Thursday, June 8, 2017

When Backwards Is Forwards

In charting my painfully slow progression towards greater figure skating proficiency I was reminded of something I knew going into this year, namely that in 2017, in order to go forward, I need to learn to go backwards. People who don't skate much may not realize it, but ice skating is all about learning to control your movement on the edges of your blades.  When people first start, they're pretty focused on simply staying upright, and that creates the impression that the key to success is to be centered right on the blade.  But in fact, that's actually skating on "flats".  In order to do almost all the things that figure skaters do -- like crossovers and turns and jumps and spins (the fun stuff) -- a skater has to learn to skate on edges.  The blades have inside edges and outside edges.  Leaning onto them makes the skater move in patterns that are actually circular (or half-circles, known as "lobes").  So the skater learns to skate on both outside and inside edges on both feet, and then adds on additional moves (like turns and jumps) while skating on these edges.

And then there is another complication: learning to do the same things going backwards. All of us have spent the time since we learned how to walk going forward.  We know how to move in that direction -- where to move our feet, where to look, how to stop.  Going backwards is not something we do often; it feels strange; and of course, it is much scarier because we don't have eyes in the backs of our heads.  But much of the challenge of learning to figure skate is that you have to learn to do things in many different directions -- left and right, inside and outside and forward and backward.

The two major goals I'm working on both entail a lot of work on backwards skating in different ways.  First, I'm trying to get ready for my Adult Pre-Bronze Free Skate Test.  This is the official name for the very first, most elementary free style test.  In order to pass it, I will need to demonstrate that I can do the following:
  • forward and backward crossovers
  • two different half rotation jumps - I will be doing the easiest jump, the Waltz Jump, and probably the Salchow
  • a two-footed spin with at least 3 rotations
  • a one-footed spin with at least 3 rotations
  • either a forward spiral or a lunge (I'll do a spiral). Spirals are those pretty, Arabesque-looking moves that figure skaters do.
My other major goal of the moment is my next two ice dances -- the Swing Dance and the Fiesta Tango. Although these two dances are in the same Pre-Bronze category as one that I tested on successfully in March -- the Cha Cha -- I find they are much harder because they are the first two dances that I have encountered that involve switching from forward to backward -- and back again -- during the dance.  The switching is done mainly through a type of turn called a Mohawk that, if not done correctly, can cause the skater to step on the back of her own blade (I speak from experience), and so can feel fairly nerve-wracking.

As I've noted before, one of the unadvertised benefits of becoming an adult figure skater is joining the community of really wonderful fellow adult skaters, most of whom I would never have become friends with otherwise.  Today I got to do part of my practice with my good friend Patsy, who is a far more accomplished skater, and especially, ice dancer, than me.  We decided to work on some back swing rolls and chasses.  As you can see, her extension, the deepness of her edges (the "lobe" she is tracing) and her ability to keep her free leg straight are all way better than mine.  Also, I must learn to look up, rather than at my feet. But if you want to improve, practice with someone better than you, right?  At this time last year, I was still just trying not fall when I tried them.

Here are Patsy and I doing back swing rolls:

And here are back chasses:

Although today, Patsy and I did a lot of back edges and some spirals, in general right now when I practice on the ice, I'm focusing pretty heavily on my jumps (which are really more like hops, but hey, it's a process); my spins (especially the one-footed, which often isn't at the necessary bare-minimum three rotations); and the elements that I find most difficult in the ice dances I'm working on -- backward swing rolls; backward "progressives"; and forward-to-backward 3-turns and Mohawks.  When I finally learn them, there will be a whole host of new backward skills to learn, including backward cross strokes, backward power pulls and -- most dreaded of all -- the terrifying backward 3-turn.  But those are all a ways off, and it is simultaneously helpful and humbling to remember that I have seen children in elementary school who have learned all of them.  For now, I continue the long march towards progress -- by trying my best to go backwards.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Toria, We're Going to Miss You

There are lots of challenges I didn't think about when I started taking figure skating lessons several years ago -- the expense, the incredibly slow pace of progress, the sheer work it takes to master a skill that others make look so easy.  But on the plus side, one of things I also didn't bargain for was gaining a whole new set of friends.  With the very significant exception of my friend and colleague, Laura -- with whom I compare notes regularly and practice off-ice jumps in the hallway to the great amusement of our colleagues and students -- my ice skating hobby has yielded a wealth of new friends I would very likely not have crossed paths with otherwise.

One such friend is Toria, who skated on the University of Vermont skating team, and also majored in physics while she was an undergrad there.  To the good fortune of the Leddy Arena skating community, she stayed in Burlington the year after she graduated, and, among other things, helped run the skating programs for younger skaters.  During that year she also became a regular on our Tuesday night rock climbing adventures at Petra Cliffs climbing gym, and pursued a love of all cats, and of her own Arthur in particular that was so highly contagious I see her as more than a little responsible for the fact that I recently adopted Cat One from another of our mutual skating friends, Jackye.

Sadly for her Leddy crew (and Burlington friends generally) but happily for her boyfriend Sam, and the University of Lowell, Toria is leaving us.  She has been accepted into a graduate program in medical physics, and will be applying her 24-karat intellect to a new course of study.  We'll do our best to lure her back from time to time, but for now, as part of her sendoff, I put together a list of a few of the things about Toria I will miss the most:
1. Her uniquely dramatic landings (lying on her back) when being lowered from a tiring climbing route.
2.  Her amazing hair -- platinum blond, blue and purple.
3.  Her awesome sense of style.  Here for instance, she and Jackye model the crazy cat lady sweaters they wore to my birthday-on-ice party this year.

That's Toria on the left rocking the Christmas cat sweater.

4.  Her incredible skating.  Here are two of her of her favorite things to do on skates.  The first, her split leap, is in all her programs, and the second, her layback spin, is one she has been working on this year.

5.  And finally, perhaps the thing we will all miss the most is Toria's friendly, open and encouraging personality.  In a world that sometimes has a reputation for being snobbish and competitive, Toria always made being at the rink fun -- for everyone.  She will be deeply missed. Good luck in the next chapter, Toria, and thank you so much for your friendship, on-ice encouragement and great sense of fun and adventure; come back and visit and skate with us often!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Whatever Works: Books, and Videos

The year I started this blog, 2010, I had a project that required lots of discipline around time.  That year I did a new thing every week for a year -- 52 in all -- which also meant that I did at least one entry every week.  Having that level of accountability kept me on track, and this time is much harder. So, I'm trying a couple of new things, namely a book (my skating journal) and some videoing.

Like most of my good ideas, these ideas aren't really mine at all.  The journal was my friend Jackye's and the videoing was Melody's.  Almost exactly a year ago I went around to various skaters -- all of them much better than me -- to ask their advice on how to improve.  From Annie I learned that I needed to make the commitment to skate at least three times a week; Joe told me to embrace the parts that scare me most and tell myself that actually I like them; one of my coaches, Melody, told me to look up and work on having "ta-dah!" posture; and Jackye told me to keep a journal and to pick one or two things to focus on each week (like looking up, bending my knees more or better posture).   After a particularly discouraging lesson a few weeks ago Melody shared a video with me made by a skater who tracked her progress on some jumps and spins over a five-year period.  It was inspiring to see how far she came, and made me decide that, frustrated as I may feel now, hopefully someday, I too will have progress to show and will wish for a baseline to compare it with.  So, I am going to start trying to use my journal to chart regularly what it is I am working particularly hard on, and hopefully also some video to show how it's going.

Right now, in ice dance, I'm working on two dances in the "Pre-Bronze" sequence -- the Swing Dance and and the Fiesta Tango.  They introduce some new skills I've still got a long way to go on -- like backward swing rolls, outside three turns, and mohawk turns at the same time with a partner.  Hopefully at a later point I'll be write another post about those, and maybe some video to show what they are.

In the Free Skate realm I am definitely moving much, much more slowly than I would like.  I had hoped to take my first test -- the Pre-Bronze Free Skate --in early  May, but I won't be ready.  The test includes two-footed and one-footed spins (the former I could probably pass, the latter, I couldn't) and two jumps.  For the jumps I'll be doing the very simplest jump -- the waltz jump -- and a second jump -- either a Salchow or toe loop.  With some trepidation, I'm posting this video that was taken last week(and hoping that a few months from now, will post another that is appreciably faster, higher and more fully rotated).  But everyone starts somewhere, so here is step one in the quest to learn to jump and spin.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Learning to Skate and Learning to Wait: Who Knew They Were So Connected?

There were some things I knew, or strongly suspected, when I started working on figure skating in my late forties.  I'd need to try to get more flexible (when I started I couldn't even touch my toes); obviously, I'd have to work on balance; and I'd need to carve out time to practice.  But what I didn't know is this: if you want to become an adult skater, you'd better either have reams of, or be willing to work on, the personal attributes of patience and courage.  Patience because there are a whole lot of new skills to learn, and they don't come quickly, especially for adult skaters.  And courage because that ice is hard, and if you were never a daredevil climb-on-everything and go-as-fast-as-you-could kid (I was definitely not) the prospect of jumping, and even going faster than your comfort zone is scary. So, the understanding that has taken quite some time to get past the denial of my brain is that, if I am going to keep progressing in this hobby I've chosen, I need to also accept the fact that I am always going to have to work twice as hard to progress half as fast as I might have forty years ago.  But it's still worth it.

I've been a lot less regular about posting on my skating progress than I meant to be, and that is largely a function of the fact that progress is going so sloooowly (see note above about patience).  But since the year is a third over, I think it's time to assess where things are at, so here goes.  I have three areas where I'm trying to improve this year, and only in one of them (ice dance) do I have anything tangible to show for my efforts.  But I like to think that at least I'm developing character, so here's where things are at right now.

1. Ice Dance: my one clear piece of progress: passed my fourth dance test (the Cha Cha)!  Now I've moved on to start work on two that feel a lot harder --  Swing Dance and Fiesta Tango.  The Cha Cha was the last of the dance patterns that goes only forward; the two I am working on now are skated partly going forward and partly going backward, and the transitions between the two (with a partner in tow) are a new skill to learn in themselves.  Still, I was excited to have passed the Cha Cha and happily, here's the video to show for it. For testing, you dance the pattern twice, and at least at this very low level you can do it on your own or as I have here, with my ever-patient ice dance coach, Russ.

2. Free Skate: The first Adult free skate test Pre-Bronze Free Skate) is a simple affair: two jumps of 1/2 to one rotation; a two-footed spin; a one foot spin, forward and backward crossover and either a spiral or a lunge.  The simplicity is made even simpler by the fact that I passed two of these elements (crossovers and spiral) over two years in ago in a Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field Test.  Yet I'm stuck.  My first jump (a Waltz jump) is more like a hop, and on my second (Toe Loop), I fail to actually make the jump (hop) about half the time.  Spins are only slightly better.  Each has to have at least three rotations, which isn't a problem for my two-footed spin, but definitely still is on one foot. I think the spin will come with more practice (that is, patience), but the jumps have me more frustrated.  Jumping on ice just scares me, and I need to figure out what to do about that to get past this place where I'm basically stalled out.

3.  Moves in the Field: This is the place, where on paper, I had advanced the most, but now my progress is on hold. This is true for two reasons.  First,  I have to catch up a little in the other two areas, and second, the next test, the Adult Silver Moves in the Field is really, really past my abilities.  Every single move on it feels very challenging. My initial hope was to start with some of the less daunting parts like cross strokes and power pulls and spirals, and save the really hard Mohawk sequence and forward and backward three-turn parts for later, but until I get some progress on the very simple jumps and spins I am trying to learn, that's where most of my lesson and practice time and energy is going.

So bottom line, progress is going much slower than I would like, but at least it's going. Happily, my coaches, Melody and Russ, are both unfailingly patient and encouraging so there's that. Hopefully in August I'll be able to take my first Adult Free Skate test, and at least one of my next ice dances.  And in the meantime, I'll keep chipping away, and writing about, hopefully both on a more regular schedule.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year: Time to Break Out the Star Chart

When I was a kid I loved star charts.  When we were little my mom made star charts for us for all those little-kid habits she wanted us to develop, like brushing our teeth and making our beds.  And my favorite thing was getting to put my foil stars on the chart when I did what I was supposed to.  As an adult they gradually morphed into to-do lists, that allowed me to revel in crossing off items (though I almost never have gotten through an entire one).  But I have to admit that, even today, when I have a habit or practice that I know I should do but just can't seem to cultivate, my personal nuclear option is the tried-and-true star chart.  Now that I have turned fifty I have decided to stop fighting this leftover vestige of childhood and use it.  And my coach, Melody, has happily complied, by providing me with a new and ambitious regimen for skating practice.  It's actually aspirational, in that there are things on the list I can't do at all, and much of the list is comprised of things I do poorly.  But you have to start somewhere, and this list is it.  We started this morning during an hour-long lesson, and I am supposed to try to do it every practice session I do.

Melody wisely got me inspired to take on my new and ambitious (for me) regimen by taking me over to Lake Placid with her other adult student, Leslie, to skate in the Olympic complex there and watch some former world champions perform.  Here we are at the rink.

Here's the list, in all its color-coded glory (purple is stuff I can at least nominally do and/or have passed a test on at some point; green are things that I've started working on; and red are things that I have thus far been too terrified or skills-deficit to even attempt).

  • Forward & backward alternating crossovers
  •  Backward inside & outside consecutive edges (I passed a test on these, but if the judge who passed me could have seen me today, she might have retrospectively failed me)
  •  Landing position drill   x 5

Further Skills
  • Cross rolls (forward & backward)
  •  Power pulls (forward & backward)
  •  Three turns (outside forward, inside forward & outside backward, inside backward)
  •  Mohawks (inside & outside )
  • Five Step Mohawk Sequence
  • Backward snowplow stops (two foot and one foot)   
  • Forward T-stops  (left and right)
  • Spirals (forward straight line plus inside and outside edges)
  • Spirals (backward straight line plus inside and outside edges)
  • Lunges (both legs)
  • Bunny hops (left & right)
  •  Spins (1 & 2 foot)  x 10 each
  •  Waltz jumps   x 10
  •  Salchows  x 10
  •  Toe loops  x 10
  •  Loop jump prep at the wall   x 5
  • Pre-Bronze Freestyle test routine  x 2
During today's lesson two of my major obstacles showed up uninvited but vociferously -- my problems with right knee and my fear of falling, especially when jumping.  We started off working on back edges (that is,  skating on one foot going backward leaning to the outside or inside of the blade to go in alternating half circles) and then power pulls.  Then, because my right knee was really acting up we skipped working on spinning (which I do on my right leg) to work on toe loops and introduce loop jumps. 

We were skating during a public session that just kept getting more and more crowded, so after the lesson was over, trying to work on backwards skating with the kids darting around pushing milk crates seemed like a very bad idea. So, not many stars for today. But, the process has begun, and I have a list with which to chart my progress - which I think I will try to do monthly.  Here's hoping for lots of foil stars in 2017!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter's Work: Gearing Up for March 11

In skating terms, December has clearly been the most wonderful time of the year.  For the fourth year in a row, I got to join my friends in a fun group number at Leddy Park Holiday skating show.  The first time, four years ago, I had just started taking group lessons. Our group searched high and low for the tackiest holiday sweaters we could find, and I struggled to keep upright through the number. This year we were Blues Brothers skating part of the Rhythm Blues ice dance as part of our performance.  Big fun, but alas, our unofficial videographer, Jon, had technical difficulties, so no video record of our performance.
The Blues Borthers (Patsy, Anya, Donna, Russ, Melody, me and Mary) take to the ice.

The other big December skating highlight was a week earlier on my birthday.  Blatantly stealing from my wonderful skating friend Patsy, I copied her idea from a few years ago and rented out the Leddy rink for a Birthday on Ice.  It was awesome.  Some of my skating friends were in the middle practicing fancy jumps and spins and others took to the ice for the first time since childhood, or for a few, the first time ever.
Jon's contribution to my skating goals are manifold: attending my(and my skating friends') tests and performances; taking pictures and videos of the same; and at least once a year getting on the ice. On my birthday he donned a magical no-falling hat and took to the ice.

Four of my skating friends (all of them light-years ahead of me): Jackye, Sharie, Melody (who is also one of my coaches), and Toria.

Siham got Best Sport award for trying skating for the first time ever.  Here, Crystal and Julia offer a helping hand.
Now as the year is coming to a close, my sights are on 2017, and the goals I've set for the year between December 10, 2016 and December 10, 2017.  I set a whole bunch of goals, but there are some obstacles in the way.  First, there is my right knee, which seems not to have gotten the message that it needs to be on its best behavior, and full range of motion right now.  I'v started seeing a physical therapist a week ago for that one; here's hoping that it works.  Then there is another major obstacle that will strike in late March.  Every year the Leddy Park Rink closes for about six weeks in May and June, and there is a scramble to find substitute ice.  But this year, the year I've committed to put such a focus on skating, it will be closed for April, May AND June.  Gonna need to do some serious planning to figure out ice time at other area rinks. And finally, there is one that is all my own -- my own fear.  I am way too afraid of falling, particularly when jumping.  It's just a reality that getting better involves a fair amount of falling, and I just need to get over it and take some falls.

So, keeping these obstacles in mind, my next big goal date is Saturday, March 11, 2017.  The way that many skaters progress is through a series of tests.  Since I'm an adult, I get to test in the easier Adult Series, rather than the Standard Track used for kids and teenagers. Right now I'm working on three tests: my Pre-Bronze Ice Dances (there are three of them, and the easiest of the three is the Cha Cha); my Pre-Bronze Free Skate; and my Silver Moves in the Field (this one I've only barely started and will be working on for a very long time, probably well past this year). The March 11 test is the only one set between now and June, or possibly July or August, so I hope to use it.  My hope is to test the Cha Cha Ice Dance and my Pre-Bronze Free Skate.  The Free Skate test includes the following elements: forwards and backwards crossovers; a spiral or lunge, two half or single jumps and two spins -- two footed and one-footed.  The big question is whether I will have two jumps and two spins ready in time, but my coach, Melody, is optimistic.  I'll have to make a decision in a few weeks on whether to apply to test, so will make the final decision then.  In the meantime, right now I'm writing from Virginia and having a one-week hiatus from skating.  Once I'm back in Vermont, I'll head back to the ice and see where I am skating-wise.

For anyone in Vermont looking to do some skating this winter, here are three invitations I'll throw out right now:

Skating is definitely a more-the-merrier pursuit.  Here's the crew that laced up for Birthday on Ice.  The winter has just begun, and skating opportunities abound now!

1. The outdoor rink outside the statehouse in Montpelier!  This is an awesome new initiative this year, and I can't wait to try it out.  If you want to as well, let me know.  Let's make a date and get a bunch of people together to go.
2. Nordic skating on Lake Morey.  Did this a couple years ago with some friends, and it was awesome. Nordic skating is very different than figure skating, but very fun, and the long blades that you put on cross country ski boots glide right over bumps and cracks in the ice.  Assuming the lake freezing this year, who wants to go.
3. Public skating sessions at Leddy and Cairns.  I do a lot of practice skating on early morning ice at Leddy, and Friday mornings in Waterbury.  But Leddy has public ice from 9-11 am M-Th, and 2:15-4 on Sundays, and Cairns has ice from 10-12:30 T-F, 2:40-4:10 on Saturdays and 1-2:30 on Sundays.  While I do unfortunately have a slight complication in the form of work on most of the weekdays (though Monday and Wednesdays are more workable), the weekends are a possibility. So, if people want to set up some skating plans, please let me know!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fifty on Ice: Time for a New Challenge

I don't think I saw this one coming, but it's almost here.  In a couple of weeks, I'm going to turn 50. Since it's going to happen with or without my consent (the only other option being far less desirable), I think I'd like to make the best of it, and try to use the half-century year marker as an incentive to step it up on a hobby that's become a big part of my life: figure skating. While I was co-leading a hike this fall with the Saint Michael's College Adventure Sports Program, one of the participants told me about a man who decided to use each year of his life to see how far he could get on mastering a specific sport or skill.  That idea sounded great to me, so I'm borrowing it.

So here's my goal for the 50th year of my existence: to become a better figure skater. More specifically, from December 10, 2016 to December 10, 2017 I am going to commit to steadily and consistently working on my skating, and to weekly tracking of what happens when I do.

I should note at the onset two things: first, I am not a highly skilled figure skater and second, I have no illusions that I will become one.  I did a lot of pond skating as a kid and some more intermittently on rinks as an adult.  About three years ago I started taking adult lessons consistently and learned some humbling lessons:

  • There are some skills that are way easier to learn as a kid.  Figure skating is one of them.
  • Adults skaters (especially this one) are scared of falling.  Kids are like rubber bands when they fall.  Adults (like me anyway) are whatever analogy encompasses brittleness and easy bruising.
  • To be an adult figure skating is to learn patience.  Tons and tons of patience. One of the classes I am taking is an old-school figures class, where we basically skate on one foot to trace figure eight patterns (or some variant of them).  It took me almost the entire year last year to learn to do the first outside and inside forward eight pattern.  This year, I'm working on doing it backwards, and I strongly doubt I'll get it before the year is over.
  • On the plus side, the satisfaction of learning or mastering a skill is timeless. It may definitely be frustrating that it takes so long to learn skating skills, but it is simply great to be able to do something I couldn't do a year ago.
This is what "patch" figures class looks like -- tracing circles that are hard to see over and over to learn how to skate on the "edges" of the skating blade.  Here, I'm practicing a forward pattern and behind me from friend Jackye is doing a much more difficult backward one.

I have three different teachers (in the skating world they're coaches) who are helping me along this path.  Martha teaches two adult classes I am in, an advanced adult group class on Wednesday mornings and a figures adult group class on Tuesday morning.  Russ is my ice dance coach and we have a lesson in Waterbury (about half an hour away) on Friday mornings, and finally, Melody is my free skate and moves-in-the-field coach who I work with once a week around the other lessons. I usually skate at the Leddy Park Rink, in the New North End of Burlington, and have a group of fellow adult skaters -- some who had illustrious earlier skating careers, some like me, who chose to delve deeper later in life -- who I skate with in early morning lessons and practices.  Ice dancing is with Russ who teaches with his fellow coach and wife, Vera, at the Waterbury Rink. Occasionally I make use of two other nearby rinks, the Cairns Arena in South Burlington, and the Gutterson Rink at the University of Vermont.

Each year my home rink, Leddy Park, organizes a Holiday Ice Show and a late spring show.  For the last few years our adult skating group has participated with a number for the show.  This is from December 2015; this year's will be a take-off from the Blues Brothers.
And here's our Beauty School Dropout (from m the show Grease) spring 2016 number.  I'm sitting in the middle between two much better skaters, Jennifer and Jackye, and my coach Melody, was Frenchie, with Alan (who began ice skating after he retired)

Something I learned from the year 2010 when I resolved to try 52 new things in a year, is that keeping track of them regularly and publicly (via this blog) was a great way to keep me accountable, excited and feeling like I was making progress.  So, I'm trying it again.

Here are the specific goals I have for the time between my 50th and 51st birthdays:
  • To pass the next  (Pre-Bronze Level) three ice dances in the US Figure Skating sequence: Swing Dance, Cha Cha and Fiesta Tango
  • To pass my Pre-Bronze Free Skate test
  • To be able to skate three of the six elements of the Silver Moves in the Field test
  • To learn and perform my first solo freestyle program
A grainy pic from my first ice dance exam.  I've passed tests on the three easiest ice dances so far: Dutch Waltz, Canasta Tango and Rhythm Blues.  The next three are harder, and  incorporate skills like skating with a partner backwards and switching from backward to forward  (and back again) during the dance.

A couple years ago I would have had no idea what most of the words in the above list of goals even meant, which is kind of amusing to me. I probably also means that my boyfriend Jon is right and I am becoming ever more entangled in the little sub-culture that is adult figure skating.  But I think it might be interesting to explain it as I track it, for anyone who, like me, finds exploring the ins and outs of other subcultures interesting.

So, the plan is to post a weekly update, and do a quarterly check-in on how the four goals listed above are going. I try to go skating at least four days a week, and am hoping it increase that in the coming year, so if there are people who've been needing a nudge to get your skates out, or join an adult class, or try it for the very first time, this is your invitation.  I hope to see you at the rink (or help you get there). If you want to come skating let me know!