Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rules of the Road

My husband emailed me the video from Cup of China of Yuzuru Hanyu and the Han Yan crashing into each other. I replied that it's every skater's worst nightmare; flying fast and turning to see someone there, and there's nothing you can do.

But these kinds of accidents are actually kinda rare. Most of us are aware of each other enough to know when someone's close by and we avert or abort accordingly. And most of us follow the spoken and unspoken rules of practice ice in order to work better, get the most out of our ice, and prevent these kinds of horrific accidents.

Most of us.

Here are some basic Rules of Practice Ice:

No Music and no Jumps/Spins on MITF Ice.

Yes, there is dedicated Moves Ice, and you can't jump on it or do your program on it. Because MITF, that's why. If there are people on a Power 3 pattern, and you're thinking you're gonna Lutz, you're going to interrupt the traffic pattern. That's rude, because there is a lot more Freestyle Ice than MITF ice. Worst is when someone needs to go Clockwise, as in the Perimeter Stroking on APB Moves. Jumps and Spins are not in MITF tests, so if you're doing them on a MITF session, you are clearly in the wrong.

NO DANCE on Freestyle Sessions.

Oh lordy this gets my gourd. I've nearly been clotheslined by Ice Dancers literally screaming at me as they head into me full tilt because I had the audacity to be "in their pattern" when practicing jumps in the corner, like I'm supposed to do on Freestyle ice. Is there an Ice Dance Pattern called "The Jerk?"
"The Jerk"

Conversely, NO FREESTYLE on Dance Sessions

Now people are supposed to be in a pattern, so jumping around like a maniac will interrupt them. Spinning in the center will also somehow interrupt them. So if you're allowed on a Dance Session and you're not an Ice Dancer, just stick to turning and footwork drills and MITF, people in a pattern get the right of way, and you're fine. Or you could be a Jerk like they are and Jump around like a maniac anyway, but we're nice and we won't do that. (Plus you have to listen to their music and that's just awful.)

Here's a big one that is always overlooked: LOWER LEVEL SKATERS GET THE RIGHT OF WAY.

Did you get that one? Let's say that one again: LOWER LEVEL SKATERS GET THE RIGHT OF WAY.

It's the same as Pedestrians getting the right of way. They cannot dodge as fast, simple as that. But look out onto some Freestyle sessions and you see lower level skaters getting bullied by higher level people and ice dancers who just bulldoze their way around without a care in the world. Because they think that as better skaters, they can. Well, by skating like that, they aren't allowing anyone else to get better.

To allow everyone to skate effectively, Practice Ice is broken down into High and Low ice. You have to pass a given level to be allowed on High Level Practice Ice, because if you can't skate that fast you're a hazard. You also have to pass a certain level to be allowed on Low Freestyle Ice, because of that whole "slow and erratic people are a hazard" thing again. Pre-Freestyle Ice is for Pre-Freestyle people. Simple as that. It's a totally safe, slow as molasses ice, which is what it needs to be for beginners.

But what usually happens is that High Freestyle people see ice, and decide that they must skate on it no matter the level, and bowl over little kids doing FI3's with their double loops. Because they can.

People in a Lesson get the Right of Way

If someone's working with a Coach, they're trying to listen and take in correction, or being moved and manipulated and can't adjust for you. So you give those people a wide berth. Or you're supposed to. Again, I've had skaters just plow through my lesson like we weren't there at all. Or come up and try to start a conversation with the coach, because it's their coach and I'm just an Adult skater...

This is also why coaching from the Boards is so awful. A skater continually trucking back and forth to the boards is forced to interrupt the patterns of other skaters, just to get back to the coach and get correction on something that happened whenever ago. Worse, when they do some patchy little move in front of the boards for the coach, they are then in everyone's way. So, as a skater, you have to stop what you're doing for them. A moving coach/skater team is a more effective working team for everyone on the ice.

NO KIDS on Adult Ice.

Adults, the biggest sore thumbs of the rink, have a hard time finding time and Ice upon which to practice. Practice, of course, would make them better skaters, but finding that safe (physically and mentally) ice is super hard. Once there is some Adults Only Practice Ice, the kids see some slow ice and decide to just bolt on and bowl over someone learning Mohawks or working on Adult MITF. Because they can.

Nope, sorry. Get off. Begone. There is loads of Kid Friendly Practice Ice year round, while our treasured Adult Sessions are only in Summer. And please do not try to tell me that your 16YO is "almost an adult." She's not. And do not say that your 6YO learning an Axel "won't take up much space." She will. Do not say that "It's just for the last half hour." Give them the last half hour and pretty soon you've got an infestation. Over 20 only. Full Stop.

People working on Lifts get Right of Way

Okay, I don't know if this is a rule, but it should be. If I'm being picked up, I DO NOT wany anyone near me. At all. I simply don't have brainspace left to deal with any variables like another skater coming at me when I'm trying to find my balance out of a lift. And I don't want my partner dealing with it, either. He shouldn't have to dodge while carting me around.

There are a lot of other Rules of the Road on Practice Ice, available from the Ice Monitor or Rink Management, but these are the big ones to follow. Be aware, be kind, be courteous. Accidents do happen, as they will in any sport, but they should be rare. If they're happening with alarming frequency, someone's not following the rules.

Take comfort in the fact that you can always become a better skater, but a jerk will always be a jerk. And the kid who is oblivious to other skaters also has a habit of being oblivious to the boards.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lifts and the Singles Skater

The Audition happened, and aside from some minor needless lobby drama, it went well. I officially passed my ISI FS1 test, so I'm completely legit to be in the show, and we're all set to start work on the Official Mom and Dad program for the Holiday Show.

Last year we did try some lift work. For a variety of reasons, it was not successful. The finished product wound up being a simpler version of our Audition Routine, and I was less than happy with it. It was just a few three turns and a waltz jump, and a pair spin. I felt that for all the work I'd put into it, I had not much to show in the end and was a little disappointed. The goal of "two music box dancers who skate apart and come together again" wasn't me.

But this year is shaping up to be so much different.

This year, the Pair Coach called us over after a try at side-by-side back crossovers and asked me what I was thinking while I was doing it. I stated my problems honestly and clearly, and he listened to me fully, and respected what I had to say. And that felt absolutely wonderful.

And we're trying Lifts.

For the Record, I want to do a lift. Desperately. They're dramatic and showy, and the WOW factor can't be beat. I have been lifted on and off the ice by three coaches, and every single time was simply breathtaking. Just being wrapped up and picked up and spun around was really amazing, and I want to do that for a show! I'd like to hear an audience gasp at my daring, not because I fell on my face.

How it feels when a Coach lifts me.

But Lifts don't come without their peril. After all, you're being picked up while in ice skates by someone in ice skates, and those rockers are not forgiving. Your lifting partner has to be sure of himself and his blades, he's got to grab you in just the right spot, ("Watch his arm," a visiting coach told me. "If he grabs you on a floating rib he could break it.") and pick you up without upsetting his own balance. Then, you, the Liftee, have your own job to do. You have to get into position for the grab, plie and give a little assist jump, (but not too much!!) and lean into your partner as he does his thing. When you touch down, you have to find your balance point on your blade before he lets go and you do the next thing.

And it all happens in about ten seconds.

Bigger than that though, is that the Fear of Falling is suddenly amplified about a hundred times. I don't know why. The lift we are doing, the Stag Lift, puts me only about six inches farther above the ice than I normally am. But if we fall, we fall together. Plus, there's your Lifter's mindset, which I'm sure has to be "Can I lift this person? Didn't I see her eat cookies and skittles during the public session last weekend? Can I do this and not kill the two of us in the process??"

From my vantage point, I can tell the moment someone lays hands on me what they are thinking. I pretty much know if they are confident they can swing me around, or if they have the hesitant touch of someone who isn't really sure. My partner is currently unsure.

What I'm thinking will happen when Partner lifts me.

But Pairs Coach is pushing the issue, and today we tried the lift on the ice for the first time. PC spotted me, Partner was behind me. "I've got you," PC promised as I let go of the wall. Partner's unsure hands grabbed me at the ribs and under my thigh, PC picked up the slack weight, and up I went. Not too terrible. We did this about four times, and if there was ever a time when I wanted to hear a coach say, "Let's move on," it was now.

When we were done, he looked at us both and asked us what we were thinking. I said I was still scared to do it on the ice.

"But you want to do this, right?"
"Absolutely," I said it before thinking.
"Okay," he had on an unusually serious expression. "Then we work on it."

So. In the vein of "You have to sacrifice to get what you want," I'm debating not going to the final event of Skate America on Sunday, so I can head back to the rink and work on the Lift Off-Ice again. It's just the "Spectacular" Show Thing anyway, and all I really want to see is the competition part. I was going to have to leave a bit early anyway so I could be rested for my lesson at dawn... yeah. I just find it more than a bit ironic that I have to leave skating. Because I have skating.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Flexibility - I work on it

For some reason Coach thinks I can do a haircutter spiral. We tried it, and I pitched perilously forward, but I did get my foot up relatively high for a first attempt. It was encouraging, and it would be cool to do. So, I've begun really working on my flexibility.

I stretch before and after skating. I stretch during skating. I stretch on the train platforms during my daily commute. I stretch at home while I watch TV.


Hopefully this will pay off. I'm no closer to a split than I was three months ago... but we'll see how far I can get. I just find it hilarious when the teenagers do it for me, and I have to remind them that I have 20 years on them, and their moms laugh.

(I don't think many people at the rink know how old I really am... I'm not about to tell them!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Skate in Patch Blades *or* You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till it's Gone

Maybe it was all in my head. Maybe it was everyone telling me, "It's going to be a difference, be careful." Or maybe it really was the fact that my Patch blades are a drastic change from my Freestyle blades. But this morning was a true learning experience. The best thing I could manage was a one foot glide. Pretty sad. I tried FO edges, and it didn't work. It was like I'd never done edges before in my life. Worse than learning Delta FO Edges.

Patch Coach came in to see me take a first step, and like an idiot I went right for my pick to push off. My foot went out from under me and he laughed. When I turned to backwards, I was stricken with terror at being completely unable to stop, with no pick and no edge I could find. I just reached for the wall.

The absence of a toepick was actually the least of my worries. While I knew it wasn't there and that threw my confidence off, it was the change in ROH that was the worst thing. While not as bad as the Speed Skate Incident, it was pretty close. Toward the end of the session I was managing tight forward edges and slaloms. I realized that Edges are harder to come by than I'd realized, and these blades have no margin for error.

My Freestyle blades are sharpened to a 7/16" ROH. They are grabbier than my previous 5/8", and I love it.

But my Patch blades are 3/4" ROH. It is horrifyingly flat. I frequently found my foot sliding sideways, and it scared the bejeesus out of me.

I will have to re-learn everything. Simply put, I've been doing it wrong. Let's take a look at how things used to be, with this diagram of "Where you Should be on Your Blade" diagram from "Figure-skating" by Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams, 1898:

Every time a coach has told you to "sit back on the blade" and "push" and "Lean into the edge?" It all comes back to haunt you.

After 50 minutes in new (to me) boots and the blades that I couldn't find an edge on, I stopped. The sheer exertion of staying upright, much less doing pretty circles, was exhausting. But I learned a lot. My right leg is very weak. My quads don't push me, my calves do. I don't commit to an edge, or lean into it, I have been letting the blade do all the work. My posture is horrible. And I was completely humbled. Fractions of an inch in Hollow had reduced me to the days when I had first started skating; hanging onto the wall, unable to stop, fearful of lifting my foot off the ice. Just yesterday I'd had a pairs practice with jumps!

But I'd gained a sudden and stark insight into skating. I get it, and I'll get more of it with the next try. I'm a long way from being that utterly relaxed person doing figures in the park on a sunny winter afternoon. But I'll get there.
This will be me, elegant and lovely at our outdoor rinks this winter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

I've said before that I love Power 3's. Actually, I love power mohawks now, too. (Given how much I hated mohawks just a year ago, I can't believe it either.) I like the swooping movements and arcs and forward to back and forward again patterns. What I'm working on now is perfecting them, because they are on the Bronze moves test. And Perfecting the Power 3 is all about controlling the 3 Turn.

3 Turns are tricky beasts. When you first get one, they happen when and where they do. You start off with the "gotta turn" mindset and just swing into it with no forward edge to speak of, and you hang onto the exit edge for dear life. You have to train that beast, and make it happen where and when you decide.

Working on Power 3's with Coach one morning, and he noted my ice tracing on the 3 Turn. "You turn on the sunrise," he said, pointing. "You need to turn on the Sunset."

And viewing the tracing as a horizontal plane, my turn was indeed happening as the sun rose over the icy steppe. "You can make it happen on the sunset, because this turn is all about control," he explained.

It was skating poetry, and immediately I began to hum "Fiddler on the Roof" in time to my turns and back crossovers. Leave the free hip back, rotate the shoulders, turn on the Sunset!

And I hummed it again today, thinking of how the seasons change and we change and the 3 Turns that had once plagued me so were now something I considered one of my stronger elements, something Coach is now adding embellishments to; swoop up with the leading arm and then swoop down to touch the ice on the exit edge. Or 3 turn to a tap-toe into an alternating 3 turn, humming "Fiddler." Which led to creating this masterpiece of an ice print, possibly one of the deepest turns I've ever done.

Look for it...

My hand fit into that turn!

My 3 Turns are not quite fully tamed, but they are getting there, one sunrise at a time.