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.