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).

Warm-Up
  • 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!