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.