Friday, August 31, 2012

A Lesson with Todd Gilles

All Lake Placid posts here.

Every year when I go to Lake Placid I sign up for the low level ice dance group classes. Last year I took the Ice Dance Partnering class with Todd Gilles and this year I took his Stroking class.
Todd Gilles

So I show up and Todd says, "I remember you from last year!"

So we all know teachers remember only the good students and the bad students.

Yes, you can figure out which one I was.

Anyway, in his Dance Partnering class I learned proper body position (and posture) for dance holds.  He has a really nice way of teaching these 'techniquey' things in ice dance. 

This year in his Stroking class he introduced pre-positioning the blade to us. It's one of those blindingly obvious things that I would never think of until someone points it out to me. So imagine you're stroking along and you bring your free foot next to your skating foot, then you angle your foot at the ankle so the edge is already in position before you put the free foot down.  The correct edge then is the first thing to touch the ice.

I suppose unconsciously, or with luck, I've done this pre-positioning thing before, but I never did it deliberately. After the lesson I was experimenting with trying it everywhere.  I found it really smoothed out my skating.

In the Stroking Group class he also had us do some of the stroking tests that were used when he was in training. Four strokes to get across the rink, then two, then one. Yes, as Dance Coach says, I have no power, I was always the last one across. Sad Face.

I took some private lessons from Todd. He fixed my swingrolls, taught me yet another 3 turn leg position, and got me doing progressives!

Yes, my battle with the curse of the progressive is over! I have them consistently both sides. They finally clicked. 

So, great fun taking lessons from Todd. He pitched the lessons at a level where I could grasp and perform the concepts. I liked how he introduced the techniques of ice dance. Maybe other skaters know all these things already, but I didn't and I felt really informed and skated better after each lesson. You can't ask more than that!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lake Placid Skate Camp Review 2012

All Lake Placid Posts here.

I attended one of the Lake Placid Adult Skate Camps this summer and I thought I would update my review of the camp.

Excellent. I only took group classes from two staff coaches and as always, they were well worth the $13 for a 25 minute group class. As one other adult said, "If in every group class I get a nugget of really good information, that's well worth the $13." Sometimes a single private can fix a problem that my regular coaches can't. I've been having a hinky problem with my CW mohawk and Mimi Wacholder fixed it in 10 minutes. I took some lessons from Todd Gilles, and he corrected an issue I was having. Dance Coach had tried to correct the same problem, but in this case hearing it expressed in a different way from a different coach, clicked. Yes, it was one of those moments where I slapped my forehead, "Oh, that's what Dance Coach means!"

I also took an hour a day from the Amazing Coach, who was a guest coach. I'll post some of the stuff I learned from her later.

Ice Quality
This year the ice was much improved,  exactly what you would expect to see in competition ice. But only for Monday and Tuesday. The ice for the first two days was dreamy, with regular ice cuts on stadium ice on an olympic sized rink (the 1980 rink) for several hours of adult freestyle a day. Group classes were on a hockey rink (the USA rink). For the first two days, the ice was superb.

Mid-week we lost the 1980 rink for two days (PROBABLY TO PREP THE RINK FOR THIS)and had to crowd  both freestyle and group classes onto the USA rink at the same time. When the 1980 rink was open again to the adults, the ice was being rebuilt for a show and it was in the ugly phase. Imagine an entire rink covered with ice like the lizard skin ice at the shortboards when the zam goes too fast and dumps too much water. But by the time of the exhibition Saturday afternoon, the ice was fine and no one's exhibition program was affected.

In addition, some group coaches teaching groups on the USA rink shared freestyle/group ice, would camp out at the center circle forcing the freestyle skaters to skate on 1/3 of the rink instead of the (revised) schedule 1/2 rink. Adults who needed full ice to practice programs went over to the crowded kid ice in the 1932 rink in order to practice. But that was high freestyle and not every adult felt comfortable skating on that.

Communications with Adult Skaters
If you are an adult skater planning to attend Lake Placid, you need to be aware that you and you alone appear to be responsible for staying on top of scheduling changes, because the ORDA office made no effort at all to let the adult skaters know of the major scheduling changes mentioned above  other than to stick the updated schedules in a box at the door of the ORDA office.  You need to go by the ORDA office everyday to see if there's a new schedule posted or check the rink schedule online.

Based on this year, and previous years, the blue schedule they give us at the check in on Sunday appears to be good only through Tuesday. Any day after that can have unexpected changes. So the blue schedule isn't a 'schedule' it's sort of a 'guideline'.  Changes usually start on Wednesday, so you have been warned! Check for yourself!

Dear ORDA management, there is no reason for this to occur. You have all our emails. Post changes to us by sending emails. What's hard about that? Or since the camp is scheduled months in advance, is there really any reason that the ice schedule needs to change at all?

In summary
Coaches, lessons worth it. When the ice is there, it was fantastic.

I was unimpressed by the handling of scheduling changes.

I  hope that the 2013 camps will see effective changes.  I like going. I like skating there. but I would prefer to see a more stable ice schedule. Still, next year, I'll give them another chance.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rusty Blades and Gummi Stones

When I first got a dog, every time she got an upset tummy, I rushed her to the vet. After the third visit in a month, my vet told me, "I'm happy to take your money, but trust me, dogs puke at the drop of a hat."

And that is an excellent metaphor for rust formation on upper level blades.  It's going to be part of your life, like it or not. You need learn to prevent both situations with careful daily attention.

When this hits the ground a dog will hurl and a blade will rust
The first time I saw the leprous brown spots on my MK Pro edges, I showed them to a coach, "Is this rust?" I asked, "My Mirages never rusted."

The coach made a rude noise, "That's because they were made of aluminum." Which was a sarcastic way of making fun of the Mirages. Sturdy and forgiving of bad treatment they may have been, they were not top quality blades.

I won't bother you with the chemistry of rust formation on steel--let's just summarize with the statement, some blades rust really fast (in 10 minutes), and aren't forgiving of rough treatment, or an open glass of water in the same room.

Taking tips from the coach, I developed a way of reducing the occurrence of rust on my blades.
1. I do not use hard guards unless for some reason I have to walk across a non-matted area. The coach had me look in my guards, and they are nasty. Even A FEW minutes wear can lead to rust.
2. Instead, I use the TerryTuff blade soakers with the ribbon on the bottom, when I'm walking on rubber matting.
3. I take a blade rag to rinkside and use it to wipe down my blades rather than use the soakers to do it. This keeps the soakers less damp.
4.  When I get to where I'm putting the boots in the bag, I dry them down again, with a different dry blade rag.
5. I store the boots for transport with a separate set of soakers than the ones I walk around in, so these soakers are always dry, and haven't been tramped around in on the wet rink floor.
6. When I get home I take the boots out and store them with the blades exposed so they dry out.

If rust does develop, and this may be inevitable, the coach showed my how to use a hard Gummi Stone (hard). Effectively, this is a diamond rosin embedded in a stiff rubber core. It only looks like a stone. Its purpose is to polish out the rust. It doesn't appear to be hard enough to take an edge off, so it's not like a sharpening stone. A couple of minutes of elbow grease and the rust is gone from your blades without disturbing your sharpening. You can find gummi stones online and in some ski shops.
Gummi Stone (hard)--it doesn't look like much
I've read of people who rub petroleum jelly, or WD-40 or Rustoleum on their blades. I'm not ready to take that step.

But how did I solve the dog problem? My dog was gulping her food down too fast, so I put a tennis ball in her bowl to slow down her eating. Problem solved!

Solving both problems just requires persistent daily attention! You can't let up for a minute.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Blades, Old Challenges

I took my new blades and skated on them at freestyle then immediately went into one of Coach Cruella's group edge classes. Fortunately, group class was exactly what I needed, forward inside and outside edges with the leg in front and back. It was nice to have a half hour of relaxing skating where I could get used to my new blades in a disciplined fashion.

As usual, Coach Cruella stood in the center of the circle dictating our every move.

Achtung! Skate! SKATE, I tell you! Forvard inzide edge, foot in front, NOW!
Yes, our own little edge nazi.

And she's just that cute too. And not much taller.

 So what happened in privates? Well, since they were new blades she made me demonstrate stroking forward and backwards to make sure I was balanced. It turns out that going backwards, my left foot is not pushing as strongly as my right. So with every stroke I had to chant OUT LOUD, "Left side push, Left side push." to get my left foot / leg to push stronger.

Eerily, it did work.

But, despite my stroking weakness, man, I loves me these blades going backwards.

It's really easy to get in the right position with knee and ankle bend so that I'm skating with upright posture, and for the first time going backwards I don't feel like I'm about to fall on my tuchus. 

Like this Cistercian Sister at Nuns Skate Free day at the rink.

Somehow it seems mean for the Benedictine Sister to be getting a good laugh out it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Big Girl Blades

I've been skating on Ultima Mirages for several years. They're decent beginner blades with an 8 foot rocker and a toerake marginally more pointy than sandpaper. The toepick itself is about the size of a grain of rice.
Ultima Mirage
I wanted something with a 7 foot rocker, without the stubby tail of dance blades. So in consultation with my skate tech I got:
The MK Professional
Yeah, I agree the differences don't look much do they? But I swear, the Pros have a Big Girl Toepick (TM applied for).

Okay, MK Pro is a popular blade locally and after skating on it a couple of hours I can see why. There's something about the quality of the steel or the finish that makes moving across the ice take less effort. In my Mirages, I've always had difficulty skating backwards, not so in the PROs. They're almost effortless going backwards.

The rocker makes turns easier. Get in position, think about a 3 turn and zip zap thunderclap I've done one.

So far I haven't caught a toepick. Early days yet. That thing's massive compared to the Mirage.


Monday, August 13, 2012

May I touch you?

A long time ago, I had a coach who on my first lesson said, "Don't be shocked. I'm going to need to touch you occasionally to correct things. Is that alright with you?"

I come from a performance family. It's normal in singing, dance, and the theater for directors to touch you to position your arms, legs or move you physically around. Even when I was showing horses, the trainer would occasionally need to make an adjustment to my leg position, or my saddle while I was riding, or even boost me onto a tall horse. So, I'm comfortable with instructional touch.

Apparently, there are people that aren't.

Anyway, I gave the coach a stunned look. That's a look that can go both ways; Either, 'You're going to TOUCH me! Horrors!!!!', or 'You have to ask?'

The poor coach seemed to think I was going for the "Horrors!" version. She was looking uncomfortable so I gave her a grin, "Don't grab the tatas and we're okay." We got along famously after that.

In Ice Dance, there's a lot of instructional touch. Dance Coach used to shove bits and pieces of me around like a kid playing with a doll. "Arm here. Leg here. Shoulders back. Head turn THIS Way. Now skate like an ice dancer!"  I'm better now. The last time I remember an instructional touch was when he pressed one finger down on my left arm to put it in position on top of his right arm in waltz hold. Then he frowned at me with significant eyebrow action so I would remember to press my arm on his. I think the eyebrow thing is supposed to hypnotize me.
You will remember correct waltz hold arm position--will you not?
When  we start the pre-bronze dances I assume the doll-like shoving around will begin again--only backwards.

Cruella though, is in a class by herself. Not only will she reach in and move my arm during a turn, but a friend of mine told me she would reach in and correct him while he was in jumps!

Let me fix that arm position

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mission Impossible: The Waltz Troika Affair

Jim, as you know, recent ice dancing kerfuffles has resulted in the tragic loss to the world of the sight of ice dancers whipping around the circle doing 3 turns in waltz hold. The lack of this unique world heritage dance step, is causing destabilization between the United States and the USSR. Other small fake countries whose names we're too lazy make up (but, who represent small east European nations under the boot heel of a communist state that hasn't existed since 1991), have entered into an ice dance race to determine which nation will return 3 turns in waltz hold around the circle to its rightful place in the pantheon of world artistic presentational arts, in time for some really important made up sports event in the near future (by which we mean the Winter Olympics).

Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to restore the skill of whipping around the circle in 3 turns while in dance hold to US ice dancers as they enter into the fray of the made up sports event (olympics--again) and defend US ice dance glory against the communist block (that doesn't exist any more).

As always, if you or your team are captured or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your mission..

This is a participation exercise for all you ice dancers. I want to see if my analysis of doing 3 turns in waltz hold around the circle is correct.  After you read my 'solution', if you have a chance to test it with your partner, please come back and comment here, with your results.

Like a couple of people who comment here, I can do the first 3 turn in waltz hold, perfectly fine. Solid edges, nice 3 turn, well balanced switch to the free foot forward+ the original foot  goes forward to the man. Then all heck breaks loose.

The problem is, the second turn, I skid.

The third turn.....even worse. We never get more than three because I'm dizzy.

So, are you a second turn skidder? Or not!  Read on.

I've had luck doing these occasionally, but like a common law wife in a biker gang, they come and they go. Then today, I had a revelation, and I was able to do them consistently. They're not perfect, but the skid is minimal, and I think I just need a little practice. But I've been here before, and found out I was wrong, so I'm enlisting you, my faithful readers into my testing cycle.

I think, I'm skidding on the second and following turns, because of two points.

a. When I get ready to do the second turn, my hips need to be square to my partner's body.
b. If the hips are aren't square, then my free leg, is actually directly behind my skating leg, instead of off to the side (7 o'clock position).

So even if I'm 'skating directly at the man',  because the hip and the free leg are too far back *it doesn't seem to take much*, as I do the turn, my butt (tuchus) actually has to race to catch up with my chest---and I skid.

I had a chance to try this a couple of times today, and it was much, much better. Getting the hip into position means I have to actively work at it (the free leg position flows from the hip position), and I'm not perfect there yet, but zip zap thunderclap, the skid was almost gone.

The alternate idea, is that it's the free leg only that's causing the problem. If I let the free leg drift behind me, it pulls the hip. If I (somehow) get the free leg off to the side, maybe that will work by pulling the hip forward square to the man.  I haven't tried this yet.

Are you a second 3 turn skidder? Do you have a partner? Are you willing to contribute to science. Try getting the hip square to the man and skate away!

Are you a non-skidder in the 2nd 3 turn department? Try the opposite. Let the hip (and free leg) drift back and see if you skid!

Do you accept the mission?

5 minutes is all I ask.

Do it for beginner ice dancers everywhere!

This blog will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

Friday, August 10, 2012


A few weeks ago Dance Coach told me "You have the flow of a 16 year old."

Despite the eyerolling of my adult ice dance friends, I'm going to take that as a compliment. (Yes, someone asked, "Was it a good sixteen year old or a bad one?" I refuse to be annoyed by sniping.)

So, here's what I though 'flow' was: smoothness of stroking, transitions and change of edge. And maybe power was in there somewhere. And presence. Maybe pretty arm positions. And nice posture.

Here's what it really is:
The word “flow” is used to describe the ability to maintain a constant speed across the ice while executing various skating elements and also to refer to the length of time it takes for the speed generated from a single stroke to diminish. (source:
Oh, it's a measure of skating efficiency. 

Somehow, I thought it would be something.....more....ethereal. You know, like a skating angel.

No, not this kind of skating angel.
This kind....sigh.....
 Anyway, with that definition in mind, when I was skating at the rink today, I tried to figure out while I was skating, where my 'flow' comes from.

I do move smooth, consciously not jerking my arms and legs when I switch them, and I try to keep my posture upright, and my shoulders even. Oh, and get on my edges not on the flat. How that contributes to 'good flow',  I've got no idea.

No one consciously taught me 'flow'. Maybe I just picked it up from skating in hold with Dance Coach. That has to be the solution.

Otherwise, it's a complete mystery to me. It annoys me mightily when I can't figure stuff out.

So, nothing to do but watch (and listen to) the Master of Flow.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Torture Edge

For the last two weeks Coach Cruella has had us working on edges inside and outside, forward and back, facing out of the circle!

The first week is forwards facing out of the circle. I'm not adverse to skating forwards facing out of the circle. I had a Czech national champion coach once, who taught me to do crossovers facing out of the circle. I like to use it as a kind of warmup to get my edges and body position neatly in place. The challenge is to put your back solidly on the circle, with your arms on the circle--yes, while facing away from the center.

Then Cruella adds a special twist, she has us look along the back arm while going forwards. Well, this opens your chest more to the outside, and makes the whole thing immensely harder!

What good is facing out of the circle?, you ask. It's not on any tests as far as I know, and seldom gets exercised. (Edit) As was pointed out by commenters, it appears in tests as part of more complex steps. Let me rephrase. As a stand alone element, it doesn't get tested, it is a developmental skill for the hard stuff to come. (Stand by for further edits if that sentence is wrong too. Sigh. I hate being a beginner.End Sigh.)

Skating on edges facing out of the circle is a good way to do two things:

a. Build upper body, lower body independence. This helps you learn to keep your legs operating independently of what your upper body is doing.
b. Improve your edges.  If you can get on an edge and glide there, the hard way, you'll find your edges facing in the circle are much much easier.
(edit) c. Get ready for back 3's and the evil 8 step mohawk! (Thanks Anonymous 1 and 2!)
I'm actually doing the forwards stuff pretty well. I've done it before, and sometimes if he's feeling generous Dance Coach will let me do forward crossovers facing out of the circle in foxtrot hold (although I don't know if there are any dances where the girl takes this position).

The next week, we do backwards edges in Cruella's class facing out of the circle.

Let's just say there were a couple of occasions where I skittered backwards across the ice completely out of control, but on the other hand,  after half the lesson was over, I could get my back solid to the circle and glide along backwards. As long as I can see myself in the boards, I seem to be able to do it. Once I'm relying on muscle cues: no clue.

This is where Coach Cruella introduces the "torture step".

Face out of the circle. Glide backwards on two feet. Take a back inside edge and extend the free leg behind the skating leg and out of the circle. Keep gliding.

Think of doing  a back crossover, hold the inside edge, extend the free leg under the skating leg and hold. Now do that facing out of the circle.

Facing backwards. With your back solid to the circle

Congratulations. You've just done a "torture edge".

My feet still hurt too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rhyming Riddles

I feel a poem coming on. I thought I might try my hand at rhyming riddles. It's typical of anglo-saxon humor, and I've been reading a book on the anglo-saxon language. So, here's some easy ones, I've even added some picture clues! I may try some really tricky ones later--with naughty puns (so middle english)!

They're short and they're small,
No matter how hard they fall,
It hurts them not much at all.

They're big and they're round,
And covered with Pounds,
The thing they fear most? Hitting the Ground.

Thickset, Bulky and covered in sweat,
Dreaming of sendin' pucks to the net,
So covered in padding, a fall's not a threat!

Child skater: Adult skater: Hockey boy

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pictures of Dance Coach

So I took some pictures of Dance Coach over the last couple of years, and I'd like to share them. I became Dance Coach's student after I came back to skating after a year off the ice (broken ankle). So when I started again, I wasn't at all competent. I could stroke, and do baby crossovers, and had no power. Here's a picture of Dance Coach the first time he saw me skate:

OMG! That's not skating!
But after a while, after I applied myself seriously, I would occasionally get a smile. I treasure those moments.
You're improving every lesson.
That's not to say Dance Coach didn't have a sense of humor:
Lessons are a laugh a minute--now work on those 3 turns!
And when I showed even a tiny bit of improvement, he'd say:
Just to keep me practicing and coming back
 Then, one day, I started getting marginally competent. You know 'all smiles vanished' cause expectations went up. I was really skating!
Faster! More Power! More Extension! Better Posture!

And now, Dance Coach really smiles:

"Look at all that I taught you! You can skate now!"

Thanks to jjane for the idea.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lilting Blues

The Canasta Tango Official Dress Rehearsal was today. Dance Coach had me get on the ice for 5 minute warmup then go into the 'test' to see how I handled it. I handled it just fine.

But I had 30 minutes of walking plus 20 minutes of yoga/pilates to get it to work. Warmup is always important.

The dress I picked plus the red lace bolero was deemed a success. Several people asked where I got the bolero--"I ordered it from England," I said, which caused jaws to drop. Nice people who had never spoken to me before on freestyle came up and complimented the outfit.
I give credit to the girdle. Don't tell anyone.

Then Dance Coach decided I needed to practice the Rhythm Blues. Now this dance has the Evil Step Behinds on the end pattern. But I can do those.
I can do those in my sleep,
or partnered by a sheep.
Or dancing with a ram,
while knitting socks with spam.

Anyway, what I can't do is, I can't do Lilt.

Lilt is supposedly easy. You stroke, extend the free leg, hold it straight, go down in the knee, come up, and do a crossover (or progressive). I think I do it correctly. Down, extend leg and hold as I come up, and do crossover. OMG. The.Yapping.  Apparently, I'm not holding the leg straight.

So I hold it straight.

And it's still wrong.

Dance Coach demonstrates what he wants done, as opposed to what I'm doing.

Yep, still do it wrong. Again.

Looked at lilt in the RB in videos, and that's what I think I'm doing. But apparently, I've got some unconscious hitch, or flex or tic, or timing error. I guess this means I have to resort to Hell.On.Earth....getting Dance Coach to video  me. 

Here's a nice video from 2007.

Lilt at seconds 22-23 on first pattern--who can get that wrong? Oh, me.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Psychic Cruella

Coach Cruella can read my mind, or look into the past in her mysterious crystal ice ball.

I have a problem with hitching my free leg coming out of 3 turns and mohawks.

She gave my what for in lesson. "You're spending too much time practicing near the wall. That's why your leg hitches on the back edge. You are not allowed to practice near the wall anymore."

I can't look you in the eye
Anyway, I got in the habit because when I'm going backwards, I'm afraid of running in to someone, so I stay at the boards so I'm out of the way.

But today, I did my turns out in the middle. 

It's creepy how she found me out though.