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.