Monday, April 30, 2012

The Magic Circle

Brian Boitano's sports physician, Dr. James G. Garrick, M.D. , wrote a really good book called Peak Condition back in 1986. There's a lot of stuff in this book that's about figure skating, and much useful information about home treatment of the usual injuries that athletes accumulate. It's still available in the used book section of Amazon, and is  worth far, far more than the few cents it costs used. A quarter century on, and it's still one of those books worth reading.

I happened to have a copy of his book on hand when I broke my ankle, and he describes a way of supporting the ankle after a sprain that I found very useful during my skating restart.

He recommends supporting the soft tissues of the ankles after a sprain. You can't get this with a splint, or an ACE bandage. Instead, you need something that presses on the soft tissues around the ankle bone, without pressing on the ankle bone itself. To get that soft tissue pressure, you need something that has a hole in it, and fits around the knob of the ankle bone. It can be either  donut or U shaped. This way, when you wrap over it with an ACE bandage pressure is applied directly to the soft tissues of the ankle and you get much, much better support.

After I got out of my cast and was allowed to skate again, I found that my ankle was wonky. I needed to support the soft tissues to get past the first few months of skating while I rebuilt my muscles and strength in that ankle. So taking a hint from Peak Condition, I got one of these:
Skating Safe Donut Gel Pad

It really helped the shaft of the boot support the ankle. I came to think of it as a magic circle.  For the first few months after I restarted, I wore it under the elastic ankle brace I wore when skating. Just like the good doctor said, I had much better support than with the elastic brace alone, and I didn't have to over tighten my laces to get support from the shaft.

(edit) After using the Magic Circle in my freestyle boots for a year, I didn't need it anymore. The boot alone was enough to support my ankle. Then I switched to ice dance. After a year of skating dance in freestyle boots, I switched to ice dance boots. These have a lower shaft and although they are sturdy in the shaft--lots of leather in there--they're really a different boot in many ways from the freestyle boot.

I've had trouble with my right dance boot ever since I got them. Dance boots don't give quite the support a freestyle boot does. And what was unnoticeable with the ankle in freestyle boots was very noticeable in dance boots. I've been trying boot fixes, but finally I gave up and said to myself, "It's not the boot, it's the ankle." I ordered new donuts (where does stuff go when you don't use it every day?), plopped them into place over my ankle bone and laced the boot up.

It was one of those miracles on ice--minus the hockey team. The fix instantaneously solved my wonky ankle problem. I no longer needed to lace the boots so tight my toes went numb. I still have to wear a silipos gel tube to keep the heel in place, but that ankle feels as secure as the one that was never broken. My skating on that side is also much more secure as I no longer have the fear that that ankle is going to collapse.

I really think the gel donut is the best answer I've found. It has the right thickness and resiliency. It bends but it doesn't collapse when you put pressure on it. It wears a long time, can be easily cleaned, and is pretty close to indestructible If you want to try this out, but aren't sure if it's what you need, try using a makeup sponge or foam pad and cut a circle in the center. These won't give you the firmness or the wearability of the gel donut, but it may work (you may need several to get the firmness needed). I also once cut a hole in a gel lace bite pad and tried that, but found the donuts were just the perfect thickness. I never tried this, but if you can find a something like a thick soft felt pad, that would probably be okay too. I used my stocking to hold it on while I put my boots on, but you could also use an ACE bandage, or some adhesive tape.

Yes, I'm a real skater now. It's always something with the boots, isn't it?

PS. The book has some Boitano boot anecdotes. I'm not the only one with issues.

Brian Boitano's Skates, 1988 (Harlicks)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"It's like the North Pole in here!"

You'd think it being nearly May, that it would be warming up. But thanks to the rain, the rink was freezing. I had on a bomber jacket over a sweater it was so cold. So, in honor of the weather, here's what it felt like during lesson.
I try to explain to Dance Coach why I booted out in the Rhythm Blues

I describe my new costume for Dance Coach
Funny polar bear dancing cub
Dance Coach Expresses his opinon
"No way!"

"Who me?"
Dance Coach tells me to work on back cross rolls

They're a LOT easier if you have FOUR feet!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Power! Performance! Booting Out!

When I told Coach Cruella that Dance Coach had said some time ago, "You're not ready," for progressives, she got down and cracked the whip. It was progressives, progressives, progressives for about 10 minutes during a private lesson. I got a few right, then I proceeded to practice passionately in order to perfect proper progressives.

Feeling like Oliver Twist I approached Dance Coach during our next lesson. "I think I'm ready for progressives. We've been doing them in group." I said.
Please, sir. May I do progressives?
 Let me tell you, when someone 30 years younger than you puts on their professionally attentive face--it's just the cutest thing. This is the fun of being old, I've seen everything, now I get to have fun with it.
"Tell me more." Dance Coach said.
He  had me demonstrate how Coach Cruella introduced them with the grapevine. This appears to be the standard way, because I got a grunted "Good." Then, I did them around the circle. I now have the rhythm of them, and after I've got a few under my belt I can actually roll onto the side of the free foot in the underpush. Technically this is not booting out as it's the free foot, not the skating foot. "Not any power there." I said.

He's looking happy and pleased. "High five!" he says, "Power will come."

What's the moral of this story? Well, practice helps. And developing your edges also helps. I don't think 6 months ago I could do them. I tried them once then instead of crossovers, but Dance Coach said, "Not yet." But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I'm pushing myself, Coach Cruella is pushing me and it's working.

We rock through some dance skills. High fives are raining from the skies. I think my inside swingrolls only deserve a high two, but what they lack in power they make up in depth of curve.

The rest of the lesson is dance, dance, more dance. The Nasty goes okay. It's the usual Hockey Boy Tango with the crowds, but I have some power in it now. Not Dance Coach power, but more than I had a few weeks ago. Not bad power for 'the elderly'.

Then we did the Rhythm Blues. Remember I booted out last week on the first go round? Well, I did it again this week! I'm just going to plan for it from now on. I'll tell Dance Coach to expect me to boot out the first time around so I can get it out of the way and not have to worry about it for the rest of the lesson!

Edges forward and back in waltz hold go very well. And now that I'm deep in the knee my butt doesn't stick out. So, stylistically major gain!  Work on the step/cross behind (whatever) in the Cha-cha. This is the only place in any dance I've ever heard the words firmly uttered by Dance Coach in his 'safety voice' "NO EXTENSION!"

No extension, I can do that!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Stretching DVDs

One of the things that happens to adult skaters is that they accumulate injuries the way diplomats accumulate parking tickets. While diplomats have immunity, we poor skaters don't. We pay for our injuries every day. So it pays to work on maintaining some reserve fitness.

Fortunately, I'm of a get up and go personality. I don't like sitting around bemoaning my fate. So, first things first: Sitting is killing you. At work I don't use IM or the phone. I get up and walk to talk to people. It helps keep the joints from stiffening up during the day.  Also,  I keep my back straight when walking or sitting. Those little things can contribute to feeling good throughout the day.

Secondly, I've always been a big believer in stretching. I'm not talking here about stretching to get that Beillman. I'm talking about stretches that help keep you going in spite of the pain in joints, muscles, and tendons. Here are some good DVD's to help.

Annette Fletcher Save Your Back -- Release Strengthen Stretch.
This video starts out deceptively easy. The three segments each last about 12 minutes. I like doing all of them in one sitting. In Release you relax the muscles and joints and warm them up for the challenge to come. In Strengthen you do some exercises to support your back by building up the core muscles. Then in Stretch, it's pretzel time! Because of the preparation in the first two segments, I was able to get into deep stretch even in the most extreme positions without pain.

If you have a beillman--maybe not for you. On the other hand, I'm flexible and I felt it was worthwhile. My back felt great after doing it once. If you have back issues, well, it's designed for people with those so look at it on Amazon and see what you think.

Cathe Friedrich Stretch Max
I bought this thinking it would be intimidating. Some of Cathe's strength videos are beyond me at the weights she uses. This stretch video is good and doable by a fit adult. It presents some nice exercises for opening the hips. It's not an extreme stretch video like some yoga videos that require a year of practice to complete. The Cathe video offers three stretch programs: no equipment required, on the ball, and resistance band. (You will need a mat) I like doing the no equipment one, and the resistance band one. Taken together these two really hit skater stretch needs. In the no equipment segment lots of emphasis on getting open hips and working those hip flexors. In the resistance band one, more hip work and work on the articulation of the feet and ankles. Great video. 

Why yes, I have been working on my stretching.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Perfect Test Dress

For some reason unknown to me, my club is not having any tests until August. So I told Dance Coach, "I have time. I think I'll have a test dress made for me."

Dance Coach said, "Finally," with a sigh of relief. I'm sure there was an eye roll in there too, but I'm too short to see it.

So I'm now on a mission to design the 'perfect' dance test dress. By perfect I mean it will allow me to inexpensively tart the dress up so it fits the theme of the dance. I may have to have one or two things made, but there's lots of stuff I can do on my own.

First, the dress.

For a top, I want something strapless with illusion fabric above . I may have skater's butt and thighs, and horsemen's calves, but I've go weightlifters arms and shoulder. Those are going to be shown off.

So something feminine with a bit of a curve to it. I like this dress, but I'm too short to buy stock, so it will need to be custom made. And in black.
Brad Griffiesdress
The skirt is okay, but I want it asymmetrical, with it shorter in the front.  Okay, THAT was easy.

Now what about the dances?
Dutch waltz, done it passed it not gonna worry about it.

Canasta tango--in fact all Latin dances--this dress plus a red lace bolero. And chandelier earrings.

Rhythm Blues--a long electric blue scarf, and some electric blue shortie gloves. Or maybe lace gloves in black.

Swing Dance--this is tricky. After some consideration, I decided on a wide belt with a big buckle. Typical 40's and early 50's (especially with the NewLook), and a doubled string of 'pearl' costume jewelry. I toyed with putting on a 1950's style short sleeved crew sweater, but I'm probably the only one OLD ENOUGH to remember that fad.

OOOh, OOOOh, Better than pearls, a BROOCH!  That's verrry 40's!

Cha-Cha--technically this is a cuban dance, and is considered to be Latin. I supposed the bolero (again),  but when I look at cha cha dancer images, most women's costumes appear to be dedicated to the idea of getting the woman as nekkid as possible. So NO bolero.
Then I came across this image of a Barsony figurine. So lively and expressive! It inspired me. Perhaps a red over skirt or maybe a red under skirt made from chiffon. No,  both over and under! Easy and not expensive.

Fiesta Tango--Latin. The bolero --- again. But why not take the two red chiffon skirts from the Cha-cha and wear them under the dress skirt, along with bolero. And add these:

So that brings, me to the end of the pre-Bronze dances. Same dress, but with just a few extra dollars I can trick up the same tired old test dress so it matches the dances.  Some things like the brooch and belt, I may be able to find at Goodwill. Even the bolero may be fairly inexpensive if it's on eBay.

I think it's a fun and creative project. I'm looking forward to it.

And Dance Coach, he'll never give me the test dress eyeroll again. hee hee.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Three more discouraging words I've never heard: You're not ready.

When I asked Dance Coach to teach me progressives he shook his head politely and said, "You're not ready."

Okay. Not ready for the axel? Sure. But progressives? They're just a slidey kind of crossover and he actually called two of my crossovers (out of thousands) "Beautiful."

A couple of weeks ago Coach Cruella introduced progressives into the edge class. I know what you're thinking. It's a Cruella vs Dance Coach Smack Down!

In the Left Corner. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have Dance Coach. Expert in footwork, stance, rhythm, timing, choctaws, stroking, musicality and teaching ice dance.

And in the right corner, we have Coach Cruella. Leader in teaching adults edges and jumps, developmental skating skills, and breaking bad skating habits.

And in the Middle Corner we have your hostess. Wringer of hands, faller on butts. Scaredy cat of the Ages. The ICE DOESN'T CARE BLOGMISTRESS!

Yes, I am just this cute!
Coach Cruella has an interesting way to introduce progressives. The student does a two foot grapevine and then bends the forward knee, while the under leg pushes out. So both feet on the ice, the right foot passes in front of and past the left foot, bend the right knee and straighten the left leg so that you get an under push. Bring the left foot out from under, and do the exercise in the opposite direction.

After a few go rounds with this warm up exercise, we students get in the circle and do progressives 'for real'. Stroke, set the free foot to the side of the skating foot, then pass the free foot (which is now on the ice)  ahead of the skating foot. At this point, the weight change is supposed to go from the skating foot to the free foot. The initial free foot now becomes the skating foot, and the initial skating foot becomes the free foot. When this happens, the former skating leg extends under the former free leg and gives an under push.

When the weight switch happens, it's supposed to be like a light switch. The skating foot becomes the free foot and vice versa just as the free foot passes in front of the skating foot.

Except it's not happening with me. I can do the weight switch, but the timing is off. And the under push is not a push, so much as it's an under leg.

And the winner is?

Dance Coach. He's right. I'm not ready.

Coach Cruella's technique works with the other student who has progressives in 15 minutes. She also has knees 30 years younger than mine. That's my story. Anyway, even with practice I can't get the under push. Apparently, for some reason I'm leaning out of the circle. I also did this when I was learning crossovers, so there's some bad habit in there too.

Sad face. Well, it's another skill to practice and another life challenge to overcome.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Figure Skating for Exercise

I met a woman M.D. last year who told me that she had been to a medical conference at Harvard. One of the conclusions presented was that the best exercises for mature people (me! me!) were figure skating and dancesport.

Yes You Can!

So I've been skating for a few years, and I have some experience that I'd like to write about.

1. Figure Skating burns more calories than aerobics-even more than step aerobics. Someone gave me one of those heart rate/calorie monitor watches for Christmas a couple of years ago. Figure skating, even just for play, consistently beat aerobics for calorie burning by 10-20%. I would struggle in aerobics to burn 350 calories in an hour, and end up with sore knees and hips. Just tooling along working on my stroking and figures, I'd easily burn 400 calories in an hour. Apparently, I'm something of a slacker. According to the Harvard Women's Health Newsletter, the calories burned per HALF-hour for women of the following weights are:
                              Calories burned per HALF HOUR
                             125 pound person155 pound person185 pound person
Ice Skating: general      210                           260                    311               

2. Figure skating improves your balance, helping develop skills and coordination to prevent falls in later life. Lack of muscle strength and coordination are the leading cause of falls in those over 65. A broken hip in an older person is often a death knell. As much as 20% of older people with a broken hip die within a year. Half of all, die within TWO YEARS.  While skating helps maintain those balance and coordination skills, it also helps you know how to fall. This in of itself may help prevent serious injuries.

3.  Improves your endurance. The ability to exercise for extended periods of time is enhanced by skating.  The fact that the rink is cool encourages exercise because you don't get overheated.  Some medications common in the more mature athlete make overheating more likely, therefore a rink is a safe place to work on endurance without having that worry.

4. Skating is a gateway sport.  People who enjoy skating often take up other exercise activities in order to improve their skating. Someone who just likes to stroke around may take up yoga to help get a spiral. Adults who want better posture for ice dance may also do yoga, but also take up weight training. Improving balance may result in going to the Y to use the balance board or a class on improving core strength.

5. Skating improves your grace and movement. Because skating relies on your coordination and balance on ice, you'll notice that your off ice coordination and balance improve too. I actually had one of my doctors comment on this as I hopped down off the exam table.

6. Even with the falls, I've found skating less stressful on the body that almost any other exercise. When I used to do aerobics, an hour class would leave me with sore knees and hips. Skating the next day, would take that pain away.

7.  I took up skating because hot flashes were making it too hot to exercise in the summer. Solved that problem by getting on the ice. Haven't looked back.

I'm waiting to meet this guy

While researching this post, I discovered here, why mature (oh, let's face it--OLDER) women can't build up muscle the way men can (such as the man in the picture above).  Apparently, our bodies are unable to store protein in muscles after menopause. To counter this we need to eat more protein. The researchers recommended more meat and eggs in women's diets. They also recommended resistance training (called weight training over here).

So, no matter how old you are, even if you're no longer testing or competing or taking lessons, figure skating is STILL good for  You!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Partnering Part 2

I decided to provide some pictures about this week's partnering lesson.

Here, Dance Coach strikes his his ice dance pose. Note the noble position of the head, the alert and attentive eye, the smile that you can trust.

Now, I take up my pose. Eyes lifted up. Head tilted back. Smile.

Am I good or what?

Saturday, April 21, 2012


"When you stroke to the left," Dance Coach says, "You look up and to the left. When you stroke to the right, up and to the right."

I'd asked to learn some subtleties of partnering in this lesson, and so I assume what I think is the right look. Smile, look in the right direction. Pretty much it. Wrong.

"No." Sad sigh, "Not that expression. Have ice dancer expression." He takes the ice dancer stance, erect upper body, eyes looking off into the upper distance, a smile of pleasure on his face. He even makes his eyes glisten with delight.

He drops into his usual frowny face. "You see?"

I do my best. I can at least look in the right direction. I think I get the smile right. The glistening eyes--not happening.

"Now, your hip is here," he moves me around like a side of beef until I'm in the right position. "Hips touching, but not touching. You understand? Your right hand on my right hand. Keep your left arm strong." If I have it right, my left hip, the one that is touching but not touching his right hip, is slightly ahead of his. We are now ready to stroke in Killian hold.

"One, two, three." Dance Coach counts and we stroke to the left.

I look to the right.

"What is this?! Stroke left, Look right!"

I get the giggles. "I'm sorry, I spend so much time on public, it's a reflex to look for traffic for the next stroke."

Dance Coach grins. "No public here." We're on an almost empty freestyle session.  So we do it again, and I pretty much get it right.

"When I went to Lake Placid," I said, "I learned I'm supposed to sort of lean back in my partner's arm."

"Sort of true, but not really lean back. Stand up straight, arch your back. You'll lean into the man's arm if you do that." Again the pose. "Skate like an ice dancer."

We work on partnering in swingrolls next. There's a subtle shift of the lady from slightly ahead  of the gentleman's hip, to slightly behind the hip during the swingrolls. I can only think of one thing at a time and now I'm thinking of three: the 'look', the skating, the 'hip thing'. Still at the end of a few go rounds, I get it right....except maybe for the expression.

Finally, we start to practice Canasta Tango. Dance Coach is messing with the music player and Hernando's Hideaway starts to play. I sing the lyrics, and after the first line I'm joined by Starlight, one of his other adult students (pre-gold) who's on session.

I know a dark and secret place; A place where no one knows your face; A glass of wine, a swift embrace; It's called--Hernando's Hideaway.Ole'

Starlight and I each fling an arm up in the air like ice dancing flamenco artists. then start to laugh.

I expected Dance Coach to be like this:
Oh, girls, behave
And instead it's like this:

This dance has words?!!!!
"This dance has words?" Dance Coach excitedly asks.

Between Starlight and myself, we tell him it's from a Broadway musical from the 1950's called "The Pajama Game."  He dives into his smartphone and pulls up the same youTube video I posted here. "Okey," he says as the video begins to play, "We skate to this."

The beat is faster than the instrumental version he has on his CD. Surprisingly, I skate faster and better--except where I start listening to the words and forget what foot I'm supposed to be on.  I recover and we finish the dance, complete with presentation glide.

Dance Coach is russian style giddy with delight. In other words, he's faintly smiling. "I will get a copy and see if you can test to this."

I guess I better start working on my head turns and my glistening with delight eyes!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Theft at the Rink

I've only had stuff missing from my bag twice, and it's entirely possible that they fell out or I just left them on the bench. Freestyles are usually safe. Skaters put their purses or wallets and phones out off reach in the hockey boxes at many rinks, and ice monitors keep an eye on what's going on. Public sessions on the other hand--even in the daytime--can be a wild west show. Still it surprises me that I have never heard personal stories about it. So I Googled it.

From the Google news, it's usually people who either break into the rink after it's closed and take money from the office, or steal money out of locker rooms. One woman who bucked this trend would steal money from purses during birthday parties at the rink--and she was stupid enough to get caught twice at different rinks. The interesting thing about the thieves I read about was that they KNEW THE RINK. One man dressed up as someone coming in to play hockey by carrying a large obvious hockey bag before he waltzed into a locker with the key in the door. Other locker room break ins were perpetrated by teens who knew the rink layout. Even the woman who stole at birthday parties, knew how the rinks worked.

I found one case only, where someone lost something other than out of a locker room or a party. This person left their wallet and cell phone under their bag, under the bench. Okay, there's world's stupidest criminals, there's also world's stupidest victims.
Don't make it easy
So herewith is some common sense advice for rink theft if you skate at public sessions or are attending a game or competition:

1. Don't bring a lot of money and credit cards to the rink--unless you carry them on your person
2. Don't leave your car keys in the bag--especially if they have a remote opener on the ring. With that remote opener, even if someone doesn't know what you drive, they can still find your car.
3. If you leave stuff in the locker room, bring your own lock. Better still leave your money, cards and phone with a friend, family member or coach.
4.  For public sessions, zip your bag up. It won't deter a thief, but it helps keep children's wandering hands out of it. I like to put my bag on top of a vending machine especially to avoid the problem of unattended children riffling through my bag.
5. Carry a duffel or other cheap bag. You can stuff one of these in out of the way places to make it hard to get to. Zuca's are too unwieldy to do anything with other than to set them out in the open.
6. If you have to leave money, phone or wallet in a bag (and I don't recommend this at all) don't put it in there in front of everyone watching in the lobby. Put it in the bag while you're still in the car and bury it deep in the bottom or in a pocket with a lot of junk at the top. Turn your phone off.

Is it worth it to use the public lockers? Geeze, I don't know. My rink charges about $2 to use a locker. I've never seen anyone use them. However, at one rink I skated at once, the rink creeped me out so much, I put my shoes and empty bag in a rented locker. What can I say, it was a sleezy rink. Don't miss it at all.

Depending on where you live, leaving stuff in the trunk of a car is usually a safe bet. Don't leave a purse in view in the car. Just common sense.

Fortunately, the rink security cameras appear to be pretty effective. In several cases I read about, they were the direct cause of capturing the perp.

What? The rink cameras caught me?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Sixth Sense

Everyone knows about the five senses: Sight, taste, hearing, touch, smell. We use these everyday. But we have a sixth sense, and not the one that pops up in horror movies. It's the sense of where the various parts of your body are. It's called 'proprioception'. Broadly, it's the ability to know even with your eyes closed, where the relative position of your body parts are to each other. For example, close your eyes and ask someone to move your hand. Do you know where it is? Of course you do. That's proprioception.

When I used to ride horses, I wore spurs. I had a trainer who told me to wear them because  "You always know where your heels are." That's praise in riding circles. I never jabbed the horse with them, I just used them for subtle cues when doing equitation. It's an art to ride with spurs.

You'd think with skillz like that, knowing where my feet are when I skate would be easy. It turns out, that  I have no clue.

More than once I've had a coach say, "Your free foot is in the wrong place." I cheerfully confess that especially in mohawks, I know that the free foot is pointing inside the circle.  Where it is relative to my skating foot--no idea. Ahead at the toe, back at the heel, where? Where?

So Coach Cruella has me doing exercises where I get on a strong inside edge, then move my free foot to mohawk position (while simultaneously going deeper in the knee) then hold it.

And hold it. And then hold it some more. But not do the turn. This is a position exercise, not a turn exercise.

She does the same for my free leg with the three turn exercises. I stroke, hold the leg in the extended position, then go down in the knee, again, again (for the outside 3), but again, and again (for the inside 3).  My job is to hold that edge, hold that posture, hold that extension.

This is pretty effective, especially with someone there the first few times  to point out where the free foot is going wrong.

After about 10 minutes of this work on threes and mohawks, I have a much more refined sense of my foot position. It's hardly a miracle cure, I'll need to practice this many times for it to become second nature, but it shows that focused practice can have immediate effects on my basic skating skills.

Whoa! Too far back on the heel! Bend the knee!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You don't speak Russian-you bark it

For my ice dance lesson Dance Coach came hurtling away from his young Russian speaking student, his face super-Frowny, and he started barking at me in Russian. Wow! Did he sound mad!

First thing to cross my mind? He's read my blog.

But, happily it turns out he wasn't mad, Russian just sounds that way.

Russian sounds like this
I learned "Push". Which sounds something like "Tahl-Chuck." and there's another word--russian speakers please forgive me--I think it's Tahl-chuck-kae-suh. That is apparently some variant of "Push".

I eventually want to know all the skating words in Russian, but lesson time is not it. For one thing,  his Royal Meaness is all over keeping me moving --- fast.

Don't have Power with a capital "P"? Want some? Get a coach 30 years younger than you are.

I'm stroking, and tahl-chucking my little heart out. He's just gliding along after me, being pleasant.  After 18 months of this, I hardly feel the strain and don't get out of breath.  Just don't ask me to do something new. And thank goodness he doesn't.

He just gets pickier.

Now he's working on my cross-roll on the Nasty.  He makes me do cross-rolls up and down the rink, during public. I have edges, I have rip(!), I have teeny-tiny little curves. There's probably a check-list of things I'm not doing right to boot that he hasn't got to yet. So far, if I don't know what's on the check-list I can feel comfortable and gain confidence with my skating. I appreciate that Dance Coach doesn't tell me every little thing I'm doing wrong. That would be devastating.

We run through the Nasty a few times; scaring children and teenagers. I feel bad about scaring anyone under 10. Scaring teenagers though, that's a bonus for learning ice dance on public.  Then we switch to the Rhythm Blues. This charming little dance has the evil step behinds on the end pattern. Not a problem. Coach Amazing fixed those. Evil Step Behinds are now my best element in the dance. What is killing me is the lilt/crossover, crossover and hold pattern.

We do the RB a couple of times, then third time is not a charm. I do the lilt and cross. Cross aaannndd hoollldddd. The hoollllldddd doesn't hold.  My right leg rolls to the left. The left leg that is supposed to be extended like a pretty little china figurine of a dancer, just keeps going like an Amtrak train headed for the boards. I boot out on the left leg and can't do anything with the right leg except head face first to the ice.

Not happening

Fortunately, Dance Coach decides to imitate a small civil engineering team; he hits the brakes and hauls me upwards. My first words? "Are you okay?" Honestly, he should just step back and let me fall occasionally. I fall when he's not there.

We do it again, and this time I at least get the steps right without another disaster.

The horn sounds and the resurfacer doors open as we're working on Foxtrot hold. I ask, "So what's the Russian word for 'stroke'?"

There's a long pause. Like a 15 second pause. Dance Coach stares at the ceiling while he thinks. Finally, with great hesitation Dance Coach says, "Strohk."

Right. Just like 'stroke', but angrier.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Today's Russian: Troika!--three turn

Taking a lesson from Coach Cruella is a little like drinking from a fire hose.
I could make a whole week of posts from the group and private lesson I take from her one day a week. Right now I'm going to talk about her fixing my 3 turn.

Cruella Says:

So I have three turns that are minimally flingy. As long as I'm under Dance Coach's thumb, he's had me doing them the Ice Dance Way: with the free foot tucked up to the skating foot heel. This is because you're skating with a partner and kicking each other or stepping on each other is a Bad Thing.

So Coach Cruella brings out the Magic Marker of Doom. I cringe as she draws out a half-circle slightly smaller than the half circle at the net end of the rink. Then she draws a line at each third of the half circle.

"Skate the circle, then go down in the knee----" Insert mad scientist laugh here, "deeper each mark. And do a three turn here." She points to the third mark.

Bear with me here. I'm a beginner skater, with historically weak three turns and fear of learning new skills that have a backward element in them. What expression do you think I had when I started this.

Was it this one?

Coach Cruella takes my hands and supports me around the circle.

Start with a T-push, down at the first mark, down at the half mark, down at the third mark..... TROIKA!

I've had some opportunity to practice these by myself a few times, and I'm getting the hang of them. I've heard of mythical 'three turns that do themselves' . And I've been told down-up-down hundreds of times. In my limited experience with this method, the three turns do turn themselves (but I have to get REALLY down in the knee) and the down-up-down motion seems natural rather than forced.

So the pros--beautiful three turns, stable with just a half hour of practice.
And the cons--I need to enter with a little more power than I'm used to. A little scary there until I get comfortable with them. These don't work for me if I have too little power.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dance Lesson: Tweaks Are Evil

"You have good edges," Dance Coach said, "Why can't you do this?"

The compliment on my edges is first. Let me take a moment to celebrate.
What can I say, it's been a good week for basking
But Dance Coach now wants me to do my inside swingrolls the 'proper' way, by rising up on the swing, then not going back down, while swinging the leg even yet higher. Yes, that last part does feel a bit rushed. Plus he also wants, more curve - aim for the boards.

Sigh. Put hands over face. It's not happening.

Oh, yeah, and I booted out on the cross-and-hold step of the Rhythm Blues.  It was an exciting split second. 

Overall, I feel I've developed more power over the last couple of months, but the rest of my skills aren't keeping up with it. What with all the new proper posture and edging I'm getting from Coach Cruella, I'm in that awkward transition stage. My skills are all over the place, while I struggle to coordinate them. 

Maybe some practice will fix this. Or maybe A LOT OF PRACTICE will fix this. Sigh/Again.

Now let me end the post on a positive note. Here's a warm up exercise I like.

This week my off-ice trainer, Miss Fitt, has me working on my turn out. This hasn't't yet translated  into improved skating skills, but it's nice to have every muscle in my legs aching in the pleasant 'I've had a workout' way.

One of her exercises is my new favorite.

Balance on one foot. Bring the free leg forward and do a rond de jambe attitude , then with the free leg in the back, rather than go en pointe, bend the balance leg deeply.  I've started doing this at the rink before skating to warm up my legs after my very brisk walk. It stretches the hip flexors and the knees in the same exercise. I do it 30 times each side.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mental Rehearsal

Taking a lesson from anyone can  be overwhelming. Move the body here, twist here, hold the arm here, don't do that-do this, BEND THE KNEE, hold the leg up, pputyourrighfootin, puullyourleftfootout, shakeitallabout. .......
This is my brain
This is my brain on skates
 This week between Dance Coach and Coach Cruella, I was mentally swamped. It's easy to lose track of everything in a lesson, especially when you're a beginner like myself. Losing old habits while building new ones requires a lot of effort, probably more than most adults can find ice time for.

Fortunately, there's a way to solve this. I'll call it Mental Rehearsal.

It's an hour each way for me to any rink I skate at. So to use that hour usefully, I've developed some habits of mentally rehearsing what I'm about to do (on the way up), and what I learned (on the way home).  Driving to a dance lesson, I put on my dance music and mentally go through the steps. Driving to an edge lesson, I review what I learned last week; driving home, I review what I learned this week--and attempt to merge it with previous lessons.

Back when I was in the Air Force, the trainee pilots I knew had a procedure called 'Chair Flying'. They would sit in a chair and mimic a training flight they had scheduled. Although they were physically pretending to flip switches, making radio callsk and moving the stick, the actual rehearsal was all in their head. The rule was "Ten in the Chair, is worth one in the air."

If you watch the Olympic skaters before they go on the ice, they'll be stepping through their program, or they'll be standing with their eyes closed. In both cases they're mentally reviewing every stroke, gesture, twirl, jump and stop. Mental rehearsal really works.

Secondly, taking a private lesson is something like drinking from a fire hose. How I envy advanced skaters who only need to tweak a skill. I have to construct my skills like a single person building a castle, one brick at a time. My lessons are filled with corrections, skill upgrades, moves etc. I need the mental rehearsal immediately after the lesson to retain all those little skills. The silence of the car allows me an opportunity to review each skill we went through, and every technique I was taught in the lesson. No distractions of the radio, or music on the iPod. This is focused learning, not just running though a checklist. It's best when you can feel the muscles as you mentally think about the moves. It takes effort and concentration to get to that level of Mental Rehearsal, but it's worth it.

So my 3 rules are:
1. Review skills before the lesson
2. Review the lesson after the lesson
3. Review in a quiet environment.

By the way, Coach Cruella Reads My Blog!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


What do you do after you skate?

Skiers apparently go sip from the grole or go partying.

What do skaters do?

Well, I go get a healthy smoothie. And maybe a light sandwich. Then take a walk. And a nap. But I'm 60. Mine is not the exciting life they make movies out of.

And skaters? Do they go party 'til dawn? Dancing away the night? I find it hard to believe. When I get to the rink for a freestyle, there are kids rolled up in blankets asleep on the floor, their school bags next to them. The adult skaters look pretty fresh, and don't appear hung over.

What skiers do after skiing

What Skaters Do after Skating

Kid Skaters
Adult Skaters

Figure skating, the healthiest sport in the world!

A Crushing Blow

I went to a new rink the other day for public. I asked for the senior citizen rate.

They.....they.....DIDN'T CARD ME!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Messing Around

Do you ever have moments where there's a brief pause in your lesson? Maybe your coach is at the other end of the rink and wants you to skate down there to where he is,  or there's some devilish inspiration that overcomes you, and just for a few seconds you're off lesson: messing around.

Go ahead. Do something flashy.
This first happened to me on a public session where some music came  over the speakers and I put some moves on. I didn't think any of the skaters would appreciate an elderly woman doing some krumping, so I settled for some poppin' and lockin'. Dance Coach stared down at me and said in surprise, "You can dance."

You betcha. I can also do the Tango, Waltz, Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Swim, the Boogaloo, the Twist, and the Jitter-bug.

Just not in skates.

But now that the horror of the Dutch Waltz is behind me,  I've released my inner social dancer.


And only when Dance Coach is in a good mood.

I'm not crazy.

Mostly,  I settle for letting my messing around be nothing more than an extravagant arm movement during a presentation glide. This makes Dance Coach squawk--What is that? Is not right! Is too showy! Did I tell you to do that!

Then last week we were in the box on Freestyle working on selecting music for my test session. Finally I selected the music for the Rhythm Blues that I liked.  Very bluesy. Dance Coach said, "Let's skate." and headed to the starting point of the dance. My problem was, out of habit I headed for the starting point of the Canasta Tango (which is at the blue line) and Dance Coach headed for the red line where the Blues start. This is one occasion where grabbing my hand would have come in useful, and he doesn't do it.

So I'm in the wrong spot just as the music starts. I look towards Dance Coach. I hear the music and I strike my Blues Pose.
This pose, plus 40 years, 50 pounds, and well, clothes

Then I put in a little shoulder action, with the traditional bluesy hip swivel and skated in a bluesy way, ending up in hold on the beat.

Dance Coach had no expression on his face. Then to my astonishment he said seriously, "That was actually pretty good."

Man, don't encourage me, or I'll be hamming it up during tests.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A bit of history at the rink

I was at the rink for afternoon public a while back, when I spotted a pair of wooden skate guards in the hands of a woman seated on the bottom row of the stands.

"Oh my god," I exclaimed, "Those are wood skate guards, where'd you get them?"

"They were my mother's; she gave them to my daughter."

The were made by the old Chicago firm of Nestor Johnson. A beautiful cream colored enamel over wood. They were so smooth they looked like plastic until you looked at a tiny spot on the end where the paint had chipped off. I've never seen any this good on ebay or any vintage site.

Then the daughter showed up in her grandmother's skates. They were just perfectly preserved. Five hooks, not four, and made from leather so soft you could have made gloves from them. They went up the girl's calf (she was my almost height). I looked at the blade and they weren't freestyle blades, or figures blades. So recreational in all probability. But those boots were definitely figures boot soft. All leather too, so from the days before plastic. (I rooted around online, and they may have been a version of Carol Heiss Recreational Skates--I found them with both 5 hooks and 6.)

Of course the mother and her daughter wanted to know if they were valuable. Certainly someone like me would like to have them, but I had to tell them there's not much market for used skating equipment.  She should treasure them for the memories of the grandmother who gave them to her.

I showed the girl how to tighten her laces and told the mother that if her daughter wanted to skate more she should get her new skates. Old leather can just give out if it's stressed, and new skates are designed differently.

"But," I told them, "If you show up at the rink with those blade guards, the old coaches will go just wild. Don't lose them. They're a piece of skating memoribilia."

(I'm kicking myself for not taking pictures. But I'm of the generation that doesn't think, "Oh, I have a phone I can take a picture.")

1928 (!) Nestor Johnson Speed Skate Ad

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Silence of the Coach

There were long periods today when Dance Coach just stood there staring at my skating.  Silence absorbed him, descending around us like fog on a snowy day. 

That was really annoying. I missed the yapping.

He likes to have me start a lesson with fast crossovers around the circle. It's not a bad routine: speed, edges, posture, kneebend. The third time around the circle in silence I skidded to a stop, "What? What?" 

He pulled his lower lip and sighed. "Not bad." Then, "But, get your free leg higher, and hold the stroke longer."  A few crossovers later there was another sad sigh. "Not bad."

This is so typical of coaches. Silence is the sign I'm not  doing anything wrong--for my level.  I don't think it's a sign I'm doing everything right.  I'm just now getting the 'hold leg up higher' comment. Obviously that was always a problem, but I wasn't at the level where I could do it without falling forward on my face. Now I am. So, I'm getting 'tweaks', not 'remakes'.

We progress on to other elements in the Canasta Tango. No comments about 'hinching' (Dance Coach's made up word to cover 'hinging' and 'hunching'), no sharp cracks about "Control, control!", no throwing up of the hands in horror.

Then I caught a toepick and took a shaky stroke that had a lot of unrestrained wobble but I stayed upright. He was across the rink and swore in Russian. I whirled toward him, shaking my finger at him, "That better not be anything bad!"

For Dance Coach this is amusing. I must remind him of his grandmother telling him off back in Russia. He laughs, "Nothing bad, really."

I wish I could say the whole lesson was a burst of unrestrained joy at the improvement in my skating skills, but after minute 30 I hit the wall. I actually nearly took Dance Coach down while we were doing the two footed swivel step in hold from the  Cha-cha.  I started the wrong direction and my left blade hit his right one. Then there's the usual trouble with my left forward inside swingroll in hold. I can do a fast curve, or a tight curve. I can't do a  fast, tight curve. That thing scares me blind.

Relearned the Rhythm Blues, which I haven't done in a long time. The step behinds were as sweet as ever. The side pattern with the lilt and the hold is going to be my bugbear.

Then Dance Coach played music for me to select a song for the Canasta Tango. I listened to the second one. "That one, Hernando's Hideaway!"

Watch it all the way through. A great Broadway showtune.

Friday, April 6, 2012


"Don't do that." The visiting coach said (edit: five years ago) as she watched me do my tremulous baby crossovers. "You're swinging the leg out before the step over; bring it in next to the foot and then do the step over."  It's funny how advice can be good and bad in the same statement.

I had terrible problems when I learned crossovers.  I don't know if I'm typical. After all I started at 55, which is pretty old for learning skating.  But I think my skating errors journey can be instructive.

First things first. Crossing the legs while moving is unnatural in animals. I looked at hundreds of pictures for this post, and except for a couple of photo manipulations, I couldn't find any where crossing the legs while running or walking was a natural movement in any mammal.  Humans do cross legs sometimes in sports like baseball or football or soccer in order to make a quick turn. But crossing the legs repeatedly as part of motion forward (or backwards) appears to be limited to figure skating and hockey.

I learned with beginners crossovers, the ISI way, which is to step over the skating boot.  These are for absolute beginners, but even then I had some problems. Because of my pronation, I could be on the inside edge of my skate while actually being on an outside curve. Coaches would say, "You're on the inside edge on an outside curve. I've never seen anyone do that before. How do you do that?"

Uh, lousy skating skills? 

Because I was on the (incorrect) inside edge on the skating foot, crossovers were scary and uncontrolled. I was swinging the free leg away from the body as I brought it forward and rocking over to the outside edge during the step over. Then the guest coach told me to bring my free foot next to the skating foot before doing the step over. This actually worked. I had controlled crossovers,  since the two feet were together I was now on the flat rather than the inside edge of the skating foot. This made it possible to do the crossover, even though I had defective skating skills.

After I restarted skating I took a couple of lessons from Master Disaster.  I could not stand him as a coach. But he did give me a correction on crossovers. Crossovers are supposed to 'proceed' forward, so rather than stepping over (yes, I was still doing that)  I was supposed to move my free foot ahead of the skating foot during the cross.

 After that, Coach Amazing rebuilt my crossovers at my request Then Moves Coach tweaked them to emphasize the Twinkle Toes Maneuver. And once, just once, Dance Coach murmured 'Beautiful' about my crossovers.  But the story isn't over.

Crossovers are unnatural. I find if I think about them too much, they get worse. Once I started breaking them down, I consciously (stupid me) brought the free foot next to the skating foot just like that long ago coach told me to. Let me tell you, you can't proceed  the free foot forward of the skating foot this way (unless you have really good knees).

Then I watched Coach Cruella demonstrate crossovers. She arced her free leg outward as she move it forward, then brought it at an angle to cross in front of the foot. I mimiced the movement and my good crossovers were back.

With the improved edges, better posture, balance and knee bend I've gained over the last couple of years since the restart, I am now back to almost the same stroke with the free leg I had 5 years ago.

So, what can I say? Same stroke, different day!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chatty Cathy

As a child I craved a Chatty Cathy doll. If you haven't heard of one of these, they were early talking dolls. Pull a ring on her back and it would repeat one of 11 recorded phrases.

Unfortunately, some of the adults who talk to me at the rink are just like her--but they won't shut up.

I'm there to practice, and I'm willing to stroke around a couple of times to catch up, but last week a woman I barely know verbally clung to me for a quarter of an hour talking about her party plans. I actually had to leave the ice and go home to get rid of her

Yes, please tell me more about the cake for a party I'm not invited to

I even had an 8 year old stalker once. She trailed me around the rink for a half hour saying, "See my spin!", "See my spiral!"  "See my other spin! Is that a back spin?"

See my yawn.

Kids are easy to get rid of. Keep moving and don't make eye contact, or say "Your mom is here for you."

Adults are a little trickier. I usually use, "Well, I won't keep you from practice." and skate away.

But there's a lesson here. I never talk to a person more than two trips around the rink, then I use my 'I'll let you practice' line.

Some people are there to socialize, some to skate. Make sure you know which one you're talking too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fix It or Rebuild It?

I cheerfully admit to being a beginner skater. Oh, right, I've passed Basic 8 and got stuffed into Freestyle 1, but I always felt my basic skills were weak and....sloppy. I can do them, but they're nothing to be proud of. 
You can be both cute and sloppy. But only when you're young
So, initially I tried to get my coaches to 'fix' my weak skills. That didn't work.  Then last summer at Lake Placid, I went to Coach Amazing and said, "Rebuild my crossovers."

She got a big smile on her face. Finally, a student without ego!

I had strong crossovers, but they weren't smooth or with an underpush and attempts by other coaches to tweak them hadn't worked. So in a half hour Coach Amazing rebuilt them into what they are today. I'm still working on the consistency of my Twinkle Toes Maneuver, but they're smooth and powerful. (During my last lesson Dance Coach kept me going around and around the center circle doing crossovers while he stood silently by. Finally I stopped, "What's wrong with them?" He frowned, "Nothing, I was enjoying watching them." Well, yes, that made my day.)

This has become my mantra for my weak skills: Rebuild, don't fix. For my weak skills on my goal card, I plan to rebuild them from scratch as if I had never learned them before. This is my way of breaking bad habits, and constructing skills with the skating knowledge I didn't have when I first learned them.

Now, I'm working on rebuilding my Mohawks with Coach Cruella. She started with the inside edge with bent knee, then bring the free foot to the instep and go even deeper in the knee.

A light went on in my head!

Oh, THAT's what I'm supposed to do?

 For years I'd been unconsciously treating the mohawk like you do a 3 turn--down, up, down--and Coach Cruella said it was down, then down deeper.  No wonder my mohawks are hoppy! There's still some ways to go; my mohawks aren't as strong as my crossovers, but progress is being made. I suspect other coaches have taught me the same thing, but until I was recommitted to rebuilding the skill--as if I had never learned it before--was I able to break a bad, unconscious habit.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Goal Card

I was deeply affected by a group lesson given by a coach at Lake Placid when she started her mohawks class with a motivational speech. "Basics are critical." She said, "I'll get a student in who comes and says 'I'm having trouble with my flip.' Then she'll do this..." The coach stepped into an awkward forward crossover. "And I have to say to her, ' Whoooa! Maybe we should step back from that flip and work on your crossovers."

I don't want to be that student, so absorbed in some advanced element, that I don't realize that I don't have control of my basic elements.  I suspect that coaches casually eying a skater look at those skating skills with a critical eye, and rate that student accordingly.

My GOAL for now is nailing my skating skills solid. No excuses. No spinning in the corner. No self absorbed pursuit of 'fun' in skating. I want to be a skilled skater. A REAL skater.

Coach Cruella and I started private lessons this week. I want to improve my skills, but as I'll post tomorrow, sometimes you have to go back to the beginning to fix bad habits and relearn stuff. So I took 10 minutes and created a 3x5 card with my skills on them divided into sections. I think this is a worthwhile exercise for anyone in any sport or long time endeavor. I gave it to Coach Cruella for her reference.

I divide my skating world into four divisions: Weak Skills, No Skills, Goal Skills, Improvement Skills.

Weak Skills
Mohawks -- I have the hoppy ones :-(
Back Edges--lack of power
FI3--can only do them from a stop
Back Cross CCW
FO3 at speed

Improvement Skills
Crossovers--The Twinkle Toes Maneuver isn't consistent
Back Chasse'--Short, no power
Swingrolls -- Extension needs to be higher
No Skills

Goal Skills

I plan to lay out a chart to track all my skills from the most basic to the most complex so I can treat them like a process chart. Unfortunately, my experience with figure skating is most books are worthless, and the DVDs are jargon filled and require you to already know what they're talking about. Maybe if I can break each skill down into a chart, I can get a better mental grip on them. This Goal Card is just a start.