Sunday, September 30, 2012

Graceful Hands

While I was at Lake Placid I learned a graceful hand position from Coach Amazing. She has training in dance and ballet and taught me a lot about arm positioning to stop me skating so stiffly.  Anyway, she taught me what I'll call "Ballet Style Graceful Hands".  The middle finger is bent slightly down, while the index, ring and little fingers frame it from above. Coach Amazing even had a device which I wrapped around my hands to teach me how to do it properly until it became a habit.

Ballet Style Graceful Hands
You can imagine, given the position of the middle finger, that this is a hand position that must be held palm down. Hold it palm up and it looks like you're shooting someone the bird.

Dance Coach wants me to hold my free hand with the middle, ring and little finger together, and the index finger slightly separated. I looked at hundreds of pictures, and this is the only one I could find that shows anything close to what I'm describing.
God's Hand on the right is close to
"Dance Coach Graceful Hands"
After a lively exchange between Dance Coach and I about hand position--I like ballet style, he likes his style, so yes, I do his style--I realized there are other styles out there. Here they are:

Jazz Hands
Bollywood Style

Adele Style--not recommended

Vulcan Style--only if you're feeling Trekkie!
Actually, I'm surprised I've never seen a Star Trek skating program. I'm sure boys have done Star Wars over the years, but Trek has been sadly ignored by figure skating. And it's got the short skirts and everything. Tell me, doesn't this just cry out for ice dance?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mohawks---At Speed

Mohawks at speed. I has 'em.

And, yet Coach Cruella feels they are not perfect.

And I'm not toepick dragging or anything.

When, oh Lord, do I finally make a coach happy?

Anyone else have the problem with fast mohawks where you put the free foot down toepick first and just ever so slightly drag the toepick before the switch between skating foot and free foot? You'll recognize it if you have it. When you look down at your tracings you'll have a little flag at the beginning of the back edge.

Anyway, I don't do that anymore. I do something wierder.

I ever so gently put the free foot down so it just grazes the ice. Now when I do a mohawk there's a big smoosh of a flag....but hey it's a mohawk at speed! And with a good exit, extension, and upper body.

I wasn't even conscious of this, the touch of the blade was so light. 

So now I have to break another bad mohawk habit.

Fortunately, a few minutes work and it's pretty much gone until the next time I do mohawks. Then I'm sure I'll do something else wrong...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Creeping Up On a Skill

It's not supposed to be like this.
I tend to creep up on skills. I learn a piece of it here, and a bit of it there, and then with hours of coaching, and endless practice, suddenly I have it. And then I wonder why it took me so long to get it.

Right now (yet again) I'm creeping up on FI3. Yeah, I've been able to do these off and on, but I've never felt anything other than lucky that I could do one. And only at the boards. I've had some close calls too involving near death experiences---well, it seemed that way to me then....

Noooo! Noooo! I'm falling! I'm faaallinnngggg!
Then tonight, I realized I could actually feel the rocker as I turned, and I could shift myself from the back of the blade, to the front of the blade consistently without going up on the toepick, then stay at the front of the blade as I glided backwards. It was an interesting moment. At the beginning of the lesson I'm all flingy, then zip,zap, thunderclap, I'm on the rocker and kickin' rocker ass.

Still need assistance though (hold my hand Coach Cruella, please) so it's debatable if I'm kickin' rocker ass, or it's FI3 is kickin' Babbette ass. But, I'm creeping up on that skill a little bit more.

To what do I owe this marginal increase in my FI3? It's a slightly different approach to doing the turn.

I used to try FI3 the freestyle way with the leg extended. Then Coach Cruella told me to do it the dance way, with the toe tucked and the legs in closed position.  Closed position in this case being to keep my legs together like I'm protecting my virginity.

So, stroke onto the inside edge, hold for a slow two count, tuck the foot into the closed position for another slow two count, turn. To me the feel of the rocker only came through when I held the tucked position for the slow two count. I had time to get comfortable on the blade and in the right position. rather than just turning when my upper body was ready (which led to flingy 3's). Now I can get on the edge, get in the turn position, and turn. But the part where I'm supposed to go down in the knee on the back edge is problematical.

So I've 2 of the 3 C's: Control, Consistency, Coach holding me up after the turn. Sigh.

Anyway, now that I can feel the rocker change--and control it--I'm thinking complete FI3 may show up any day/week/month now!  

Making friends with FI3
Or I'll be blogging about it next year!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Changing of the Seasons

You all know about sighting the first robin as a sign of spring. Now, I'm here to announce the sighting of the first knit gloves in the stores! Winter is coming!
Stock up! Stock up! Stock up!
And the knit gloves can't be here too soon. I skated with a gray glove and an orange glove for weeks.

I call the gray gloves Usova and Zhulin. They were capital gloves until one day, Usova disappeared.
Usova and Zhulin
So I bought....Platov and Grishuk. The orange gloves, at a rink that only had this color left.
Grishuk and Platov
And then Platov ran away to be with Usova.

So I formed a partnership between Zhulin and Grishuk.  It was the end of summer, I was desperate! Gray and orange together for 6 weeks! It wasn't pretty. I looked like I was directing traffic in Pittsburgh.

Then when I was going through a box of stuff, I found Usova again! She's back partnering with Zhulin.

Meanwhile I have no Idea what happened to Platov. Grishuk is at the bottom of the bag waiting for yet another partner....Meanwhile, Zhulin and Usova are at the end of their run....I need new gloves for the winter!!

Hmmmm, maybe if I name them Torvill and Dean they won't break up and I can keep a complete pair for the whole season!!

I should get purple gloves for Torvil and Dean. What do you think?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mystery Speed

"So, where am I?" I asked Dance Coach, "For speed?"

Dance Coach pretends to be interested in my questions
"Oh, 60%," Dance Coach says without further explanation.

Sixty percent?! Sixty percent of what?

What's going on here? I reached his 'adult master's speed goal', and I'm skating faster than that now. What goal is he talking about?

Apparently, Dance Coach has in his mind some speed goal for me. If we're in hold, he says we're at 80% of that goal. Whatever it is.

So there's 'kid speed', 'adult speed', 'master's speed'. and 'mystery speed'. I need a chart to keep track.

I know I should never ask open ended questions. Because I never have a chance for follow up since he's off on some other topic, or yapping at me that I'm screwing up some other thing in my skating.

I suspect though,  Dance Coach is just messing with my mind. There is no goal except faster.

And behind my back, he laughs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Skating Lull

What do you do when you aren't allowed to skate?

"No vigorous exercise, for the week," the doctor told me. So there went skating, weight lifting, yoga for a week.


Now, I wish I still watched TV
So, I'm doing a lot of staring. Yawning.  Yeah, I read the latest Stephen King novel, and Dean Koontz, and Larry Correia.  Surprisingly, I didn't have bad dreams until I started on "Too Big to Fail" about the 2008 economic meltdown.

So for a week I have a big empty life.

What to do. What to do?

Oooh, ISU Components videos! Here's one of my favorites: Flow.

Anyway, if you have time to go through all the Components videos, it's really worthwhile. I came away with a new respect for judges.

It's also interesting, that the majority of the examples are male skaters. And repeated examples using the two Brians!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Turns while going fast vs Turns while going sloowww

The Amazing Coach is full of these skating tidbits. Actually, this is one of those 'small pieces of information' that have 'big impact'. Like LIBOR.

Here's the tidbit: initiating a turn while you're going slow is started with the body; initiating the turn while going fast is started with the edge of the skating foot.

Wow! That just blew me away when she told me that. Then she drilled me in starting the turn with the edge by making me scamper up and down the ice as fast as my stubby little legs could take me and turning in tighter and tighter turns.

It was initially hard to get the edge in the turn first, before using the body. I'm used to using my body first in turns because I'm a naturally slow skater. But after 15 minutes of drill in ever decreasing arcs of turns I was doing it consistently.

Here are some mnemonic images.

Slow speed-initiate turn with body
Fast speed-initiate turn with edge
 So where does this fast=edge first, vs slow=body first mean the most to me so far?


When I'm doing mohawks now with more speed that I used to feel comfortable with, I'm now able to do the switch between the free foot and the skating foot a lot easier by just remembering to deepen the edge on the bit at the end, and bingo the feet switch. Maybe I'm wrong to do this, and everyone reading this will recoil in horror, but this is part of my Learn It Yourself philosophy. I'm experimenting and seeing what works for me. So far it's made my mohawks (always an issue for adults) a lot less intimidating at speed.

Ooooh, and I almost have a hockey stop too!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mock Mockery

So Dance Coach an I are doing progressives and crossovers in Killian--one of his favorite warmup exercises. It has power,  flow,  edges, and the opportunity to run over little kids in the center circle all wrapped up in one.

As we go around I can hear and feel the steady rippp....rippp....rippp of my underpush.

"Did you hear that rip?" I say excitedly after we finished. "Wasn't it great!"

Dance Coach throw his hands up in the air and rolls his eyes. "Oh, who is the professional here? I am supposed to be amazed by the sound of your power!. Oh. my. god. You are so amazing. I bow before you."

Yes, it's the traditional Mock Mocking Of the Student.

Mock you once, mock you twice, mock you once again.
 I take no crap off of no one.  I deliver a strong forehand counter-mock. "What! You're the man who tears into even the tiniest whisper of a toepick, and you can't say one.nice.thing about my crossovers?"

We laugh. But secretly, I know I . must . have . my . revenge.

I will be revenged!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Challenge Dance

I am ashamed.

I can't skate to the beat in ice dance.

Oh, I know the meter (waltz, tango, blues). I can hear the beat. I just can't skate to it. I'm always half a beat behind.

So, while I was at Lake Placid, I stumbled across a technique to help me out with my ice dance timing issues.

I skate a dance to the wrong song, in the wrong rhythm.

Yes, I'm a rebel. A wild child of ice dance. The hippy dippy skater.
Whoa, dude, like skate to the wrong music, like y'know, wow, man, like really, really wow.
(Yes, we did talk like this in the 60's)

I wanted to practice the Canasta Tango, but they were playing a waltz on freestyle. So I skated to it. You really have to concentrate when you're swapping stuff around. Then I did it to the Blues. Then other waltzes. I was getting better at getting on the beat, because I had to really, really think about what I was doing.

It's not hard to swap the steps for the preliminary dances to music it's not designed for. What steps are there? Swingrolls, progressives (crossovers), chasse's. Except for the step behinds in the Rhythm Blues, the dances are pretty interchangeable.  I asked the Amazing Coach about it for the upper level dances and she thought it might be possible with some small adjustments here and there.

Anyway, I demonstrated this with the Nasty as done to the music of the Dutch Waltz to some of the ice dancers who know my dread secret. I expected to get some critiques from them, but instead I got applause. Whether that was for my technique, or because I was finally on the beat I don't know. Considering my difficulty with the Nasty, it was a nice gesture.

Anyway, to all you ice dancers out there. How 'bout a round of Challenge Dance. Can you do the Dutch Waltz to a tango? Or the Rhythm Blues to a waltz beat?

PS: It absolutely drives Dance Coach crazy when I do stuff like this. He wants everything laid out, in order, with proper structure. 
We do dance the way dances are meant to be done!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Call Me Troika Girl

How many ways are there to do a three turn?

Say I'm in a group class, or in a private with a coach who doesn't know me well and the coach says, "Show me your 3 turns."

Geeze, this is like forward stroking. No matter what I do it's the wrong thing. With double knee bend. Without double knee bend. Whatever.

So, after a particular series of lessons I came up with what I'll call the 'chinese menu of 3 turns'.

You may need to be of a certain age to remember the kind of menu I'm talking about. "Take one from Column A, One From Column B, and One from Column C".

Column A--Initial Body Position
  1. Facing out of the circle
  2. Facing in the circle
Column B--Leg position
  1. Extended (freestyle way) slightly offset
  2. Tucked toe to heel (closed hip)
  3. T position (open hip) 
  4. Extended  (figures way) free foot following the tracing
Column C--Arm Postiion
  1. Extended
  2. Not Extended (similar to ballet presentation position)
The girl in white has her arms in the position I'm writing about
Here's the variations I can do so far.

'Figures style' would be 'begin facing out of the circle, free foot following the tracing, with arms extended'. I also call this 'busy arms' style since as you turn to face inside the circle for the  turn the arms have to switch about.

'Dance style' 3 turns. 'Begin facing in the circle, arms extended,' and at that point all hell breaks loose. Toe to heel, T position, extended leg. It's all fair game.

'Scary Style'. "Beginning position facing out of the circle. Hold your arms in presentation. Get your foot in there somewhere.' Turn.

Without the extended arms or the extended free leg, there's hardly any rotational inertia. 'Scary style' 3 turns snap around like  a BB in a beer can.

Thank god, there's not actually any use for these. The few times I did them......I felt like this.

That 3 turn was so fast, my eye hasn't caught up with me!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Learn it Yourself

There comes a point when I'm learning a new skill, that what I need to do is practice it with little experiments (Like body position, or arm position, or variations in leg position) mixed in until I find something that works for me. When I'm doing this, I occasionally find it useful to have a coach watching, and making a comment occasionally. Mostly these moments arise spontaneously in a lesson, and very useful they are.   Below is an example.

So, mentally I grasped the mechanics of the progressive, but not the implementation. In a lesson, I'm working on the down, up, down (get my foot forward and across) bit, but I have too much weight on my crossing skate. I turn to Todd, "Can't I just sort of hover my free skate over the ice so it looks like it's touching? And fake the glidey bit?" I give this a try and the blade somehow enters that mystic zone where the blade is not so much touching the ice, as it is flying over the ice in the boundary layer where the ice and air meet.

It's a Perfect Progressive (for a beginner).

"That's a good one," Todd says.

I look up at him in surprise. "No one ever said anything about the blade feeling like this. This is more like Kevin Costner giving his daughter butterfly kisses in The Untouchables*. It's much lighter than I expected." As a result of my trying things out, I have confirmation from a coach that I'm finally doing the right thing. I've been able to do them ever since.

*Since Todd was less than a year old when The Untouchables came out, the movie reference probably makes me sound insane.

Anyway, this "Learn it Yourself" moment only really happens after I've been working unsuccessfully on an element and not moving forward on it. There's something I'm not grasping. Something missing. I've found that if I talk my way through the element to the coach, and do some variations while the coach is watching, I get the input I need.  This is different from other parts of the lesson that are coach directed; This part is 'me' directed.

Anyway, today Dance Coach and I worked on progressives. He's happy. Then he wanted me to do crossovers.

I can't. All I've got left are these clunky forced things, rather than power generating crossovers with the strong second push I used to have.

It's like once I learned to do proper progressives, that's all I can do. My pretty crossovers have disappeared.

I guess they went on vacation to Vegas. They'll show up again when they shoot their duckets!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Big Bag of Skating Stuff

Actually, it's two duffel bags, a cardboard box, and a plastic storage bin.

Five years into skating, I've got a 'skating stash'.

Right now I have a card board box filled with 2 pairs of men's skates and two pairs of women's that I can't get rid of. The men's skates are 2 pairs Jackson's Premiers size 13 with parabolic blades. I'm thinking of renaming them after aircraft carriers: the  Ranger, the  Midway, the Forrestal, and the Independence. Hey, they're men's size 13s you could land airplanes on them....and they are retired. Except they could be sold to the skating equivalent of a 2nd World country for littoral action with helicopters...a male beginner skater with feet 'of size'.  These are the second biggest boots I've ever seen. They are like hiccups, I can't get rid of them.

Also stored are various levels of worn out parabolic blades, Mirages, gloves (matched and unmatched), drying towels, several unmatched blade guards,  hair clips/scrunchies/pony tail holders,  extra silipos ankle protectors, and a big bag of moleskin/callus donuts/blister protectors.

HEY! We have a match! I found the other pink soaker!
This is my life. I woke up and realized I have work clothes, and things I can skate in. It's been a decade since I went on a date--maybe more--and I have no flirty little dresses, no high heels, and the only bustier I have is for wearing under a dance test dress. It makes my boobs look fantastic! Which considering gravity has been dragging them down to my knees since Eisenhower was president, is a triumph of fabric engineering and materials science.

I also have a box full of things I could make costumes out of. A shorty black trench coat for a spy number, gold sweaters, patterned tights, belts, scarves, adorable sparkly hair bands, man I can't resist a sale after Christmas--so many sparkly things to choose from!

Now if I only had talent and power and a program. But right now, I'll settle for someone who needs 2 pair of broken in Jackson Premiers. Who need 2 pair?

Why yes I do need two pair men's skates. Why do you ask?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Does Dance Coach Think?

So I came back to my home rink for a lesson with Dance Coach. He hasn't seen me in a couple of weeks and there's been a lot of changes since he saw me last.
1. I have new blades (MK Pros, man I loves my MK Pros)
2. I've been skating 5 hours a day for a week.

First off, he's all happy face with my progressives!  Hooray! This from a man who has told me 'you're not ready' a few times regarding progressives.

And he thinks my skating is 'much smoother'!

Now that I'm in the MK Pros, skating backwards isn't scarey anymore. When he asks for back crossovers I start with cross cuts, "What do you want to see? Big Girl Crossovers?" Then switch, "Or step overs?" Alternating back cross techniques around the circle. I couldn't do this three weeks ago. There's still a ways to go, but I'm better. I think it's the new blades. I was never, ever comfortable in the Mirages going backwards.

Since my 3 turns are solid, he has me doing proper power 3s.  I'm a little hunchy, and the step forward isn't pretty, but I can lay them down until I get dizzy (3 repetitions).

In stroking,  Dance Coach he wants me to skate down in the knee and stay there. At LP, they wanted me to use double knee bend stroking. I don't know if this is beginner vs advanced, or is a stylistic thing.

What do I do? I cheat. I use  double knee bend, but just tiny ones that are barely perceptible. If Dance Coach changes his mind or I skate with someone who wants the double knee bend, I just have to vary the amplitude.

Why yes, I am an engineer.

Let me  modify an existing cat picture to illustrate.
Where I was three weeks ago............Where I am NOW!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Five Minute Rule

I didn't read this in any book, or hear it from any coach. It's just common sense.

We all know practice is necessary to advance. But if you're like me you kind of 'ignore' practicing or working on skills that aren't fun. Or you do a few, then go off and work on fun skills. I can work on progressives, FO3, dance patterns, even backward stroking all day, but deliberately work on my weak side mohawks? Uh-uh.
I need discipline. . . to get myself to practice   
So I needed a way to make myself do stuff that wasn't 'fun stuff'. I invented the rule that I had to practice my 'un-fun skills' for five minutes straight. No breaking away to stroke around, no chatting, no resting.

I had on my iPhone one of those yoga meditation timers. It allows me to set multiple sequences of 5 minutes followed by a chime.  So, beginning of the session I decide what 3 or 4 things I'm going to work on, then I get on the ice and warm up. When I'm ready, I turn on the timer and start on the first skill. When the chime goes, I switch to the second. Then the third. I don't go past 3.

Does it work? Yes it does. Even if the skill is scary, I keep after it even if I need to stay near the boards. Doing this helped me work out my fear of CCW mohawks. There's lots of work left, but I no longer freeze.

I do this off ice too. I'm working on my glider disc to strengthen my kneebend, balance and  upper body position for the ever friggin' evil FI3. When I started, I was a flailer. Now I'm stronger and the flailing only occasionally happens. But boring though it is, I stick at it for five minutes.

Would this work with jumps and spins. I assume so, but it might be too stressful as most people don't switch legs.

The nice thing about a timer on your smart phone is that if a Chatty Cathy interrupts you, you can pause it then start it up again when they leave. And seeing you click off the phone, might actually get the Chatty Cathy to leave early!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The icePhone

Last year when I bought an iPhone I discovered that it had a pretty good external amplifier. Good enough so that if I wanted to practice a dance on a public session, I could hear it provided I put it close enough to my ear. I've found those arm holders for phones don't work for me when I'm wearing a jacket--maybe they don't work for anyone--they kept slipping down my arm. So I did the same thing I do when I'm gardening, I stuck the phone in my bra.

Nope, no need for a special bra. Insert phone between bra and boob, it's not going anywhere. I find a side-boob position is best. All you need is good coverage in the cups.

And I can hear the music.

I try and be discreet about it. I turn to the boards to pull it out so no one has to witness the sight of me rustling around in the neck of my shirt.

Apparently, this is pretty common among adult women skaters. I've had a couple tell me they do the same thing. One told me her male coach skated up to her while the music was playing, stared at her boobs and cried out, "The hills are alive!'

After about a year of skating discretely with the phone playing in the bra storage position, there came an occasion when Dance Coach wanted to skate to a dance with music while we were on public. I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket. "I can play it on this," I said. I turned on the music.

"Do you have armband?" He asked.

"No, it's just easier to just stuff it in my bra." I started to put my hand in the neck of my shirt.

Dance Coach recoiled in panic.
"Turn music off! Turn music off, NOW!"

I think in retrospect, I should have turned away from him before sticking my hand in the neck of my shirt.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Amazing Coach

"You're starting to skate faster and you're skating backwards around the rink. You're bouncing between Intermediate and beginner skater," the Amazing Coach said, "You need to learn how to fall better."

I balked, " No, no , no , no, no"
Nooooo! Please don't make me do fall training!
"You've got your pads on. It's time to fall."

Her goal was to train me to roll when I fell so I ended up on my hip pocket. So for the next ten minutes she had me falling and rolling onto my hip pocket on both sides.
Jeremy Abbot falls on his hip pocket
Even with bones as fragile as china, I learned to fall safely (source)
Two hours later I caught a toepick (this never happens!), sprawled forward and reflexively rolled onto my hip pocket. The Amazing Coach made it across the rink in a heartbeat. I want to think she pointed her finger at me and said, "See! See!" But that would be a false memory.

What she actually did was tell me "Get up! Get up!"

This is part of the Amazing Coach's training. She says that if you fall and don't get up right away, you're training your mind to failure on that particular skill. So I have to get my legs under me and stand up as quick as I can ---- which is pretty slow. I look like an arthritic cat trying to go up the stairs. Another skater said I got up like a 5 year old in CanSkate. Then she demonstrated the correct way to get up. Hello sweetie, when you're 60 then we'll talk. Right now I'm happy to get up at all!