Monday, December 29, 2014

2015 Skating Resolutions

Last year I didn't make any Skating Resolutions. I simply wasn't in a good enough place to do that. Unhappy, miserable, lonely and unsupported, I think my only goal for 2014 was to simply stay on the ice. Anything else I did was secondary.

But this year has been a complete Turnaround. I'm more confident and a hell of a lot stronger than I was back then.

Armed with that newfound strength, I unpacked all the Bad Baggage associated with my spins. I sincerely believe a huge part of the problem was Anxiety. Having been beaten about the head and shoulders repeatedly about it, I simply freaked out and tried too hard, and the bad vibes just snowballed themselves into a complete mental block. So, I backed up. I looked at where I was as a whole, how far I'd come, and the entirety of the process so far.

I've really been seriously Skating for just under 3 years. That's not very long. And yes, I had a lot of flow and power, but that's because I spent a lot of time doing what I could do, as I wasn't being pushed to do more. True, at this stage of the game I *should* be able to, but also I hadn't really been taught to spin until the FS1 Test came due. Only then did I spend an agonizing amount of time, entire lessons, trying and failing at spinning, literally under the gun. And I couldn't do it. I got hung up on what I couldn't do, which sapped my confidence.

So I let the anxiety go. If I spun, great. If not, okay. And I focused on what I could do instead. I worked on extension, edges, lifting my free leg higher, keeping my head up, those kinds of niggly details. And in lessons we still worked on spins. A lot. Sometimes they worked and sometimes not, and we never spent an entire lesson on them. Most of the time I traveled pretty far, but sometimes it worked. And Coach repeated himself a lot, but I thanked him for his patience every time. When I started getting those anxious vibes in practice, I stopped spinning and did something else for awhile and then came back to it.

At my lesson this week, Coach asked me to spin. And I did. And it was perfect. Seven revolutions, perfectly centered. I pulled out of it, checked the tracing, and nearly cried. Coach laughed, folded his arms and asked me to try a sit spin.

Needless to say, that didn't work too well. But it worked better than it did last week. Still, we backed off the one-foot idea and tried it on two feet again.

I told Coach I was going to push to get up to Bronze this year. Bronze Moves are happening. They are not perfect, but we're working on them. Jumps are happening. We worked hard on Salchow, and Toe Loop (not a Toe Waltz!) is something I've determined to master. Sit Spin is Bronze, and having gotten a handle on my Spin Anxiety, I believe this can happen.

So, my Skating Resolutions for 2015 are:

Pass Pre-Bronze Freeskate

Pass Bronze MIF

And if Bronze Freeskate happens, great! If not, that's OK, too! I sent Coach a really fun bit of music to put together another program, and he seems to like it as much as I do. He wants me to cut it right away! I listened to it again this morning, and debated the wisdom of this particular piece... it's really fast and Coach indicated there'd be a lot of toepick action. Yikes, but YES!! So, with two programs (a "Serious" one and a "Fun" one) and a lot of work, we can make the Skating Resolutions happen.

2014 was my Turnaround Year. 2015 will be my Success Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Skate "Walkers" - Weapons of Mass Destruction

We always get a few inquiries when there's a tot on public skate: "Do you have those push things?"

I always say no.

The truth is, we do have them, but I hate them. Everyone does. They are the worst things ever conceived to "assist" with learning to skate. And like most things adults dream up to keep kids safer, they actually do the opposite.

I got to help out with a mass of tots, during a "Freebie" Learn to Skate class. (Free class, you get the instructor you pay for... me!) Mostly I just held them up and dried tears, but there were too many of them for us to handle, so the dreaded skate walkers were broken out. And the kids and parents squealed in delight, the parents thinking that kid would be safer and kid seeing a wonderful little jungle gym sliding towards him. Us skaters paled in horror.

Little kids clambered up the walkers, pushing them faster and faster, skidding into other kids, the walls, the coaches, and finally falling backwards, their feet and the walker flying up into the air and down onto the next kid who squealed that there was now a free walker. Another kid, who had fallen hopelessly over and over, still hadn't learned that ice is hard and slippery, so was now doing push ups on the bar of the walker, his feet dangling down. When he tried to roll himself over the top bar, the thing slid backwards like a rocket, slamming kid down with agonizing force. He blinked, shook his head, and went for it again, perhaps trying to permanently marry Skating and Gymnastics. (Like the Big League skaters do on TV.... was that my inside voice?)

Over and over, walkers slammed into my feet and shins. I ached for my expensive blades getting more nicks, my boots getting more dings, and prayed I wouldn't be upended by one of those horrible things. If I fell, I knew I'd land on someone cute and I didn't want that.

"You don't need that walker," I hopelessly tried to convince a Cindy Lou Who, who was actually doing really well and seriously didn't need the walker.

"NO!" she grinned up at me, pushing that thing into another fallen kid who tried to roll away. "It's mine and I NEED IT!"

The walkers become an immediate crutch. Convinced of skating's deadly nature, the kids grab for safety and never learn to ... well, walk. Because that's what they learn the first lesson: walking.

A real coach handed me a bigger first timer. I held her hands and talked her through walking. I pinned her hair up out of her face, tightened up her skates, and we walked for awhile. "Okay," I said. "Pick one of my hands and let that one go." She picked my right hand, and let go. So we walked like that awhile. "Okay, let go my other hand, and try it yourself."

And she did. She was still a bit unsteady, but she had the idea. And pretty soon she dismissed me. Seriously. "I think I can do it," she turned to me, smiling, and walked off.

So, yes, it's a literal pain in the back and legs to help your first timer in skates, but it's worth it. A huge part of skating is the satisfaction of doing something that seemed impossible just a few minutes or days ago. Impossible doesn't become possible with a crutch, it gets there with help.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Skating Costumes

In addition to sewing two Harlequin skirts, The Mouse Queen, Mama G, and endless minor alterations on our stock costume dresses for Ice Show, I had the honor of sewing an Elsa dress, an Anna cape and a Kristoff vest, hat and boot covers. These are for some "Learn to Skate" events Home Rink is hosting. Right now I am beyond done with sewing anything more.

Elsa was a mashup of the Jalie Princess dress and McCall's "Frozen-but-not-really" Princess dresses. I used the bodice portion of the Jalie pattern, and the overlays and skirt of the McCalls. While not exactly easy, it wasn't as complicated as I anticipated. I simply had to take my time and work the puzzle through. It's a genuine skating dress, but I did advise the skater to try it carefully before doing any complex manuevers. The overlays and long skirt may pose a hazard. She's not competing in it, so she doesn't have to do too much in it.

The Anna Cape was really simple. The McCall's pattern packet included it along with the Elsa dress. It was all straight seaming, with a collar thrown in in to wake you up at the end. I did not line it, as that would have taken up more time than I had and made it even heavier. That said, four yards of fabric of any weight is too heavy to skate in well, so I hope the skater in this one is just standing around.

Now, the Kristoff Vest was fun. I had no pattern, as McCall's doesn't think many boys want costumes from Disney Movies. But he just wears basic black with a furry vest type thing. So, I made a furry vest. Armed with two yards of pricey sueded cuddle fur in black/gray, I cut a basic vest with turned down collar. I rolled the armholes and bottom so the fur trimmed itself, added belt loops and a belt of scrap suede. It looks pretty good! I kinda want to keep it! Thrilled with my success, I made a hat, too! A simple scalene triangle, sewn on two sides and the edge rolled up wide in the back. But he needed boots... so I cut some simple covers with what I had left. Since the cuddle fur doesn't stretch, I added a black spandex panel to the back, which will allow the skater to pull it on and over his boot. Straps on the bottom will held keep it in place, and I gave him a few safety pins for good measure. Kristoff is fairly well outfitted at this point.

Having sewn pretty solidly since mid-November, I cleaned and reorganized my sewing things. I'm taking my machine in for a tuneup and cleaning, as I'm  finding and breathing bits of cuddle fur everywhere. Next year is a new year, and I'm starting clean.

But I do have an admission.. I've never seen "Frozen."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Public Skating at Christmas

Most normal people only ice skate around the holidays. Because it's winter and ice skating is a rote, traditionsl thing to do. Edward Tew of The Telegraph posted this hilarious article about public skating during the holidays, Go read it. It's pretty spot on, as I remember skating on holiday sessions before I "skated."

Here in the US, Ice rinks appear around town, too. And the general public shows up in droves, to lace up questionable rental skates and slide around for an hour or so. And yes, us Crazy People go, too. But it's a bit different for us.

The moment you come in with your own skates, you're setting yourself apart. You came to get in a little extra ice time, maybe work on some simple things, or just to get some exercise in. You plop down your skate bag and people are glancing in your direction. Pull out your heavy freestyles with the fancy logo on the heel, put on the plastic guards, and the glances become stares. People are staring. A little girl points and whispers to her mom.

Trying to ignore it, you proceed with your ritual. Ankle pads, trouser socks, right skate first, lacing up tightly and slowly. Then left skate. The whole thing can take five minutes, but they are still staring.

Moving on, you rent a locker. I don't know why women insist on dragging their purses on the ice with them. It's a hazard, and you can't skate with a massive Louis Vitton hobo on your shoulder.

Step out to the ice, gingerly remove a guard, set one foot down on the questionable ice surface. Remove the other guard and you're on this ice.

Okay, skaters skate on indoor ice year round, but there are differences in indoor ice, too. I know exactly what to expect from the ice at Home Rink.  There are rinks I don't like to skate at because their ice feels weird. But this ice. This ice is hard and snowy and sliced up like a bad holiday turkey. You try and push off and your teeth rattle.

And they are still staring. The expectation has been set. They expect you to DO SOMETHING.

You shove off into the rotating mob, trying to get a little speed and get the feel of this, the surface of Mars ice. From your left a dude in hockey skates and an iPod darts by at 90mph, suddenly pulling a C Cut stop in front of a wobbly mom and her kid, upending everyone in a fifteen foot radius. It's a crop circle of people.

You maneuver around the disaster zone and start to get the hang of it. Dodge, stop, slow down, dodge again... this is tiring. You press on, and you notice dads pointing to you and saying, "Look how that lady does it! It's easy! You can skate!" If only they knew how many hours of practice make this look so easy.

You look to the middle where typically you can move better. There's a dad and a tot, and five girls doing selfies. Okay, this is doable. You push over the ruts and snow, praying your edges withstand this butchered turkey ice, and make it to the center.

Ah, yes. Space. You flip some lazy waltz 3's, and start to think this isn't so bad. Skating is a territorial sport. Skaters will vie for space all the time on the ice, it's a matter of personal will as to who will give way. But Normal People tend to back down if there's a "Skater" on the ice. So people are backing off and giving you space. You feel great. When suddenly out of the corner of your eye you spot that little girl in the cute red holiday coat, tottering into your path and you halt abruptly. But you still startle her so she falls, looking up at you with Bambi eyes as if to say, "How could you?" You feel awful and help her up, while her parents look on warily as though you're a potential child abductor.

Meanwhile the Selfie Girls are still around. "Can you do that jump where you spin around in the air?" They approach you with funny grins and you're not sure if they're serious.

Even if you could do "that jump," you wouldn't do it here, so you try to appease them with a waltz jump. You try to get some speed with back crossovers, lean into that back edge to get ready to jump, and suddenly you hit a deep hockey rut and lose balance, so your jump is more an effort to stay upright. Selfie girls shrug, not amused. But Cute Little Girl is watching, so you do a small one for her.

But it's crowded. And rough. And the people who thought you were going to give them a free Ice Capades are disappointed when you just give up and start doing laps. You think, "Maybe it will be better after they resurface." So you carry on and wait for the Zamboni. But when it comes out, it just scrapes up the snow, doesn't lay down any water, and then people are herded back onto the worse "dry cut" ice.

You pack up and sigh. You bcome painfully aware that nothing would make all these nonskaters happier than seeing you bite it fully out here on this horrible ice. And that's just a matter of time. Maybe those early morning practice sessions are the best ice after all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Zen Wisdom of Figures: Part 2

I started the path to Figures on a lark. I read and heard they were good for improving one's freeskating technique, and I wanted that. I also wanted something slow and calm and deliberate, to contrast the nonstop crazy that is Freestyle. But as I go on, Figures become something a bit... more.

When I did Figures in my Freestyle skates, it was easy. FO8? Yes! Serpentine? A little challenging but yes! I liked it because I could do it. It wasn't *really* a challenge. I had the quads and the speed to pull it off. BO8? Back outside edges are my favorites!

So I got excited. And I talked. And I inherited my Actual Figure Skates. And then things changed a bit.

My Figure Skates scared me. I went from being confident and nuts, to more timid and frightened than I'd been in my sports store skates four years ago. It was jarring. This wasn't me. I had fought hard to be the strong skater, the fast skater. And suddenly I couldn't lift my foot!

Suddenly I didn't like Figures that much. I wanted to... but I didn't. Not like that, not scared and weird. When I work with Freestyle Coach, I always say, "I'll try," no matter what Crazy he throws at me. Even if it doesn't work. (And a lot of it doesn't.) I still try. But today, Patch Coach asked me to try backwards one foot glides. "Think back to Beta," he said.

Beta? I remembered. I remember trying backwards one foot glides incesssantly. I couldn't do them. I toppled inside within a second, I was so scared. I didn't think I'd ever glide backward. I went home so frustrated, so many days. Today I stand tall backwards, my free foot perched neatly on my skating heel. It was a hard path to get to this level of comfort.

"Just swizzle out, big and wide," he gestured. "And find your balance point."

So I took a breath and tried. And I did one foot glides backwards, in the Figure Skates. I listened to my body and the blade, and though I caved inwards faster than I would in my Freestyles, I did get some distance. Aware that I had no "safety catch" drag pick, my posture straightened up. I looked up at the wall clock, not down at the ice. I rested on my heel, the back of the blade, where I was safe.

"Find your balance point."

One of the tenents of Buddhism is "Beginner Mind." Approach things with the mindset of a beginner, always. I'd worked hard to be strong in my skates, and now I just had to step back, and work harder. Again. So I slowed down, let go my expectation of where I had been and accepted where I was: Beta. Backwards glides, but with no toepick. The Patch Skates forced correct technique, and as I like to joke, "their correction is swift and terrible." I pushed back, wide and deliberate, and did a slow glide backwards. A beginner, a Beta Skater, and that's okay. The reason I suddenly was hesitating about Figures was that I didn't like being a beginner again. I just have to embrace it, and start all over.

"Now try an outside edge," Coach Yoda encourages.

"I can't," I say. "Not yet!"

"Just try!"

So I tried, and I skidded, and I started to learn that a little skid isn't so scary. I just came back to my balance point, and tried again.

"Next week we'll work on a real lean instead of a false lean," he said nicely.

"Was I false leaning?" I was frustrated.

"Yes, but go ahead and switch skates."

I know that the Holidays can be a stressful time for some of us. I wish that for those of us who get bogged down to see through the Busy and Tinsel and Glitter and Whatever.  Slow down, and find your balance point. Safe as peaches.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Olympic Comments

It happened again last night at Guard Duty. Someone asked me how often I skate, and I told them, and they retorted with, "Are you trying to go to the Olympics?"

I'm making a new Adult Skater Drinking Game: Every time someone mentions Olympics, take a shot. If they do it in a joking or snarky way, take two. This will make it easier to smile and nod.

In this particular instance, as in all of them, I calmly replied that I was too old to think about the Olympics, but I was aiming for Adult Nationals in 2016.

But it's still... stupid. I just have no other word for it.

I even had a coach, when joking about some improbable event, snort, "Sure, that might happen. Who knows, one of you (indicating us group of then Beta level skaters) might go to World's! Harharhar!" That was so.. not funny. Actually kinda mean.

Fortunately the Mean People are rare. Most of them simply aren't familiar with skating enough to know that, yes, there are lots of competitive events for the Seriously Recreational types like myself. For Adults, there's even an International Adult event held in Germany. (Yes, it's in the back of my head.)

But more than that, the Olympic Benchmark of success is short sighted. It removes the skater from the equation. I talk to my friends who do other sports, and they all have their goals: to run X distance in X time, to do some crazy Crossfit thing they couldn't do a month ago, to win a given Martial Arts competiton. None of these things have anything to do with Olympics, these goals are the goals of the Athletes. No one else's opinion matters. They can't. Because when you place the measure of your personal success outside of yourself, you can't win. There will always be someone faster, better, stronger than you. All you can do is be a better athlete than you were yesterday, and keep yourself as your benchmark.

On that note, no. I am not trying to go to the Olympics. If I do, I will be in the stands, likely snarking about music choices like I did during this year's Grand Prix. (No more Phantom, please!) But that doesn't mean I won't be a success. A sit spin and a Loop jump right now mean success for me, and those are a long way off. But I'm plugging away, bit by bit, piece by piece.

Two little girls asked me last night if I could do "that jump where you spin around in the air." I said no, but I did do a few little waltz-tap toes for them, and a salchow. A year ago I couldn't have done that, so I think i'm pretty successful.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Freebies - or - Skating with the Enemy

Every so often you'll see a coach who offers Freebies, for any number of reasons. A Freebie can be a free lesson, a discounted lesson, an invitation to a class for which you did not pay, or an off-ice session at some ridiculous barter rate. It's basically any service falling outside of the standard Coach Responsibilities (education on tests and competitions, equipment assistance) that you don't fork over legal tender for.

Given the expense of this sport, it's easy to get excited about Freebies. Wow! Coach really wants to help me! He must really like me!

Hold on. Not so fast.

On the surface, a Freebie seems like a nice gesture. And maybe Coach really does want to help you in some way with some skill without added expense. But here's the catch: You're now beholden to Coach.

A Freebie serves as a way for that Coach to get their little claws in you, to the point where it's difficult to escape. If you've been taking Freebies for awhile, and then become unhappy with the Coaching relationship, it's no stretch for an unethical Coach to say, "Well, I did these nice favors for you, how dare you talk back to me and complain! After everything I've done for you?" Suddenly it's Martyr City and you're Pilate.

A bad scenario for you as a member of your Rink Community is a Coach sneaking you into a class for which you didn't pay. Rink Management likely wouldn't appreciate that, and other families who did pay won’t see it as a nice gesture like you did. Two skaters can keep a secret only if one of them has a blade in her back.

Sharing Lessons is another nice gesture that can go horribly awry. Again, on the surface it is a nice way to defray costs between students of a similar level. But, as everyone knows, all skaters learn at different rates. When one skater picks up skills faster than the other, moving up before the other skater can, that faster learning skater is more likely to get the bulk of Coach's attention. It rips off lower level skaters in that shared lesson group. Worse is when a "Shared Lesson" exists to subsidize one particularly gifted skater at the expense of others who bankroll a hefty percentage of her skating lessons. (Big clues here are when Coach comments on the family’s finances.) Watch a Shared lesson between skaters of disparate levels and you can usually pick out whose lesson this really is.

What happens when one skater suddenly decides to leave the little group? It throws every other skater in a sudden lurch. Do you cut short the lesson time? Or do you continue on because the Coach "needs the income?"

Tread carefully in "Shared Lessons" and be sure they are, in fact, truly and equitably shared.

Not all Freebies are bad. But be careful. Keep track. Don't put yourself in a situation where you've accepted so many Freebies and Favors that it's hard to back out of an abusive coaching relationship, and you simply have to take the Coach's abuse due to all the "nice things" he did before. Remember, an abuser's pattern is one of cruelty followed by "let me make it up to you" niceness.

Bottom line, Coaching is a business. Be wary of any Pro who doesn’t treat it that way. And there’s no such thing as a Free Skating Lunch. Ever. Don't get burned out there.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Patch Skates: Round 2

As you readers will recall, I had my first try in Patch Skates back in September. It was scary as all get out. Given how scared I was, and with the show coming up, I tabled the Patch Skates until after Ice Show. I couldn't risk injury.

Well, Ice Show is done, so I swallowed my fear and laced them back up. And it was a little easier this time. A little. I swizzled around and eventually picked up to one foot glides. Then I could do FI Edges. The balance point is insanely precise. Go off of it even slightly and skid perilously sideways. I tried FO Edges, and my left side was cooperative, but my right skidded badly. I knew I was not leaning.

Patch Coach came in and sighed. He had me try FI8's. My right side was easy, but my left inside edge was hard. Skid, skid, skid. Scary scrape at the pushoff.

He had me just do edges.

FI were no problem. FO... skid, skid, skid. Scary Scrape as I tried to push with a nonexistent pick.

He sighed and called me back over. "Did you bring the old ones?"

I frowned. Was this defeat?

He told me to bring the Freestyles and Figures for a few weeks while I make the transition. Start in the Freestyles, then switch to Figures, then back again. He gave me simple sets of swizzles and slaloms to do in the Figures. Find the balance point, learn to push from the knee and be on my heel.

"Now try backwards swizzles," he said.

"What, no." I do not like to go backwards in these things. Yes, I can snowplow backwards, but that little drag pick does drag!

"Just go slow."

So I did, painfully aware of my position on the blade. "DONOTPITCHFORWARD.... DONOTPITCHFORWARD... DONOTPITCHFORWARD.... DONOTPITCHFORWARD...." my swizzle pattern echoed my thought process. I could feel my back, ramrod straight. "I can't stop," I squealed as I came perilously close to the wall, but my foot dug into that shallow edge and stopped me, safe as peaches. Coach Yoda laughed.

I did a few laps, and then we did backwards slaloms, also terrifying. But I could feel the backwards balance point. I may not do actual Figures in my Figure Skates until the New Year, if that, but progress was made.

In the lobby, Coach Yoda then decided to tell me that "back in the day," they didn't start in actual Patch Skates until 3rd test... when they started doing Loops. Now he tells me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rink Review: The Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon!

In case you haven't heard, Chicago is now home to the world's coolest skating rink. Down by the lakefront, just past Millennium Park, is Maggie Daley Park. And on the north end of the part is the Skating Ribbon. It's a quarter mile loop of ice, about 25' wide (give or take) for your skating pleasure. It curves and bends and winds itself around the (still unfinished) Rock Climbing Wall, and even has some soft inclines for a little adventure! Yes, it's just shy of five feet up and down (Twice!) over a 300' distance. When I saw it, I was a little unnerved! Skating downhill??

But be brave, skaters, and get out your skates! This rink is not for jumping or spinning or any of your repertoire of tricks, but rather just for an outdoor skating session to chill your cheeks, give you a real workout, and make you crave a hot chocolate. The day I went, it was unseasonably warm for December in Chicago, so the ice was very soft. And because Chicago in December is packed with Tourists, it did get crowded fairly quickly. But just to push up the hill and then glide serenely down and around was very fun. You'll skate past casual observers and enchanted children, the usual set of rink rats out for the day, frustrated Figure Showoffs with nowhere to spin, and plenty of newbies struggling up and panicking down.

"But how do they make ice on a hill? Is it real ice?"

Yes, it's very real and I have no idea how they do it. I don't care. It's amazing, and if you have the misfortune to visit Chicago in winter, go visit. It will be unlike anything you've ever skated before, I promise. It made me think of how skating began: Outside, cold, travelling around on a frozen river, touring peacefully in winter. Just casually stroking, hands in my pockets and smiling. It was a lovely thing to do after Ice Show.

Just be sure to stretch afterwards. Those inclines make you work more than you realize! Also, there is a coffee shop inside the lovely Chicago Cultural Center right across Michigan Avenue. Step in to warm up and take in some beautiful art and Chicago History, looking like a total boss with your skates slung over your shoulder.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Another Show in The Books

Ice show is done. I'm catching up on Grand Prix Final videos and relaxing. Overall, this was one of the best ice shows I've ever done. The stress level was mainly caused by overzealous skating moms, which is to be expected and can be contained.

My spins were not happening. I don't know whether it was the long skirt flipping me out, the new sharpening done by a stranger which I didn't trust, performance anxiety or all three, but I couldn't spin as well as I can in practice. But I let it go. If it happens, great. If not, I know what I need to work on. The shows are a great way to find trouble spots.

I had a great time sewing for the girls, and my costumes were a hit. I'd like to remake more for next year, as our stock holiday costumes are really showing their age. It was nice having artistic license in costume creation.

And it was friendlier. There was a camaraderie in the building that I hadn't felt before. No one was running around saying, "Have you heard..." and there was no one threatening to quit. We were laughing at the folks who were trying to stir up trouble, and we let it go. I avoided people I just didn't want to deal with, as it was just easier that way. "If you don't have anything nice to say" and all that.

Why the big change? Lots of reasons, but one big one in particular: We got rid of one big bad apple. She left and it was like everyone could breathe again. We were free to do stuff, make decisions, and make changes. And it worked.

This morning I skated with Coach and we did Moves, and I told him how happy I was with my skating. I was skating so much better than I was last year, and for the first time in a show I could relax about the skating elements and smile. People kept stopping me and telling me how great I looked. He laughed. But it's me working hard and having someone who works hard with me consistently and fairly, not tossing me table scraps from the skating supper. That's made all the difference in the world. Last year when the show was over I felt horrible, but this year I feel like I skated strongly, worked hard, and contributed to something amazing.

I'm thinking now that if I can come this far in 8/9 months, this upcoming year promises to be fabulous. Coach says he will teach me to Skate, and I want that. After my lesson I hung out and played some fun music, playing with steps and moves. I love that I can play now. People catch me playing on public's and ask me what step it is, and I laugh and shrug. It's fun, that's what it is. Skating is fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Moving Forward...

I keep laughing over how different this year's Ice Show is from last year. Today I bid a farewell to our Pairs Choreographer today, thanking him for his patience and a lovely program. And it is. We have great ice coverage, he let me skate my strong elements, and I feel absolutely lovely in it. I think we're in great shape for the show.

And while the show program has been in progress, my freestyle work goes on. Coach is happy with my progress, and that just makes me want to work harder to get to the goal of some competitions in 2015. Spinning and some new jumps, and I think we're good to go.
Salchow is one that I'm really having fun with. It's a super fun jump, but super challenging. I will either not check the LFO3 enough and wing myself terrifyingly around, or I check too much and barely make rotation. Coach has me check the prints to see how I did, as ice prints don't lie.

Toe Loop, a jump that I thought I had been doing for awhile, I've actually been doing wrong. This jump is getting a makeover, and undoing that muscle memory is tough. One of the things I love about Coach is that he has a million little tricks up his sleeve to build correct muscle memory in pieces, so that when he introduces something really complex, you've got the parts already built in. But the Toe Loop was taught without correct edges when I learned it about a year ago, so I've been doing ToePick JumpThing, and not a Proper Toe Loop. The result now is that when I step through Toe Loop, I can do it right. But when I try to jump, I revert right back to ToePick JumpThing. It's in the ice prints. It's a work in progress.

Half Lutz is disturbingly similar to Half Flip, and it makes you wonder if Mr. Lutz was some kind of "me toooooo" kind of guy when he said, "NO IT'S DIFFERENT SEE MY OUTSIDE EDGE??" I'm really seeing how easy it can be to fake a Lutz, and Coach is all about making sure I have good edge habits from day 1. I'm also thanking Figure work for giving me a solid idea of where I'm at on my blades. It's not boring, it serves a genuine purpose!

Half Loop is my brand new one. We got introduced this week, and he's a toughie. I see myself struggling with this for awhile. "Half" is a bit of a misnomer, since it's a full 180. It's hard to describe. But Coach and I were working on the wall and I just observed, "It's a full rotation..." and he nodded. And then I tried it off the wall and got completely physically lost. So he gave me some Piece/Parts exercises to work on this week. I did okay on the Piece/Parts.

Also introduced were Sit Spin and Back Scratch. Again, most of these very new skills are in pieces, but we're slowly bringing the pieces together. Back Scratch also feeds into Half Loop, so everyone helps each other out this week. I'm anxious to give things another go, even if it means hanging off the boards for awhile. I hung off the boards doing mohawks for three months, so it's okay.

Figures has been invaluable lately. I feel more confident on my blades than I've ever been. I can find my balance quicker and stronger, and once safe on an edge, I can do pretty much whatever I want. I can twist my shoulders and extend my arms and smile, or I can play around with my free leg and be ridiculous, or glide forever and change edge two or three times. That strength really helped bring some life to the show program.

I had some parents tell me I looked good and strong during show practice, and while that felt really great, I had to laugh when I was in lesson the next day. Coach had me all sorts of awkward, and I had to wonder what they'd think of me clinging to him like a static'd sock and completely lost on a new jump. I had felt stuck for a long time, but what usually happens after feeling stuck is a sudden rush of new things that breaks you for awhile. It's true what they say; Skating never gets any easier, you just get stronger.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Show Dreams

I know it's a Deep Week in a show process where I start dreaming about it. This one wasn't good or bad, just weird...

The show was now in the Round, with an audience all around. It was more like a circus. We were performing, but a coach had added some weird Rube Goldberg type machine that was operated by his skaters who were all wearing tiaras. The thing did some weird story telling thing with puppets but it made no sense at all in the context of our show. It was like Phillip Glass had inserted himself, and he was going on and on about how wonderful it was and how great he was for thinking of it.

Meanwhile I looked out to the audience and half of them were taking the time to go to the bathroom and chat, because Phillip Glass/Rube Goldberg Puppet Machine was so freaking boring. And all his tiara wearing skaters were so thrilled about it, and came out of the machine to bow and smile and then do some other new routine for no apparent reason.

And the rest of the performers were all standing around wondering what was going on, and when were we going on because it was our show, too.

I really have to not spend so much time sewing tulle. Apparently it messes with your head.

Friday, December 5, 2014

How To: Ice Show

So you've decided to be a part of the Ice Show! Great! I've always held the belief that one does not learn to truly skate until you start doing Programs, and one of the best way for a beginner to do simple programs with a little pressure is in the Rink's Ice Show.

But how do you go about this? It would seem simple enough. I performed throughout High School and some College, and it was a lot of fun, so one of my reasons for skating is the chance to perform again. Performing onstage and performing on ice are a little different from each other, in that the floor is suddenly slippery and there's complicated skating to act through. But for the most part, it's about the same.

Be at all rehearsals.
All of them. No questions asked. Rehearsals are vital to ensuring a quality product at showtime. Yes, it's a pain when you work a full day and you're adding this to your existing skating schedule, but it's critical. Unless you're dying or dead, be at rehearsal.

When at Rehearsal, Go with the Flow
Rehearsals are a fluid thing. Every Choreographer and Director has his or her own given style. Some show up with a plan in hand, others make it up as they go. It's okay. Just do what you're told, and it you have a problem where you cannot do a given maneuver or element, speak up and you'll likely be given something else that you can do. If you've got a solo, talk to the coach/choreographer about your strong points and what you'd like to do, so he or she can incorporate them into your program.

At First Run Through, Go with the Flow even more.
Few things are as awkward as the first complete runs of any show. Cues and people go missing, there's tension, nothing works right, and you're likely to feel as lost as you've ever been. Add a few manic skating moms to that mix and it's downright comic. Relax. The purpose of rehearsals is to iron out the very kinks you're experiencing. You can't fix what you can't identify, and rehearsals identify trouble spots. Be assured you're in good hands. Do what you're told to the best of your ability, and keep your wits and sense of humor about you.

One week before the show
Sharpen and polish your skates. Replace laces if they're dirty. Clean your guards in the dishwasher. Get your sewing/repair kit in order with lots of safety pins and needles. Get your makeup kit together with lots of bobby pins, band aids, ibuprofin and antacids. Try out your show makeup and hairstyle at home to be sure you can get it right. If you've got your own costume, make any minor repairs and pick up a fresh pair of tights when you're getting your skates sharpened. Wash your warmup jacket and put a pack of tissues in the pocket. Schedule a massage for the day after the show.

Dress Rehearsal
At our rink, this is technically "Tech Rehearsal." Tech is when the lights, sound, costumes and performers all come together for the first time.

In a theatre setting, Tech usually lasts a week to two weeks and is done in stages. We'll run the tech elements alone for a day or two before adding the actors. But in a skating rink, ice time is money, so two weeks of tech is not possible. It all gets done in one night, and it is historically a disaster. But remember, Theatre Superstitions dictate that the best opening nights follow the worst final rehearsals. You can't give your best performance to an empty house, and this is why most actors will not rehearse curtain call. It's just bad luck.

Tech is when you need to be as relaxed as possible. Yes, it will be stop-and-go, but for your sake you need to treat this as a performance. Envision an audience out there. Skate your best, and let the nerves and drama wash over you. Do whatever rituals you do before a performance to get yourself stage ready. For me, I use visualization techniques starting a day or so before I go on; I picture myself giving a perfect performance, smiling and lovely. I see myself through every step, every word (when I had lines, anyway) and yes, I would perform to a mirror. Now that I'm skating, I check my movements in the mirror, in the kitchen, walking down the street. (When you live in a major city, you can do these things and no one cares.)

The day of performing, I'll do physical warmups as I've been taught by my acting instructors. They really do help! Once in your Happy Place, stay there mentally. Don't let anyone drag you out of it. You're gonna be swell. Should a negative thought creep in, banish it immediately! A negative person needs to be avoided, and conversations that turn sour need to be shut down.

After Tech, go home, have a mental cooldown session, and get to bed. Sometimes a good night will leave me with a lot of residual energy, so a brisk walk with the MP3 player uses it up.

Since you were so good at treating Dress Rehearsal as a show, Opening Night should be a cakewalk.

Haha, yeah I know. The sight of an audience makes me weak in the knees, too. But just remember this: They have no idea what your choreography is. You can fake the whole thing and they'd never know. So, if you goof, just smile and move immediately onto the next thing. Don't get flustered, just keep going. Most show programs are 90 seconds, give or take, so even if they realize something is amiss, you're done and the show is moving on. Also, Skating is unique in that the casual observer thinks even the simplest things are pretty cool. And when you do a simple move with great flair and a big smile, it's amazing. Let go of the "Normal You" and embrace "Performer You," or whatever character you're playing. Go big, it's Theatre!

Once the show is done, go home and do your mental and physical cooldown, and get lots of rest. Drink plenty of water, eat well, and be kind to yourself throughout the run. Performing takes up a lot of energy.

Closing Night
In a Theatre, Closing Night is sometimes when all bets are off. Actors will change lines, suddenly run ridiculous blocking, and if it's a comedy then they're suddenly off the charts, much to the irritation of Stage Management. But then, actors will run a show for weeks, whereas your Ice Show may only run a weekend. My personal habit has always been to treat Closing Night as a fond farewell; with as much reverence as I'd say goodbye to a friend. After all, I've been preparing and rehearsing for this particular show since summer. No two show experiences are ever the same, and so it's safe to say you'll never have another show like this again.

After your closing performance, head out with friends and fellow cast members to celebrate. I'm often confused by a lack of closing celebrations in ice shows. I turn around and everyone's taken off without much ceremony, and it leaves me feeling a little empty. I need the closure of some drinks and good laughs. So this year I've arranged some closing night fun with some friends and family coming in from out of town.

And don't forget that massage you scheduled.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Program *or* Highway to the Danger Zone

The Holiday Show program is done. My partner chickened on the lift, so we replaced it with two Power 3 turns which mirror each other. The tradeoff for not lifting is that now we have to fly the program at 90MPH to make it through the music, because those power 3's take longer than a lift.

And I'm not kidding. We've made it on the music once.

Once. We have one minute and six seconds to perform the following:

We start out with some 3 turns, into a throw waltz, and here is where I can pick up some time. The Throw Waltz lands, I step out into a pivot and turn that into a one foot spin. The Step Out and Pivot I can kinda rush.

Then we do some step-behinds, six of them. Or four. Or eight, depending on where the spin winds up. This is messy, because timing is critical. Four steps take up less time than eight, so a goal of mine is to firmly establish it to be four or six but never eight. Eight is dumb. Again, we can pick up time by losing some of the steps and smoothing out the ones we do.

Then it's some arm-presentation, followed by some 3 turn manuever that puts us in line for 3 Back crossovers, stepping out into a FI Spiral back around cross the center. I have to position myself just right coming out of that spiral so Partner can shove me a bit, and I find an outside edge quick enough to do those power 3's. It's been dodgy.

Now things get truly hairy. The Power 3's are okay, I can lush those up just fine. But then I have to step forward and edge roll quickly into two fast forward crossovers on my weaker side. I'm well aware that the slightest pitch forward is going to catch that drag pick which is millimeters off the ice. If this happens, I will plow into the photographer because he'll be right in line with my trajectory.

Now we really have to push, because I can hear the music winding down at this point, and I know we have about ten seconds to do the next few things. There's a one foot presentation glide right downstage center, followed by an outside mohawk at top speed. I've hated the stagger back I have been doing, so I've been trying edge-rolling back into a back crossover, then push back big into a Back outside Spiral.

The Edge Roll is taking up time, so my partner is telling me to cut it, but I'm in favor of taking up an extra second to get a smoother flow. Besides, he cut my lift, so whatever.

Spiraling back like Dale Earnhardt Jr, I then have to straighten up and snowplow backwards without killing myself or looking too awkward, find my partner's open hand, twirl twice and curtsey.

And smile. And then when we've finished close to on time, we celebrate before trying again.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Muscle Strain - again

So I got the flu two weeks ago. This was my first truly serious bout with the Flu, and it was genuinely horrible. I was out of work for a week, I was off the ice for days, and when I did get back on I was barely able to breathe my lungs were so bad. My throat is still sore off and on, but I lived off of soup, tea, Diet Coke and Chloraseptic for two weeks. The doctor just shrugged and said there wasn't much she could do for me, but she did give me a mouthwash with lidocaine in it to completely numb my throat which hurt so bad I was near tears.

But like all illnesses, it is fading. I do feel better. I still get tired easily, which from what I've read can last for weeks. But I'm clearly on the mend.

The cough was bad, and flu sufferers will tell you it's dry, persistent and hacky. And hard. I coughed so hard and so long, my left intercostal muscles got a strain.

I didn't realize how much I use those muscles until I skated, my first real "OK, let's really do this" skate this morning with coach since I got sick.

Salchows hurt. Loop turns hurt beyond belief. Forward power stroking with a full extension nearly collapsed as the muscle just refused to work. It spasmed and shuddered and my arm fell hopelessly aside. The waltz 8 exercise with arms was really awkward... a coordination thing coach has me doing, apparently seeing my weakness with top half/bottom half coordination. Waltz jumps, alternating mohawks...Oh, I was hurting bad at the end of that hour.

But in a way, it's kind of gratifying. One of my huge sticking spots was that I didn't like to rotate my upper body. Now that it hurts to move it at all, I know I'm moving it! A lot! And to be working though that pain and still get compliments from coach was great. If I can do this sore and stiff, maybe I'm not so bad after all!

I know this will fade, as all injuries inevitably do. But in the meantime I'll make some grumbly noises, and keep my heating pad at the ready.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just what makes a "Serious Skater?"

Normally I'm at the rink when it's early morning and quiet, or during general public hours, and so I typically don't see much of the staff most of the year. But then Ice Show happens and I suddenly see a lot of everyone. I suddenly go from living in my own little skating world to being in the thick of everyone! I overhear a lot, and I talk a lot.

A friend came up to me laughing, saying a coach had excused himself from a conversation with the words, "I have to go, I have champions to teach!"

Oh lordy, did we have a good laugh over that humdinger! Champions to teach? Well, do forgive us simple plebians for taking up your precious time, oh godly one! I'm still giggling. Doubtless he is excited over the idea of going overseas to a big comp and all, but the choice of words and tone is classless at best. Humility is a virtue.

So, if there are indeed "Champions to teach," then why waste time with anyone else? I've heard it a lot, that adult skaters won't "go anywhere" in the sport, so why bother at all? Who wants to spend their lives teaching crossovers to beginners when they have visions of being on TV behind the boards at the Olympics as the announcer says, "And there is their coach! He's so effin' talented!" Why bother with skaters who are just recreational, or just rink guards, or just the costume stitchers, or not really all that talented, when you can focus on the kids who will get your name in lights? You know, the "Serious Skaters."

There are two kinds of theatre professional. There are those who do it for the love of themselves: they only take roles or jobs that make them look good and "advance them" as professionals. These people are the biggest dickwads to work with. They are always flouting their resume as "proof" of their artistic merit and how great they are. Meanwhile, everyone else is running around going crazy because Mister Big was too busy talking about how great he is to get the light plot done. (Not a hypothetical scenario. Happens ALL. THE. TIME.)

Then there are the people who do it for the love of the art. They don't mind working in little broken down storefronts on a shoestring, because they can do their art. And they're grateful to be able to do their art. They work the all-nighters, they smile, they're patient and never once do they bring up that one really cool thing they did in Germany.

Mister Big may actually get to Broadway. It happens. And we all roll our eyes and poke each other remembering what an ass he was on those calls.  You can get to your goal of being "famous" or what ever, but the legacy of being a dick will follow you forever. Trust me.

Same thing with coaches. Check in with the beginner classes, and you'll see the same group of cheery people endlessly teaching crossovers to flight after flight of beginners, season after season. Because that's what they do. Artists in their own right, eliciting the first few crossovers from a wobbly beginner makes them smile. As it should, because I remember those first attempts!

Then there's the occasional dude stepping in, who makes a big deal about either "having to teach" the pre-free kids, or that he was so super generous to give an hour of his precious time to teaching them. There's your Mister Big. Mister Big who blows into lessons whenever and without regard for anyone's time but his own. Mister Big who is going to remind you about his "better" skaters at every opportunity, as proof of his great talent. (But wait, he didnt coach them until a year ago, isn't that right? Shhhhh...)

You can try to work with Mister Big, but be wary. He's the first to dismiss people as "weekend hobbyists" and give them a less quality lesson because of his judgement on their prospects of making him look like a better coach. As in, who's a serious skater and who isn't.

How can he tell? He can't. He's not you, he's just some random guy who feels qualified to make a judgement call on something he can't understand anyway. I've started to realize that some people can skate all their lives and never really *get* skating. And some people skate for an afternoon and they light up from some place inside and ask me about lessons and blades, and I light up too and we talk for an hour about it. Because we get it. We might not know how to do a rocker, but just being out there, doing crossovers, is an incredible blessing and a gift.

A Serious Skater isn't someone that Mister Big has blessed with his attention, and an "Unserious Skater" isn't someone who Mister Big has dismissed as a weekend hobbyist. A serious skater is someone who likes going out there and feeling the wind in their ears and smiles at every skill learned and mastered. It's not the skates you're in or the clothes you wear, the tests you take or the comps you skate. It's not your level or your ambition or your Olympic potential. It's your love. And love of just being there and skating isn't something the Mister Bigs can understand.

I remember a conversation I had with coach in summer, just before my test. I told him that my speedskater friend noted I was skating with more confidence, more determination, ever since March. And that made me really happy, because confidence brings bravery, and brave makes me do better things. He nodded and said, "You just needed to find what you wanted out of skating."  And I knew right then I had found my perfect Coach.

So, Mister Big can go to his big competition with his champions. Last night a had a five year old in wobbly skates step onto the ice and reach for me, saying, "Take me around, take me around!" And I did, because I recognized that light in her eyes. She was a very serious skater.

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Zen Wisdom of Figures

I have come to the conclusion that my Patch Coach is my Yoda.

This morning we were working on proper push technique. "You push with your calf and ankle," he said quietly. "You need to push with your whole leg," he indicated the thigh.

"I try," I said. "But I sometimes think I'm going to push myself off the back of my blade."

"Well, let's talk about that. Push hard, but you have to center yourself on your blade first." He smiled and said it like it was nothing at all, but for me it was like a Tibetan Bowl moment.

Be Strong, but Center yourself first.

Think about that one.

I said I would try. He said to just let the Edge carry me.




Monday, September 15, 2014

So I tried Speed Skates

I have a speedskating friend, and we skate around together on Sundays sometimes when I'm guarding and he tries some of my figure skating tricks in speed skates. It always makes me smile. But I've been on him to let me try Speed Skates, just once. Those long blades and the itty bitty boot with no ankles are a mystery to me, so I wanted to try.

He makes it look so easy!!

Finally I begged loud enough and he got me a pair of size 5 short track speedskates from the club locker. He sat me down and proceeded to strap me in. I already knew I'd made a horrible mistake. Okay, I knew the "boots" or whatever were a bit too big, but I figured I wouldn't be out there long or doing anything, so I let that go. I stood up and found that I could not walk. The longer blades gave me a pronounced duck walk, but more than that, speed skates have no heel. I felt like I was in my running shoes. With blades. I immediately began to panic.

Before I stepped onto the rink, he picked up my feet like he was shoeing a horse and deburred the blades with a razor. He insisted they were sharp enough for me to skate on, and I trusted him.

Another mistake.

I stepped onto the ice and my foot slid sideways. I set my other foot down and it went sideways. I was Bambi. It was awful. "These are not sharp!" I clung to the wall for dear life. "I can't skate!"

"They are sharp!" Speedskating Friend yelled back, clearly amused. "You have to commit to it! Push!!"

The harsh reality.

There's that word again: PUSH! So with one hand on the wall I set my running shoe'd and unsupported ankle back and gave it as much as I could give through my abject terror. And I did glide. I tried to stop, and I was again told I had to "really commit" to find the edge. Out of habit I tried to gently swizzle myself forward, but dear lord, is that a 20' rocker? My feet slid sideways again, but thankfully it's nearly impossible to fall off the back of a speedskating blade.

So I tried just pushing forward again, but I found out just how much blade is out in front of me because I kept hitting it and threatening to trip myself. I think I got in five or six good strokes, but those blades wanted to go fast, way faster than I wanted to go. I found I was starting to pick up some speed and panicked, tried to stop, and nearly died on a snowplow.

All the way, my speedskating friend and just about everyone else who knew me were all thoroughly enjoying themselves. The office staff even came out to join the pointing and laughing, the hockey boys came in from their class to watch. "What are you doing??" was their main question while they laughed. "I DON'T KNOW I HATE THIS IT IS HORRIBLE," was my only response.

Sweating, terrified, shaking and done, I got on the boards after three quarters of a lap and dragged myself back to the safety of the rink door. Those gorgeous big swooping crossovers and strokes speedskaters do? I have no idea how that happens. What I do understand is the necessity of helmets and padding along the boards. Those blades want to move, and you'd better be ready. And why they only go one way; because mastering those blades two ways is unthinkable.

I thanked my speedskating friend for the opportunity to try, and handed back those speed skates. I gratefully put my SP Teri's back on, and stepped back out onto the ice. And for a moment I thought there was something wrong with my blades because they grabbed the ice so well. "I would not be a good speed skater," I said to my friend.

"You'd be great at it," he was serious. "You just need to push."

"Ugh, stop saying that."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Oh wow.. Patch Skates!!

When I first started doing Patch, the Veteran Patch Skater said to us, "If you get really into it, you will need different skates," she looked at our freestyle blades with disdain. I had heard about this concept, and while it sounded terribly romantic, was likely not going to happen. Skates and blades are expensive, any way you shake it.

But I mentioned my newfound love of Figures to my skate tech, and said that once Ice Show was over, I'd be able to dedicate more time to them, and perhaps try testing them. He found this lovely, and said he'd try to find me a pair of used boots to use as Patch skates. This was about a month ago.

At yesterday's sharpening, he said he'd found some boots. He pulled up what looked like Cinderella's slippers in white leather; an old pair of SP Teri "Super Teri." They were absolutely tiny in comparison to my bulky freestyle skates. I did not think they would fit me, they were so small. The laces felt old, the uppers were thin and not nearly so stiff as my Teri Dance. There was a little scruff of lamb's wool on the tongue, so darling I petted it! My foot fit perfectly. I was in love.

But what about blades? Patch blades will have no drag pick, either not made with one or a pair of freestyle blades with the drag pick ground off. And blades can be just as expensive, if not more expensive than boots.

He pulled up an old, beat up, very dusty blade box. Were it not for the "MK Wilson" printed on the front, I would have thought Harry Potter's wand was inside. But it was a pair of never used Wilson "Test" blades, wrapped in wax paper, with oil seeping through and discoloring the little printed instruction sheet on how to properly mount blades in English spellings. I unwrapped one; no drag pick to speak of.

Okay. At this point I was wondering how likely it was that my husband would divorce me if I bought another pair of skates so soon after my last pair, for something as trivial as "just another discipline."

I asked the dreaded question. "How much?"

My skate tech smiled and explained that since I'd donated my Jackson's to the shop, we could count the Teri's as a trade. It's true, I didn't even bother seeking consignment on the Jackson's. I was so happy with my Teri's, I'd just counted my blessings and gave them to the skate shop. Apparently they had sold quickly. My Cinderella Slippers were now a gift of the Skate Fates.

Okay, but the blades? He shrugged and said they were found online, and since no one really does Patch anymore, relatively cheaply. He named a price, and I jumped on it. "Do you want me to pay now?"

My only trick now is timing. My day job boss is having surgery this week, so time off will be hard to come by for the next two weeks. And school, scouts and theatre is all back in session, so my evenings are almost always booked. Finding time for a proper blade mounting with my pronation and quirks will require drastic action. I left my Slippers there with my Harry Potter blades, and planning on just leaving early one afternoon this week to get it done. And Skate Tech wants to know how the flatter blades feel. I do, too. And while I doubt Cinderella Skates will fix my BI8's from migrating to Botswana, I am eager to try!

And Cinderella Skates will require Cinderella blade covers, so I'm going to try out one of the numorous blade cover patterns available online. Magic sparkles please... Figure Eights may not be the Prince's ball but they are the best I can do!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pairs Update

We're a week away from Auditions and we're feeling pretty good. For all the Dramatics of last year, this year went pretty smoothly. There were a few missed practices, a few "off" days, but we have a program and it looks okay. I'm always of the belief that things could be better, but Partner insists he feels great about everything.

There is practically nothing in this program that is overtly challenging. We have a jump/step over/cross behind thing that is a bit awkward, but other than that, it's pure gravy. Partner just needs to make sure I have enough clearance on the Jump combo so I don't hit the wall (or get so close that I freak out and abort the jump) and clearance again later on so I don't strike the wall on my footwork. My only true challenges are locating him, and this morning I just went for it and let him find me. I had a Butt Fall yesterday morning, so I was really sore today, but once the meds kicked in and the nerves calmed down, I was fine.

The relative ease with which this process happened has startled me. Last year the Pair Program took up literally all of my skating energy. This year is different in that I have my own program I'm polishing up, and doing Patch, and pacing through Bronze and Silver moves. And I'm fine with all of it! A Regular Schedule for skating means I can evenly divide up my ice time for solo, pairs, patch, and Extra/challenge/new material with no problem.

Now that the skating is happening relatively easily, Pairs Coach wants me to smile and emote more. Play the judges, as it were. So as we were working Tuesday, he kept yelling at me to "SMILE! Are you SMILING?" (He's a Yeller.)

Actually I was! I like everything about this program, even the spin. The music is cute and fun, the steps are bouncy, and I can play the audience to it. After skating to last year's Funeral Dirge (not literally, but that's what it felt like) this is a lot of fun! I'm actually excited to do it in front of an audience!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Backwards, Please?

Another truism in skating is that once you have something pretty good forwards, you have to then do it backwards. But the challenge is why we're here, right? Keep telling yourself that.

Two things I've nailed pretty good lately are 3 Turns (which are always getting improved upon) and Lunges. I've always had a fairly solid lunge where my right leg is trailing. Coach of course wants me to lunge both ways, so after a lot of work and a sore hip, I can now lunge with the left leg trailing pretty good, too.

Now he wants me to lunge backwards.

The problem with lunging backwards is if you hit that blade anywhere but correct, it's a death wish. We tried lowering right down into it backwards, with mixed results. Of course I was nailing the edge and toepick before hitting the boot, so he had me lunge forward and then do a FO3 to wind up backwards.

Again, mixed results but better. Not bad for a first attempt.

Then we started on Twizzles.

A Twizzle, as it was explained to me (and your mileage may vary) is just a series of 3 turns all strung together. Stated that way, it doesn't seem so bad. But then you realize that some of those 3 turns will be going backward to forward, and all you've been doing is forward to backward.

So, I now struggle with BO and BI3's. Back Outside 3's actually are coming pretty well. They are slow, but steady. Back Inside 3's are another story. I cannot do them. I rotate my shoulders, but my hips flat refuse. And when I say "flat," I mean it. I am squarely on the flat of my blade, which I know since I can feel that Inside Edge when I'm doing a BI8 figure.

Is everyone getting this?

So, backwards is my current challenge, and the increasing technical details are a reason why I've just stopped discussing skating with my friends and family. They get terms like "crossover" and "jump," but when I say "change edge into the second lobe of the serpentine," they kind of glaze over.

It's okay, sometimes I do, too. But I feel good. Skating in general feels very, very good these days. Figures have helped my Freeskating immensely, as I was told they would, and the intensity of the Freeskating instruction keeps me on my literal toes. I am loving every second of it! So, can you progress while going backwards? Absolutely!

Monday, September 1, 2014

How To: Freestyle Practice Ice

It's a question that comes up among adult skaters; "I'm not sure if I can skate on practice ice with all those high level kids. I'm not good enough or fast enough!"

Yes, it's intimidating. I will be the first to admit it is intimidating to be struggling with footwork and someone does a triple jump right next to you. It is scary to be doing an inside spiral and someone flies by at close range and threatens your balance. I think my most WTF moment was when I was tasked with doing a backwards spiral right through the center, which was a literal gauntlet of sit and camel spins. I wholly understand.

But it's a blunt truth that you can't get better at skating unless you get out there and skate, and there's only so much you can get done on a public session. Or in the case of my rink, on the little tiny studio rink which is where adult skaters get banished to. At some point, going on freestyle practice ice will be absolutely necessary for progress. You've got to go out there.

So, how do you do it?

First off, understand that no one is really paying attention to you. No matter how poorly you think you're doing, it's okay. No one's watching. Everyone is focusing on their given tasks, and the only time they see you is when they have to alter course to avoid hitting you.

Second: Collisions on practice ice are actually pretty rare. They do happen, but when they do, we usually immediately ask who was involved, and we aren't too suprised because we expect accidents out of some people. High freestylers have a knack for dodging, and it's not in their best interests to hit someone and risk injury to themselves. So, have faith that no one is out to get you. They aren't.

Third: MOVE. The secret to practice ice is move, move, move. A stationary object on practice ice is actually the most dangerous thing. If you have to stand for a moment to take a break, move to the boards.

Fourth: Don't hang out in corners. That's Jumping area. Which hockey circle is "lutz corner" depends on who is jumping, so I just consider both to be lutz corner. You can be in them, but you need to -

Fifth: Listen and be aware. While none of us should be scratching toepicks, we all do. Listen for blades in proximity. Get a sense of people around you. You'll start to get a knowledge of skating patterns and where they're going so you can move as needed. The worst thing for me is when I can't tell where someone is going because their pattern makes no sense. Pay attention to who is on the ice that day. Eventually you'll start to learn what to expect out of certain folks, which makes dodging them easier.

Sixth: Be nice. Courtesy is contagious. Figure skaters have a rap of being snobby. It's not entirely true, they just seem that way because they are focused. Smile! Have fun! A quick "Sorry!" on a close call or "Excuse me!" as you're coming through can help. If you like someone's music, say so! Notice that someone's doing better today than a few months ago? Tell them! Remember, high freestylers are struggling just as much as you are, they're just struggling with different things. And you know how good compliments feel when you've been working hard on a element, so don't be stingy with your compliments!

Follow the traffic patterns, go with the flow. Give right of way to whoever has their music on at the moment, or whoever is working with their coach that day. If the ice clears when a particularly fast skater is doing their program, there is a reason! (You can still use this time to work on footwork on the ends!)

There are caveats.

Haters will hate. There are a few people who don't like adults on their (or more likely the case on their daughter's) ice. Oh well. These are usually the same people who say adults can't skate very well. So, how do they expect you to learn to skate good if you can't get on the ice? Yeah. Stay off that hatercycle and ignore them. Just remember, if some skater chick is being snobby to you on the ice, it's only a hefty dose of mommy's money that's put her where she is now. If it's a mom, well, there's some serious psychology going on there and none of it good. So move on.

There are sessions that will be too crowded. Whether it's due to poor monitoring, a bad combination of skaters (too many known careless people in one space) or both, if you find yourself on a session where you feel it's just too dangerous, step off. Let the monitor know (nicely!) why you're leaving. As long as you stay within your given level of ice, this scenario should be rare. You will start to learn which sessions are known to be crowded and to be avoided. You'll also figure out which sessions are "fast." You will know a fast session when you're on one.

You will fall. And when you do, get up quickly and shake it off. No one noticed except to wonder if you're okay. But get out there. Eventually you'll become just another face that is briefly noted as you step onto the ice. Be brave, go skate!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stages of Learning a New Skating Skil

Stage 1: The Introduction

Coach says he wants you to try something new, the back mohawky swing thing. He assures you this is good for you, and demonstrates. The blank look on your face must be a tipoff, because he says to try on the wall first. So you try on the wall while going very, very slow. Somehow, you eke it out.

Stage 2: The Attempt

Now he wants you to try the back mohawky swing thing on a circle. Because a skater's world is always on a circle. The blank look goes to one of abject terror, so Coach holds your hand like a gentleman for the first few tries. You eke a few out.

Stage 3: The Failure

Seeing that you have done one, Coach decides you're a pro and lets go. You try the back mohawky swing thing, and promptly fall on your ass. Coach says to work on it.

Stage 4: Bake at 450 degrees for four weeks.

Once on your own practice, you try the back mohawky swing thing because you are a good skating student. Keep telling yourself that. So while the other skaters are flying and spinning and jumping all over, generally being cool, you are on your circle, dutifully doing back mohawky swing things and failing over and over and over again.

Stage 5: Taste for doneness.

Then you do one. And it felt right and good and you stand there for a moment wondering what just happened. You try again, hopeful. And fall on your ass.

Stage 6: Continue baking until done.

You keep on doing back mohawky swing things.  You hate them. You dread that part of your practice. You are positive that all the other cool skaters are watching you while you fail at back mohawky swing things. But you are a good skater and you keep trying. Somehow, they are starting to work.

Stage 7: Let Cool.

Then one day the back mohawky swing thing works. Consistently. So you pick up some speed. And you're still on your feet. And you look up to see if the cool skaters saw it. But they didn't because really, no one is really watching anyone else too closely on practice ice. So you go to public skate, and do a back mohawky swing thing, and all the public skaters think you are cool. Life is good.

Stage 8: Grief.

So proud of yourself, you show Coach. He says you can do it better, which is normal but still annoying. Then he says you should try the inside back mohawky swing thing.

Repeat this process until you are a good skater.