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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

ABP MIF - Pass all around!

What a day. I'm kind of sad it's over, actually. Weeks and weeks of prep, a coaching change, then more prep, finally actually taking a test I've been dying to have a run at for two years. Maybe now I'll get some sleep!

I got up and skated the early session, running the test twice more and then focusing on elements that remained troublesome (waltz 8, back edges.) I was tired and shaky, but I just remember that a rough final dress rehearsal means a good opening night. I shrugged it off and went home. I ran my laundry so my leotard and warm up jacket would not offend anyone (it's summer and you can't move without sweating buckets in the current humidity.) While that was going, I laid down and tried to sleep a little more. I haven't slept well for the last two nights! I packed up the Zuca; skates, skating clothes, makeup, whatever.

Then I headed off to get my hair put up. I don't know how to do my own hair, so a stylist down the road had offered to put it in a updo for me. Great. But she wasn't there. I tried to explain what I wanted, not realizing that "French Twist" is not an easily recognizable thing, and finally one of the women takes me back. After twenty minutes of teasing, hairspray and 32 bobby pins, she spun me around.

It was gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but it was too much. I had rosettes woven of my own hair. Coach had specifically stated, "Nothing too fancy."

Well, what was done was done. I was due at Test Rink in a half hour. With my hair shellacked against whatever humidity had to throw at it, I set off.

We arrived an hour ahead of time, as instructed. I had momentary heart attacks that I'd gone to the wrong suburban rink, but once inside I found girls in spangles and skates and zucas. Great. I checked in with the desk, texted coach, and went to change into my testing outfit.

He arrived and met my family, and told me my hair looked great. Then took me into the main rink to watch for a minute and he gave me some explanations of who is who and how things work. The more I learn about skating, the more I think it's amazing. We watched the test subject for awhile, and Coach was laughing quietly. "okay, you should stretch. Did you skate this morning?"

I assured him I had, and we headed into the lobby.

The fun thing about testing is seeing literally everyone. I knew more people than I didn't, and who I didn't know I was introduced to, and the whole thing was incredibly social. I chatted and stretched and then Coach told me to get skates on as the session was running early. I'd go on sooner than anticipated. Fine.

I was sorting out my socks (and you skaters will know that this can be a process) when a friend came up and said, "Your group is warming up now!"

So I started to hurry... Coach was telling me not to panic. Hurry, but don't panic. Check. And tying your skates in a hurry usually doesn't work.

All right, so I got skates tied and set, hurried in, and found that my warm up group was not in fact, on the ice. No worries. While I was waiting, I noted that the girls who were in my skating group were not Pre-Pre. Coach noticed, too. "I think you'll be skating by yourself," he said.

Now, for the past few weeks we've been running under the assumption that I'd be skating with some kids on the ice with me and I'd have one judge. Now it was clear I'd be out there alone, and maybe more judges. I didn't know. I kept on thinking "just one," and took the ice with my group.

I ran through the test quickly, shaking, and did okay. "this isn't so bad," I told myself. "You skated a show and didn't shake this much. Get yourself together."

The warm up was over before it started, and then the two higher level girls took off. "Yes," Coach realized. "You're skating by yourself. Don't panic."

Panic? Who is panicking? "Just skate it," I kept saying to myself. "Get it done."

When it was my turn, I indeed was alone. This was my first time alone on the ice in front of any audience. "Just skate it, you're fine," I followed Coach's orders. And I let the edges do their thing, and I only had to argue with them a few times. Back Insides were more even than they'd ever been, actually. I'd say it was one of my best sets. Waltz 8 was okay, I had a minor touchdown, but I salvaged it and kept going. But the time I got to Spiral, I was fine. I could have skated all day with those people watching.

I headed off when they said "Thank you," indicating I did not need to reskate anything. Coach was pleased. He had a few notes, but said I'd done well. Now we just had to wait for the judge's judgement. I ran into a Coach I'd known from when Stitch was skating, and explained how I'd come to be here. 'I just love skating," I laughed. "But my hair is just too much, I can't believe she set it like this."

"Oh, we loved it. I wasn't judging you, but we were all wondering how you got the flowers in there." Hopefully Epic Hair does not become a trademark of mine.

As it turns out, I had three judges, not one. They all had notes for me, all of them accurate, but they all passed me. A few friends from Home Rink arrived, just as I was supposed to have been starting, and were surprised to have missed it. They congratulated me and we laughed about everything happening at Home Rink, and Dad said he was taking me out to breakfast. I got shouts from people I knew as I was leaving, and I the first thing I thought of was taking the freeskate portion of the test soon.

All in all, not so bad. There was actually talk of Adult Nationals that bordered on serious, which excited me. The only slip I had was in the lobby, actually. Between my warm up and my skate I went out to get my jacket, and stepped too fast on wet blades, slipping backwards. Figures I'd take myself out in the lobby!

A great day all around. Now to work on that Pairs Routine!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Are you nervous?"

My test is forthcoming, and everyone is pretty excited for me. There are more than a few people who want to come see, but I've explained that it's not only fairly boring, but I don't know the time to arrive. Don't sweat it, I'm taking their well-wishes with me.

I'm not exactly nervous. I'm anxious, but not nervous. Frankly, it feels just like an audition.

I'm remembering a particularly hard audition during High School. It was for a spot at a prestigious Arts School, a summer intensive thing, and all of us knew which two kids were getting in. No one else was bothering to even try.

I decided to go for it. I prepped up one of my favorite monologues, worked out some risky blocking, and set forth. Everyone told me I was nuts. Why bother, they said. You know you won't get in, it's been decided who will go to that school. Besides, you work backstage.

Maybe, I said. But I'm going to give these bitches a run for their money.

I was the first to go. Not a good sign. I stood up in front of three people I'd never seen before and never said a word to me, and performed my guts out. I was tired at the end of it, and it was comedy. I heard my instructor gasp audibly as a did the unthinkable and turned my back to the panel, but then he calmed as my move made sense.

My act required me to dash out of the room, so I had to walk back in to hear their critique. They were nice enough, but it was clear that i wasn't who they had come to see. I thanked them and left, having to walk by the two kids who were the shoo-ins.

Two days later, the announcement was made, and I did not make the school. I was not surprised. But my teacher pulled me aside and asked me why I had done it. I gave the excuse that it was an open audition, and any audition experience was good experience. He looked at me sideways, and said that I had made a very good impression on the panel, but I just wasn't right for it.

I must have made some snarky comment and walked off, but things were not the same for me after that. I had some stage cred, because I had tried. Everyone else had shrugged and walked off, but I tried.

I think that's what I carried from that experience. Try. Even if you don't make it, try. Give those bitches some competition, and give it all you've got.

I'm excited.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Magic Feathers!

One thing I love about Edge and Figure work is that it throws all of your skating problems into stark relief. You don’t have to guess why the circle on your right side is smaller than the left, you know. Because you can feel your right leg caving in, making it small.  So, the remedy becomes obvious: Strengthen the right leg. (I’m working on it. Simply skating on it is making it strong.)

Personally, Figures and Patch has brought my Shoulder issues to the front burner. My left hip might have had problems, but my Right Shoulder is now having issues. I’m imagining myself as backed up against a large pillar while doing a BO8 or BI8, but my right shoulder is refusing to cooperate. It’s refused to cooperate on Back inside edges on my Right side. It simply does not want to go backwards and open up.

I have been forcing it, and in doing so, it became very sore. Bad to where I could not lift things with it. I called my Chiro/Sports med guy, and he had me come in. I explained the problem as best I could, and, standing on the ground, turned my shoulders and head to my right perfectly. “But I can’t do it on the ice.”

He looked me over, moved my shoulder around and determined that, while sore, my shoulder was not the problem simply because I was doing it right there. “It’s gotta be a balance thing,” he got his determined look when presented with a physical mystery. (This guy is like House, seriously.)

So he had me stand on a foam thing. Eyes open, eyes closed, feet together, left foot, right foot, arms out, arms forward, and I was still balancing just fine. He then proceeded to try to unbalance me, shifting my head all directions, eyes closed. Still standing. “Like a rock…” he starts frowning. “Okay, track my finger,” he moved his hands in front of me, and I tracked. “Okay,” he gets his iPad and has it show me a red and white block pattern moving right to left in front of me. “Stand on your right leg, and track my finger,” he moves it to the right in front of the moving pattern going left.

I finally fall over.

We had a clue.

More vision tracking tests, and he sees that my left eye is slower than my right.  His working theory is that my vision is a tad screwy moving from right to left, and there’s something going on with my left inner ear. This would explain not only my shoulder/opening up issues, but also my ongoing spin problems. He asks me if I spot during spins. No, I don’t focus on anything while spinning. He thinks about this.

“Your body doesn’t want to move that way simply because your right eye is taking in too much stimulation as it moves,” he theorizes. “So it’s trying to shut you down, but you’re forcing it to do what it doesn’t want to. Which is why you’re sore. So, let’s try and retrain your vision and see what that does.”

Well, most of my skating involves coercing my body to do things it does not want to do, but okay. Armed with a set of things to do throughout the day to try and retrain my vision and balance, I set forth.

Now, honestly, I had my doubts. I still do. But lo and behold, the BO and BI8 seemed easier today. My circles were much more even this morning than they were Tuesday, and the RBI edge felt more like I was actually controlling the blade rather than hoping for the best. Those super tight Patch-Style Waltz 8’s (as opposed to my super huge lazy FS Waltz-8’s) felt more under control as well. Yes, we can ascribe this to just sheer practice, and my shoulder did get tired and sore towards the end of the hour, and perhaps all this “vision/balance” thing and talk about my inner ear may just be a magic feather…. but it worked. And as any performer will attest, if it works, DO NOT MESS WITH IT. I will take whatever Magic Feathers are offered me with relish!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Weight Management and the Masses

My decision to skate was the catalyst to decide to lose the last of the baby weight. In a year I took off a lot of weight, and I am much happier and healthier. You would think that people would be happy for me. Most people are.... but I do have some definite detractors!

Now that I'm gearing up for "the Season" (Tests, Audition, Show and hopefully a Comp or two) I am taking off the 5 pounds I've put on over a lazy Summer. This means it's back to salads, lean protein, smaller portions, fewer carbs and less sugar. My office Detractors have noticed. Their efforts to derail, deride and mock my new eating habits fall into a comic spectrum that I look forward to just about every lunchtime.

The Braggart

This guy eats like crap. Total crap. I love a good burrito with all the trimmings just as much as the next guy, but for this guy they are a daily affair. The Braggart loves to eat his crappy (albeit heavenly) junky food while commenting on how gross raw spinach is, and asking how you can eat carrots every day. "Lettuce is a vegetable," he laughs, holding up a wilted leaf sopped in warm sour cream. "So this is a salad, too!! And it's so much better than yours!"

Take your comfort in The Braggart's afternoon panic dashes to the men's room, and smile.

The Derailer

Watch out for The Derailer. Operating under the pretense of Friendly Gesture, the Derailer will show up with Donuts, Chocolate Dipped Biscotti, Fudge, Brownies, Cookies, or any number of sweet treats. I have a Derailer that will show up with Maple Bacon Donuts. Once you've gone a few days without a hard form of processed sugar, you can smell that shit from fifty yards and it's a siren song. "I know you like these," says the Derailer. "Surely you can cheat just a little!"

Okay, so I will cut off a quarter of a maple bacon donut and eat that, and explain that once I sew a dress I am committed to fitting into it for the next six months at least. I thank them for the gesture and proffer the rest to my other colleagues.

The Confused

Other people will see your weight loss as a valiant effort and want to help. I have a Confused who knows I am a rabid eater of sweets, and so will offer Weight Watchers and other brands of sugar free, low calorie cakes and candies.

BE CAREFUL! I try to follow a very natural diet, so when I threw a chemical bomb into my system (in the form of Skinny Cow Chocolate Crisps) I wound up on the floor for eight hours thinking I had eaten razor blades. After that incident, I steer clear of all things chemically engineered to be like sugar.

The Critic

There is always one who has to just has to do the subtle digs at your dietary habits. "We're ordering Chinese, I'm assuming you don't want any," he says with a snarky tone. "I'd be shocked if you said yes." Take a small slice of office Birthday cake to be polite and sociable, and the snark is back, "What, cake for you? I thought you weren't eating sugar!"

What is this? Some kind of passive aggression?

The Critic is also the first to jump on any instance where he perceives a slip or error on your part. One morning of being in too much of a time crunch to make your lunch so you wind up ordering Jimmy John's Veggie Delight with no mayo and extra avocado for lunch, and the Critic proceeds to loudly laugh that you "fell off the wagon," or some such nonsense.

My Critic is also swell enough to point out that most people who lose weight will regain it within the year. What a charmer. (I actually wrote this post awhile ago. Since penning it, my Critic has quietly gone on Nutri-System. He has tried to hide it from me, but I'm not above peeking in the microwave while his Program Lunch is heating up.)

The One-Upper

Someone is also on a Diet, but his diet is way better than yours. By, "way better" I mean bordering on Eating Disorder. "I only eat 800 calories a day," he says blithely, "and I've lost 100 pounds." Well, yeah... but subsisting off of low calorie granola bars and energy drinks is not what a skater needs. When I explain that I don't really count calories, but watch portions and nutrition instead, he insists he's got that covered with a multivitamin.

While your One-Upper may not be as extreme as mine, (I am not making this up, he literally eats a snack pack of pretzels and a Weight Watchers granola bar for lunch) you can laugh as much as I did when he had to see his physician for chronic constipation. (Don't ask me how I found that out.) He switched his granola bar to a Fiber One bar after that.

Weight management is always fun. Everybody's got their own opinion and method, and they usually are not shy about it. If my readership wants details about my method that works for me, (Eat Less, Move More) I'm happy to share. Do what works for you, stay the course, and hang out with people who support your efforts.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pairs Skating

We just started working on the program for our audition for Holiday Show. We're a bit behind by my calendar, but provided this program has no overtly new elements in it we should be okay.

Basic Skating takes on a whole new dimension when you're doing it with someone else. I have a deep respect for good Pairs Skaters, because the most simple of elements morph into something totally different when you have to hold hands.

Forward Stroking, Hand in Hand >becomes> Tug of War

Someone is going to push off harder than the other party, and tug them, making them the Pullee. When you try again, the Pusher will try to lessen their push to accommodate the Pullee, who has now decided to push harder to keep up, and the Pullee now becomes the Pusher and so on. Repeat until the Coach pinches his brow and asks you to stop.

Backwards Crossovers, Hand in Hand >becomes> Crack the Whip

Everyone has their own Back Crossover style. Invariably, One Partner will have a different tempo of crossover, thinking that sheer mania equals speed when it comes to crossovers. Hold hands with this person on the outside of the circle, and suddenly you're being flung around faster than than a tetherball, the coach is saying something about toepicks but you can't hear him over the scraping, and you see your life flash before your eyes as you realize how close to the boards you are.

Side by Side Power 3 Turns >become> HOLY GOD WHERE ARE YOU

Power 3's are a tricky beast. Seemingly simple, involving just a 3 Turn>WideStep>Crossover, they actually involve a fair amount of physical discipline. You have to do the 3Turn on whatever beat the Coach has established, not when the mood strikes you. And now that you're next to someone, you're trying to make sure you don't nail this person and he won't nail you as you wide step, but you've lost sight of him as you actually made the turn. Coach is yelling about getting your hands back together so you just flail out and hope he's there. He isn't.

Side By Side Jumps (any variety) >become> A Game of Chicken

No Pairs Routine would be complete without a Side By Side jump, and if you thought you lost your partner on a Power 3, be prepared to get out your GPS tracking device on a jump. Working on your own, you can take up space on a jump, but now there's someone not only two feet from you, but planning on being airborne at the same time you are. So, you just go for the jump and say a little prayer that you don't jump into him. When you land, there's a moment of relief, followed by a panicky, "Where did he end up??!" Once you locate him, one of you is racing to catch up to get to the next hand-in-hand nonsense. (I have landed a toe loop on my boot in an effort to not hit my partner. He did not care about the resulting scar on my nice boots.)

Oh, and all this stuff? You have to be doing it together. Don't forget about that part.

But what about Lifts?

We've tried lifts. They aren't so bad. Properly prepared, I actually kinda like them but they are not without hazard, both on and off the ice. We are planning on actually doing a lift this year on ice. I will get to lifts at another time, as they are their own Beast.

Monday, August 11, 2014

When to break up...

I found a fun article on CNN on "When to Break up with your Personal Trainer." While it's written for general Physical Fitness training and not Figure Skating, some of the points made are just the same!

#1: Your Coach doesn't seem interested in your Goals. Oh, yes. When your Coach isn't checking in with you about your goals, or how you feel about your progress towards your goals, it's a sign. When there's no discussion about your skating progress or future, you start to question if you're making any or if you have one.

#6: You spend more time talking to your coach than skating. Oh. Wow. Yes. The skating lesson is just that; A Skating Lesson. It is not time to gab about Rink Politics, or Coach's Personal Life or (the worst) Coach's Other Students. If Coach wants to have a friendly chat about these things, that is fine, but not during your lesson time. You are not paying for the pleasure of their company, you are paying for a skating lesson that is 100% yours.

#7: Your Coach frequently compares you to other Students. Why are we talking about other people? This is your lesson and your time that you have paid for. CNN is right, an occasional anecdote is fine, but expounding on the glory of some 15 year old kid's crossroll technique while making you watch her is unprofessional. Again, this is your skating lesson and your time that should be 100% about you.

#8: Your coach is constantly on the phone during your lesson. This includes texting and is an immediate cause for dismissal in my book. And I don't want to hear, "But this is important," because this isn't how true professionals function (and it infers that you are not important.) True Professionals focus on the task at hand and learn to budget their time appropriately.

For the last time, Smart Phones don't make you Smart.
Also, this monkey is cute.

#9: Your coach barely watches you while you skate, and doesn't give positive reinforcement. This goes back to the concept of "time you have paid for." If you look to your coach while you're skating and you see them chitchatting with another coach or another skater, or they are just watching other people when they should be watching you, time to re-evaluate.

Sometimes it just doesn't work out, it wasn't meant to be, and it's not a reflection on you. Unprofessional behavior carries across students, so chances are really good they've done it to other people, too.

Just don't stay in a situation where you feel stuck, or as second string to "the better" skaters. You pay just as much for that coach's time, so giving you the same quality of instruction isn't doing you a favor, it's the coach's job. If they can't do their job, *shrug.*

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Newfound hazards...

It's official. I am on a test session that's happening in about two weeks. Coach is really focusing on test stuff, and I've been working hard to perfect it in these final days. Everything feels pretty solid.

Last night I skated and felt a little shaky. Nothing was working out quite right, but I kept going and chalked it up to an "off" day. It happens. I finished up, and stepped over to the public session to say hi to some friends. A little girl grabbed my hand and said, "Skate with me! Let's go fast!" How can I say no to such adorableness? So we skated as fast as I felt comfortable taking her, and I turned her around to push her backwards. "Keep your feet together and don't lean forward," I warned. We weren't going fast.

But she slid.. and we went down. She hit her head a bit, she cried for about two minutes and was smiling and fine after that, but I came down hard on my knee. The knot on it was hard and big and red, and I immediately thought, "You can't hit this again before your test."

It's still red and angry today. After an hour skate this morning it was throbbing and done. I let it be done.

Wow, I can't get hurt right now, can I?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Freeskate Friday

This isn't really a Freeskate, but it's important.

There will be people who want to tell Adults what they can and cannot accomplish as skaters. There will be people who will ascribe this passion we have as "just a weekend hobby," and "not serious about it."

Don't work with those people. In fact, don't even pay them much attention. Be nice, but draw the line there. They're not worth the time.

Work with and associate only with people who believe in you, and you believe in them. Positive connections generate positive results, and there's just no time for negativity on my ice.

Keep going, don't give up!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Non-Coaches try to Coach Me

It happens. I'm out doing something or whatever, and some well-meaning asshat will offer me advice. Here is a list of the random advice I get from people who are not coaches:

"You should try holding your arms on a table," they smile and exemplify the move. Then they skate off like a mannikin, looking back at me to make sure I'm trying it. I'm not.

"You need to hold the undercut," they perform the back crossover with a rapid fire push and a super elongated hold and a toepick that can be heard in the lobby, while looking down.

"You need to bend your knees." They do a squat for you to show you how to bend your knees, as if you weren't aware, but then skate away with forward strokes on chopstick legs. With the "arms on a table" position.

"You need to stop scratching." These words are usually not followed by an example, because they scratch to high heaven. They know this, and will usually blame their blades because they are better blades than yours.

"You need to stop looking down." They then do some basic skating showing you how to look up and smile, but the moment they do a power 3, they are looking down and hunched over to inspect their tracings.

Listening to such advice and then watching these people skate usually elicits this response from me.

Why do these people feel qualified to offer such fabulous advice?

They have been skating a long time.
Yes, I understand this. But you can run in a hamster wheel for fifteen years and still be in the same place. I can understand if they are actively training and working, but when I've seen them do the same set of skating tricks for the past five years with not much advancement, I have to hesitate.

They have had "a lot" of coaches.
I actually do not consider this a badge of honor.

They have skills you do not.
It's true, I can't do a salchow and my spin is not quite there yet. I've chosen to focus on building a strong foundation before pushing to do higher level skills that may look awkward and forced. It's a difference of focus, opinion and personality. Simply possessing a higher level skill does not give anyone free license to critique someone else's crossovers. Besides, if you pay attention, you might find you do some "lower level" skills way better than they do.

So, what do you do?

In most cases I will smile and nod politely, and go my own way, doing what my Coach has told me to do.

In other cases, where my refusal to do things their way becomes an accusation that I "can't really skate," I resist the impulse to jam the back of my blade into their orbital socket and calmly explain that my Coach has given me a different way and that is what I will do.

The most competent adult skaters I know do not offer unsolicited advice. They may offer generalized words of wisdom such as "Practice" and "You'll get there," or general encouragement, but that's all. They work on themselves and let others do likewise.