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.
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.