level coaches. Are they manning the learn to skate program, or teaching adults? Probably not. So how does a skater find out about coaches that might be more appropriate for 'the rest of us' who aren't headed to the Olympics? Some other rinks don't have any coach information AT ALL! How are less famous coaches supposed to get customers if they can't have a bio posted?
Sin Number 5: Mysterious, poorly explained Learn to Skate programs. I hate to hit up one rink twice, but The Desert Ice Castle wins again! Here's a link to their LTS program. I like the total description of the skating school levels, "Levels 1-5". WTFO? It's using both ISI and USFSA. What does that mean? Even more reason to have more detail on the LTS program. Here there's not even any exhortation on how to dress a child for skating, or even any information about whether you get passes for publics or if the registration pays for skates. No online registration. And here's the kicker. The cost of the class is on the skating class form, but not on the registration form. Way to go Desert Ice! Making it difficult for your customer to spend their money at your establishment.
Sin Number 6: No mobile compatible website. Rink Management -- get over it--people use their phones. Get a mobile compatible website up.

Best Rink Website I've Found: Ice Chalet, Knoxville, TN. Home page is a little long, but the important stuff is at the top. Group lessons and the ISI skating program is detailed so it's clear to the parent. For private lessons, there's both an outline of the program and a list of coaches, with bios.  Lot's to admire about this website. No wonder the rink looks like a fabulous place to go!
I want to skate THERE!