Monday, July 26, 2010

Kate: All We Know Is Falling

So, one of the things you have to get used to when learning to ice skate is you are 100% going to fall. Everyone falls. Children, professional figure skaters, amateur league hockey players. They make special shorts with butt and thigh pads in them to help cushion your falls while you're learning jumps. When I went to Stars On Ice like three of the pros full on beefed it. In beginning ice skating classes one of the very first skills they teach is how to fall and get back up. They don't teach you how to not cry when you eat it and hurt yourself, but trust me. That's a skill that you will learn all on your own.

I've been skating since I was a kid and have managed some pretty dramatic falls in my day. One time I was racing on the ice in hockey skates and an unwitting figure skater wobbled out into my path. I was unable to stop and I hit them at full speed. We both went flying and I somehow managed to rotate 180 degrees in the air and ended up landing on my left hip. I had to get off the ice and rest for a bit after that one, but it wasn't long before I was out there again, recklessly shooting around with no regard for the safety of others.

These days, I'm a little more cautious. Falls hurt more - I'm by no means old, but I'm not exactly the spry thing I was back when I skated regularly as a child. I tend to fall like I'm sliding into home base - one time I was trying to do a spiral (definition of what that is was in my last post) and I leaned deep on my inside edge and ended up sliding across the ice on my leg. That one was more funny than painful - if I'd thought to artfully lean my chin on my hand, I might have even been able to make it look like I did it on purpose. One time Candice and I were doing the thing where we help each other skate backwards fast - she was going backwards and I was forwards and we tried to whip around so that I was the one going backwards. We were punished for arrogance when we both careened off and I ended up on my butt while Candice windmilled her arms and legs, trying not to end up see-sawing on my head, and finally landed on her knees. I had a glorious bruise on my rear the next day, but it wasn't so bad. Once again, more funny than painful.

My most recent fall, however, was a little less hilarious. I was once again practicing edges and trying to do a spiral properly and I was looking at my feet, not the area around me. I ran into Candice and somehow bounced off of her and went right down directly onto my kneecaps, then belly flopped and slid across the ice like a penguin. I managed to get up all by myself, clutching the tattered shreds of my dignity, and then skated over to the boards to lean and do that thing where you laugh a little hysterically because you're trying not to cry. I was smart and I took medicine, iced it, and elevated it and I wore a brace when I went skating the next day, but I'm still sporting big sexy purple bruises on each kneecap.

The cool thing about moments like that is the other hardcore skaters are usually sympathetic when you fall. People will offer you a hand up and tell stories of their own dramatic collapses and joke about the laugh/cry thing. Candice and I always fist bump when we beef it and then get back up and keep going because that's what it's all about. You fall down, sometimes in a very dramatic way that makes you look as stupid as humanly possible, and then you get back up, dust the ice shavings off of your pants, laugh at yourself, and keep skating. I always feel like a badass when I manage to stay on the ice for a long time after a fall, then I limp home and seriously think about investing in some of those butt pad shorts and knee pads. The metaphor for life's hard knocks is so obvious here it's almost ridiculous, but hey. Figure skating never shies away from cheese and literalism.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Candice: Fragile Figure Skating Alliances

I think it's safe to assume that back in May everyone at our ice rink thought we were losers. Sized up by girls and men with various levels of expertise we were found lacking. We could buy skates but we couldn't buy class. Or talent. "Congrats on the backwards swizzles, loser, could you get out of my way so I can do a lutz?"

Even the ice rink employees regarded us with a certain level of bemusement. Over and over again, despite the presence of our skate bags, they asked "Do you need to rent skates?" Because, I guess, most adults coming to skate were either well-known regulars or people who were coming to skate for amusement or nostalgia.

Despite seeing the same faces three times a week Kate and I kept to ourselves. Keeping to ourselves unfortunately means being loud and foulmouthed and doing a lot of mock choreography. Practicing our fledgling skills meant we were often in the way, interrupting jumping passes and footwork sequences with embarrassed "Sorries!" thrown over our shoulders because we didn't know how to stop very well. Children who had never skated before did not pay us any attention and looked instead with envy and confusion at the wizardry being performed by more advanced skaters.

By the end of June I figured there would never be a sense of camaraderie. A big part of this is my age. Seeing an eight year old girl practicing backwards crossovers anyway while you struggle with a one footed backwards glide is pretty dignity robbing. To actually ask an eight year old girl practicing backwards crossovers how she does it would be humiliating, pointless and, well, creepy. The same goes with the handful of older teenagers as well, all of whom are usually engaging in the essential teenage activities of gossiping and badly flirting.

Some of the employees are closer to my age, but no matter what they might feel about myself or Kate, they are working and probably aren't all that thrilled about it. To be a twenty-six year old groupie to the guy who drives the zamboni while listening to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is just as dignity robbing as watching a 12 year old complete a jump combination while you're patting yourself on the back for bunny hops.

But then. There are the other adults. Some are coaches, some are clearly advanced skaters, and then the other novices. The grown women with children who are maybe only a year or two beyond my skill set. We skate passed each other a hundred times, we sit close to each other as we unlace, and we don't speak. I wonder what they think of me, because I think they're endlessly intriguing. Are they reclaiming a lost skill of their youth? Is this all as new to them as it is to me? Why do they do it? Do they wonder why I'm still here? Still trying?

I thought maybe I'd never know the answers, but it turns out I just needed to be more patient. Slowly, overtures are being made. A small chat here and there, a slight commiseration about backwards crossovers. An employee that recognizes us and seems glad to chat. No names have yet been exchanged, but the ice is beginning to thaw. Kate and I have dubbed many of them with nicknames which might not seem complimentary but are actually quite fond: "Sister Wife," "Jay AND Silent Bob," "Captain Cranky Pants."

How close the community is, how widely reaching, I don't know. There may be a wicked hazing in my future, but somehow I don't think so. Johnny Weir and Stephane Lambiel have both expressed how lonely ice skating is. It's often you on the ice, and except during for competitions, the only thing you are trying only to beat is your own limitations. It's hard to make eye contact with people when you're looking down at your own feet.

But with patience came backwards crossovers and small talk. With more patience... who knows?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kate: Awesome Things That I’ve Learned How to Do

Well! Two weeks ago I was like “no, for real, I’m going to update the blog EVERY SUNDAY and stick to a schedule because I am a responsible grownup” and then last Sunday I went to Hamilton Pool and swam and hiked and swam some more and then went to Resa’s to watch Be Good Johnny Weir and was so tired when I got home that I was like “fuck it, I barely even skated this weekend anyways and I was full of fail.”

THIS Sunday, I’m all responsible and awesome. My laundry is done, my bathroom is clean, and oh WHAT I skated for two HOURS yesterday without falling. Candice and I made a deal that we would skate until we fell and we finally hit the point where we were so tired we were trying to fall so we could just go home already. We finally gave up. I was cold, exhausted, and my legs were killing me. I felt like a BOSS. These are some of the cool things I have managed to master:

Backwards half-swizzle pumps: basically, I keep one foot straight and use the other foot to push myself along.

Backwards one-foot glides: I literally go in a straight line backwards and pick my foot up and skate along on one foot. This is very hard and scary because I always feel like I’m going to fall. I’ve only mastered it on my right foot, which is stronger because ol’ lefty got broken last year.

Going from backwards skating to forwards without losing momentum (two-foot turn). This one was surprisingly easy, you just have to find the sweet spot on your blade where it’s easy to whirl around.

Two-foot spins: I can do three revolutions easily now. BAM. I also picked up my foot on a spin, but I have not yet mastered the one-footed spin. That’s next on the list.

Spiral: You skate on one leg with your other leg extended behind you either at or above the level of your hip. I can get my leg about to hip level so far and am working on getting it higher. It’s fun and difficult and excellent for showing off while skating.

I’m really working to master outside and inside edges (basically, a figure skating blade has two edges and a hallow in the middle. You use your edges to help you with different moves), which is also pretty tough.

Candice and I have been practicing tandem stroking (basically skating along together and pushing off our blades in a certain way) and tandem crossovers. It’s really hard because she’s so tall - she has to shorten her stride and I have to concentrate to keep up. It’s really fun and silly, though. We always end up getting the giggles and almost knocking each other over. Yesterday we were messing around and decided to go with one of us skating backwards and the other was skating forwards. Whoever was going forwards held the hands of the person going backwards to support them and watched out for small children in hockey gear and we went really, really fast around the ice. It was scary, but also really fun and helpful because it allowed me to become more confident with picking up speed when skating backwards.

Speaking of small children in hockey gear, they are both adorable and a major hazard on the ice. I’ve almost mowed down like nine million of them.

So, there you go. A brief recap of the fun things we are learning to do. I start my next class on Saturday and I hope to master backwards crossovers (I did some yesterday but I can’t keep moving when I do them. I always panic and stop myself with my toe pick). Apparently I’m supposed to start learning a very basic jump soon, which I am over the moon about. Candice and I are picking up skills so quickly. We’re a long way from actually learning a death spiral, but we’ll get there!

In closing, I leave you with a link to a video of my favorite pair of all time, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. This number, done to Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”, was inspired by Rodin’s sculptures. They are absolutely incredible, and if you’re wondering what the hell we’re talking about when we yap about learning a death spiral, you can see these two perform a gorgeous one in the video at 2:01.