This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

- sensitive choreo

I had some equivocal thoughts after interviewing Kate about choreo I'd like to share and explore. First, the importance of a choreograhper. I suppose you could plan your program's choreo by watching other skaters and their videos, and even by reading books on the topic. There's nothing though like having a choreographer skate alongside to help you at the rink. Your self-impressions of how you look when skating are likely inaccurate; the choreographer can make real-time demonstrations and corrections. An experienced choreographer will also know what is best for you as a skater: she knows the limits of your capabilities and where you might variously run into trouble. Your choreographer likely knows all the ins and outs of IJS scoring. If you are competitive she can impel you to the limits of your skills (adapted to your body type) to maximize your scores.

I asked Kate how she felt about "ethnic" programs; she said they were fine if the skater has the correct style to match what the program requires for handling the music. She did mention an ethnic program obligates the choreographer to show cultural sensitivity: you have to be thoughtful and avoid being disrespectful by falling into stereotypical portrayals.

I also inquired about the pros and cons of IJS scoring compared to 6.0. She felt IJS presents a two-edged sword: on one hand (due to its tight requirements) you need a choreographer to hep you cover everything while still remaining stylish. In other words, the strictures of IJS make it much more difficult to arrive at beautiful choreography just by yourself. The back edge of the sword however is IJS ensnares many skaters and their coaches where the pressures of its scoring inflicts moves upon a skater that are legitimately beyond her capabilities.

Our conversations also got me thinking about the appropriateness of seductive skating across various age groups. No matter what I say many readers will find it a controversial, sensitive, and high-anxiety issue. Nevertheless it merits exploration to clear the air, and as usual YMMV.

I'm neither categorically for nor against seductive skating. It all depends, and I can never tell ahead of time whether this is the right thing for you as a skater. When I am watching a routine I know about halfway through however whether or not your seductiveness strikes the right tone or if it assaults my sensibilities.

To start with what's easy, let's chat about the dress. I don't mind something slightly revealing (if you are twelve or older) but it shouldn't provoke me to be staring at your body more than I am watching your skating. In other words /suggested/ sexiness is better than "turning me on." I am here to watch you skate, not to gawk at your beauty. Specific design details beyond that are difficult, as it varies for each person: something that's too revealing for one skater may be fine for another.

Next, your attitude. Overtly "coming on" to me is never appropriate. Being flirty is fine in moderation: you can wink and wave and blow me a kiss, no problem. How I judge your wiggling about depends a lot upon your age: older skaters can get away with all sorts of shenanigans as long as it's "tongue in cheek" and not overdone. Younger skaters look wrong when they try to move sexily: I prefer the younger skaters strive for cuteness in a Shirley Temple sort of fashion. Where's the age dividing line? I haven't a clue: some skaters mature faster than others. Hint, it's somewhere between 11 and 16.

Trying to look sexy comes across as false when you're in that awkward teen age danger-zone where you've outgrown being cutesy. Again this isn't a specific age but rather when you're old enough to be thinking about it but not old enough to actually know what it's about (enough said). If this is you then please don't try to be seductive on the ice. You can still wink and wave and blow me a kiss though, no problem.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

- becoming a choreographer

In earlier posts I chatted with Kate about what it's like to work with a choreographer, and some of the finer points of that field. Folks choose to be choreographers (rather than say skating coaches) based upon where their heart leads. If you are more interested in nurturing along a skater's development over the years and like to teach jumps and spins, then you tend toward coaching. On the other hand if you don't mind being lesson-to-lesson and gig oriented (and subservient to the coach), and are more interested in movement, dance, and artistic expression in general then you will lean more toward choreography.

You don't have to have a history of figure skating in order to be a good skating choreographer. Phillip Mills, Benji Schwimmer, and several other well-known choreographers started in the dance world and then moved into skating. Say you've become enamored with that idea and would like to turn your dance or skating background into a skating choreography career -- how does one go about such a thing? Herewith Kate gives good starting points for young choreographers regardless of your background.

⦁    Educate yourself! American Ice Theatre offers an online semester-long skating course called Master Choreography Techniques (MCT) that is absolutely wonderful. You'll have the chance to regularly create work, learn choreo vocabulary and be able to speak knowledgeably about movement and how to create a program. (www.americanicetheatre.org)
⦁    The Professional Skaters Association also offers a choreography track through its ratings program – the four ratings for choreographers require you to learn IJS rules alongside music, dance, and skating skills. (www.skatepsa.com)
⦁    For great background, enroll in dance or theatre classes at a college.
⦁    Attend workshops – both American Ice Theatre and Ice Dance International offer these. Various annual choreography and movement festivals occur all over the world. There’s an American Ice Theatre Contemporary Skating Festival coming to Boston in June 2017! Keep your eyes open for opportunities such as these.
⦁    Get involved in your local rink teaching Learn-to-Skate, and shadow coaches or choreographers while they teach private lessons. Build relationships with your local coaches.
⦁    Offer to assist with your Club’s exhibition or Holiday show – choreograph group numbers and volunteer to help the show run smoothly.
⦁    Skate regularly to explore your own sense of movement, style, transitions, turns and steps.
⦁    To demonstrate your style and choreography, perform your own choreo  as much as possible: perform at your Club’s shows and exhibitions, and compete in Showcase events .
⦁    Participate in online choreography contests such as: Young Artists Showcase (www.youngartistsshowcase.net), Quest for Creativity (more info at www.grassrootstochampions.com), or the ProSkaters online competition (www.proskaters.org) .
⦁    Get in touch with someone in the field to mentor you. Skating choreography is a small circle, and everyone from all generations is an available resource.
⦁    Support artistic groups such as American Ice Theatre, Ice Theatre of New York, Ice Dance International, The Next Ice Age, Ice Cold Combos, and more! Attend their shows and contribute in any way you can to the community!
⦁    Post your work online and use social media to get your name out. Ask for feedback of your work from your mentor or other established choreographers.
⦁    For self-promotion, comp a higher level skater’s choreography.
⦁    Create a professional website to organize and promote the work you’re doing with the style you wish to establish.
⦁    Attend dance classes and artistically inspiring events as much as possible.  Critically watch videos from other well-known choreographers.

Most of the technological knowhow required for quality choreography entails learning about music editing software. Most choreographers edit their music with Garage Band, Sound Forge, or a variety of other music editing systems. You can also hire professional editing companies online to edit the music for you. Choreographers will also often video toward the end of lessons, especially for visiting lessons.

New choreographers need to know IJS, especially for footwork and spins. They also need to build relationships with coaches, while assuring them you aren't going to steal their students. As obtaining students is all coach based, building relationships with parents, skaters, and fellow coaches is really the most important thing a choreographer and secondary coach can do.

Since choreographers are a part of the “team” offer to help edit music or assist in a show. Shadow a private lesson in order to demonstrate your interest, capability, and professionalism. Respond to emails in a timely fashion, dress professionally at the rink, and always be prepared with the music. Map out the plan for the skater’s program (or counts for an ensemble piece). Maintaining your professionalism encourages the coaches to recommend you as their choreographer! Never forget that your own personal passion for movement and skating is often a wonderful way to market your capability as a choreographer.

Ideally you will be creating the space for a skater to discover her own muse. A choreographer's job is to reveal the skater's unique expressiveness of her own proficiencies, expanding the skater’s movement, style, and performance to her potential! It’s a really wonderful process! Don’t just project your movements upon them – open up their world and bring awareness to what their body’s innate movement already is; help them refine that movement as they develop and perform.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

- choreo on the job


For this post I ask choreographer Kate McSwain the questions every parent or aspiring skating star wants to know about how choreo actually works. Do check out though my entire category of choreo.

LA SkateDad: Do men choreographers do their work differently than women?

Kate McSwain: Choreographers are all unique -- there's more of a difference between individual choreographers than between men or women as a group. Each choreographer has their own process. The only thing I've noticed is some male choreographers are more careful and thoughtful when working with female skaters on suggestive positions or seductive movements.

LASD: Is it better for a male skater to use a male choreographer? Should female skaters stick with female choreographers?

KM: I think a skater should work with both male and female choreographers to get a breadth of variety and experience. The flip side is that choreographers have to be sensitive to the gender, feminine or masculine characteristics of the skater they're working with and that skaters’ intentions for their own program.

LASD: What's the difference between doing the choreo for a mens program versus a ladies?

KM: I think there are only subtle differences primarily in arm movements -- for example I avoid using extremely effeminate arm positions on male skaters or masculine arms on females. The patterns, skating tricks, and transitions are all the same regardless of the skater’s gender.

LASD: I've always said women should strive for expressing "grace" but men should strive for "class."

KM: Well I generally agree, but I think men can show polish, cleanliness, style, and character just as much as the ladies. Male skaters are like male dancers -- they need posture, clean lines, pointed toes and graceful transitions just as much as the females. Similarly, females can demonstrate power and strength as much as males. For a good example of character, style, and polish on a male skater take a look at Adam Rippon's skate I posted here.

LASD: Ah, I don't know, I didn't like his hands there: they seemed too effeminate. The arms were quite amazing though. Anyhow, what do you personally use for creative inspiration?

KM: I enjoy all kinds of artistic things: dance, ballet, yoga, museums, sculptures, live performances, and even nature are all inspirational! I think skaters should do all this and also spend time watching youtube videos of other current top-end skaters, ice dancers, and dance companies.

LASD: What about dance classes?

KM: Ballet is the number one class all skaters should begin with, and then they can move onto jazz, hip hop, and contemporary class. All skaters need exposure to dance in order to be more proficient “dancing” on the ice. Local dance studios provide classes everywhere -- skaters should also attend live performances!

LASD: Does choreo only happen within the transitions or is there room for it within the elements as well?

KM: Well yes, you can add expressiveness with arms in the spins and there is room for musicality in spins for sure! Jumps are a bit more difficult to add movement to,  however the arm-over-the-head position is widely used now for additional GOE.

LASD: How do you choreo a sit spin, for example?

KM: You can do leg position variants such as a broken leg, cannonball, tuck position, pancake, side layback, catch positions, and other creative spins. There are also some spine and arm options, arms over the head, etc. that satisfy IJS and can increase the skater’s GOE.

LASD: Arms, attitude, pattern, flow, what else? In other words if you were going to unravel the choreo practice into little constituent boxes, what would they be?

KM: I usually develop the choreo along this path: first comes the musical choice, expression, and abstract theme. Next comes the blocking, which is the pattern and where (and in what order) the required elements occur. Next we develop the transitions, skating steps and turns, pushes, and tricks connecting the elements. Then I work on the upper body and core movements, and the six spinal positions. Finally I add the facial expressions and emotions, those things that project the performance connections to the audience.

LASD: What was that bit about spinal positions?

KM: In my own choreo philosophy I teach the “6 ways the spine moves” which are contractions, upper back extensions, twists, and side bends. These positions can really help a skater move more fluidly, three-dimensionally, and overall create a more artistic look.

LASD: Are there things you would choreo for little skaters that you wouldn't dare for the senior level, and vice versa?

KM: Most definitely. The age, maturity, and skill level of the skater all play into what I might choreograph. Things that look cutesy for a seven-year-old don't carry over well to an older skater. Older skaters can express more mature concepts such as love, loss, pain, loneliness, etc. Mature concepts involving body, sexuality, or love can often be tricky for those pre-teen age groups. The choreographer really needs to be considerate of all the factors in the skater's training, maturity level, body awareness, and skill level when deciding on her music and theme.

LASD: Do you prefer to work with specific age groups?

KM: Since mature skaters have more options available in theme and maturity as well as expressiveness they are the most exciting to work with. However, at most rinks there may be only one older skater to every five younger skaters.

LASD: Do you have certain guidelines with respect to the blocking? Big jumps in front of the judges, always start at the center, stuff like that?

KM: I always like to portray the program more to the judges than the audience because the judges are the ones who make all the decisions!  Starting in the middle is very cliche, but I still use it frequently. The rink space and shape, the program’s intention (if it’s for a test, competition, or a show) are all things a choreographer should consider when creating a starting pose. Other factors a choreographer should take into account are: is there a curtain, could the skater start off the ice or on the boards, do they need to be in the center or could they be off to the side, what is the first jump pass and how does that play a role?

LASD: What about the jump sequencing (I did a whole blog post about that here)?

KM: I find that I have to be flexible with the coach and the skater for jump locations and respect how they want their jumps sequenced based upon the skater’s stamina, preferences, and speed.

LASD: How restrictive is the media of figure skating; also the opposite: what can you do on ice but nowhere else?

KM: Well the "glide" is certainly what distinguishes figure skating, and holding a position and "floating". The sharp blades though preclude some dance choreography: you can't have a skater stand on another skater’s back, hands, or legs without careful consideration and high skill level. The choreographer has to be very careful where that sharp edge is traveling. Also as you can only get up from the ice in certain ways, no handstands, etc.

LASD: What about the performance space itself?

KM: The size of a rink and the large pattern required to get full coverage on the blocking presents somewhat of a challenge: I think a smaller space is often easier for dance choreography -- on the ice it’s much more of a challenge to fill out the whole space.

LASD: Do you encourage your skaters to do more shows and exhibitions?

KM: It depends entirely upon how competitive they are and how they want to develop their own skating. Skaters may really enjoy shows and exhibitions and want to use those to practice performing and how to contend with their nerves. Some skaters may only want to focus on testing and skill progression so they may not have any interest in shows. Some may want to pursue professional shows in the future so they should be performing as much as possible. Still it’s not my place to recommend the skater do more shows without first discussing it with the main coach. 

LASD: What are your feelings about extemporaneous?

KM: Improv is a fantastic tool for choreography and growth. It’s extremely important for skaters to improvise and be more comfortable with their movement and bodies. It’s often personal and introspective and gives the skater room to develop her own style. IJS competitions can be a limiting environment that pressures a skater into “inside-the-box” movement insufficiently innovative or challenging for them. For younger skaters this is fine and fun, but as skaters mature they aren’t growing as much without doing improvisation on their own. With no audience or pressure and under their own inspiration, they can use expression and body finesse to take risks and develop their movement vocabulary.

LASD: How is duet and pair choreo different?

KM: Choreographing duets is quite similar to singles -- I can use a few more choreo tools such as mirroring, call and response, or lifts and holds. Pair and dance choreography is a niche of its own requiring special considerations about the rules. Also their technical requirements have different patterns, setup steps, and timing than single skaters. Ice dance choreography has lots of intricacy; it is a bit easier to choreograph for a pair or dance team when you have already skated in that field.

LASD: What about theatre on ice or choreo ensembles?

KM: Ensemble events are more about the blocking and keeping everyone in unison, coordinating their patterns, steps, and placements so they look tight, clean, and unified. Synchro has very different aesthetics and different rules than Theatre on Ice, but both need unison. Counting is a helpful tool for ensemble choreography so everyone stays together and moves at the same time. When working with a group of people it’s very important to plan the choreography in advance to prepare for the blocking and movement of so many skaters.

LASD: Well that's enough questions for today Kate. Again thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions for our readers.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

- working the choreo

In a previous post I mentioned how to get your skater started with a choreographer.  Now here's what to expect so you can chat about it with your kid. Again my caveat here: this is not from my personal encounters, but rather what Kate McSwain (www.kmcswain.com) told me. If you've had different experiences, disagree, or have something to add or reinforce, please feel free to chirp up in the comments.

Your kid's relationship to her choreographer is completely different than that with her coach. During your skater's daily coaching sessions she picks up what she has been working on, runs through a program or two a couple of times, and maybe tries a new element. She practices those elements giving her difficulties. Your skater has a long-term relationship with her coach like another parent or like a grown-up big sister. They've already established a communications style and comfort level and what they expect from each other.

The choreographer (to continue the analogy) is more like your kid having a relationship with a middle-school teacher or with her fun aunt. The relationship is "testing:" it is give and take with some misunderstandings and flexible interpretations. Your choreographer will push your kid quite a bit more than her coach: your skater will explore the limits of her skills, refocus her awareness, and push the envelope beyond her comfort level. The choreographer may physically touch your child much more to work on different positions, expressions, and postures. The teachings are meant to be disruptive in a mind-expanding way.

Choreographers generally carry around a book of diagrams that map out a pattern of ice coverage incorporating the necessary elements for each level. In addition your choreographer works to blend the theme of your kid's music with her costume, her elements, and her transitions. Although not a dress designer, she may help your skater sketch out some rough ideas for an appropriate costume.

Introducing a third party to your child's programs may complicate musical choices. What the coach likes may not be what the choreographer likes. Kate mentioned this great idea -- the choreographer can select two or three songs for a particular program and then have your kid skate a rough runthrough of each to see how her body reacts to the patterns of the music, and then select what works best. Usually your skater's coach not only has input but likely has the final say on this.

Also be aware that when your choreographer designs your child's program, in her mind she foresees how your kid will skate this a few months from now, after she's become more practiced and run through it a couple dozen times. A good choreographer can project your skater's skills into what she can eventually accomplish this season. This also means you shouldn't prematurely be judgmental if the initial choreography looks clunky and unfinished; your choreographer knows what she is doing and your kid should be able to grow into it.

Monday, October 24, 2016

- beginning choreo

We never actually retained a choreographer when my daughter was skating: she already had enough to learn, plus her coach seemed to have the instinct for promoting rink coverage and expressiveness. As I've watched tons of other skaters over the years however I've noticed that most of them seem to be stuck in unglamorous rink-coach mode. Although their programs do their best to match their music they seem to lack imagination. Targeted toward squeezing in the required elements, they fall short of making an artistic musically coordinated statement.

You know, you can retain a choreographer.  Since I had no clue how you go about such a thing I contacted Kate McSwain (www.kmcswain.com) from Boston to find out more. Hopefully in the next couple of posts I can summarize her information well enough to fill us both in.

Early learn-to-skate programs focus on form and balance. Edges, arms up, stroking, posture. Many six year old skaters hit the ice for a show looking like tiny robots.  Once your kid gets her balance and stops falling every time she runs through her program, it's likely time to loosen her up a bit. You can start this as early as FS1, when a skater is seven years old or so.

Check with your kid first and then chat up her coach. Does your coach know a choreographer? Sometimes this is a delicate conversation and you may have to be more firm: some coaches may dissuade you from bringing in someone who they may view as an impediment to their own influence. Push harder. Or casually check with another coach at the rink, or chat up other skate parents.  Choreographers generally don't market themselves directly to skaters -- they all work through coaches. Your role as a parent is to get everyone onboard.

The good news is choreographers charge pretty much the same hourly rate as regular coaches. If your rink doesn't already have a resident choreographer then you can expect to reserve time with a visiting one -- many of them travel around. Kate said she plans on spending an hour of time with a skater for each minute of her program. For your typical skater (say with two programs running) getting your programs designed comes out to approximately 6-8 hours of choreo per season, so certainly affordable. After you've got your programs all layed out figure you'll want an additional 6-8 hours of advice over the course of the season for stylization and polishing your routines to perfection.

Monday, October 17, 2016

- the whole spectrum


Now, enter the parents. Naturally some of the parents are more competitively inclined; others have more aesthetic sights. Crossing the expectations of the parents with the body-types of the skaters blossoms the whole interesting range of the skating spectrum.

The competitive parents with the slender daughters end up with hyperactive kids, coerced into ridiculously sublime attempts at ever more complicated jumps. The parents hold their breaths and clap when the kids land their jump; the kids push themselves so much that they exclude all room for art.

The slender kids with the aesthetic parents have an interesting dilemma: they are driven by their peers in one direction but by their parents in another. They show an inherent tension in their skating -- not a bad tension, but a tendency to take a quick jump to impress their coach while their parents covers their eyes and berate them afterwards.

The large-boned kids with the aesthetic parents are in stage-performance heaven. Their parents love them and they garner grace, elegance and admiration from the audience. But they don't move very far up the competitive skating ladder and hence remain trapped with small audiences.

Ah, but amazingly enough the middle ground of skaters (who are average, in almost all respects) are the skaters that gradually move up through the ranks. They grind away at the competitions... a first place here, a second place there, surviving on that rare combination of artistic grace with just enough athletic talent to make some of the moves.

This is my daughter. It is a challenging place to be, because you are often spurned by the slender gals since you have more grace than them, and you can't compete with their jumps anyway. And you are shunned out of jealousy by the large-boned gals. The middle ground makes you lonely, but if you have the self-discipline it also is the road to ever larger audiences.

There is a sort of bittersweet resignation in all but the top competitors. Most of this simply comes from their acceptance of their physical body size and shape that has the affect of limiting their skating physics. And after all, they put up with us parents.

(repost)

Friday, September 23, 2016

- voyeur

When your kid no longer skates and you visit a local competition, you always feel like a voyeur, enjoying the guilty pleasure of watching something that should remain private. Well they do let outside folks in, and it's usually only around five dollars for the whole day. It's not like they specifically discourage visitors, and it's hard to beat the entertainment value. Still whenever I run into my daughter's former coach at another competition her first remarks to me are always "What are you doing here?" My standard response has always been to shrug and reply "Just hanging out."

I still like to visit local competitions to provide emotional support for the up and coming skaters. I rather expect them to pick up on my brainwaves while they are out there, and my specific observations (laden with all that prior viewing experience) must impart some sort of higher standards upon them. With the younger skaters nearly half the time I'm thinking "get yourself to the gym" or "more sit-ups" or "stroking class." Juniors and above already know their athletics, so at that point it's all mental comments about style, musical expressiveness, or jump dynamics.

Despite my honorable intentions though it's still a challenge walking into an environment where I might not belong. The reason I feel a constant obtuse and nearly pathological undercurrent of voyeurism is because I get to witness skilled people working under difficult conditions of exceedingly high duress (both the skaters and their parents). It's almost perversely unfair that I can do this totally relaxed while not being a participant, for just five bucks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

- injury


Falling on the ice is such a common part of practice that after a few years you don't much think of it any longer. You still occasionally slip yet you have your "muscle memory" of how to tumble without getting too badly hurt, outside of the usual bruises.

Muscle memory is an interesting phenomenon, and there wouldn't be figure skating without it (or most any other sport for that matter). It would be impossible to coordinate the hundreds of millisecond muscle adjustments required for a move if you had to think about them consciously. But muscle memory can be a two edged sword.

Every so often you'll end up at the wrong end of a spill without a way to brace yourself against injury. Or you *won't* fall when you should have, and as a result you'll put too much stress on a body part that wasn't expecting it. A broken bone is a rare occurrence, but sprained muscles and torn ligaments are unfortunately all too common. I don't know any junior level skater who hasn't suffered through such an injury at least once.

So say you're injured. Sigh. What do you do? A sports injury clinic and rehab, crutches for a while, dear sympathy from your fellow skaters. This is just the least irksome part.

During that epoch while you're not skating your body slowly changes. You mature some, you put on weight in various places, and your muscle strength compensates for your injury through your daily activities. By the time you fully heal and are ready to retake the ice you are physically a different person.

And this is truly the demonic aspect of an injury, the bitter vengeance of muscle memory. As you return to the ice picking up where you left off, your automatic memory no longer matches and is inappropriate to your presently healed body. Sadly nothing is more frustrating: after all that careful rehab you have not only lost a year's worth of skill but also the path for moving forward.

Unlike most other sports, anything more serious than a moderate injury during the formative growth-years of a skater's career nearly always ends it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

- at the top


Even at the highest levels much of the psychics and recourse to practice strategy remain the same. After all there are only a certain set of attitudes, spells, prayers, and thoughts that a person can entertain.

Of course at this level the skaters see each other all of the time. They also have a peculiarly warped sense of worldview, not so much from the daily practice routine (that is gruelingly ascetic) but rather from a hotel-and-tourist approach to the world... living half their life from rolling luggage and eating in restaurants with their moms, coaches, or skate friends.

To some extent this familiarity and shared worldview tends to swing the top-level skaters toward being a bit more courteous.

Fairly remarkably even at the top you see the same wide range of body types, although the variety spans a somewhat narrower band. Also rather oddly you can still fall short of reaching a more ebullient level of grace: the same top artisanal qualities exist at the local rinks as at the worlds (although of course few of the local skaters are landing triple axels).

Monday, August 8, 2016

- sitting rehearsal


The grounding culture of skating oddly presents the antithesis of glam & glitter... outside of the high pressure public-eye view of the on-ice competition, the rest of the tableau is fast food, really hard metal bleachers, and lots and lots of standing around.

The skaters endure downtime for the Zamboni, breaks to allow another skater to run through her program, and standing on the ice to stretch, rest, or socialize. And a parent is almost on a continual standby break.

As a parent, you want to avoid hovering over your child critiquing every toe pick. You want to allow them the space to experiment, socialize, learn on their own, and have fun too. But since you want to be available should they need you -- either for a snack or a critique -- you need to find ways to occupy your seated time. The environment you do this in can be utilitarian and gauche.

Neighborhood rinks vary in their amenities and comforts, but with few exceptions they are pretty Spartan. Even at the globally competitive level the practice rinks are makeshift chained-off areas, piles of cables and thrown up curtain dividers, in high school auditorium settings with cheap hard plastic seats in the nearby snack room.

To a large extent this is acceptable because of the foundation of mutual discomfort that it establishes: it "levels" what could otherwise be the sense of exclusivity of the participants. And more than anything this is the key dichotomy to being a skate parent: high expenses for very brief moments of glitter, while the vast overarching majority of time you're watching the competitors from very hard and cold seats, nibbling on a small package of vendor trailmix.

(repost)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

- duck


Many things happen at the ice rink that are a private experience for the skaters: activities the general public never sees. Skate parents are privileged however with a glimpse of the inside occasionally.

One early memory that still comes freely to mind is when, around the third year of skating school, the kids learn to "shoot the duck." This is skating forward while crouching down in a position nearly sitting on one foot, with the other leg extended straight out in front. It's hard to drop down to, looks ridiculous, and is pretty much impossible to rise up from.

Shooting the duck always seems like such an odd maneuver. You never see it performed in competition but that is not its point. Skating teachers use it to weed out who actually has potential: the posture requires a combination of both the finest sense of balance and considerable strength.

Once my daughter got into competing more seriously she would still occasionally during practice -- and just to goof around -- drop into a shoot the duck and ride it out all the way to a complete standstill. It's a bit of a nod to the coaches and the other skaters at the rink: hey, remember this?

(repost)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

- unchoreoed

As a parent I was vaguely aware that once skaters got up to a certain level of seriousness (or if they had particularly wealthy or hard-driving parents) they retained an actual skating choreographer. Everyone had a ballet instructor and several had an off-ice personal trainer. But only a very select few managed to land a choreographer. I was left with the impression that hiring a choreo was difficult due to scarcity or expense.

Ahhh, but those lucky few who -did- have a choreographer skated to a whole 'nother level. Naturally it didn't make them any more proficient athletically: they couldn't land more jumps or hold a firmer spiral. It did however change their artistic mien: they were more connected to the audience, they had way better ice coverage and pattern, and tons more expressiveness.

I full well realize that for most skaters their coach also does their choreo. This leaves quite a bit to be desired. I think it's a little much to ask a coach to also be an expert choreographer: choreo takes a different focus and a special kind of creativity. I get the impression that choreographers are more "out there" on the artistic edge, whereas coaches deal a lot more with the day to day routine wonkiness of the ice rink and the skating parents.

It does seem though that there's a wide gap between demand and supply at the levels below national. Or to phrase it another way: there should be some superb opportunities for a professional group to offer less expensive (albeit less artistically advanced) choreo to half the skaters at the rink.

I'm miffed that I can't just log into something like the National Assn. of Ice Choreographers or the Ice Choreography Guild and find certified practitioners in my area. You would think in this day and age it would be simple enough. Given the other professional skating groups it seems choreographers don't, as an organizational infrastructure, have their act together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

- statement


What are your opinions when watching a skater use her craft to present a political statement? Unless you go to the local club shows you're unlikely to see such a thing, but once or twice a year most clubs take a break from the rigors of official scoring to offer a free-form exhibition.

Several times during such shows I've watched skaters (usually young adults) present a protest program. It might be a skate to protest discrimination, or inequality, or women's rights, or even a memorial to somebody.

When I watch a protest skate I harbor mixed emotions. On the one hand an artist is certainly free to express whatever she chooses. If in doing so it moves her soul along a positive path toward a better direction, then more power to her.

On the other hand I sense a bit of resentment in myself and the other audience members. It's not so much that we disagree with the content of the protested expression per se. Perhaps it's more that the aesthetics of skating accustomizes us to its appeal to grace and beauty, rather than a sense of worldly purpose. We enjoy watching skating because it allows us a bit of escape from the hard issues of humanity. To smack us in the face with them directly seems somewhat discourteous.

At the same time though, maybe that's the whole point.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

- amazing


Skating elements change over time: inventive folks create new moves, while other moves fall out of fashion. And then a basic element grows into something more complicated (a double Axel eventually becomes a quad). Yet despite the wide variety of evolving elements, from my humble audience view as a seasoned observer I would only consider a small handful of moves as amazingly elegant (when done properly). So here are my favorites, in no particular order.


Flying Sit

Every time I see this my jaw drops. How does a skater manage the physics to go from upright jump to seated extended leg without breaking a knee?


Graceful Spiral

Hands expressively moving while mostly leading up, back leg perfectly frozen in place, smiling, full speed across the ice, partially open. Beautiful.


Expressive arm Layback

Slowly into the layback, arms holding a beach ball, but than floating or gently transforming into an expression of a colorful flower or a springtime shower.


"Flat" catch-foot Camel

Oh I've only seen this done well but a couple of times. When a skater can catch her bent back foot in a side flat spin without dropping her head below waistline (with a bit of an arm flourish) it's a beautiful thing.


Slow Bielman

The difference between doing a Bielman and a thing of beauty has everything to do with the slow deliberate management of consistent movement. Add a coordinated flowing free-hand flourish for the whip cream and cherry on top.

I don't mind a graceful jump or two, and these are especially nice if you can perform them differently with interesting arms in flight. In my book though this handful of non-jump moves done with graceful athleticism will impress me more than your jumps every time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

- the point


First there is skating skill, the stroke and the jump, the spins and the footwork. Next comes the imagination, the artistic flourishes using the arms, hands, and a projected imagination. Third comes an audience awareness: sensing what they feel and striving to please them.

The final polish though, that keystone that connects all of the pieces together, is the magical ability to "point:" to connect an active imagination with the ability to direct an audience's attention to that which is being imagined.

Pointing takes just as much practice as all of the other pieces, and arcanely you can only practice it with feedback directly in front of an audience.

If you over-point too blatantly, then you come across as fawning. If you under-point then the audience misses half of your presentation.

The best skaters are aware of what they are doing on all four planes: physically, expressively, impressionistically, and metaphysically. This is the point.

(repost)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

- pushing

A time-intensive and physically demanding relationship would seem to be at a rather high risk for conflict. It's quite like being in an apprenticeship. I am pleased that my daughter had a gentle coach (at least as far as I know, as I preferred to stay attached loosely to avoid any overt meddling).

When performing the mentally and physically demanding task of skating, a skater can certainly be distracted and thrown off kilter by the daily variations in her moods and muscles. What if the coach asks your kid to do something and she's simply not feeling up to it that day? How much should the coach push, and how much should your skater push back? Who knows the best of what a skater is capable of, the skater or her coach? Who should decide the daily level of impetus -- and does the parent have a say in this?

Is there a good match between assertiveness in this relationship? Katarina (in her book on the subject) was actually pleased that her coach was stubbornly bossy and a hard driver.

Yet I saw one survey quoted that said "Only 7% of girls said coaches should be most concerned with winning" (although this survey was based upon a casual sport, something like softball I believe). I sense that skating kids have a different viewpoint than those participating in casual sports. Still though I would guess a good half of the skaters I'd see at freestyles don't really have intentions of ever competing beyond locally.

Here's a great page that describes many of the desirable characteristics of a coach. I'd grant a fair amount of leeway in each trait, and frankly the field you get to choose from is narrowed to those coaches taking new students at your rink. Bottom line: how you manage how pushy you allow (or choose) your coach to be depends a lot on your's and your skater's goals, considered together.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

- owning it

It seems to me that when the best skaters step on the ice they "own" the rink. Not in the sense of the folks who hire the staff and pay the electric bill, but rather in a more spiritual way; they are here to befriend the audience. When they glide out to center ice you can nearly feel them say Okay this place is mine, this show is mine, this audience belongs to me. I Own it.

Let me see if I can adequately describe the process of how an artist can get to this particular state of mind, as it's not at all obvious. Some of it relates to personality, some of it to experience, some of it to confidence, and some of it is a connection to a higher loving purpose. All of these are a bit interrelated and hinge on certain matters of the soul.

Initially this ability to own your existence starts from a basis of confidence you build up gradually as you move along learning skills. The more you practice the more you internalize elements to muscle memory, allowing your conscious mind to dwell on details of expression and audience responsiveness. When you don't have to tarry over the specifics of your body you can link more easily to your imagination.

Herein lies a sublime trait of the duality of practice: if you aim too high on the short run by always extending your physical learning then you never garner the confidence that you can do the job well. You stay too focused on your body. It's almost like you need to stay at the same physical level as long as bearable, in order to get supremely good at it and shift into a more imaginative mental mode. Perhaps a key to that sort of patience in the first place is an active enough imagination and connection to souls to maintain a parallel purpose. 

Once you have established a record of success it becomes easier to face an audience with confidence. Truly owning the relationship with the audience extends beyond this though: when skating for them you also share both your courage and your humility. This is what makes the performance humanizing and touching; there are no sheathed souls in front of an audience.

I'm not sure if the Ends justifies the Means; audience ownership is obviously a useful trait but I don't think folks set this as a specific goal of their skating program per se. Rather it evolves as an outgrowth of circumstances, a sense of "centeredness", perhaps survival of tragedy, lots and lots and lots of practice, and a certain intention to Serve. It's almost like skating is not the main objective here, it's just the activity whereby you accomplish something else more important.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

- truth and lies

In many aspects of life we get by with a good bit of fakery: we pretend to posess a certain set of competencies and then do our best to convince others of this veracity. We put on "airs". After convincing others of the potential of our capabilities we have some breather room to deliver upon the expectations we have set. Some of this will involve apologies for temporary shortcomings, and some of this will stress us to learn and grow to meet our own self-inflicted challenge.

Sports however generally don't work this way: you can't fib your way to the podium. Since sports are physical it's not what you say that matters but rather what you can do.

The physical part of skating works this way as well; you can't deceive others that you can accomplish a certain move. You can wonder, you can give it a try, you can work at it and practice until you get it right. Nobody is going to believe though that you can land a double Axel until you do it. Even though you have your good and bad days, your capabilities this very moment are immediately obvious and demonstrable.

Skating does have a flip side though: showmanship is a lot about a premise. It's about maintaining a front and a promise on what you can deliver. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors -- you move the ether and direct attention, you allow the effects of your costume combined with the music and the rhythm of your moves to create a manufactured effect. You are fibbing what you know about life by imagining what it might be about. To some extent the qualities of your lies need to be more tightly wrapped and precise than the qualities of your physical execution: we will forgive your small hop when you land as the physical realm can be unpredictable. We will be less forgiving of your imaginary faux pas as the theatrical aspect of skating is all of your own creative doing.

Novice viewers can end up with some cross functional psychic confusion here. Performance is a bit of a lie. Yet the athletics in skating is the physical truth of what you can do. When we watch a movie or the theatre we "suspend belief" because we are interested in the play upon the lie, the trajectory and path of the story caused by the false presuppositions. When we watch sports though we are adamant that the athletes stick to the rules: we are ruthlessly opposed to cheaters or those that extravagantly show off beyond their deserved reputation. Skating works for audiences only when the physical authenticity is maintained even while the skater spins an imaginary story. And it works best for audience members who are experienced enough to hold this dichotomy within their consideration.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

- the sparkly bludgeon

When you are considering dropping a few hundred more dollars onto yet another competition skating dress, do you go through the same mental gyrations as me? Sure it's a new program this year and the old dress doesn't "fit" the new music. Yeah your little girl has grown several inches since the last purchase so the stretch fabric is a bit tighter. Yeah all of her skating friends got new dresses this year. Yeah your kid is dedicated and serious and loves the sport and wants to look like Ashley Wagner.

So is this just the price of entry? Is it just what is required every year by the sport, on top of coaching fees, competition fees, ballet teacher fees, skate sharpening? Also, do you expect something from your child in return? Do you tell your dear child that Daddy will be happy to get her that new dress if.... she passes her MIF? If she gets at least a B average the next time she gets her homeschool grades? If she practices the entirety of all of her freestyles? I rather agree with Xan here where she says...

... as parents we often want the best for our children forgetting that sometimes the best gift we can give them is for them to work hard and as a result of that hard work get the solo or the dress that is needed for that higher level or the skates that they need to compete at the higher level.

Yet I'm not necessarily sure that a parent should withhold a new dress as a bludgeon over her child's head to force behavior either. I think the money that you spend on your daughter's dress should be just slightly more than skill-appropriate: you want her to feel exceptionally good about her appearance on the ice, but you don't want to foment jealousy amongst her fellow competitors (nor do you want to escalate a dress buying war amongst the parents). And you want to encourage her to work hard without demoralizing her with an embarrassingly understated costume.

It's a fine balance. Plus maybe there's a bit of unstated inference that culturally you expect a certain sort of womanly behavior as she matures -- you want to set some guidelines that she might adhere to as she grows into eventually buying her own wardrobe for herself.

Not to put any pressure on you parents....

Sunday, April 10, 2016

- manly


Why do so many male figure skaters try to emulate the same style that they see in women's? It seems to me that, after all, a male figure skater has a different palette to choose from than a female skater. I'm not saying that a guy can't be graceful or pretty to watch on the ice, just that he doesn't have to be.

A male skater can be amazing to watch because he is suave, athletic, knightly, classy, or expressive. For example here's a video of Elvis Stojko.

I think a man should take advantage of his wider palette and boldly be expressively inventive on the ice; it's as if men's skating is an entirely different sport than women's.

How does a man achieve an independent style in a sport where eighty percent of the coaches and participants are ladies? Can a female coach understand the palette of a man or should a guy always seek out a male coach?

Monday, March 28, 2016

- ten


In an earlier post I chatted a bit about the wonderful thrill you experience skating as a 9 year old. Well, that only last's a year. Once you cross over to ten you're in a new country.

Ten has to be the most mentally challenging part of any skater's life. Suddenly (and it seems for without any special reason) everything you learned about skating turns inside out. Most of this is a direct result of a young teen's spurt in the growth of her long bones, those components of the arms and legs.

Just when you were getting exactly comfortable with the vertical location of your center of gravity and the correlations between arm location and spin velocity, suddenly it all starts changing. Now on a scratch spin when you pull in your arms not only do you spin twice as fast but you wobble like crazy. A higher center of gravity will do that to you, and it demands a real focused attention to posture.

Stroking starts to get more interesting though; suddenly you can actually get places with considerably less effort. Flying around the rink can be quite fun, if a little scary. Hence ten is when you make intimate acquaintance with the dasher boards. Maybe twice even. After that I assure you they stand out loud and clear.

Due to these changes, ten is also where perhaps two remarkable mental realizations occur. The first is a deep conceptual understanding of how angular momentum actually relates to velocity and ice leverage. The second is social awareness; looking around the rink a ten year old recognizes that she is suddenly approaching the middle of her skating career. It becomes time to consider how serious you really are about this figure skating thing.

Oh to live on sugar mountain, with the 9 year olds and colored balloons.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

- choose


How does a skater go about choosing a coach? Seldom do I pen a blog post I know nothing about, yet this is definitely one of those times.

When my daughter started skating around age six, she attended group classes and then had a coach from one of her former class teachers (at least if I recall correctly, it was a long time ago). Then when she was around ten she let me know two amazing things: she was so serious about skating that 1. she wanted to home school, and 2. she was going to pick a new coach. How?

Well she had already talked to her mom who was exploring the home schooling, and she had chatted with several friends at the rink and doing some research to decide which coach to pick.

When your ten year old daughter lets you know she is making such major choices it can be a bit disconcerting. But I trusted her mom with her concern for my daughter's education, and even at ten my daughter knew about twenty times more about skating than me, so I figured she'd make better coaching choices.

We live in what I suppose Xan would call a smallish market; although LA has twelve million people, we could only really drive to around eight rinks. Our rinks are sparse, so a kid has a limited number of choices. Plus I sense that out here the rink a toddler first attends for group classes tends to become her Home rink (although this may just be a Southwest U.S. sort of thing).

So really my daughter was choosing between the three or four coaches at Pickwick who were taking on new charges.

When I checked with her my daughter said that she didn't remember a lot about the process; she wanted a coach that was not too mean (screeching at their students while they ran through a program), and one that was able to teach her students to learn jumps beyond the Axel.

I'm curious to hear how other parents and skaters go about this process. Overall I think our coach worked out well, yet I recognize since this decision happens at an early age and can have such lasting impact that it's a difficult decision to make well.

Friday, March 4, 2016

- timing


As if it's not already difficult enough to perform jumps on ice and be expressive and graceful, for a further challenge you need to time your program to the music!

Of course it's easier to match the rhythm when the music is something more free flowing and without a drum downbeat. Hence it's easier to "match" a dramatic program to a classical piece than to skate a light entertainment routine to a pop song. And I rather doubt how much a person can develop "rhythm" in the first place; it seems to me for the most part that you either have it or you don't.

Is it okay to sing along with your music on a light entertainment program to help you keep pace with the music? Although it may assist with staying synchronized, mouthing lyrics distracts you from your ability to use your body as an expressive outlet. It also somewhat detracts from your grace: viewers will be drawn to your jabbering jaw rather than your hands and limbs. Better not to sing along.

It's a pain to have to split your attention between concentrating on your moves and timing them to the music. A better approach may be to establish mileposts: know that at a certain inflection point of the music you are supposed to be at a specific element of your program, and then make speed adjustments accordingly.

Not only is a skater supposed to stay on the beat but somehow she must additionally finish her skating when the music concludes! To end gracefully plan for a few seconds of "dramatic escape" at the tail end of your routine. How much slack should you allow? If you leave too much emptiness hanging then it's obvious that you're just spinning time at the end.

Judging from the nice endings I've seen I'd say give yourself around five seconds of free ad-lib to finish. Then develop a couple alternate flourishes to use if you're running either short or long. As you approach the end of a program it's far easier to manage some extra embellishments on an early finish than to skate into the deathly silence beyond the music.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

- etiquette


The local mixed-club events can be a bit frustrating, not so much for the jumble of skills and age groups but rather for the disarray of parental experience in competitive viewing etiquette. Basically you've got a slew of grandparents and non-skating siblings bumbling about in the stands and walkways.

I've never seen this coped with completely gracefully; I wonder if it would help if the USFSA required all their sanctioned events to have an Etiquette Flyer passed out to the non-skating audience. It might read something like this:

"Welcome to the [event name]! This event is sanctioned by the USFSA; for any comments or concerns, please visit us at usfsa.org. We would like to remind you that a couple days after the event finishes you may view all results at [club website].

While in attendance we ask that you adhere to these common courtesies:

1. Cell phones on vibrate please. Take your call outside or wait for the next resurfacing. 2. Please wait for the break between skaters before you walk in front of the stands. 3. Please reign in small children; they may crave attention but this moment is really about their big sister on the ice. 4. Refrain from eating in the stands except during the group warmups and resurfacing. 5. No flash pictures. 6. Keep the chatter down. 7. You may yell and cheer when your kid or her club mates take the ice, but during the skating only applause is appropriate. 8. Please be careful climbing and descending the grandstand stairs. 9. It would be really nice if you could stick around through a few flights after your child's event. 10. The far side of the rink is for skaters, coaches, and judges only.

Thanks again for supporting all of our wonderful skaters, and enjoy the competition!"

Is that maybe too much to ask?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

- jump aesthetics

In my series of posts about the elements I have been abiding by the aesthetic audience member's point of view, so when I watch your jumps in the context of how impressive they appear in your program, this post is about what I am looking for. Yeah yeah I know toe loops are different than salchows are different than lutz and axels: it's about the edge and foot you take off from, forward or backward, rotations, blah blah blah (see my quick guide here). I fully appreciate they have different physics, demands and difficulties, and you have to learn each one separately. Out here in the audience though I'm a couple steps removed from all that so my viewpoint is rather different than yours.

First and foremost, I'm looking for some consistency in your takeoffs. I am really less concerned if you two-foot or slightly over or under-rotate as long as the angle you left the ice prevented you from having a "lean vector" during your spin in the air. It's nice if your angle is near vertical but if it's only a tad tilted I don't mind as long as that angle itself stays fixed until you land.

I do want to see a variety of jumps, in terms of salchow lutz loop axel. Nowadays competitors embellish this with a bit of arm variety (one or both up overhead) on a couple of their jumps, but most of your jumps should be standard squeezed in arms. If you nailed the landing then how you check leaves an impression on me too (but not in the way you think... we'll get to that in a moment).

I like to see an appropriate parabolic arc to your jump: it should have some horizontal movement along with the up and down. If you land in the same place you took off then it looks like off-ice practice. If you travel too far though then your arc looks "flat" and it also scares me (falls on a long-travel jump tend to be particularly nasty).

Depending on the level you are skating I want to see level-appropriate combos and jump difficulty. This means juniors and seniors: your single (non combo) jumps after your first thirty seconds of program should be a triple or better. You can do a couple of non-combo jumps but the rest should be combinations of some sort. Nowadays I see most senior skaters do a triple-combo but it seems rather strange: nobody has enough momentum left after the second jump in their combo to do their third part with any skillful gracefulness. If you can though, more power to you. If all three of the jumps in your combo took off from the same location on the ice then don't bother.

More than any of the other elements, the impression you want to leave me with on your jumps is one of graceful professionalism. I am fully mentally connected to you as you prep, jump, and land. I see what you're thinking on the way in, I don't want you to telegraph, I want you to attempt the jump you're supposed to, I want to see consistency and confidence, and on your check I don't want to see you express either disappointment nor celebration. I want it to be, in other words, proof you nearly always make this jump and you've more or less mastered it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

- focus


You can always distinguish the seriously dedicated skaters from those just curious. The devoted skaters come across instantly as "athletes" yet you don't identify them from their muscularity nor their endurance. Rather they stand out for their ability to enter into a "zone" to maintain a meditative focus. They visualize the future they are targeting, and can cradle this objective in their thoughts.

This focus is quite a peculiar aspect of the human condition. Geeks and nerds possess it, and so do athletes. It's the ability to retain an objective in your mind as important. It inspires you to pursue activities seriously.

Arguably focus is the only way to become a competent skater, to maintain the intense dedication that the sport requires. Yet focus also has its dark side and ransom. For one it blinds a person to most of the other synchronistic occurrences in their lives.

A skating parent faces a delicate predicament with respect to focus: you support and encourage the commitment and importance of figure skating to your child, but at the same time you are well aware that the view of the general community is far more diverse and less critically serious.

To most folks an ice rink is about hockey; skating is gentle winter stroking (holding hands at the rink) or an occasional Olympic event. Ninety eight per cent of the world has no concept of the physical demands and years of practice required to even land an Axel.

Generally a parent finesses a stasis for a very serious competitor who endures hundreds of hours of surgically precise effort, within a starkly indifferent community.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

- biellmann

The Biellmann is more a proof of flexibility than a full-fledged element per se, and this is why: it seems to be more about the endpoint and final posture than any sort of innate skating skill. It shows the audience and judges you can grab your foot and pull your leg up backward and that your hips are super flexible. It's like when a cheerleader does the splits. Hooray.

It demonstrates you can keep your pinned ice foot level: if you raise your spinning heel to scrape your toe pick you lose your spin. But like doing the splits you can still show both that you have some control over the process and you can achieve your final pose effortlessly. Pull up your back leg gradually but without struggle, and don't jerk at your stopping top point. If you want to release one hand at the apex okay fine but be graceful and balletic with the free hand.

As far as the static spin posture, the move is so demanding that however your body happens to be ligamented together determines how you will look. Some gals spin more like a tulip flower and others more like a bobby pin; it doesn't appear an individual skater has any leeway over the final positioning of her own hips.

Transitioning out of Biellmann is again the parallel problem of getting up from the splits but with a twist: gravity overcomes your strength in any case. Sigh, the Biellmann.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

- dilemma

I got a sense from many of the parents at Sectionals that they were a bit, well, conflicted. Like most parents they have a whole slew of wishes for their kids, and sometimes these don't perfectly align. This raises to the forefront at Sectionals: it places the parents right smack on the ledge of considering the expenses associated with having a national-level skater. For many of them Sectionals will be the first competition where they purchased plane tickets to accompany their hotel room (and with bringing the coach along costs spin up fast). Of course by this point most of them are well aware of the situation, at least by the osmosis of chatting up other skating parents.

You love your dear skating child and want her to be successful in her endeavors, but if she qualifies today then you are definitely spending a boatload of money to buy airfare and accommodations for most of the coaches and immediate family for Nationals. That on top of all of the other worries about your kid skating safely and dealing with the stress and pressure and timelines (and did we make enough copies of the music CDs and what kind of high-def video should I purchase). It's a delicate balancing act for a parent and quite a dilemma.

As an aside though, if you feel that your kid really could start competing on a national level regularly, and your are fully on-board with their continued ambitions, then there's nothing wrong with some outside fundraising. Most skaters nowadays attempt this with varying levels of success.  For an idea of what is possible, check out the results from this Google query.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

- sit spin

It seems nearly every program I watch has a sit spin (ahh, must be a required element, eh?). I don't think I've ever seen a "bad" sit spin -- in twenty years maybe I've seen one gal fall out of sit after catching her blade on a nick -- but then I can't say I ever gone Whoooya watching a sit spin, either. With one foot on the ice and the other out in front or "broken" what does that leave you for expressiveness?

Well, hands and arms maybe. For some reason I don't really like any movement of the hands or arms during sit: you should select and maintain a nice pose. Hands gracefully masking the face? One hand in front and one in back? Palms forward pressing? Please make them interesting somehow.

The main technical aspect of sit, what it seems to be there for, is Proof of Edge. Once you're down in position you can't modify your angular momentum with any change of body parts, so whatever rotation you bring into the sit is what you're left with. If you can keep your speed up the whole sit then you are proving you found that sweet spot on your blades with the least friction.

After checking you maintained your speed and did something unusual with your hands, I want to see your graceful struggle up from the sit. Because that of course is the other hidden facet of this element: it's not so much how you got there, but rather how you get out. Extra points if you can rise from one leg rather than bringing the other foot down to rise from two. I have enough trouble with sturdy shoes on a concrete floor standing up from a one-legged crouch; I can only imagine your effort standing with the additional mass of your skate boot. Impress me with your strong thighs and some class.