Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hand in Hand Skating

I learned a new dance hold today. The gentleman skates behind the lady and holds her hands from behind.

It looks something like this (but holding both hands).

Ukrainian Folk Dance Troupe

I searched and I searched for a picture of this dance hold, and it appears to be peculiar to Ukraine. The Ukrainians are mad about dance. This explains the fact that you can't shake a tree at any large rink without shaking out a Ukrainian ice dancer. And it explains Sergei Polunin. But that's another story.

Anyway, we skated some fast stroking and crossovers in this hold. It's kind of fun--especially since the coach can't go any faster than you are. But, I swear I've never seen this in any video of any ice dance. Maybe it's a transitional step, but it seems so trivial.

"What dance is this from?" I asked.

"Oh, used to warm up, and is in a few dances." he replied. We did it again.

"What's it called? The hold I mean."

Dance Coach was stumped "I don't know in English. Maybe called hand-in-hand. In Russian is called Rat Polka."

My head snapped around to look at him. "The RAT POLKA?" I swear, I heard that.

He pronounced it again in Russian. Listening closely it sounds something like ras-poh-ka. But, I'm going to remember it as the Rat Polka Hold. With it's own teeny, tiny little band.

Ratty Yankovic. Fresh from a tour with the Chmilewski Family Fun Time Band

(UPDATE) You can imagine another rat skating behind this little girl rat (pink boots!) and holding her hands, skating in rhythm to the Rat Polka. Obviously, she's skating in Solo Dance here, working on her pre-Silver Rat Dance.

This artist has a number of paintings of rats skating  KMCoriginals on eBay 
 The rest of the lesson was spent in more traditional holds. 

No rats were harmed in the production of this blog.

*Back in the 70's I used to live in Duluth, Minnesota. We had one TV channel. Every Monday after Snowmobile Corner (in the winter) or Fisherman's Corner (in the summer), the Chmilewshki Fun Time Hour (it was a 30 minute show--I thought this was deliberate Minnesota humor) would come on.  The show was painful to watch--the band played up front while videos of people dancing was projected on the blue screen behind them. Great polka music though. Not only is this band still going strong, 5 generations of the family has been playing polka music for hire since 1882.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Okay Plateau

When learning a new skill there comes a point when you've mastered it.


Even chess grand masters, world champion skaters, and famous cricketers (hello UK visitors) never master their skills.

They're much, much better than the rest of us are, but no skill is ever 'mastered'. What the world champions, grand masters, etc. are is 'they're much, much better than the rest of us'.

So how do they get there?

What happens is 'the rest of us' (you and me), we get to a point where we're comfortable with a skill and we decide 'There, I've mastered that' and we move on. 

This is called the Okay Plateau. As in, "I'm OK with that skill, I'll move on." Amateurs learn a skill and go on autopilot after that.

Big Mistake.

Going on Autopilot doesn't improve your skills
Getting a skill to an expert level requires challenging the skill in practice. If you just practice and are satisfied with the skill, then you probably will not reach expert skill levels. For example, chess grand masters spend enormous amounts of time on the basics, studying each move in the games of famous masters move by move. World champion skaters not only work on jumps but also skating skills. Amateurs spend their time on jumps and spins.

This is where deliberate practice comes in. In an earlier post I wrote about the concept of Achieving Failure. That's a two part concept. First, figure out how to do a skill in a way that you achieve an 'educational failure', a failure you can learn from. Sometimes it might mean doing something with more speed, other times odd entry angles, or different arm or body positions. It depends on the skill. Second, meticulously take apart that failure and fix it.

The problem is, in skating, fixing a skill is difficult for beginner skaters. We simply don't have the breadth of experience to analyze how to fix it.  We rely on our coaches or group classes. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things we have to learn. Kids usually learn basic skills quickly. But it's the rare child who has the mental maturity to focus on practice and work on skills that aren't naturally easy.

As adults we can do what most kid skaters can't do, we can apply our mental maturity to getting past the OK Plateau.  That means working to achieve an educational failure, then building the skills to fix that. Stroking along and doing things we're comfortable with won't hack it.

This means.....I have it in me to learn spins. And at least some half jumps. My age and my fears may stop me from going further, but there is no reason I can't learn single jumps with enough focus, time and fearlessness.

So those of you who are reading this, take heart. In theory, even if you didn't skate as a kid, even an axel is within your grasp! (with enough money, time, coaching, and good knees).

Skate Wisely. Skate with Focus. Kick yourself into action.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Bully Beater

Dance Coach had a group lesson before mine some weeks ago, and it's instructive. He has a young male student, maybe 13 (?). It's hard for me to tell now a days. I've seen this boy being coached by Dance Coach occasionally. You hear horror stories of boy skaters who have been bullied, but this kid seems to have found a way around it.

He brought two tough looking guys his own age to the rink, and arranged a group lesson with Dance Coach. And he videoed it. I never saw the video, but as I skated around I got a grasp of what Coach's student was doing. He was letting Dance Coach teach the lesson, while he just ran the video. He didn't show off his skating, instead he was helping his friends up when they fell, and having a good time. By the end of the lesson the new boys were stroking around and I think one of them could do a 2 foot turn.

As an anti-bullying strategy this was superb. He got the guys to skate (in hockey skates). Since I was standing talking to Coach as they left, I heard them tell Coach they were going to edit it and put it on Facebook. Smart kid, I bet he'll make everyone look good.

After they passed into the lobby, I casually asked, "How's he doing? Have all his doubles yet?"

Dance Coach was gruff, "He doesn't have all his singles yet."

(As for me, I'll settle for all my half jumps.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

$#*! My Coach Says

Dance Coach and I were stroking side by side to the end of the rink when a young girl of 8 or 9 skated past and said, "You're so pretty." Then she hurried away blushing.

I looked at Dance Coach, "That little girl said I'm pretty."

Dance Coach smiled his superior smile. "Or me."

Yep. Story of my life. Admired only by people shorter than I am.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Rocker Foxtrot--NOT!

For five minutes today, Coach, his ice dance student, and I were the only people on beautiful, smooth ice. Glorious. I think I could cover the length of the rink in a single stroke.

Then the public showed up.

There were long stretches of silence in today's lesson. Silence apparently being coaches' way of telling you you're doing well enough not to need correction. And I got a high five for something. I wish I could remember what. So, not doing awful apparently.

Coach Cruella's edge lessons are working because I have solid edges. Dance Coach earns his pay by giving me a lecture on the fact that I have a bent knee on the free leg. We do other stuff. Zip the Canasta Tango through herds of twenty year old boys slamming each other into the boards.  Three turns in hold--there's usually long comments on these, but today, only a minor correction. Then things go to pot.

He tries to teach me the outside mohawk from the rocker foxtrot. I've read somewhere this is the "source of many amusing falls".  I nearly added to the total. I'm trying to get all the body parts working together, so I'm not worried about pretty skating. I get a gruff "Extend the free foot." Man, in your dreams. I'm all over the place. I don't know where to look, how to hold my shoulders, where my torso should be. Why am I learning this? It's a SILVER dance! SCARY! So, extension, not on my mind right now.  I just want to crawl back into the safety of my preliminary dances.

Dance Coach decides  to do forward edges in Waltz Hold. We do a few strides and he frowns at me. "You are looking in the wrong place."

Believe it or not, I've been learning dance for almost two years, and I have never heard this before. When we skate in Waltz Hold I usually look at his eyebrows, because I have to look somewhere and they're about in the right place. "I'm.Looking.In.The.Wrong.Place." I repeat.

"When you are on right edge, look over my left ear." He holds his hand about six inches up. "On other side, look other ear."

You know, it's moments like this that make me think ice dance deserves its reputation as fussy sport. This must be some style thing. I mean, how many more style things are there?  How does he remember all of them?

At the end of the lesson we're doing inside swingrolls in killian (much improved--except for the one where I got such a deep edge I nearly took the both of us down) and then I just run out of steam. I putter to a stop.

Dance Coach frowns. "Okay, Except for last one."

I throw up my hands. "Power. Edges. Posture. Pick any two."

He laughs and I'm off the ice. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Ice Dance Way

Today my home rink had a late afternoon public immediately after freestyle. In fact, since there's no ice cut, people pour onto the ice at 430. So it's an interesting public. Lightly attended, but with coaches with students, and freestyle students (including one girl doing triples), and ice tourists. Oh, and a half dozen little boys in full hockey gear and no stops, too. I love this public session, and seldom get to go to it. Great fun.

As I booted up, one mother was complaining to me that the rink didn't have buckets or frames so she could just set her 'nearly' three year old in full gear (Including helmet!) on the ice by himself.

"Oh, buckets and frames are dangerous." I said before my brain could put a lock on my mouth.

The mother looked up at me from tying her son's skates, a cross expression on her face. "How can it be dangerous? He's got on pads and a helmet."

Well, in for a penny. "It's dangerous for other people. Little kids on frames go too fast, don't know how to stop or watch for other people and run into them. It hurts other skaters, not the kids."

The woman looked as if for the first time she realized that the world didn't orbit around her. I often have that effect on people.

Well, my work there was done so I got on the ice.

I'm doing deliberate practice starting with the weak side first. And practicing Coach Cruella's precepts for posture and stroking.

When I'm skating properly (upright body, stroking with the oblique stroke and point) I'm in pain in the feet and hips inside 5 minutes. And, I'm still not upright as far as Dance Coach wants me. I glance in the glass and I'm so verry, verry close. But not PERFECTION! I'll get yapped at tomorrow in lesson.

On the other hand, Coach Cruella's 3 turn technique (the freestyle way) is working. I'm getting some distance on back edge finally and I'm able to hold the free leg up and out. I plan to drop this on Dance Coach and watch him frown. I can predict his very words.

He'll make a dismissive gesture. "Do it that way if you want, but is not ice dance way." Properly chastised, I'll then do it his way. But I'll have a smirk on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Deliberate Practice and the Weak Side

The other night at edge group Coach Cruella asked the two of us who had shown up for class: "What do you want to start on tonight?"

"My three turns suck." I did one. They don't actually suck. I have a nice turn with a pretty point but because of my short exit edge they quickly turn into drop threes.

The other student's eyes popped open. "What's that?"

I have to cut her some slack; She was in hockey skates and apparently is still in learn to play. So, I thought quick about something she and I both do. "What about back crossovers?"

"Okay," Coach Cruella said, "What's your weak side?"

CCW for both of us. "So start there." She said.

 So, upholding the banner of deliberate practice, I did weak side first. And I did it again today at practice. I'm getting more comfortable on the weak side, I can hold the body and arm position Coach Cruella wants, but I can't crossover on the weak side (yet). The good side? The back crosses are adequate. God knows what Dance Coach will say. He keeps saying  "You're not ready for back crosses." He still has me doing back step overs because of my weak back edge. I guess I'll find out Saturday what he thinks!

Is deliberate practice working? Well, too early to tell. But I was able to practice all my backwards stuff first (weak side first) before I got to my fun stuff. Slowly conquering my skating phobias. What's next? Back 3s?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Adult Practice Ice--

So, for the first time, I stayed after my group lesson and went on adult practice ice. This is really an adult public, but it's only an hour so everyone on it is in the adult group classes beforehand.

When I skated at Hockeytown Rink, there was practice ice before the group lessons and it was populated by little kids and adult skaters. I've mentioned before that practice ice with little kids is particularly scary, They're all speed and no control.  You may remember the path of a typical little kid on practice ice:

Now, here is the path of the typical adult on practice ice:


You'd think it would be a pleasant evening of deliberate practice with like minded adults on a well groomed piece of ice.

No. Sorry. It's worse than little kids.

A. Everyone is taller than I am
B. Even the beginner skaters are faster than I am
C. The adults are so big I can't squeeze between them like I can the kids.
D. If one falls on me---well it's not good for me
E. All the men in hockey skates are going backwards and not looking where they're going.
F. None of them know any ice etiquette. They just claim the space they're flying into and don't look.

I can't believe I'm getting nostalgic for little kid practice ice. At least there I could see over the kid's heads, and I was faster than some. 

The one amusing thing that I saw on ice was a tough looking guy with tattoos, wearing a hockey shirt with the name of the local Hockey Hero on it. Then I look down to his feet, and he's in figure skates. Whoever you are, you go guy!

Monday, March 19, 2012


It's been a yappy week. Coach Cruella yapped, "Down in the knees!". Dance Coach yapped, "Sit up straight!" And no one was happy.

"Let me explain this to you," I told Dance Coach while I was catching  my breath after a particularly awful string of inside swingrolls, "The American way is for positive reinforcement. Lots of praise that I'm improving. Turn a blind eye to the fact that I look like a duck on ice, look for something positive to say even when you're correcting me. Your way, is that no matter how much I improve, I'm always doing something wrong."

"Is Russian way." he said.

Does this picture really need a caption?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Deliberate Practice

One of the ideas I've been reading about over the past few months is the idea of 'deliberate practice'. This is a concept that has emerged over the last few years as a result of studies about how 'experts' gain their expertise.  I've decided to work on my skating by applying some of the principals of deliberate practice.

Now, I've read a number of books and articles on deliberate practice and some steps are unachievable for me (For example, practicing several hours a day and being under 20).  I love to skate, but it's a hobby. I'll implement the changes I can.

1. Practice the hard stuff first.
Start with the difficult skills first, while you're still fresh

I like to practice the warm and fuzzy stuff first: swing rolls, chasse's, cross rolls, etc. From now on I'm going to start by practicing with my uncomfortable skills: Back crosses, back stroking, back chasse's, back swingrolls.

2. Practice Intensely.
Have a set of drills planned out and stick to it. Don't be distracted by chit chat. Don't rest between drills. Focus on what you're doing, not on what other people are doing. Your skills don't get better because you're better or worse than another student; your skills get better because you work with focus.

3. Renew yourself.
Intense Practice can only be done in 90 minute sessions.

I've been doing a 2 hour freestyle. I'll try a 90 minute one, then break for lunch and practice another 90 minutes on public

4. Achieve failure.
One of the first ideas about deliberate practice is to make your practice harder so you achieve failure. Then break down that failure. Analyze it, and work towards fixing it.

For example, in my ice dance I prefer to do the dance slowly so I feel comfortable with it. To achieve failure the approach would be to do the dance at a faster beat, and identify where my problems are in the dance. Then go back and isolate the failures and work on them individually at the faster speed. All this sounds like a regular ice dance practice except for the instruction to practice up-tempo. By practicing up tempo I should be like a baseball player who swings a weighted bat before stepping to the plate. By practicing it under harder conditions, when I step back to regular tempo, it will seem easier.

So here's my goals for this week:
1. Practice my backwards skating first thing on the ice. Don't dither around warming up with skills I can already do well.
2. Have a set of drills planned for the day. So I'll start with backward stroking, then back chasse's, then back edges, and back crossovers. After that switch to the same forward. My goal is 2-3 minutes for each back skill and 1-2 minute for each forward skill. This will be followed by practice of other skills in a less structured format and dance practice.
3. Anticipate only 90 minutes on ice. Schedule my practice and lessons for that period of time. Followed by rest, and possible repeat later in the day.
4. Practice my dances solo by adding 10 beats per minute to the tempo. Instead of doing the Canasta Tango at 100 bpm, do it at 110 bpm.
5.  Focus on identifying and fixing critical errors identified during up tempo skating.

I'll try this form my practices this week, and see how it goes. I'll have 3.5 hours practice before my lesson, maybe that will bring about some small changes. I'll report back.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Deeper! Deeeepppppeeeerrrrrr!

Coach Cruella has a small all adult (all women too) class of skaters wanting to improve our edges. Her spin class is full of the fanatics that like to get high by using centripedal force to brush their brains up against the interior of their brain pan, but in the edge class, there's only us 3. And one is a woman in hockey skates. (We're on the ice during the Learn to Play class. Based on the number of women in hockey skates in that class, Learn to Play is the new place to meet guys.)

Coach Cruella's approach to skating is much like every other coach I've ever had, get down in the knees. But she enforces it.

Her first lesson to us was stand in front of the boards and look in the glass. Then we had to mark where our noses were in the reflection. Then we bent our knees until the top of our head was at the line where our nose had been. That, she declared, was how deep our knees should be.  And when we skate, she makes us stay there until we whimper.

This is what her class is like:

Down in the knees or a puppy dies

It's a solid half hour of deep knees, using the hips as headlights, and resting 'the girls' on the table. Then this week she added pinching your shoulders back until it hurts. I may look beautiful on ice, but right now I feel like a soldier in a corset.  I ache when I get off the ice.

In the last lesson we learned how to get our back edges.  Her approach was to re-teach us how to do backwards pumps. I apparently pump to the back of my foot. I'm supposed to pump so that the outside foot comes to the font part of the inside foot (does not cross ahead of it). And it works! I'm on a well-balanced outside edge! It's not a miracle, but it's one advance over my awkward back edge issues.
Now if she can help me channel my inner Maia Usova, I'll be happy.
I'm the one on the left, going "Huh?"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Off-Ice Fitness DVD's

I have a bunch of fitness DVDS. I loan these out to friends, and get comments back, and I have my favorites too. Here's some that are popular.  I think each of these is good for off-ice exercise.

Cathe' Friedrich's Travel Fit

This has been a consistent favorite of all the advanced exercisers who borrow it. Uses a stretchy band, and you'll need gloves too as the holds on the bands can be demanding. Lots of innovative use of the band to get to muscles you hardly seem to use. Works the entire body. Designed to be used in a confined space like a hotel room, but that doesn't matter, it's efficient and challenging.

Heart of Pilates: Pilaites with an Exercise Band by Kj Luker

This DVD is another band video. Uniquely it has exercises for the ankles and feet.  The first time I did it, I was surprised by how stiff my ankles were. The second time, I could see how I'd improved. Now it's a regular video in rotation. I just do the first section, the second one's a waste. You will have trouble finding this video. Once you've done it a couple of times and learned the moves, just turn off the audio and put on some music of your choice. Kj Luker saying "Yummy"gets old. (BTW it appears to be out of print)

Strong Knees by Chantal Donnelly

This may be a little old lady for some of you, but it has some wonderful exercises to rehabilitate and strengthen your knees. The only trick is to not hit "Play" to run the video. Instead in the Main Menu select the Extras section. There you'll be able to set the exercises in the order you want. This video has a nice leg stretch at the end. It is the best leg stretch I've ever done. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Student Who Shows Up Late

The last freestyle session I had with Dance Coach, his first student of the day showed up 10 minutes late, and from then on it was a cascade. He gave the boy his 30 minute lesson, then the girl after that got a 30 minute lesson, then my lesson was cut by 10 minutes.

He's only able to do this because the rink allows bridging of freestyle sessions. If bridging wasn't allowed, he'd have to cut either the boy or the girl's lesson, because mine starts in the next freestyle session.

Other coaches I know of,  tell the late skater they'll only get a partial lesson, or they move a student already on the ice into the late student's session and the late student either waits around or loses a lesson.  None of these are my coaches. My coaches have all put me and my schedule at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to a late skater ahead of me.

If there's someone who has to move a lesson, or lose time. Guess who it is? The adult student. Every coach I've had who's had 'laters' always moves my lesson around willy-nilly because the kid students have some precious schedule to keep to. Maybe it happens to other kid students too, but it makes me grind my teeth when it happens to me.

I can say this: I remain flexible to my coaches' needs, but I hate being the one who always has to shift around.  Also, I think giving priority to the late student is sending the wrong message to the parents.  I don't know if coaches are afraid the parents will stomp off and find another coach, but this is another one of those things that need to be laid out when taking on a student.

So if by chance you are a skater parent, let me give you some advice: the lesson start time is when your child is supposed to be on the ice. It's not the time you show up. It's not the time you start putting the boots on. And if your precious is a little hockey boy, don't show up at the rink and start dressing him at lesson start time.  You have to show up, pay your freestyle fee, give the card to the monitor, and get the kid dressed and booted up. Show up a half hour early. Your kid must be stepping on the ice at lesson time.

You don't do that, there will be a short, elderly woman skater with an evil glare staring at you.

I hate you lazy parents who can't plan ahead. Get your butt in gear.

 Angry Adult Skater is not thrilled with coaches who
jerk my schedule around either

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Off Ice Training

I have a personal trainer. I tried aerobics and weight group classes for a long time, but, hey, I'm an exercise slacker. Having the eye of a mahogany haired trainer-goddess on me, keeps me on the straight and narrow. We've been working together for a few years.

She varies my routines and designs programs for me I would never have a chance to do in a group class. For example, lifting weights while doing knee bends on a bosu ball. Making me lift weights I'd never lift myself. I was happy with 10 lb dumbbells, she's got me up to 15 lb dumbbells. It took nearly a year to get me to that weight but I'm now looking at a future with 20 lb dumbbells.

Lots of ab work, and planks (I can even do the planks with side dips now), balance work on the bosu, and to shake it up sometimes work with the resistance band. I love it all.

Am I limited? Yes. At 60 years old the knees aren't what they used to be so lunges are limited. And after a wrist injury (off ice) I'll probably never do push ups again. But a good personal trainer works around those limitations and mine finds exercises  that exercises all my muscles despite my limitations.

Is off-ice weight training worth it? Absolutely.  If you aren't disciplined,  getting a personal trainer, even for a once a week session might be enough to keep you in focus and give you new exercises.  YMCA's and Jazzercise studios sometimes have personal trainers available (In Jazzercise it's call Personal Touch). If you want to try it, a few sessions might not be too expensive, and unlike a fancy gym, you probably won't incure a long term contract

As you get older lifting weights is worth it. Here's a picture of my hero. A 91 year old weight lifter, not Photoshopped.

Charles Eugster

 If he can do it at 90+. I can do it at 60.

So can you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

No Test in April :-(


The mid-winter publics I normally take lessons on have been just too crowded to practice dances consistently. It was so bad we actually quit lesson early during one public. It was just impossible to even stroke around. So I've fallen out of  practice of the complete patterns. There is a slight chance  that next week, he'll decide I'm ready, so cross fingers. My problem is that once I'm into the second pattern,  my mind goes blank. I'll practice The Nasty during evening public because after this lesson, I actually feel I have it coming together in my brain.

So, I know you're all questioning, "How did your edges look after the edge class?" Well, the edges are okay. But it's the posture that I'm now working on. The two have to go together.

The upper body is 'better', but not enough. I look at myself in the glass and the upper body is nice face on, until I turn sideways. Sideways, I still have a little bend forward at the hips. Not as much as last week, when it burned my eyes on video, but apparently, I FAIL THE PERFECTION TEST! Anyway, there was Russian finger poking of my spinal column. "Arch here. Line up all the bones. Skate pretty."

Yeah, that's gonna happen.

In the ever shifting standards of kneebend, what was acceptable last month is no longer acceptable. "I want you deeper in the knee." Dance Coach says. I felt I was practically in sitting position, and it annoyed me that apparently there is no mercy for the elderly on ice. "I am deep in the knee," I whine. "Where do you want me, here?" I sarcastically get my butt down to knee level. "Yes," Dance Coach says equally sarcastically. I show him the back of my hand and wiggle my fingers in an annoying way. He laughs.

Dance Coach and I have learned together, that it takes me three repetitions to fix something in my brain. And one of those repetitions has to be solo. Not at speed. Not pretty. Just alone. I guess because I'm an adult he expects me to hear the correction once, then do it perfectly from then on.

I wish.

This is where the FAIL comes in for the Nasty. I take three reps to get the 'lead the turn' part of the last slide chasse'. Three reps to get the two pattern down in my head. Three reps to get comfortable with the beginning. After that, the lesson is over and Dance Coach has the Frowny Face. He's not happy at the end of the lesson, but I'm beginning to feel that I have the dance together. Another go-round and he might have had the Not Quite So Frowny Face As The Frowny Face Earlier.

On the other hand, there's improvement going on behind the scenes that he doesn't know about. I'm over the skating backward when I'm alone phobia. I'm doing alternating back crossovers, and back chasse's. Not big, but they're happening. Some day, in the far distant future, I may be doing Back 3's!

Friday, March 9, 2012

When are you a "Real Skater"?

All that practice and money and coaching, when do you get to be a "real skater"?

The first time I heard this was when I was complaining to the Big Guy, "I could skate my figures if the ice was better."

He said, "You're a real skater now. You always blame the ice, it's never yourself!"

The next time I heard it was when I bought a horridly expensive, beautiful skating jacket to replace my old white, canvas jacket. When I walked in the dressing room one of the women exclaimed, "You're a real skater now!"

The first time I felt I was a real skater was after a lesson when I fell several times. Not only did I just pop up and do the element again without hesitation, but after the lesson I couldn't really remember what I fell on---because it wasn't that important. "I'm a real skater now!" I thought.

Oh, you can talk about competitions, and medals, and tests. But I don't think those are the high moment of being a real skater. I don't think you'll ever know when that moment comes. Sometime, somewhere, after you've done a particularly smooth but difficult piece of footwork, or demonstrated absolute control over your edges, or have executed a particularly beautiful program in practice, a coach may turn to another coach and say, "Y'know, that's a real skater."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cruel Edges--Smooth Edges

You know you've been around the block when you walk into a new rink and recognize half the coaches. Started group at the new rink and Coach Amazing was there, and Notable Bob, and the Big Guy's old coach, Coach Cruella.

So, I've been wanting to take lessons from Coach Cruella for years, timing conflicts of babies (hers) and injury (mine) made me give up on the idea. Then last night I walked into the new rink and she was teaching my edge class. Coach Cruella has a Russian coach husband (he recently took a skater either to Nationals or the Jr Nationals)  who taught her how to coach. As you would guess it's all crack the whip, get down in the knees...DEEPER....DEEEEPPPPEEERRRRR!!!!!!

Dance Coach has been yapping at me to stop bending forward (I'm not hunching,  I'm bending forward at the hips) but Coach Cruella uses what I have to assume are Russian instructional techniques so I hope Dance Coach will be happy at my next lesson. The 3 of us students are on the circle (not a hockey circle, we're squeezed into a corner) and it's outside and inside edges for the whole class. No. Let. Up.

She wants us back on the heel, and upright with an arch in our backs. We're supposed to:
a. pretend there are headlights on our hipbones and we have to shine them ahead, not down at the ground.
b. pretend we're carrying 'the girls'* on a table, not below the table.

The "girls on the table" thing means just keeping the shoulders back (Don't.Hunch) and an arch in the back. I'm not hunching, but I'm not arching either. The arch is awkward at first, but I got used to it.

Dealing with the "headlights on hips" is fun. I remember this from when I used to ride the sitting trot in dressage. The trick is to rotate the top of the pelvis backwards, rather than curl the butt under. If I curled my butt under, it stressed my back muscles, stiffening my lower back and making it hard to be flexible with my  upper body. By rotating the top of the pelvis backwards, I found I was using my abdominal muscles leaving my back muscles unstressed. So I did that in the edge class and it worked for me.

So, the class was fun, forward edges only. Next week it's backwards.

Hope Dance Coach notices my edges and upper body improvement. Otherwise, it's yapping all over again.

PS The rink ice felt funny. First time I've ever run across that.

*Men reading this. Ask a woman what 'the girls' are. I'm not explaining.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sumer Public is Icumen In

For those of you who didn't have a college roommate who majored in Middle English Literature, here's the origin of today's post title. She used to get drunk and sing it.

In Middle English:
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!

Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!

Tonight was my first summer evening public of the season. I've arranged my work schedule, and my off-ice training schedule so I can get some practice in in the evening. When I showed up the front desk told me I would be the only person on the ice. My heart beat fast with anticipation, but of course other people showed up. Still there were never more than 8 of us on the ice. And the ice was okay (except for the divots.) Semi-Delightful.

I worked on my inside threes for consistency and the not falling down part. My best solution is to do them as if I'm doing a mohawk--then not put the free foot in front. They're much nicer. So I trick my body into doing a mohawk, then I cheat and turn into a FI3. Works for me.

So I was toodling around working on the Canasta Tango when Pretty Boy Floyd showed up. I thought I knew all the male skaters at the rink, but there he was in his 20's. Tan, muscular, black boots, long black hair pulled back in a pony tail. After he had been fiddling around for a while I skated up to the rink guard. "Who's that?" I asked. "Oh that's Floyd," She said, "He thinks he's pretty."

Well, I've got 40+ years of eyeballing men more than the rink guard, and I can assure you, he was pretty.

He had a routine of doing some footwork, then getting a strong back edge, pump his arms as if he was about to jump, then....

Nada. Zero. Nothing.Zip.  Not even a waltz jump.

I thought he was maybe warming up for some big jumps, so I stayed out of his way at the other end of the rink, but still half keeping an eye on him in case he pulled out an axel, or a double anything. Over and over again, he'd build up the anticipation for a big jump and nothing ever happened.

I've dated men like that. All promise and no delivery. After a while, I just pretended he wasn't there and extended my dance patterns to his end of the rink. Use the ice or lose it, baby.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Skating Apps for the iPhone

Here's my review of some figure skating Apps from the Apps Store.

USFSA Basic Skills

This app covers all the required skating skills in the USFSA Basic 1-8. There's a young child skater, who demonstrates the skills. There's not much to the App. You click through the levels and run the videos. I suppose it's designed so a parent can use it to motivate a child. However, I think using child demonstrators is not a good idea, because their small size can make it difficult to see the detail of what they're doing. Some slo-mo for clarity.

Does not include a written description of the skill and the passing standard.


This is effectively the same as the Basic Skills app, it's a collection of videos laid out in the structure of the Adult Basic Skills Program. This time the demonstrator is an adult. I think it's easier to see the details of the skating.

Does not include a written description of the skill and the passing standard.


This App is a little more complicated than the previous two. It has three sections: demonstrations of the skills for all 6 levels of the Dance program for USFSA, demonstrations of the preliminary and pre-bronze dances + images of the dance patterns, and music for the preliminary and pre-bronze dances. The demonstrator is an adult. All skills and DANCES are demonstrated solo.

As USFSA gets into areas that are a little more complicated than straight videos, their lack of attention to detail gets to be annoying.   For example, the patterns can't be read without enlarging them, but when you enlarge them there's resolution issues with the print. Unless you know the dances well, it's sometimes hard to make out the steps in the pattern. Sloppy. 

The dances are demonstrated solo. I've no objection to this, but I would have been willing to pay extra to see them partnered as well. Without a partner it's not dance, it's an edge class.

There's music for the first 6 dances included. This is a nice touch. Strangely, the dance music doesn't always match the music used in the demonstrations. Lack of attention to detail again.

iSkate Improvers

This appears to be an app produced by an Australian or British skating body. I don't swear to it though. It's level 6-10 of a complete skating program. Levels 1-5 are in iSkate Beginners.

This is a really nice app.  All moves are demonstrated by an adult, with an initial demo, followed by close ups of the feet and body, and slo-mo. Written tips for the skater are included with each video. You can also order a workbook. The only downside I feel is that the skater's face needed better lighting. Trivial, I know, but it was noticeable and I like to see head position for some moves. Still her skating was fine, and the use of a yellow vest made it easy to follow her arm movements if she passed in front of an overly dark or bright area of the rink.

Of the apps I've reviewed, this is by far the best. Even if you are in USFSA or ISI, you could use the tips and demonstrations in this app to support your skating. USFSA should hire this company to make their apps and do it right.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wear the Vest Willya!

My home rink does not have reliable weekend freestyles. Sometimes there will be  a couple of hours when the hockey team is off someplace playing, but it's not something I can count on. So I bop around to other rinks' freestyle sessions on Sunday. They have widely varying customs.

The closest rink to my house (but it's not my home rink) has a power class followed by an hour of freestyle. And it's the cheapest freestyle around. The skaters in program wear a ribbon around their waist to indicate they're in program. It looks like a piece of cop tape, but when I hear program music I glance around and I can usually spot the skater. The skaters at this session seem to be small. So maybe this ribbon is a nice compromise as it fits both the adult and the child skaters. It can be hard to see, but it's something.

The freestyle session at Big City Rink has the skaters wear a full up florescent vest. There's some high level skaters here (no elites, but you see some occasional triples), a strong ice dance program, and a lot of skater traffic. As I said, full up vest. Most of the skaters at this session are either adults in ice dance or teens. I've only seen a rare child skater. So the vest is the norm.

My home rink.

No Vest.

Zip. Nada. Zed.

I guess you're supposed to use psychic powers if you're a visiting skater.
Madame Zelda senses GLENDA is in program!

My previous home rink (the one that closed) had no vests either. The skating director told me:
1. Hockey boys steal them (my comment--because coaches leave them lying around)
2. Everyone knows everyone else's music so they know who's in program

As a visiting skater, I hear music and I look around for someone in pose. But, there will sometimes be  more than one skater practicing a pose, or I'll look around too late and miss it. I lose a lot of time guessing. If Dance Coach is with me, he'll just tell me to move to the boards if it's necessary. Otherwise we keep going in lesson.  If I'm at a rink and EVERYONE skates to the boards, I know to follow. Someone fast with big jumps is out there.

Strangely enough, in a sport with all sorts of custom tchotchkes and custom costumes, I'm rather surprised no one's come up with something that will work for skaters.

Anyway, I need to work on my psychic powers, for next week's freestyle. I sense.... I sense.....that girl over there is in progam! (I hope).

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mar 3 Lesson: Coach's Eye ^2

I haven't skated in two weeks, and when I stepped on the ice straight into lesson, I was all over the place. Stiff legs (even though I did warm up and stretching), unsteady, and a load of lacing issues.  But on the supergood side, the rink is now offering freestyle on Saturday mornings so I can get some time in ice dance with the music. Maybe I will be ready for my April test after all!

So let's get the Disappointment out of the way. I may love swingrolls, but I look awful doing the inside ones. Dance Coach told me to get down in the knee more. He started waving his hands and talking about kneebend and flow and blah blah blah dance stuff. I just can't translate this into action. Deeper kneebend where? When?  I said, "Here just video me." and pulled out my iPhone with Coach's Eye on it. This is an app that allows coaches to mark up video and send it to their students. So Dance Coach videos me doing inside swingrolls. When he's finished I go to the View section and see the static thumbnail of my skating. "Oooh, I look good with a ponytail," I say.  That's my last moment of happiness.
Once I view just seconds of the video, I can see the problem. I need to 'sit on the edge'. I'm leaning too far forward, and man am I slow....but my edges are nice. We don't really spend much more time on the inside swingrolls, but my eyes are burning from the memory. The good thing about my skating, is that I don't have to look at my skating.

Kneebend! Kneebend!

Due to the mid-winter public sessions I've been taking lessons on, it's been impossible to do any dances. I've forgotten stuff over the last couple of months and had to go through the dances a few times to recapture the muscle memory. I've read, and know it to be true, that to get muscle memory as you get older it takes a lot more repetition to build it. Stupid  old age.

So we do the Rhythm Blues and the Canasta Tango several times with music and without. I finally get the dances together both in my head and my body. Dance Coach must have been driven to despair,  but when he gets all bossy I just roll with it. This was one of those days where I was satisfied to be on the ice and not falling down. I'm not slacking. I'm skating as good as I can. It just takes me longer to get it.  I'll practice tomorrow and see if I can get those swingrolls where he wants them and get the side pattern on the Rhythm Blues. But he did say the Evil Step Behinds were nice.

My one brief moment of happiness was when I caught a look at us in waltz hold in the glass. I was finally skating in the upright position.  Not a lot of grace. Not a lot of flow. But there was no sniping about my posture, no quibbling about my arm and hand positions in hold.  I did take a shot because when I'm back stroking in waltz hold I should be stroking with my foot pointing directly at Dance Coach--pretty much aiming between the legs--but tell me once, and it's fixed.

So I rate this as a Recovery Lesson. I've been off the ice a couple of weeks and this is the lesson where I recover my skills.

I just wish recovery involved a chocolate prescription from my doctor..

It's the middle of Lent. I'm jonesin' for some chocolate.

The student after me is the best boy skater at the rink. Dance Coach looks so relaxed. I guess in the end the best and the oldest, it balances out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pronation Nation--Inside the Boot

So the first day of this series I wrote about the why of pronation. Yesterday I wrote about how strengthening the feet can help with your pronation. Today, I'm going to cover the wedging inside the boot.

In summary, what I'm aiming for is to gently rotate my feet to their outside edge, so that gravity pulls directly through the blade into the center of the foot, When I'm skating on one leg, I want to get a straight line from my hip to my knee, to my ankle, to my foot, to the blade, to the ice. If there are any angles in there, say at the ankle, I can to use my toes to rotate my foot to the outside. To prevent foot fatigue and pain I use a wedge in the boot to do most of the work.

 I started out with custom walking orthotics prescribed for me by an elderly orthopedic surgeon specializing in feet. (He was a consultant to the LA Rams, so yes, this was a loooong time ago.) These orthotics had to be in flat shoes so they wouldn't work in skates. My experience with the custom orthotics built for my skates last year, was that all the measurements etc. were taken as if they were for flat shoes. These expensive skating custom orthotics were a total waste of money. I tore them apart and used the sturdy plastic insole to support my own adjustments. That worked great. Then one of the orthotics disappeared when it fell out of my boot someplace. I then ended with the solution I'm about to describe.

Hey, it made me laugh

So, here's all the stuff I use.
1. Superfeet Skating insoles--I didn't think they'd be sturdy enough, but they are

2. A collection of neoprene and gel pads from the feet section of the drug store. I cut these up for padding and stuffing under the Superfeet insoles. I like the gel pads, but some places they're too thick so I use the neoprene instead. 

3. Thick felt chair tips from the hardware store (don't get the thin green ones used for lamps). These are put on the legs of tables and chairs to keep them from scratching wood floors. The best ones are the ones with a sticky back so you don't have to use glue.

4. An admonition--feet are different. What works in one boot, may not work in the other. Fit your boots separately.

Start with boots that fit you for length and width. This isn't a substitute for a good fit.

Step 1: I fit the forefoot of my boot so that my toes are comfortable, but so  they don't  have so much room they can flop around in the toe of the boot.This will mean I may need to put a pieces of a flat neoprene insole (and/or gel pads) under the Superfeet Skating insole. I  get the forefoot in the boot to fit so that when I curl my toes a just little, the top of the boot restrains them. I don't want to be able to curl them so much that they don't bump into the leather of the boot. And yes, I've had a boot fit that way.  Anyway, use the gel pads if you need a big change, and the neoprense pads if you need to make a small change. You can also use heel pads too, and just cut them to fit.

My experience has been I can't put a wedge in the forefoot that will do any good. I do all my wedging in the heel and it works well for me. I call it 'wedging' but you're not putting in a wedge. You're making the insole angle as if there is a wedge underneath it. This is why you need a good sturdy insole, and not a soft one.

Step 2: Putting in the wedges. Take the felt chair tips and peel off the paper backing. I then start by putting one felt tip at the outside (EDIT) inside edge of the underside of the heel of the superfeet insole. It's best to do this at the rink, because after I put the insoles back in the skates I'll want to go skate. If one chair tip doesn't work I try putting a second on top of it to angle the insole even more.  You can fiddle around all you want with this approach. Stack chair tips, put them side by side, whatever. It's up to you to find out what makes you skate better. When I test the boots, I do the wedging simultaneously. So it's not fix one boot then then other. It's fix both, experiment, fix, experiment.....

In the end the boots may not need identical adjustment. I skate with one boot without wedging, one with. 

That's pretty much all there is to it. Because I have an idea of what causes my pronation, I'm able to make adjustments in the boot.  If you try this and it works for you, you've saved a lot of money. If it doesn't work for you, you're out at most $50-60, of which $40 is for the Superfeet. If it doesn't work for you then you can always try out of the boot adjustments; moving the blade and shimming the blade. That's something you'll need to take up with your fitter.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Because the long bone supporting my big toe is too short, my feet roll in on the inside and I pronate. If I want to stand on one foot, I have to curl my toes with all the mighty power of my size 6.5 (American) feet, and push my inside foot up from the floor. When I do that, it puts my ankle directly over my heel. This means all my weight is going through the ankle, through  the heel to the floor.  If my heel bone was a little off (so it was, shall we say 'stubby' on the inside) curling my toes would have the same effect. My ankle would move over my heel and I would be able to balance on one foot. I can't balance on one foot without the toe curl unless I use a lot of body lean and arm waving.

I'll now wait while you try this experiment. Stand on one foot without curling your toes, then with curling your toes. See how long you can stand on one foot without the toe crl. Probably not very long. If you use toe curl your toes and your arch get tired holding your foot at an angle. If you had a wedge between your foot and the floor maybe you could relax and not use the muscles in your toes and arch.

I'm going to make some popcorn. Let me know when you're back.

Oh, hi! Nice to see you again. Did the experiment work? If it did, the first thing you're probably thinking is 'Why doesn't she talk about her in boot wedging solution?'  Because if curling my toes works to push my foot onto the outside edge, then a wedge should too. Be patient psdawan. I'll get to that.

But, today I want to talk about building up the strength of the feet.

While I was having some serious booting problems with pronation (custom boots, custom orthotics, plus blade adjustments) I happened to take a Ballet bootcamp style class at my aerobics center. Six weeks of two 30 minute lessons a week. A lot of standing on one foot, a lot of raising myself on my toes on one foot. After 6 weeks, I had feet that could bench press Ohio.

The custom boots had to be sent back to the manufacturer for a rebuild so I started skating in my old boots again. These had been made ready for sale, by putting the blade in the center position. Suddenly,  I could get to my outside edge even without the blade adjustment. I still had the custom orthotics in. But I was able to minimize them so that instead of a big wedge on both feet, they only had a narrow wedge on one foot, and wedge free on the other.

My feet were now so strong that I no longer felt the ache in them I used to when I skated. I was also able to use the toe curl in subtle ways so that I didn't seem to need the extreme orthotics that I once had. Win. Win.

So since I can't replicate the class for you, I found a dance site with similar exercises if you want to give it a try. Dancers need strong feet and ankles for going en pointe. These exercises are equipment free. You'll see the poster here uses the dance term 'releve'. Releve just means to rise up to the balls of your foot so you're using only your toes for balance.

I can't see the downside for a skater to strengthen their feet and ankles. I would think foot strength would be good for freestylers as well. I look forward to your comments and experiences.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the wedging solution I use.