Saturday, December 4, 2010

Candice: 'elp, 'elp I'm being repressed

Come and see the condescension inherent in the system!

So I frequently forget that I have an actual, physical mailbox. I'm 99% sure that my postman wants to throttle me because I check it roughly once a month, meaning he has to shove more and more "Bed, Bath, and Beyond" catalogs into a mailbox already stuffed to the brim with credit card offers, and a many desperate reminders from Time Warner and AT&T that I could purchase a phone, cable, and internet package from them. Yesterday I decided to give him a break and check my mail.

To my surprise in my mail I found a magazine from United States Figure Skating (USFS) describing Basic Skills of 2011. I must have signed up for it somehow and not realized. The cover features two photos of Evan Lysacek, our 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist, competing in Vancouver (phallic snakes and feather cuffs and all) as well as the cheerfully simplistic motto "It's Great to Skate!" It is, isn't it? What wonders could be contained in this bit of propaganda?

The answer is a lot of short, unintentionally hilarious articles aimed at someone who is not a sarcastic 26 year old. For example, there is a piece entitled "Developing a competitive spirit can be rewarding and fun" with hints about getting ready for your first evaluation or competition. "Always have a back up copy of your music" which is good, sound advice. "Have fun and smile!" is also a classic mantra for young competitors. Then again it also says, "Ladies, allow time to dress and finish your hair and make up." I'm pretty sure Johnny Weir (demurely pictured in the pull out poster directly next to this article in his mascara and white fox fur beside 7 other men who are also wearing costumes with rhinestones on them) would insist that this is sound advice for figure skaters of all genders.

The magazine also comes with cut out flashcards naming some interesting basic skills. Seven of the nine cards feature girls performing the basic moves like forward stroking, mohawks, and spirals. The two cards that feature boys are "Hockey Stop" showing two boys in hockey skates, and "Forward Crossovers" the lucky card to have the only little boy in the entire magazine wearing figure skates (other than a cartoon, and a picture of a young Evan Lysacek). The message is loud and clear: Figure skating, it's really for nine-year-old girls.

Just to let you know, USFS, I got that message loud and clear when Kate and I were the only persons to show up to Adult Basic skating on a Saturday morning.

More than halfway through I get to a tiny little article by Brenda Glidewell which is the kind of obvious name I would expect from a JK Rowling character. (Get it? Brenda Glidewell glides well across the ice.) Anyway, she starts off with the argument that figure skating was "[o]nce viewed as a sport for the young" and she's already lost me. It still is, there's just a persistent, freak minority apparently. She continues later with a Beatles-esque truism "Even those who have never stepped on the ice, or skated infrequently in the past, can become involved in skating." True. Lack of prior experience skating does not preclude you from trying skating for the first time, and there's nothing you can find that can't be found.

"Skaters participate in skating for several reasons," she tells us some of which have been explored here in this blog. Stress relief, having fun or achieving personal satisfaction, improving fitness, continuing a love that began as a youth. More condescending is the "passing time while their children are in a basic skills class" providing a counterargument to her assertion that skating was only once thought of a young person's sport within her own article. More baffling is the "social networking" as I've explored in this blog that it's actual a pretty difficult little society to break into. "Way of finding fellow vaguely masochistic loners" would be a better description, but perhaps that's not suited for children.

"Skating ability is never a concern or barrier for participation." This is the exactly the kind of backhanded compliment I expect from my mother. "She doesn't really have the ability, but she tries and we're so proud of her for that." The USFS has branded us as mere participants. Also rans. Their motto: Any adult can (...try)! "The focus of skating as an adult is on the joy one feels while on the ice mastering new skills," she says. Sure! But I feel that this is a pretty bleak assessment of what the nine-year-olds are apparently doing on the ice. Can't they focus on the joy, too? Or must they all dream of being an Olympic champion and requiring knee surgery by the time they're twenty? Somewhere a Russian coach is screeching at a child, "Stop feeling joy at mastering the double flip and show me a triple!" Poor kid. Just wait until you're adult and the expectations get much, much lower.

Now after being so unkind I should point out that the last few paragraphs of the article are actually much more exciting. Rather than making excuses for the novelty of an adult skating, she talks about joining figure skating clubs, participation in competitions and and ice shows in a general positive and upbeat tone. Things that people might actually want to do.

I acknowledge that the parents of the nine-year-old girls who hope one day to have a Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen in their family are the people bringing the most money on the USFS. I acknowledge that the nine-year-olds will provide the next crop of stars for you to promote figure skating with. But in the words of Monty Python, "What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Candice: Noodling on ice.

It's harder than you might think. One of my many, many, many unrealistic expectations getting into figure skating was that I would quickly reach a point where I felt super comfortable on the ice and would be able to try little tricks. I'm pretty sure I was thinking, "I bet eventually I'll just try a twizzle and see what happens." Ha. (Ha.) In non-skating terms, this would probably be the equivalent of a four year old thinking that as soon as he gets his hands on a stove he's going to be Emeril Lagasse. Shortly thereafter the toddler discovers that the stove is hot and burns are no fun. To put it back into skating terms, shortly after getting into figure skating I discovered that falling and bruises are not fun. Seems obvious that it might take a long (really long) time to get the basics down before improvisation can happen, but hey, I'm only four years old.

It's not that I'm afraid to try things. There's no way to be on the ice for an hour and a half without trying things. But they're all things I'd had taught to me. A professional showed me a waltz jump, now I try it each time I go to the ice. My coach and I spent weeks on inside and outside three turns. The USFSA Basic Skills Program says my first footwork combination should be:

- 2 forward crossovers
- into a forward inside mohawk
- 2 backwards crossovers
- Step into a forward inside edge

As I said in my previous post about footwork, these moves are meant to be done on a circle. You move your feet, change feet, and the direction you're facing, but you never break away from the path of the circle. I talked about how I was doing this combination, slowly and with much terror, but there's not a day that I've been on the ice where I didn't try to get better. Just the same four skills, because it was what I was told to do, had to do in order to progress to the next (basic) level of (shaky) skating.

Challenging? Yes. Rewarding. Sure. Boring. Sometimes. Inspiring and creative? No.

I can't quite recall what made me think I could noodle around and improvise on the ice, but on Sunday for some reason I found myself thinking, "Man. Fuck circles," and decided to do the elements in what's essentially a straight line. Suddenly four elements became seven:

- A counter clockwise forward crossover
- into a clockwise forward inside mohawk
- a counter clockwise backwards crossover
- step into a forward outside edge
- outside three turn on the right foot
- step into a forward outside edge (repeated element)
- outside three turn on the left foot (repeated element)
- a counter clockwise backwards crossover (repeated element)
- step into a waltz jump
- stop on a backwards pivot

Changes in speed, edge, and direction, punks. These ten element, three of them repeated are executed with varying levels of skill. Some like the outside three turn on the right are awful, some like the clockwise forward inside mohawk make me feel gleefully capable. In my previous post wrote that every time I completed a successful run of the baby, four part footwork that I felt like I was closer to being able to express myself on the ice.

How do I feel now? Well. Smashing literally everything I know how to do together and pinwheeling my arms around in an effort to maintain balance isn't exactly expressing myself on the ice. It wasn't informed by how I was feeling or by music or by anything other than my desire to see what I could do with the basic skills I've learned. But it's a start. It took me a month and a half to feel comfortable to try something that was never shown to me nor prompted.

In another month and a half, who knows what I'll be trying to do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kate: I Wanna Taste The Tastes And Fix The Problems

I haven’t been skating recently. Today I am going back on the ice after an almost two-week hiatus, despite having had copious amounts of time off from work recently. I should have used that time to go skating and practice so that I don’t lose my mad skillz (by which I mean ability to sometimes do stuff and not fall), but instead I chose to spend my time in my PJs either on the internet, reading, or staring out the window feeling sorry for myself.

Why did I do this, you ask? I love skating! Skating makes me happy! It’s the only physical activity that I’ll willingly go do! What’s the problem?

The problem is this: I have to have surgery again.

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I’ve talked about that before on this blog, briefly, but today I am going to talk about it a little more. I had five surgeries in six years and was on unpleasant drugs that made me miserable, but didn’t really do much to fix the problem. I spent my late teens/early twenties always worried about pain. By the time I had my last surgery, my doctor was worriedly telling me that he really, really didn’t want to do this, but if things kept on like they had been, I would have a hysterectomy by the time I was thirty.

Then, something crazy happened. I got better.

My last surgery was in January 2006 and they found NO endometriosis. I still had ovarian cysts, but those are more manageable. I was even able to stop taking hormonal birth control for a while and have totally normal cycles. I barely even had to take painkillers! I had a couple of scares, but everything has been fine for four years.

Recently, though, things have gotten a lot more painful. I knew that something was wrong, but ignored it for a while, hoping against hope that it would go away. Finally, though, I realized I had to face it and I went to the doctor. I described what’s been happening, he did an exam, we sat and talked for a long time about my options and my medical history. We even went back through my file to see what things had been like in the past. This surgery is not a choice I made lightly, but it’s what needs to be done. I was really sad and basically retreated for a couple of weeks, going back to old escapism habits (reading, internet, cookies) and avoiding skating because the pain interferes with it sometimes and I find that really upsetting.

I’m going skating this afternoon, though. It’s time to stop sitting around feeling sorry for myself and go back to doing things that make me feel good physically as well as mentally. Things might be getting tough with my health, but that’s all the more reason to stick with something that helps me be healthier. I am on a break from lessons right now, but I’m going back to skating at least three times a week. It will help me to feel better about myself and the current stresses life is throwing at me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Candice: The Difference Between Doing, Trying, and Trying to Try

The other day my beloved coach who is not actually my coach full on Yoda-ed me. He basically gave me a fifteen second lesson that amounted to "Do or do not. There is no try."

While I'm not going to argue with Yoda or my beloved not-coach but there has always been something about this statement that irked me. Probably this is because an awful lot of my life spent trying, rather than doing. If my successes are only ever measured by accomplishment, that leaves me with a somewhat slim curriculum vitae, let's say.

The list of things that I have tried in figure skating is nice and long. It sits there, each attempted item highlighted, next to my computer at work. It starts from the embarrassingly simple: "Sit on ice and stand up" to the much more impressive "Waltz jump." It makes me smile to look over and see that more thing are highlighted now than not. But it's a huge bummer to think of how many of those things I can actually do well.

With the holidays I have taken a brief hiatus from official lessons. It's difficult to know when my Saturdays are free, and while I generally love spending money on myself Christmas is nigh and I'd like to make people presents this year instead of gleefully announcing, "I can do a scratch spin!" and expecting them to be as happy. The break from lessons makes good sense, but it's hard not to feel as though I'm stagnating, because that good feeling from trying something new is now gone for a while.

That means it's time to start actually doing things well. Where's the fun in that. A try is a try. It can fail or succeed and you get points for attempting something new. Doing means you have to face the fact that you still get a little tripped on counter clockwise backwards crossovers. (There's an angry bruise on my left buttcheek attesting to this fact.) Or friggin' edge pulls/power pulls. I've tried to achieve a ripping sound dozens of times. I've done it not even once. Doing means dealing with being disappointed by failure.

As in skating, so in life. I've been "trying" to explore the job market. I've been "trying" to remember to stretch everyday. I've been "trying' to eat right. This is, I've been trying if "trying" means "thinking regularly about how I need to that." I don't know what is stopping me, but I'd venture a guess that the prime candidates are "forgetfulness" "fatigue" and "fried foods."

Some things have definitely improved. Going clockwise my footwork sequence has improved, (counter clockwise, eh, let's not talk about it). Inside 3-turns are now happening instead of stubbornly refusing to happen (they're just really ugly and shaky). I've even started using music to help me get into the mood to practice stroking. Snazzy. But all of this is still kid's stuff in the end. When I was just "trying" I could pretend I was getting ever closer to the big leagues (double axel, here I come!)

I was also recently told that testing for Adult Pre-Bronze may well take two months of private coaching.I think I can do it in one but that still means that I'll be looking at Spring of 2011 instead of this year. That will in fact bring this blog up to a year, but I'd rather hoped that a year anniversary of this blog would feature me and Kate throwing the deuces at the end of a video which showed us doing some pretty slick skating. Not with us posting a certificate showing that we can do acceptable 3-turns.

Who knows, maybe some slick skating is on the horizon after all. I'm going to my Thursday practice tonight to keep doing, and keep thinking about what mastering these things will allow me to at least try. Though I admit that I do sort of wish I could strap a green muppet to my back that would squawk at me from time to time "Named must your fear be before banish it you can!"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Candice: In Pursuit of an Ass

When people ask me, “Why figure skating?” I tend not to respond with “Sometimes I wish I was Johnny Weir.” While true, not everyone knows who he is, and those who do sometimes find him abrasive or repugnant (one person’s fabulousness is another person’s famewhoring). Nor do I respond with the equally true, “I have a small obsession with self-improvement and figure skating offers me the opportunity to always have harder and harder challenges” because that’s a mouthful and people would probably worry about my mental health.

So instead when people ask, “Figure skating? Really?” I say, “Yeah! I decided I finally wanted to have an ass.” Six months ago I did physically possess an ass, but it was not the ass I wanted. I don’t make it a habit of obsessing about body parts. I really don’t like being the girl who goes on a bad date and bursts out with “It’s my hips, isn’t it?” ala Tai from Clueless. But there are certain inalienable truths, and my butt was less than stellar. It had the usual problem of expanding left to right, but it also, inexplicably, up and down. If I hadn’t done something to stop it, there would have no longer been any distinguishable difference between my butt and my thighs, because though it was expansive it was also as flat as Kansas.

I had taken up running for a year, which gave me a lot more endurance and confidence and some pretty good looking calves, but my ass didn’t care. I could run six miles and my ass would have just shrugged and continued doing its best imitation of the Great Plains. Elliptical machines were similarly a bust because well, I don’t particularly enjoy being on them, particularly while precariously perched backwards and trying not to look like I’m six seconds away from falling off of it (even though I am). I did Carmen Electra’s Strip Aerobics (don’t tell my mom). I did bridge exercises and lunges, and a five minute butt exercise I read once in a magazine and carried in the back of my head for years.

But it was all to no avail. I could wage whatever attack I wanted to, but it seemed like genetics had already won the war before I even showed up to the battlefield. I got used to it, and luckily, I’m a huge example of “out of sight, out of mind.” So long as I wasn’t looking in a full length mirror I could manage not to feel too depressed about it. (And there were plenty of other things to celebrate, if you don’t mind me saying.)

And then suddenly: figure skating. Google any figure skater and take a look at the rear view. Chances are you’ll find they’re carrying some junk in the trunk, but it’s less junk and more solid muscle. Tall, short, delicately framed, or stoutly built, male, or female, it didn’t matter. They all had an ass they could be proud of. A hypothesis formed. If I stuck with the skating, maybe I could get even a pale imitation and start actually filling out a pair of jeans.

There’s not too much difference between watching grass grow and watching an ass grow. They both happen so slowly that you don’t really notice it until one day you need to mow the lawn or you put on one of your pencil skirts and think, “Oh god, I’ve gained weight! Why doesn’t this fit anymore?” For a few weeks I was silently upset at the idea that I had finally started to gain the weight I’d been holding at bay for two years. Until one day Kate looked over and said, “You’re getting such a cute little ass.”

“Really?” I asked. I was quite pleased at the thought but didn’t really believe it. Best friends tell the truth, but they also sometimes say the truth in the biggest, nicest way possible. I immediately went in search of my arch nemeses, the full length mirror. The full length mirror would never, and had never lied.

Lo and behold, people, there was an ass. Now I’m not going to say I’ve got anything back there to rival J.Lo. And certainly not my beloved Johnny Weir. But in a way it’s kind of like how Texans think we know mountains from mountains until we actually see the Rockies or some other real mountain range and go “What the hell is that? It’s huge!” Right now I’ve got my molehill, and I’m happy. But I’ve got my hobby and in a full year, who knows, maybe I’ll get that mountain.

Kate- Evaluations

On the last day of skating classes, we have evaluations. I went into class on Saturday very nervous for mine because I am not strong yet on some of the elements. I figured I would fail the evaluation and be in Adult Basic 4 for another eight weeks.

WELL I PASSED. I am going to reproduce my evaluation complete with hilarious comments here, and then talk about what exactly this means.

So, here is a list of the elements I had to try and my teacher’s comments:

A. Forward 3-turns: outside & inside, R & L – “R- alright! L- oh lefty. :) getting close”

B. Perimeter stroking with crossover end patterns – “wonderful strokes – great position”

C. Forward inside to ouside change of edge sequence –“ great control, consistent size & shape, vert est. & stable on both edges”

D. Alternate backward crossovers with two-foot transition – “good! Great transitions – work on arms straight and look behind ALWAYS”

E. Footwork Sequence

1. 3-5 forward crossovers to an inside mohawk, 3-5 backward crossovers, step forward inside the circle and repeat.

“Good crossovers! Experiment with power. Try moving mohawks!”

F. Power three turns, one direction only – “R- :). Good directon and transition!”

So, basically, what all of that business and commentary means is I got a big fat gold star in skating class for being awesome and now I have to figure out what I want to do next. My choices are: stay in basic 4 until I feel comfortable, move up to “Adult Workshop” where they learn much more complicated business, or go to private lessons. The decision needs to be made quickly as the next round of classes start this week, so clearly we will be keeping you, our five beloved readers, posted about where we go from here. Things are about to REALLY get interesting in our world of figure skating.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Candice: Dr. S. Lambiel or:

(How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love the 3-turn).

Today I'm going to talk about footwork and how it makes me feel like a real skater.

It's now about five months into this endeavor and we're still just scratching the surface of interesting. (Consecutive edges, though important, are never going to be described as "fireworks on ice!") We have however learned a few jumps. Or rather I should say that we have learned a few "hops": the (I shit you not) bunny hop and the side-toe hop. They kind of look like tripping on ice. Like Buzz Lightyear's falling with style, hops are like (nearly) falling with intent. I hate practicing them because I feel as though I must look like the tallest, clumsiest person on the ice when I do.

Previously I talked about being like unto a child when I skate sometimes? Well, hops make me feel like an actual baby. Have you ever seen a toddler that has just learned how to jump? How they sort of flail and get both feet maybe one centimeter off the floor and then look really proud of themselves? That's me practicing hops. Suffice to say jumps right now don't particularly fill me with glee (neither do the basics I am still begrudgingly honing) but footwork? Footwork is amazing.

Footwork, which can be straight line, serpentine, or circular, are ways of changing edge, direction and speed across the ice. Combined with the movement of the arms and changing the upper body position, footwork is basically dancing on ice. It's currently my favorite thing about the sport but it is one of the last things that most people think about when they think about figure skating. Depending on who you are the first thing that you think is either a) costumes, b) jumps, or c) Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. After jumps and costumes what usually comes next is spins and spirals and the layback freaking Ina Bauer. Footwork doesn't really become apparent until you start watching competitive programs again and again. You start to notice that some athletes are capable of skating with the music, and not simply to the music. When a skater is really good the way the move will actually enhance the music, just like a dancer.

You're not going to be surprised when I tell you that I believe some of the best examples of beautiful footwork come from Stephane Lambiel. This video contains four years of gorgeous choreography in just 9 minutes but embedding has been disabled by the user meaning that none of you are going to watch it. Shame on you. Alexei Yagudin is also very well known for his step sequences so you have someone else to compare to.

The twizzles, rockers, and other magic Stephane is doing in the above video are all light years ahead of what I can do and am practicing. Even the steps we do have in common, like lunges and 3-turns, are barely comparable. When Stephane lunges, he attains a lovely deep position, long and stretched out, with his arms in an exciting pose. When I lunge I drag and scrape my blade against the ice because I lack the thigh muscle to get in and out of it easily. I also grunt and my hands mostly just reach out and grasp at the air pathetically. Stephane does 3-turns or mohawks at a dizzying speed, and I currently do mohawks at about .000001 miles an hour. Stephane's footwork sequences are dynamic 15 - 25 second dances combining all sorts of edge changes and so on. I'm learning this:

- Two forward crossovers.
- Inside mohawk (change direction from forwards to a backwards)
- Two backwards crossovers.
- Step into a forward edge. (change direction from backwards to a forwards)

It takes about five seconds to do and is a slightly simpler version of the actual test version. Right now when I do it the sequence mostly looks like:

-Two really slow forward crossovers
-TERRIFIED stumbling mohawk
-Immediately put raised foot down and thank God you didn't fall (that's what we like to call improvisation)
-Two backwards crossovers at a good speed
-Lurch into a forward edge.

It shouldn't be fun, practicing the same steps over and over again, but every time I try for the sequence or do power three turns (which have everything! Changes in direction, in speed, and in edge) I smile. It's exhilarating and the better I get, the more I find myself thinking "Holy shit, Sochi here I come!" Sochi being a metaphor (obviously) for whenever I finally start to feel like I know what I'm doing out there on the ice.

I thought the reason that I wanted to get better was to take test levels and prove that, while this may be just a hobby, it's a hobby that I am good at. But a recent Stephane Lambiel interview made me reconsider that.

He said: "It takes so much time to be able to express such freedom, joy and sorrow. In figure skating you need the basic skills to get to the point of being able to express yourself. And that one basic thing in this sport, to just 'skate,' takes so much time to acquire. It takes even more time to become able to express various feelings while you enjoy and feel the freedom."

In the end my ultimate goal is obviously not triple jumps, it's to be able to do just what Stephane said, express my feelings on the ice and enjoy the freedom it gives me. Triple jumps wouldn't give me that even if I could do them, but dancing across the ice hopefully will. It's going to take a lot of work to get to that point- even on dry land I'm not really much of a dancer, well, at least not while sober -but it's going to be worth it, I think.

I've always been a creative a person. Ever since I can remember I've had an active imagination and a desire to create stories and characters. But my whole life I've also been confined to only be able to express myself through words. I can't draw, I can't sing, I dance like a drunk white girl, and I'm not really all that crafty. I like interior design but you don't usually say, "This room expresses how I'm feeling today." This is exactly why I think I keep pushing and pushing myself with this skating thing. One day I hope to finally hitting the point where I can use something other than words to say what I feel and to feel the kind catharsis that right now I can only get through words.

I just think that would be a huge gift to myself. And to everyone that ends up having to listen to me talk.

Kate: Work Your Way Out

Yesterday at the rink, I was practicing power three turns, which basically meant I was doing an s-pattern on the ice – I would do a three-turn, then glide into a backwards crossover, then step back out into a three-turn. I’m not very good at it yet, but I was really getting the hang of it when I noticed that my left foot was hurting a lot. I tend to ignore pain in that foot because I broke it a year and a half ago and it’s been troublesome ever since. This pain, however, was deep and intense.

I thought I’d just take a break and try some Mohawks because I’m finally starting to master them and I wanted to practice some more. That’s when everything really went south. See, doing the mohawk, I flipped from going forwards and my left foot was like “AW NAW HELL NAW” and the pain was suddenly really intense. I tried doing several more elements, and it got to the point where even skating with any weight on ol’ lefty was painful.

I try to be kind to my foot (and the rest of my body) and remember to take anti-inflammatory drugs and take breaks to massage it when it gets really painful. Yesterday, though, I just fought through because I got really upset and frustrated. There’s nothing more annoying than something as simple as pain holding you back. It’s just not something you can control.

When I got really angry, I decided to do lunges (literally, you lunge forward into a deep knee bend with one leg while dragging the other behind you. The goal is to get your back foot parallel to the ice.) until I wasn’t angry anymore. So I did. For ten minutes, I did lunge after lunge and complained to Candice about the pain in my foot. Finally, when my legs were shaking and I had finally run out of curse words, I stopped, took a breath, and realized it had worked. I wasn’t angry anymore, I was just exhausted. So I got back to practicing what I was doing, and worked through the pain.

I’ve spent a lot of years struggling with chronic pain. I have endometriosis (don't know what that is? Try google or wikipedia!), which used to cause That Time of the Month to be so painful I couldn’t get out of bed. I’ve had five surgeries and unpleasant drug therapies that have long-term effects. After my last surgery, my doctor told me that if things kept on the way they were, I would have a hysterectomy before I was thirty.

Since then, I have had a marked improvement in my health and have managed to lead a quite normal life, despite a couple of scares and some ongoing pain issues. I spent years learning to manage pain, how to live with it. I have always firmly believed that if I just keep moving ahead, eventually I’ll work past the pain or figure out how to work around it. This is why I kept skating, even when my foot was hurting so badly I had trouble putting weight on it. Pain isn’t something I give in to. Pain is something I push into the background so I can get on with my business.

This story is not to illustrate what a badass I am. It’s to illustrate what a moron I can be sometimes. Skating isn’t easy. It’s not just hard to learn, it’s really hard on your body. When you’re a kid it’s much easier to deal with falls and muscle exhaustion and pain from old injuries, but as an adult you have to be much more careful with yourself. After I got off the ice yesterday I was in pain for the rest of the afternoon. We ran errands and I could just feel all the bad things I had done to myself.

Eventually, we stopped and went back to Candice’s apartment to stretch, and that took care of a lot of the problems. What we SHOULD have done was stretch immediately after skating, and what I personally should have done was get off the ice and give cranky ol’ left foot a break. It’s hard to remember sometimes that if you push yourself too far, you’ll regret it. We’re both strong and have a lot of endurance, so we’re often like “No, no, it’s no problem! I GOT THIS” and then three hours later we’re both weeping about muscle pain.

So, lesson learned. Be nicer to myself and stretch, for goodness sake.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kate: Testing, Testing...

Sit down, five readers, and grab yourself a drink. Miss Kate is gonna teach you about test levels today. See, Candice and I are veeeery slowly preparing to start attempting figure skating tests, as I mentioned a couple of entries ago. I'm sure some of you are thinking "tests? What are they going to test you guys on? Falling? A+!". Well, there are two test tracks, one for the young whippersnappers who have Olympic dreams, and one for old people who just want to compete in stuff with other old people and have some fun. OBVIOUSLY, we are in group two.

The lowest level of the adult test track is called "Pre-Bronze". It consists of two parts, "Moves in the Field" and "Freestyle". We are working on things for both, but we have to pass "Moves in the Field" to move on to "Freestyle". With MitF, we basically have to show we can skate several patterns, some of which I have discussed before. This part used to include tracing figures on the ice, which is where the term "figure skating" comes from. History lesson! You're welcome! Freestyle is just showing we can do basic elements - spins, basic jumps, and a lunge or spiral. The first test is not that difficult, but we are going to have to buckle down if we want to actually pass it. I confess I've been a bit lax recently with my practicing.

After we pass pre-bronze, the next levels are Bronze, Silver, and someday when we are super awesome skaters, Gold. I'm not even going to explain what those test ask us to do, because I don't want to depress myself too much. It would be very cool to start passing tests and competing soon, though.

So! There you go! A quick lesson on wtf we are talking about when we mention "testing".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Candice: Like unto a child

I think that means what I want it to mean. What I want it to mean is figure skating turns me into a child. And I don't mean that in the "the magic of Christmas connects children ages of one to ninety-two" way. I don't mean that each time I step onto the ice I am overwhelmed by the magic of figure skating.

I mean that I feel like a baby that doesn't know how to do anything.

For me the worst thing about becoming an adult figure skater is getting onto the ice and thinking "Okay. I'm going to try practicing a one foot spin, but I'm going to take it slow and easy to start" only to look up and see an eight-year-old practicing a sit spin with a change in position. It's an odd feeling to be outclassed by someone that doesn't know how to drive, pair wine with food, and is not allowed to touch the stove if their parents aren't home, and not one that I particularly enjoy.

Recently my new coach had Kate and I go back to the basics because, frankly, I'd been a little "Fuck the basics" lately. Mastering things takes time (who knew?) but doing something once means I can cross something off the list. My learning philosophy had sort of become a bit too "So who cares if I can only do a right outside three turn only about 20% of the time? I did it. Let's move on to inside three turns, please."

But instead of indulging this impulse our coach had us try to do Basic 1 and 2 moves as fast as possible. "Let's see how fast you can do swizzles and then backwards swizzles," she said, asking us to skate forward about half of the rink forward and then back. The answer to how fast we could go was (not surprisingly) not very fast at all. I hadn't done a swizzle since... I don't even know, maybe June. Why? Because swizzles are LAME and look nothing at all like a double toe loop jump all the eight to fourteen year-olds are practicing.

That's right. I wouldn't practice swizzles because I was embarrassed to be a twenty-six year old woman practicing swizzles in front of kids who learned swizzles when they were five. But you know what's more embarrassing than having an eight year old sneer at you? Having your coach bust you back down to four months ago.

This valuable lesson learned, the next day I went to the rink, put in some earbuds, and turned on my iPod. I haven't skated much to my own music because I was afraid it would distract me to the point that I accidentally hit someone while skating (my worst nightmare!). In actuality it's not that distracting. I could see and sense the eight-year-olds and hockey skaters but also ignore them as I spent maybe twenty minutes practicing forward crossovers in a serpentine pattern, just doing them over and over again.

I realized that my left over right crossovers were very weak and uncomfortable. My right leg is stronger than it was back at the start of all this, but still a bit leery of holding deep edges. As a result when doing forward crossovers I looked more like I'm tripping than anything else. Not cute, but it's getting better. I also rediscovered the joy of slaloms. It's actually only a bonus that I now feel more confident doing slaloms much faster now because they are a nice way to surreptitiously shake my booty as I listen to Gaga's Pokerface and imagine I am Johnny Weir.

There's also the matter of stroking. Kate has been lovely enough to define and complain about stroking so that I could pretend it doesn't exist. It's supposed to be this graceful, extended way of moving across the ice but when I do it looks like "LURCH into position, hold uncomfortably, LURCH into second position, hold uncomfortably, repeat." Again it is embarrassment holding me back. Stroking is a massively fruity way of moving across the ice. And I have to do it while guys in hockey skates zip around me, furiously fast and with no wasted movement. It's like I'm trying to do ballet leaps across a field while a cross country runner is passing me and saying, "Excuse me. Actually running here..." Instead of going whole hog, I usually tried to hedge my bets by doing it as secretively as possible. Of course this means I am really bad it, fruity ways of moving usually need more commitment in order to seem awesome. Not less. But again the iPod helps me to want to practice stroking more by providing more appropriate music to "float" to instead of Blink 182.

My reward for getting back to the basics was a lesson centering around jumps and a footwork sequence. I'm so excited about the footwork sequence I'm actually having trouble creating a blog post around beyond "OMG YOU GUYS! I'M GONNA BE STEPHANE LAMBIEL." I'll get back to you all when I can calm down about it, though, I promise.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Candice: My wildly unpopular opinion

Layback Ina Bauers are boring.

There, I said it. I'm sorry. I know that everyone in the world prefers to watch female skaters instead of male skaters and everyone is in love with the way women just float across the ice, like little angels in chiffon or whatever. But frankly a Layback Ina Bauer looks like the skater passed out on the ice, but the forward momentum she had before she lost consciousness keeps her moving.

Layback Ina Bauer
(source: Getty Images)

(Please note: I think Shizuka Arakawa is amazing. Even though that is in fact her signature move.)

In general people will actually look mildly shocked when I say that I would prefer to watch mens single skaters over female singles skaters any day. But every time I have confessed my opinion about the Ina Bauer move to a lifelong skater I generally get a polite, but unmistakable "Who farted?" face. And that is not an exaggeration. Three people have done it. Maybe because places like declares "[a]n Ina Bauer is considered one of the most beautiful moves in figure skating." Too bad. Because I still I hate them.

You know what I do love? Spinning. Look I brought examples!

Stephane Lambiel is the Master of Spins. Please ignore the lame moniker because it's true. I love him, and not just because he's like the handsome European prince I used to dream would find me at school and take me away to a world of ball gowns, Rolls-Royces and waving politely at the commoners. ...Ahem.

I also love him because he can actually evince emotion while spinning like a top. His spins are wonderfully fast, centered, and stable but he still puts the effort in to striking meaningful positions, and holding his hands in such a way that it's less about the fireworks and more about the beauty of the spin. (Clip is set to start about 5 seconds before the spin):

Stephane is my favorite spinner, but of course ladies can spin, too! And how. Mirai Nagasu is an amazing spinner. And so bendy! In this clip she does two very solid sit spin positions, and then launches into a layback spin so fast and flexible it takes my breath away (also set start right at the spin).

In 2009 the Nebelhorn Trophy Gala found itself with two famous spinners, Stephane Lambiel and Alissa Czisny so they decided to have a "spin off." Literally. In essence, they are SPIN DANCE fighting. Alissa hits more poses, but Stephane beats her for speed and endurance:

If you really want to do things completely you should google/youtube Lucinda Ruh. To hear Crotchety Uncle Dick Button tell it Lucinda Ruh was the single greatest spinner ever. She used to spin both directions, in the snow, everyday at 4am before she had to milk the cows, or whatever. (No really, she's great.)

And lord but do I have more examples, (Stephane's near minute long spin in one of his old exhibition programs, the amazing speed and energy of his spin in his William Tell competitive program, Plushenko's Beillmann spins, Adam Rippon's lovely donut spin from the 2010 World's, and the glory that is side by side camel spins in pair's skating) but I don't want to overwhelm you. I think I've made my point abundantly clear anyway.

Ladies' skating: Quit hitting the snooze button in the middle of your programs and gimme some razzle dazzle.

Kate: Punished for Arrogance

We have started our fourth round of skating classes. I've been practicing three-turns like mad, ready to show off my skills to our teacher, Miss Jen. At the same I was also trying mohawks, which are two foot turns on the same edge that continues along the same lobe, but I need a lot more help with those. I did finally master three-turns on both feet, but mohawks remained elusive. I not only managed to complete the turn, I even held the backwards edge!

This very exciting for two reasons - 1) I have detailed why I have trouble with backwards edges on this blog, so actually holding one was awesome and 2) I broke my left foot in May of '09 and to this day I have problems with pain. Getting ol' Lefty to do something correctly was awesome!

So. We get to class. We had a new teacher who we had met once before, when she subbed in our class months ago. This was a bummer because she doesn't really know us or how far we had come, but she's really nice and a good teacher, so whatever. THEN. My three turns ended up being heinous. Awful. THE WORST. I could not freaking get them. Everything else I tried, I blew at, including spins as well. So sad!

And THEN. In the last minute of class I decided "Fuck it. I'm gonna do a mohawk." You know, the element I can't quite seem to get the hang of? Ever. I did the turn, I went straight down onto the ice onto my left hip. Did I mention the eight year olds shooting around us clamoring for their class? They were right there to see my collapse. Luckily, it wasn't even a quarter as bad as my nasty fall a few weeks ago. It was just embarrassing.

So! I got cranky, and then I got cocky, and I was punished for arrogance. The end, a story by Kate.