Evaluating Limitations

Ice is a more limited resource on public sessions, so it’s a challenging setting to practice figure skating. Sometimes it’s self-destructive to compromise on resources when learning – for example, it would be terrible to rent skates instead of buy them, because bad skates make it impossible to learn correct form.

When starting out, skating on public sessions are great! You can practice most basic skills, and public sessions may be the only option anyway, besides group lessons. Without time pressure, it can be nice (and effective!) to work on one difficult skill for an entire public session, because that’s the easiest way to detect progress. I also found that working on something invited helpful suggestions from more advanced skaters.

Once past the basic levels, I don’t advise practicing on public sessions as a substitute for freestyle sessions; having space is too important for jumps and spins. But attending additional public sessions is still useful if you have things to practice or polish. Often I’ve found that doing things slowly on a public session promotes the body awareness I need to solidify a skill. Public sessions are often at more times (not only in the pre-dawn hours) and they’re cheaper. They’re also an opportunity to build confidence by skating on a rougher surface and a good time to make friends!

Following are suggestions of things to practice on a public session.

Beginning skills:

  • Forward skating on one foot
  • Forward swizzles / wiggles
  • Forward stroking
  • Lunges
  • All types of stops
  • Edges in semi-circles
  • Crossovers (around curves, or if you can find a less-trafficked circle)
  • Mohawks
  • Turning from forward to backward / vice versa on two feet

More advanced skills:

  • Forward power pulls
  • Forward cross rolls
  • Three turns or brackets in semi-circles
  • Beginning one-rotation twizzles
  • Spread eagles
  • Pivots (these might be a beginning skill. But I only recently realized I should know them, so I don’t know where to put them)
  • Centering spin exercises (I have a lot of trouble pulling into my spins correctly, so my coach suggested I start them standing still from my feet in a T position)
  • Backspins

Being careful

It’s necessary to be respectful of people around you at public sessions, because most people won’t be able to respond quickly. It’s possible to skate backwards if you can spot an open area, or if someone is watching out for you. A center space can be good for practicing regular spins, although camel spins make me a little paranoid since they take up more space.

 

I’ve been [very slowly] working on my backspin since I started skating three years ago, and it was only recently that I learned how it should feel. I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble with this spin in particular, but it’s definitely inconvenient since the backspin is necessary for change-foot spins, flying spins, and pre-axel practice. Because of this struggle, though, at least I’ve accumulated a number of different ways to begin a backspin.

Method 1: Starting with your feet parallel

  1. Stand with your feet in parallel, probably about shoulder width.
  2. Shift your weight to your spinning leg.
  3. Position your upper body in the starting position, with your torso rotated to the spinning leg side and the free leg side arm in front.
  4. Rotate into the spin by turning your body and both feet in the direction of spinning, and raise the free leg once it passes being in front of the spinning leg.

I found this method to be the easiest, because it feels like it naturally enforces a correct positioning of the free leg. It can also be done gently, which reduces the chances I wobble and fall over.

Method 2: Starting with toe pick of free foot

  1. Stand similarly to method 1, but after shifting your weight to the spinning leg, put your toe pick in the ice, slightly further back than the spinning foot, with your free leg knee slightly bent.
  2. Position your upper body similarly to method 1.
  3. Turn your body and pull yourself around with your free leg, then bring up your free leg.

This feels similar to method 1, but it makes it easier to generate more speed, which helps to balance. That’s if you’re balanced to start out with, which I find harder with this method.

Method 3: Starting with a pivot

  1. [Optional] Start with a forward outside turn (in the direction you’ll be spinning) and then put toe pick of free leg down to start the pivot.
  2. Rotate in pivot once.
  3. At the end of the pivot, lower your spinning leg off the toe pick, and draw your non-toeing foot inward and lift it up into the backspin position.

This method is hard for me because I’ve never practiced pivots much. It’s fun how this connects 2-3 elements though!

Method 4: Starting with a forward inside arc

  1. Skate on a forward inside edge of your spinning leg.
  2. Position your arms and body similarly to methods 1 and 2.
  3. Hold your free leg behind you, but with your hip/foot open.
  4. When you reach the point where you could do a three turn, swing your body/arms around and lift your free leg to the backspin position.

This is the method that’s most frequently taught, but I feel like there’s a lot of room for error – e.g. not coordinating moving the upper body with the spinning foot, or leaning forward and throwing off your balance when entering the spin.

Method 5: Starting from a forward spin

  1. Start your forward spin.
  2. Step onto your backspin foot and push with your new free foot, similarly to the push for a back outside edge.
  3. When finishing the push, turn your free foot open and lift it up into the backspin position.

This method can be easy since there’s rotating momentum from the forward spin, and it’s also good to practice this since it’s the basis for all other change foot spins.

Video (this is not a real demonstration)

Here’s a video, with the major proviso that and I’m obviously not a coach and there are still major problems with my backspin (like not raising my free leg enough, traveling, the checkout, etc). The video is more to display those methods, not demonstrate something to copy.

Happy skating!

The answer is either almost never (if you want to hate yourself) or almost always (the more correct answer).

I used to believe in ‘ideal conditions’ – e.g. the ideal condition for practicing violin is when no one else is home and I don’t have to play in the creepy basement, or the ideal condition for studying physics is Saturday morning at a library carrel with a view of downtown Philadelphia. As an adult, I still catch myself superstitiously thinking about ideal conditions, but I’m starting to outgrow them.

Thinking about ideal conditions is essentially mysticism. The first instance I remember overcoming it was practicing running the first summer I lived in NYC. Prior to this, I was a timid runner, and so I usually exercised… at the gym (gasp! how embarrassing, right?). When preparing for a run, my thoughts would be a mix of practical concerns (“Have I hydrated enough today?”), organizational dilemmas (“Can I comfortably hold my wallet and my phone if I use my too-small pocket for my keys?”), and outright absurd fears (“What if I pass out in the middle of Central Park and can’t find the nearest subway?”). Before I dedicated myself to running that summer, it was rare I ever ran outside, because conditions were rarely ideal.

After running outside for many miles and not encountering any dire circumstances, I realized that conditions are almost always good enough to go running. Not to say there aren’t ideal days (my best run ever started in Riverside Park and ended with getting lost around the north end of Central Park during a light rain), but the threshold for “good enough” is so miserably low that only circumstances like major illness or injury should prevent one from going for a run.

Skating

I figured out how to do a lutz sometime around February. And then I forgot how to do it. Then I remembered. Then forgot.

I recently noticed that because of the variability, I’d started composing a list of conditions that seemed necessary for me to be able to manage it at any one practice session – whether I had a day off from skating the day before, how awake I felt, etc. Furthermore, I realized that this list kept me from practicing the lutz, because I’d assess how awake and well-rested I felt and decide in many instances that I wouldn’t bother.

But this is silly. The lutz is not easy, but I also know it’s within my capabilities. I know that even when I’m exhausted, I can jump up and make a full turn in the air, so I’m not without the energy to practice the lutz. Today I managed to land it eventually – not smoothly and naturally in a way that feels easy, but this ironically makes me feel a little better about it, because I’m recognizing it as a challenge of arranging my body correctly rather than a confluence of magical conditions.

Programming

I’ve resumed programming as a practice (instead of as a job) because I’m currently unemployed again (yay for free time! and eek for job-searching!). The co-founders of the company I was at decided to shrink back down to the two of them, so I’m actually facing technical interviews for the first time ever. I feel like I’m getting my comeuppance for sidling into my first programming job without interviewing at all.

It’s not superstitious of me to assert that I think best in the mornings; however, it is silly when I put off working on difficult algorithms for the sole reason that it’s after 6pm. I’ve noticed that when I properly commit to working on a difficult problem in the evenings, one of two outcomes arises – either I end up solving the problem and deciding it wasn’t that difficult after all, or I go to bed deciding it’s difficult but find it easier the next day.

In Conclusion

I find that it helps to hold two beliefs in my head to overcome the desire for ideal conditions:

  1. The outcome of practicing doesn’t matter. When I’m in a specific instance of practicing, it’s easy to start thinking that I’m on a path to something, and that the results in practice have consequences for how well I can eventually accomplish my goal. But that’s not really true, and I can only practice well when I believe that the results don’t matter. Try and fail at the lutz? Doesn’t matter, it’s just one attempt and the bruise will go away eventually.
  2. My goal is within my capabilities. Persevering through uncertainty is possible and can lead to good things, but it can also lead to wasted time and overlooking better things to do. Plus persevering through certainty is easier, so I try to believe in certainty whenever possible – i.e. “with practice, I’m 100% sure I can achieve X.” With skating challenges, I remind myself that as a healthy adult, I’m not nearing my physical limitations at all. With programming challenges, I remind myself that I’m a smart person with a stellar IQ and SAT scores (embarrassing to admit, but it really helps).

If you check the date of my previous blog post, you’ll notice that I’m also an ideal-conditions blogger – unwilling to post unless a wide range of conditions are met (I have to believe the writing is simultaneously high quality, fully considered, interesting, and non-offensive). I don’t know if I care enough about blogging to dedicate myself to a writing practice, but if I do, I’ll apologize in advance for the plethora of low-quality, half-formed, boring and offensive posts to come.

 

 

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!).