Sunday, March 6, 2011

Figure Skating is my Drug of Choice

Is figure skating addictive?

If you are an adult figure skater, you probably keep a journal or some other record of your progress.  Figure skaters are obsessed with improvement, no matter how miniscule. The kids, of course, learn skills faster and will advance rapidly, especially if they practice. Adults measure their progress in years, as in “last year at this time I couldn’t do x, y, and z but now…”

Actually, there are plenty of adults who either stall at a certain level, or seem to endlessly work on the same five skills for all perpetuity. Since improvement is relative, what’s most important that you continue to grow and modify your goals as the years pass by.

Complacency annoys me, whether it involves skating or not. Lots of people are happy doing what they’re doing and that is no crime, but I figure there is so much to do and learn why would you want to hit stasis?

Of course, by “progress” I don’t mean rocketing up the skill ladder. Lots of skaters will announce that they’ve “got” a jump or an element and let the matter rest. Truthfully, just because you can do a certain jump or whatever, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. For instance, I “got” a salchow jump quite some time ago. But I still work hard on making it better, improving speed of entry, more control on the three, controlling the free leg better and so on.

Funny, but as you try to improve something, that particular skill may disappear for a while. If you “have”a scratch spin but decide to make it faster, more centered, with more revolutions, you may briefly lose the ability to do the spin at all as you tweak.

This situation will make you hate yourself and wonder why you are pouring all your extra money into a sport for which you obviously have no aptitude ( why am I even bothering with the second person here? You know I’m talking about myself, my favorite subject).

 But then you “get” it and the joy is a powerful high. Like other addicts, you kill yourself trying to get back that glorious feeling again and again. Like drugs, that never works. So you work on improving once more and so the cycle continues.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scary Public Sessions

Every skating blog or message board contains lengthy diatribes about public sessions. The reason why this is such a universal bonding experience among figure skaters should be self-evident. Yes, it’s what you always suspected—figure skaters DO look down at you. I don’t mean that we don’t like you as a human being or that we’re a bunch of specially talented prima donnas who can’t stand to sully our skating skirts by hanging out with the riff-raff.  No, the principal reason we can’t stand skating on publics is because you scare the bejeezus out of us. If it’s not children skating like kamikaze pilots, it’s teenagers flopping over the ice like beached walruses; if it’s not some joker showing off for his girlfriend, it’s some no-talent  macho hockey wanna-be slamming into the boards.

If I’m gonna knock out my teeth, I prefer to it to myself and not through a collision with a public session skating zombie.

I gave up most public sessions years ago. Public skating is party time.  I do feel sorry for the poor shmucks who, due to scheduling and finances, have no other choice than to practice on a public session. And, yes, sometimes that shmuck, c’est moi.

Actually, I enjoy publics more as an amateur anthropologist than anything else. The rink provides an amusing mise-en-scene for all kinds of mini-dramas.  Sad to say, sometimes I’m playing a starring role.

For instance, I despise the chairs/cones/walkers that rinks lend to help little kids with balance. Inevitably, these things are appropriated by older children and teenagers, who turn them into weapons and push the things randomly like missiles. One day a kid was launching a chair around like a catapult. He didn’t need it to skate; it was just a fun toy. I skated up to the boy and removed the chair, heaving it over the boards. Suddenly a shrill indignant voice  shouted, “Excuse me??!!! My son was using that!!” I tried to explain that since he was (a) big, and (b) could skate he didn’t need it and that the chair was actually dangerous.  The mother huffed and puffed and informed me that her kid just had to use because he couldn’t skate.

Astonished, I asked if she meant that kid skating over there, and added, “If he can’t skate, why did you come to an ice rink?” (although bitchy, it is a reasonable question).

Well, she went and grabbed the rink manager. I was in the right so I didn’t get in trouble. Still, the question remains: really, people, if you can’t skate, why not take some lessons?  You’re not going to learn through some magical incantation or by just stepping out on the ice in some rental skates.  But if you feel you must skate, please do not make the ice anymore dangerous than it already is.

Incidentally, about a month after this incident the rink put up big signs: “No Chairs on the Ice!”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spazz on Ice

Figure skaters strive for fluidity on the ice.  Although some people are intrinsically graceful, poise and polish stem from learned skills. Like dancers, skaters practice posture, edges, and any number of balance exercises to create the impression of seamless flow when they move. The goal is to make all these difficult elements look effortless.

With some notable exceptions, most adult figure skaters do not look graceful. In fact, many of us look like giraffes on roller skates.  A big problem for adults is that our brains are not the same as kids. Children have growing, developing brains. Skating becomes part of their hard-wiring. That’s why when you ask someone who skated as a child how to do something, they’ll look at you blankly and shrug, “I dunno, I just do it.”

For adults skating skills are more like software. Our brains are forced to draw on analogous capabilities we’ve already developed—walking, dancing, skiing, or in my case,  spazzercise ( a cross between hip hop and disco dancing that’s performed only in dark, private places).

These little body quirks and tics elicit little notice in your day-to-day life. You’ve grown accustomed to moving your body in certain ways without attracting notice, or worse, criticism. Suddenly, when you hit the ice, harmless little quirks and tics become Tourrette’s –style disadvantages. Not only do these bodily idiosyncrasies impede your ability to do certain figure skating elements, they also make you look…weird.

I have a difficult time controlling my right shoulder and arm. I tend to drop the right side of my body on everything, but especially on spin entries, salchows, and RI mohawks.  It seems so minor and easy to correct but for some strange reason, I have to use all my power of concentration to keep my right arm level. I always thought my right arm was connected to my body, but figure skating has taught me that it is an arm-shaped semi-sentient alien that has latched itself to my shoulder. I’ve begun to mutter to it, “Stop doing that!”

If you’re feeling especially masochistic go ahead and video yourself. I don’t know how many times I’ve felt great about something and then watched, with horror, how spastic, clunky, and aberrant I appear. Of course, it is difficult to see yourself and remain objective, but watching myself on video is pure torture. In fact, I can’t look if the video is taken before a competition or test. If I do, my confidence is completely obliterated.

At the same time, figure skating has vastly improved my off-ice spazziness. I can now walk up stairs without leaning violently to the right (a life-long problem that led to some near fatal falls). I now possess the ability to stand and even hop on one leg.  

Hmmmm. Actually my spazzy body serves me well in figure skating. Just think: spazzes are accustomed to falling, and I’ve been falling since childhood. It is hard-wired into my brain!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kersplat, I Fall...Alot!

If you’re an Adult figure skater you better get used to left-handed compliments. Your well-meaning friends and family probably only have a passing acquaintance with the sport. When you tell them you’re a figure skater, they expect you to look like the skaters they see on TV. Even when you give them ample warning, they’ll expect you skate like Michelle Kwan. When they actually see you skate, they’ll get an embarrassed, frozen smile on their face and helplessly say something like, “Gosh, that was really something!”

You may also hear, “You’re so brave!”

Among my fellow adult skaters I get a lot of gushing praise for my ability to fall. To wit: a fellow skater told me I was an inspiration because I’m not afraid to fall. Another asked, “How do you do it? How do you fall so well?!”

The snarky answer is, of course, “Gravity!” But what these colleagues really mean is that I clearly push myself beyond a certain comfort zone and will risk my physical well-being to learn something different.

Unlike tons of adult skaters, I am completely unafraid to fall.

This (insane) component of my skating career has served me well. There’s no way I would’ve learned to do any of my jumps without several rounds of kersplatting.  I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve bitten it on the ice but among my finer moments, I’ve fallen on:

Forward crossovers
Backward crosovers
Every single jump I’ve ever attempted
Every single spin

Most of the time these falls are benign. When I feel I’m losing my balance I just go ahead and plant my butt on the ice.  Occasionally, it feels like a spanking; rarely, I actually hurt myself. I’ve gotten good at muttering the F-bomb into my sleeve.

I find it dismaying that so many adults are horrified to fall. The kids do it all the time. Heck, watch those skaters on TV—in some competitions it’s a splat fest.

So people, I do in fact have something in common with “real” figure skaters after all.

One of my favorite figure skating terms is “helicoptering”  a spin. This word characterizes a huge goof where a skater loses his entry edge and causes the free foot to pitch up and around the air, flinging the hapless skater forward onto the ice. It’s a scary mistake.

My first experience with this phenomenon occurred a few years ago. I tried pushing into a spin and suddenly found myself airborne. I had no time to reach out to break my fall and ended up smashing the left side of my body onto the ice. I could hear the meaty splat and the echoing thud. I thought I was okay but then my head whacked the hard surface. 

I was dazed but relieved to have survived the impact. Then I noticed the blood pooling onto the ice. Yikes! I stood up and a gush of red blinded me. I began to mew in the back of my throat and immediately skated off to see if I had still had a face. Luckily I didn’t need stitches but I had a black eye worthy of Raging Bull. 

Since that day, I’ve heliocoptered a few more spins. One time I managed to get my feet beneath me and landed in a bizarre crouch configuration. Coachie was nonplussed. “Nice save,” she said.

Come to think of it, all my self-inflicted abuse doesn’t faze Coachie. Once I fell backwards in a sit spin and bonked my head. An involuntary little scream came out; it sounded something like the alarm call our hominoid ancestors might have made: “Help there’s a lion!” or “Oh my God, a snake is going to eat me!”

I found myself flat on my back looking at the rink ceiling. Little shiny comets were bursting among the rusty beams and metal sheathing. It was quite pretty. I could of stayed like that for quite spell, but I heard the sound of rushing blades and looked up to see Coachie’s face.

“Are you alright?”

I gave a robust thumbs up.

It could have been my brain-addled imagination, but it seemed that Coachie looked relieved. She then collected herself and admonished me, “Keep your weight forward on your blade.,” and added, “That’s why we wear ponytails—to break our falls!”

She skated back to her waiting student.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Skating Outfits Make Me Feel Fat

I know some people don’t take figure skating seriously as a sport. I think this attitude stems from the fact that in the popular imagination, figure skating is associated with femininity and/or gay men. Allow me to completely side step this controversial subject and also point out that to many sports aficionados, the sparkly costumes, make-up, and elaborate hair-dos undermine a sense of true athleticism. (Hmm, just let them try and axel or even a sit-spin.)

I love the bling. I adore crystals and sequins, georgette skirts, and shiny lipstick.  (I also adore gay men so I’m set.) Most figure skaters only dress up for shows and competitions. Practice session outfits consist of simple skirts, black leggings--it is always black--  warm-up jackets, and anything that feels comfortable and allows for movement. I am well-stocked in practice wear. It’s the competition outfits that give me conniptions.

I share a problem with the overwhelming majority of female adult figure skaters. If you are over 135 lb.s, possess boobs and hips, then skating dress designers consider you obese. Sizes Large and even Extra- Large are made for slightly plumpy stick insects. If you want to buy a dress, you’re out of luck.

Take a look at You Tube videos of adult skaters. Some of them sport amazing costumes, but almost all look homemade. That’s fine if you actually paid attention to your mother or took a home economics class and learned to sew.  After I had to glue together a peasant smock in Seventh Grade Home Ec., I gave up almost all domestic arts. Threading a needle or even putting a spool in a sewing machine is torture for me. It’s not gonna happen.

I spend inordinate hours on Google, looking for a reasonable dress. I’m right on the borderline between Skating Land Fat and Obese (i.e. quite normal, even healthy, in the real world) so there’s hope but most of the gorgeous costumes I find are out of my league.

Last year I feel in love with a dress that came in my size. It was slightly pricey but not over $300.00 so I bought it. Playing it safe, I ordered size Extra Large, which the designer claimed was analogous to size 8.  They lied! I had to shoehorn myself into the thing and felt squashed the whole time I wore it.

Since then I’ve added some pounds. I suppose I could lose some weight, but that effort would cut into my eating chocolate cake habit. Accordingly, I’m looking for a new dress.

What I’ve found out is that anything that may fit me is screamingly ugly. I’m talking about ugly in a 1970s rumpus room kind of way. Garish. Tacky. Further, nothing is age-appropriate. I don’t care how good looking you are, but not even Lady Gaga could pull off some of these monstrosities. No one over the age of nine should wear pink ruffles, polka dots, or pleather. If I’m distracted by the fact that you look like giant Juicy Fruit in your dress, how I can I take your skating seriously?
I went ahead and bought an unadorned black practice dress. Trying to learn to sew turned me into a competent and determined “gluer.” I’m buying some crystals and glue gun to sauce up my outfit.  It’ll be smokin’.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Humble Origins: Late Autumn 2005

All those guides to healthy living are unanimous. Find a sport you enjoy and exercise routinely. A few years ago I had a life-changing health crisis.  I knew it was time to seriously pursue a work-out routine, but to do so was a challenge given the fact that I hate: gyms, team sports, formal dancing, yoga, swimming, fencing (yes, I used to do it), aerobics, and anything involving a hoop or a baton. I resigned myself to a lifetime of power walking, step class, bicycling, and secretive disco dancing.

I then remembered that I used to love to skate.  New to town at the time, I quickly checked to see if there was a rink. After several phone calls pestering the staff with anal questions, I excitedly suited up for a Saturday afternoon public session, rented a pair of skates that looked like they’ve seen action since the Eisenhower Administration, and rushed out to the ice.

Oh my crap! I couldn’t move! I was careening out of control. I made it half way round the rink and grabbed the wall for some well-earned rest time. Emboldened by my ability to remain vertical, I pushed off again, determined to regain my former power skating skills.

I charged forward for about 10 feet. Unfortunately my lower body sped away from my upper body, Wile E. Coyote-like. I was in the air. I landed like a boulder, crushing my tailbone. Limbs akimbo, dizzy, and hurting I looked up to see the worried face of a skate guard. He didn’t actually skate over to see if I was okay; I had just temporarily punctured his usual ennui. He gave a little shrug, and then returned to his reverie.

Six weeks later, after my cracked tailbone healed, I popped by the rink to sign up for Group lessons. The skating school teaches an adult class but nobody had signed up, so I would be taking lessons with the children. The kindly Skating Director took my check but I could see her already imagining how to explain the rink’s refund policy. She knew I wouldn’t last two weeks.

Years later Coachie offered her impression of that fateful first meeting: “I knew you were serious because you didn’t mind starting with the kids. Most adults won’t do that.  You are unique.”

Nice! Unless by “unique” she really meant “crazy whack job!”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sommo' Practice

After a long session of practice, Coachie gestured for me to come over to her. Little kids and their parents were filing in the rink for Learn to Skate.  She clearly did not want them to overhear her so she raised her hand over her mouth and looked at me conspiratorially.  Oooo, I think, this must be pretty good if she doesn’t want anyone to hear her. I bet it is some fabulous, juicy gossip! “Will you…,” she began, “ land your @*#% Loop jump on one *%$##@ foot??!!!”

Practice was pretty productive.  We’re working on making the Bronze Mohawk sequence more swirly, more like the dance steps it is based on. This straightforward step sequence seems so basic but it is not.  For instance, after the RI Mohawk you need to stay down in the knee, hold the LBI edge,  step onto  RB edge, do a smooth backward Mohawk, curve on a FRI edge with a highly bent knee, slide chasse the left foot, bring feet together, and then push out onto a different lobe to repeat on the left side. You have to be in complete control of your arms and core, an issue for me since I tend to drop my right arm on every-crappy-thing. My biggest problem is not the count of five, but rather the transition to the LI Mohawk. It takes all my concentration to remember all the little refined parts.

Although my right-sided power threes are probably the best I ever done them, I still STILL!, Scrape my toepick on the LBI edge as I push onto the right three turn. I am spending quite a lot of time trying to improve this; you have to hold your hips like you’re doing a “wrong way” (CW) spin entrance, but open up your torso to give yourself room for the push to the RO three. Yeah, I know it sounds so easy a baby could do it. Stupid baby.

Why do I want to test? Why, indeed, do I actually insist on testing? [insert  existential skating rant here]  Why do I think I have to skate perfectly?   Why can’t I just skate for fun, why do I think I have to be good? ? [insert another existential skating rant here]

I did have some fun with waltz-jump-Loop jump combos, even if the take- off for the second jump was overly toe-picky. I managed a centered scratch spin, that most certainly did not blur but was technically correct.

Another adult skater at my rink (one who can’t skate at all) told me that I looked “beautiful” when skating. Aw shucks. She’s blind, of course, but it was incredibly kind of her to say so.