Among all the activities I’ve tried in recent years, figure skating is probably the one that’s changed me most. It’s so strange – I wouldn’t have expected to fall in love with a pursuit that generally targets kids, remains entrenched in unfeminist stereotypes, and leaves my legs constantly bruised. But since I started (almost a year ago!), it’s never occurred to me to take a break or change hobbies. Why do I like this? (Why do I like any of my activities?)
Living means expanding your reality
Skating is really, really fun – beyond fun. It’s something else, to escape the normal confines of friction. (For those of you in Chicago, this winding skating path should be opening soon. I’ve often dreamed about having icy paths as an alternative to sidewalks.)
I remember a few mornings in New York where I was completely alone at City Ice – there’s an intense quiet floating in the air that permits an unusual awareness of how skating sounds (whooshy, scrapy, scratchy, or a number of other things). It was one of the most meditative and beautiful spaces I ever found in New York City, maybe anywhere. Otherworldly.
Transcendence comes from discipline
Often it’s not easy to motivate yourself to visit another world (especially at 5am), because the full feeling of being there is impossible to recall on the outside. When I’m not skating, all I have is a phantom, symbolic/linguistic memory that skating is magical, so it’s important for me to pre-commit to going to the rink on a schedule. It’s a little odd to pursue transcendence practically, but many of these seeming dichotomies aren’t real anyway (e.g. creativity and structure, inspiration and dullness, etc.).
I’ve also realized from skating that putting in consistent practice tends to result in inconsistent progress (inconsistent practice tends to result in consistently no progress). I guess I always knew this factually, but learning to figure skate (maybe combined with getting older) has tangibly reinforced this. There are weeks of struggle where every attempt at something feels like potential suicide, and then finally moments where your spins stay on the sweet spot and you feel the rhythm in your jumps (then fall over again).
Being Flamingo-Like and Other Physical Benefits
I noticed after a few months of skating that I’d become much more adept at standing on subways unassisted (i.e. not clinging to poles, bars, or other people). How hygienic! I’ve also noticed that shaving my legs in the shower is significantly easier (not that I’m making any judgments about whether people of any gender should shave). It’s freeing to realize you could maybe function pretty happily on one leg.
But besides the balance training (which adults can really use as they age), I’ve found that I’m now in the best shape of my life simply by directing all of my physical pursuits towards being a better figure skater. It has such a diverse set of requirements – balance, flexibility, strength (and all over, too! It’s not easy holding up your arms for an hour), cardiovascular endurance, etc. – that I don’t have to think or plan much to get a good mix of exercise.
All-Over Intelligence and “becoming a better person”
(in quotes because I claim to do many things that make me a better person. I should publish a long list of things I do regularly that make me a worse person to balance it out.)
Learning to skate has made me realize how futile a goal of “staying in shape” can feel. I used to go to the gym in college, and while I didn’t find it to be a negative experience, I also never felt a sense of accomplishment or even considered that exercising should correspond with a sense of accomplishment and self-betterment.
A large part of the appeal of figure skating is that it’s helping me with my kinesthetic intelligence, which is easily my weakest intelligence “modality“. I have a long history of getting lost in dance steps and avoiding games with throwing and catching (reminds me of this), so training to improve my body awareness and motor control is extremely valuable to me.
Kinesthetic intelligence training is a goal of most athletic activities, but I think figure skating is unique in its level of technicality. Relative to other sports, accuracy and adherence to patterns is more important than pursuing a superlative (like going faster, or further, or whatever-er), and there are lists of skills accompanied by descriptive instructions on how to do things correctly. So in that way, I don’t have to depend purely on kinesthetic intelligence, i.e. watching what other people are doing and trying to feel it in my body – it’s also possible to develop a physical understanding through listening, researching and thinking. I think this can be an avenue to understanding most athletic activities, but the structure isn’t necessarily in place to teach them this way, whereas the technical nature of figure skating almost requires it.
My advice for any adults interested in trying it out:
- Most rinks have some sort of “learn to skate” class for adults, where you won’t feel out of place if you have trouble standing up in ice skates.
- This is a list of levels and requirements from one of the major figure skating organizations: ISI requirements; there are decent youtube videos for most of the early skills.
- Read some blog posts from adult skaters – there are a few that I follow on feedly and find inspiring:
- Contact me and I’ll go out with you! Particularly if you’re in Portland, OR (because that’s right, I’ve finally moved!).