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.


  1. Interesting idea about the slide chasse in the Canasta preparing you for Rhythm Blues cross behinds, except that doesn't explain why the British have the Rhythm Blues in the first dance test, before people learn the Canasta (or the Dutch Waltz, but that's an aside). But I agree with the general principle about the progression of the dances.

    Bunny Hop

    1. Can I wave the flag on behalf of the USFSA Ice Dance Committee? They're geniuses.
      I'm sure NISA has their reasons, but I like the USFSA system better (so far).

  2. Depends on how crowded the freestyle session was. Some sessions are not a good place to work on patterns. But generally I agree with you. I took dance lessons for several years but had to stop because of a combination of things.

    Lately in my lessons my coach has been making me work on crossovers. I have a couple of double jumps but my crossovers are not very good anymore because I stopped practicing them regularly. My coach was at Four Continents this past weekend, and in my lesson today we had this conversation:

    Coach: Do you know what I saw Mao Asada doing on her practice ice for warm-up?
    Me: What?
    Coach: Crossovers. Forward and backward, a couple laps of each.
    Me: Is this supposed to motivate me to do my crossovers?

    Haha. But I did them. Maybe I should always pretend I am Mao Asada doing crossovers...

    1. Welcome to the Ice Doesn't Care.

      I practice crossovers every time I skate. I practice them a lot because there's a lot of progressives in dance. They're an excellent way for me to stretch and warm up my hip flexors, and knees.

    2. Well said, Babette. What separates beautiful skaters from ones who are not is the quality of their fundamentals--stroking, crossovers, edges, posture, etc. My coach said to me that you should practice these for life! I use MIF patterns to warm up, and that's after practicing edges first.

      I met Kurt Browning backstage at Stars on Ice last year and he said, "Edges, edges, edges.". So there!