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.