Friday, November 30, 2012

The Circle Dance--a Little Skating History

[So I've written about Fitness Skate and I've briefly mentioned how I'm working on some notation to help me 'debug' footwork for something like a Fitness Skate; today I wanted to give a little Ice Dance history as to how I came up with some of my ideas.]

A long time ago, before even I was born, ice rinks didn't come in standard sizes. They didn't even come in standard shapes. Some were open air rinks on ponds, other were indoors. In that era (the era of my 90 year old mother's childhood) many dances were circle dances. There were also dances in the shapes of 8s, and a couple of pattern dances as we know them today, but I want to focus on the circle dance.

In the circle dance, when the music began, the skaters started wherever they were on the ice and fit the dance in. The idea of a modern pattern dance, where the skater is at a particular reference point, with a particular step, was unknown. In social dance skating on the beat was not a priority. Rinks were so crowded that people skated where they could, maneuvering around other skaters by holding a step or adding extra steps to avoid traffic, until they could get back 'on the pattern'.
What ice dance may have been like before pattern dances
This struck me as an ideal way for beginner skaters to have something nice to do on the ice. It's just a circular series of steps to music without the obsessive fuss of 'OMG, you're not on the beat!' or 'OMG, your swingroll doesn't have enough extension!', or 'OMG, you don't have dance expression!' or 'OMG! I HAVE TO STOP THE DANCE BECAUSE THERE'S AN ICE TOURIST IN THE WAY!' or 'OMG! I don't have enough power to get in the corners!'

Sadly, these dances disappeared with the standardization of ice dances as pattern dances and the advent of ice dance testing on an industrial scale in the 40's. 

Testing in its own way is a fun challenge, but there's no reason there can't be 'fun dances' as well that could be done by couples or solo skaters on public. No pressure about precise placement of the steps relative to the rink, no worry about extension, or putting in an extra stroke to work around traffic, or worrying about some judge. They should be fun!

So I pulled out my copy of The History of Ice Dance, and started looking at some of the circle dance patterns to see what I could use. Two problems emerged:
  1. In the old days, people had skated figures for a while before taking up ice dance. They could do rockers, brackets, and counters, so many dances had these in them. I wanted to find some dances or footwork suitable for beginners on public. *cough, Me, cough*
  2. The diagrams often had notation that no longer made sense. Ye Gods! What's a "FIOB"? A 'forward inside outside bracket'?  And the drawings were so tiny or such poor resolution I couldn't always figure out the steps from the tracings.
What I took from the diagrams were three facts: since the dances were circular, it wasn't necessary to draw the tracings in a rink shape, the dance patterns instead were in a straight line. Secondly,  what I really wanted to do was to develop footwork that could be 'done' to music of any beat, really just footwork for the solo beginner, that might also be done by a pair hand in hand or killian position. Third, I wanted something simple enough for beginners like myself, or adults that want to do something on public for fitness that's easy enough to do, but more complex than just stroking around.

And whatever these steps/footwork are, they should be able to be skated to any rhythm (tango, 4/4 rock/pop music, or the rare waltz on public) without any need for obsessing about placement on the ice. Don't have enough power to do a pattern in a big circle, do it in a small circle.  Don't like the music? Don't worry about the beat!
I don't have to worry about fussy ice dance crap? Woohoo!
I asked around a little, and pretty much if I wanted some footwork or circle dances, I had to come up with them myself. That lead me to thinking about notation and how I'd show it or record it for myself.

So, that's where I am, working on notation and simple footwork ideas. I'll introduce the notation soon and show some footwork patterns / a dance and get some feed back from you.

Tomorrow is a funny post, see you then!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

OMG! My Knee!

I'm hors de combat. That's French for "out of the fight". Temporarily, I'm not skating. The doctor's appointment is Monday.

I just woke up one morning before Thanksgiving with excruciating pain in one knee and unable to walk down the stairs. That's a forefoot first movement. Ouch! I'm better now, but skating is out.
Ow! Ow! Ow!
Skating is a forefoot first sport, unlike running or tennis which are heel first sports. I'm not sure if the pain indicates a functional failure (the knee might collapse), or an irritated nerve (no collapse). Whatever is causing the pain, I can't skate on my right inside edge. 

Since after a week + a day of rest and OTC meds I was close to pain free off-ice, I got on the ice for a lesson, and could tell with the first stroke I didn't belong there. It was that 'forefoot first' problem.

Now this is the funny thing.  I showed Coach Cruella I could do a left FO3, but not a right one. Then, I showed her a clockwise mohawk to see if I could do the transfer to the right leg.

My body was screaming, "Don't get on the inside edge! Don't get on the inside edge!" So unconsciously I did a perfect closed outside mohawk. Yes, I did 'the hard one'. Amazing what your body can do when it wants to avoid excruciating pain. I got off the ice immediately

I now have no excuse for not doing any mohawk at all in ice dance.

Anyway, I'll continue to post, just without delving into my lessons.  I've still got some funny stories to tell, and I've been working on something new.

I've been wanting to create some simple repeatable footwork patterns for myself, and I found myself mentally challenged to figure it out ahead of time in my head. Being an engineer, I've developed a system of notation to help me write down and debug these footwork patterns ahead of time*. So more about that later. I'll report back soonest on the knee and hope there's a miracle injection to cure me!

*Yep, all of a sum of zero people interested in notation.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sadly No Funny Post Today

I had a really great post today. Filled with amusing pictures.

One of my best.

Then a couple of hours after I posted, all the pictures disappeared.

I just don't have the time to reconstruct it so imagine this post is filled with pictures of cats and funny figure skating remarks....

It was really good.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fitness Skate

Not everyone wants to compete or be in shows, or test. Some people (more than you know) skate for fitness. You see them every week, the men and women who drill around and around, just stroking. They're the invisible skaters; they don't test, they don't have private coaches, and they don't show any interest in the ice show. They live in a world completely ignored by ISI and USFSA.

Sadly, there's no ice skating program for fitness skaters; either beginner skaters who need to build up stamina, or skaters who simply like to burn off some calories. And during the winter months when you're stuck in a crowded rink, you might not be able to do anything more than skate around. So how do we make this interesting? Especially if the rink declares "Canadian Public Skate Rules!" in the interest of safety.
It's too crowded! No jumping! No spinning!
No skating backward!
You can do all sorts of things for fitness skate. But the most important rule is "No Stopping!'

1.  Swizzles round the rink to start with. Then 'helicopters'. That's a two foot edge move where you do a deep edged swizzle in semi circular shapes.

2. Stroking around the rink. How far can you go on three pushes, then two, then one?

3. Stroking with crossovers along the short boards.

4. Alternating forward crossovers. Then outside and inside swingrolls.

5. Big 8s. Anyone can skate eights (either just stroking or crossovers) on the hockey circles, but what about skating an 8 that takes up the entire rink. This gives you a lot of space to maneuver around traffic since there's no need to worry about the hockey circles. (And since all the winter LTS students are going to be on the hockey circles working on crossovers, you'll want to avoid them).  It's usually easy to avoid the ice tourists doing this as well.

6.  Preliminary Dances. Even if you can't do the Evil Step Behinds in the Rhythm Blues, and you don't have any music, you can do the dance steps. Mix and match say the Canasta Tango on one side and the Dutch Waltz on the other.

7.  Got enough space on the ice?  Mohawks down the side. Alternating back crosses down the side. If you've got 'em: threes in a circle (this wows the ice tourists even if you don't do them perfectly), power threes, step behinds, crossrolls, and (very careful lookin' behind you for little kids) backward stroking/back swizzles.

Rule of the road: Don't stop. This is fitness skate not training skate. And if you want to challenge yourself, get one of those heart monitors that tells you how many calories you've burned.  You can always compare routines and determine which ones use more calories, or get your heart into the target zone fastest.

Have fun everyone! Even if you can't jump or spin!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fake Practice

So, while perusing posts on SkatingForums, I've noted that some people only skate when they have lessons. I know adults have busy schedules, and rinks can sometimes be hard to get to, but it puzzles me why someone would take expensive lessons in a sport and then not practice.

And, yet there are such people. So, let's talk about what you can do if you can't skate more than the time you have set aside for lessons in order to retain your skating skills.

1. Balance on one foot every chance you get--in a moving elevator makes it harder

2. Practice 3 turns in the kitchen 

3. Practice spirals in the handicapped stall in the bathroom

4.  Run up the stairs

5.  Do some resistance work or do a stretching DVD

6.  Scoot over to and poke around to find out about stuff you're working on

7.  Build the strength in your feet and ankles by using the stairs.

So there, too busy to skate or can't get to the rink? Plenty of things to do that don't need a big time commitment and you can do at home.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back When I was an Ice Tourist

It's holiday time and the Ice Tourists, the people who only skate from the second week of November through sometime in February, are out in force. And the shoppers too. So to go to the good rink with the nice ice, used to take 1 hour, now takes 1+45. And then the rink is full. The Year Round Skaters have to be nice, so I'm perfectly pleasant at the rink to one and all.

And when I think I'm full of myself because I'm a better skater than the Ice Tourists, I remember back to my first time ever on public skate.

Here goes.

Here's what I thought skating was like--I was an idiot!
Here's how I walked in skates the first time.
This Cat Has Had Enough
My first fall

Girlfriend Leapfrog Fail
My first fall after I got some speed--but no stops

What Else to Do While in The Kitchen?
And then my desperate attempts not to fall

Skaters Gonna Skate
Then one of the really good hockey boys lays
down some riffs and shows me what he can do--
I vow never to put on hockey skates
But after skating for a while I felt like this:
Rising smile
I think I'm going to love this sport!
Bring it on!

Pretty much everyone starts on public. Be nice to the ice tourists, one of a hundred will love skating so much they'll come back and take lessons!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keep on keepin' on

This is something I learned from Coach Amazing and my mother.

Say you're learning a new piece of music on the piano (my mother's specialty) or you're working on a test or a program (Coach Amazing's specialty),  and you make a mistake. What do you do?

Do you go back to the beginning and start all over?

Do you stop and ponder the problem?

Do you roll your eyes and make a sign of disgust so everyone knows you recognize your mistake?

No. No. No.

You keep on keepin' on and work your way forward as if the mistake never happened. Put it behind you. Deal with it later.
Maybe no one will notice your error!
If you stop or start over, you're training yourself to stop when you make an error.You want to skate or play right on. Part of this is stage presence, and part of this is being able to handle imperfections.

I was thinking about this today when I was working on my waltz 8. I started on my strong side, and couldn't get it right. So I started over a couple of times, then (metaphorically) kicked myself and just did the whole pattern, even though my strong side was flawed.

Lo, and behold, my weak side pattern is close to perfect. I would have never found that out if I hadn't kept on with the pattern, even after I made a mistake.

I've got issues with one part of the waltz 8, and I'll have to address it separately, but for now, every time I do a waltz 8, I do the entire pattern regardless of any flaws. And the things I'm learning, is not only how to do a better waltz 8, but how to get myself out of bad positions without stopping. So well worth it.

Maybe I'll get good enough to do a Keepin' On Bluff.
"Why yes this is the spiral from Silver Moves."

"Why yes, this is part of my artistic program. Why do you ask?"
"And here I demonstrate a swing mohawk variation for pre-Bronze moves"
 But never this:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two Foot Spins--the bad side

So I spent 15 minutes of my 30 minute group lesson practicing two foot spins. I had a couple that were stable and nicely centered. But, hey, I'm elderly, I've got inner ear issues. At first I was dizzy, then suddenly:
Tener mal cuerpo!
I just clung to the boards for a couple of minutes and frantically waved the coach away.

("Please, dear god, don't let me hurl over someone's boots.")

But, my stomach righted itself after a bit.

Maybe I'm not cut out for spins.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Do Clothes Make Your Skating Better?

Let's Move on
But they can make you feel better about yourself. And that's a good thing. Maybe we all need a psychological boost now and then.

The other day Miss Cheerleader took me shopping to get me out of the many, many black/grey/white t-shirts I wear and the jackets that are starting to 'go'. So now I have a collection of bright colored winter shirts, some nice jackets and a whole new attitude.

So, no, I don't skate better in the new clothes. But for some reason I enjoy skating just a little bit more when I take care of how I dress. 

I'm of the generation where women wore gloves to church, and hose every day. So maybe it's just me. I like to coordinate down to the gloves.

And since I bought a couple of pretty skating jackets, they can do double duty as work jackets.

I'm now in love with Spyder and Zella jackets.  I've found that scrimping on a jacket really isn't worth it. A well made jacket will last for season after season. My cheap-o ones seemed to last about half a season before the zippers gave out. As for shirts, Miss Cheerleader convinced me to get some bright colors that contrasted with the jackets.

I look stunning on the ice (for an elderly lady).

And when I skate, maybe I do skate with just a bit more style and panache.  I'm going to cut those girls in Chloe Noel some slack from now on. :-)
Like my new jacket?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Getting Off the Hockey Circle

This post is for beginner skaters--so you freestylers may want to hop over to and see what's going on in the Pro Shop or Sitting on the Boards sections.

Most ice rinks have  hockey markings under the ice; There's 5 circles on the surface, one in the middle, and one in each corner. Many rinks use the circles as placers for LTS classes. So when you start taking group classes it's tempting to practice certain skills on the hockey circles. There's a time and a place for this. First and most important, it puts you on a curve and helps you get an edge. Also, it keeps you out of the way of experienced skaters (who know what you're doing) and gives you a space to work. But eventually you won't need to skate on the circle,  it will get boring, and you'll want to do something more. This post is about how I got to the 'more'.

What do you do once you've got comfortable with the skills? How do you move forward? How do you give your skills equal time on each side?

I picked this up from Coach Amazing. I was frustrated that I was having difficulty getting 'time' on the hockey circles on crowded public session. She told me, "Just do it down the sides, alternating." Man, it was like a light went off in my head!
So remember, I AM NOT A COACH. I'm just going to lay this out as how a beginning skater might want to try getting off the hockey circle to practice some beginning skills.
Forward Crossovers. This is probably the one of the easiest skills to practice on public because you can always see what's ahead of you.  Do a forward crossover, take a stroke, switch arms, do a crossover in the other direction. If you can only do crossovers in one direction, you can still do these. You could do the crossover you can, stroke along a curve as if you could do the other crossover, repeat the first crossover.

But what if you don't feel at ease doing them one after another. If you feel you need more speed, or you want to stabilize yourself,  you could take an additional stroke or two, or glide on two feet before entering the next crossover. Do what makes you feel safe and comfortable.

Alternating crossovers would take a path something like the dark line
The dashed circles are imaginary hockey circles, just for reference
The goal here is not to do perfect alternating crossovers right away, but to get accustomed to doing one crossover one way, then the other in the opposite direction down the side. I found it built up my stamina and power. Also, it made skating more of a challenge as I had to place my crossovers so I didn't interfere with other skaters. And I gave equal time to each side.

Back Crossovers--This is pretty much the same, but harder to do on a busy public session.You may need to glide backwards on two feet after the first crossover, or take a mini stroke, then do a crossover in the other direction. Don't forget to look behind you for traffic.

If you can only do two in the beginning, that's a start. You may feel the rink is too crowded, or you're not comfortable with back crosses yet and you really do want some practice on the circle. Your safety comes first. But if you can do two along the line, that's a beginning.  Soon you'll want to do 4, then all the way down the side. Maybe it will take a few weeks, but it's really a way to build up confidence and get off the circle.

I've found when starting with these it was easier to begin at a corner so I was in familiar territory as if I was doing the crossover on the circle then 'unwinding' it down the side. 

There's also a way to do mohawks down the line.  I do a mohawk, turn forward, stroke (depending on how you count, it may be 'stroke twice'), repeat the same mohawk.  There's a way to do alternating mohawks, but I'm not there yet.

I use these mostly for warm ups, but I also have some simple (very simple) footwork drills I'm working on that I can do across the short end of the rink. There's usually some nice open space next to the coned off area and I like to have some little short footwork drills to do when a space opens up unexpectedly.

So there's some stuff I've learned over the last year based on Coach Amazing's suggestion.
Don't focus on the hockey circle so much you miss the rest of the ice!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Back on the Ice-Experimenting with 2 foot spin

After a day lying flat on my back and doing Annette Fletcher's "Save Your Lower Back" DVD, I'm back on the ice. Highly recommend that DVD.

So today was mostly gentle stroking, some work on Waltz 8s, back edges, and other pre-bronze and bronze elements. Nailed both Forward Out side and Inside 8 (half the time). Never a good idea (at my age) to stress myself after an injury.

One of my goals today was to try out all the suggestions for two foot spins from the comments in this post by Hayden'sMom and MommyTime.  Unfortunately, I never got there. I tried out something that just popped into my head instead. I held my arms out in front of me like I would hold a beach ball (this was the group coach suggestion) and I turned my head to look over my shoulder in the direction of turn (Cruella's direction for two foot turns).  Then using a push with one foot and twisting the body I entered the spin. Not at all technical, just an experiment.

I got 4 rotations!  But I started spinning so fast it scared the dickens out of me so that was the only trial for the day. I was hesitant to do something that might ruin my back--again. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
Yep, I'm a Spinning Chicken

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don't Forget Your Boots!

Ever forget your boots before a competition? Or driving to the rink?

Here's an absolutely easy way to never forget them again.

It will cost you $1.

So 3 times in 2 months I left my boots at home. I used to put my boots in the back seat of the truck, where I could see them. But when I got a sedan, I put them in the trunk.  And 3 times I drove off, leaving them in the living room. It was summer and I didn't like leaving my boots in the back seat, getting all hot and ruining the leather.

And if you're hauling a number of people to the rink, you may not have room in the back seat for the boot bag and have to put it in the trunk.

Here's my solution for never forgetting your boots again.

Go to the Dollar Store and buy a slap bracelet.

Put the bracelet on the handle of your boot bag.

When you put the bag in the trunk of the car, take the bracelet off the boot bag, and put it around one of the spokes of the steering wheel. If you have multiple people with boot bags, everyone gets a different color. When you get home put the slap bracelet back on the bag. Easier and faster than any other solution I could think of.
No slap bracelet, your skates are in the house!
There, I've just saved you a wasted trip to the rink!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Walking Wounded

Once every few years, I'll do something to throw my back out. The first time was in my 40's when I bent over to pick up a pencil, and couldn't straighten up for an hour  (my face was stuck within licking distance of the dog and I was too impaired to push her away. 60 minutes of 'sit', 'lie down', 'stop it, damn it').

This time I'm able to move, but I've been in pain and had some difficulty standing up from chairs for 3 days. It's gradually improving, but I had to be helped off the ice tonight as I felt fine walking, but couldn't stroke more than halfway round the rink or extend my legs while stroking.  Cruella just sent me home.

The exact problem has always been unidentified but it's probably an iliotibial band problem, plus a chronic case of 'snapping hip'. There's tests to identify the really bad stuff (herniated discs has clearly been eliminated and it's not piriformis syndrome either), so I'm stuck with the 'it will get better with time' treatment. Time for home remedies!

Fortunately, my pain is your gain. Stuck with an annoying pain in the lower back and hip? Here's some stretches that have worked for me.

Although these stretches are directed at piriformis syndrome, I've found figure 18 (below) to be amazingly effective over the years whenever my back pain pops up.
Piriformis stretch—Supine
I cross the leg on the sore side over the leg on the good side.
I sigh with relief
Since I also have 'snapping hip' (a popping in the hip when doing certain rotations with the leg while it's in extension) I have to take care of that too. The Army (!) has a whole document on this, which you can download here. (Note the overlap with the piriformis syndrome stretches, those things have so many applications!).
I think this problem popped up for me because of Hurricane Sandy. Since I wasn't on my regular schedule, I neglected my daily stretching regimen, and I'm paying for it. 

The internet is useful in finding these helpful home remedies for problems like this. I've rounded up a few for you to look at, but if you have similar issues, just google a description and root around in the web pages until you find something promising.  At the very worst, if you try a stretch and it causes more pain, you know it's time to stop. At the best, if you find the right stretch---ah, it's wonderful.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Turn Your Head

Sometimes, it's the little things.

A couple of weeks ago Coach Cruella fussed at me about my two foot turns. I can do them forwards and back, and in either direction, but only if I'm at a moderate speed. And when I turn from forwards to back, I tend to slow to a halt rather than glide gracefully backwards.

"Lead with your head, " she said. "Turn your head in the direction of turn, before you do the turn."

Head turn leads the body turn

It was a little thing. But like most little things, it worked.  I practiced the two foot turns a few times, making sure to lead the turn with a turn of the head. It took me a few tries to get over my hesitation of doing them at speed, but I'm now able to do them without difficulty and I have a nice glide backwards.

Why the sudden focus on two foot turns? What's all this leading up to?

The depths of beginning skater hell....back threes.

Yeah, those'll cause some posts where it will be hard to keep the Demon Negatron at bay. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Belated Halloween Skating Skarefest

Ever go out on ice and a frisson of fear goes up your spine? It's worse than vampires, worse than the Wolfman, worse than the housing crash of 2008. It's

public skate!

A Swizzle Train--that blocks half the ice!
And heading against the flow of traffic!

Parents carrying their children on ice!
(I couldn't actually find a picture of a parent carrying a kid on ice,
but I've seen people pick up their kid on ice--and fall on her)
The second most terrifying thing of all--
Skating frames are bad enough--but ADULT! skate frames--the horror, the horror!
And the most terrifying sight of all?

Hockey Boys!

A little boy in full hockey gear
All speed, and no control
He'll take you out in a heartbeat!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Sandbag Adult LTS

I feel sorry for LTS instructors, they never know what they're going to see.

I do a public session for an hour, then I have a 40 minute wait before Cruella's edge class starts. At my age 40 minutes means my legs stiffen up like a length of rebar. So I signed up for Adult LTS to keep my legs warm. After some consideration, I picked Adult 3 (so I could 'graduate' to Adult 4). Yes since I've passed Basic 8, technically this is sandbagging. I didn't see another choice since Freestyle is all jumps and spins. I will say I seriously considered taking a Learn To Play class at that time to keep the legs warm--Learn to Play in white boots with toepicks, I'm such a rebel.

There's two of us in the class Adult 3 class (the other skater is a true beginner). The coach asks for forward crossovers. I lay them down big and fast. Then the coach asks for back crossovers. I lay down some Big Girl back crosses. The coach gives me the hairy eyeball.

"Can you do mohawks?"

I do them both ways.

She then sticks the class curriculum under my nose. "Is there anything here that you can't do?"

I hang my head, "Two foot spins." Yes, it's true, I can't do a spin that most people learn in 5 minutes.
This is what my feet feel like in spins:
Heavy, frozen and totally worthless
I confess to her the reason I'm in the class and she takes it well. She alternates between getting me to do 2 foot spins and working with the other student. I'm making it harder on her to manage the class (sorry, dear, if you're reading this!) but at my age I'm willing to break the rules to move ahead.

At the end of the class I can do 2 rotations, but then I start to precess around the vertical axis and a cascading series of events ensue where I exceed the limits of the rotation and enter a failure mode--i.e. I fall. On the other hand, she's got me up to 2 rotations which is more than any other coach has, so good on ya!

So still working on 2 foot spins. Suggestions welcome.