Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Dance

Our Balance Lift

Tim returned yesterday from his trip to Hong Kong and I returned from Fairbanks. It turns out that there was a skating rink in the lobby of the building where he was working in Hong Kong and he had quite a bit of free time, but hadn't taken his skates. Bummer!!

We worked on compulsories yesterday. Today we worked on free dance which for me is more fun. We did both of our lifts (we hadn't done them in quite some time). Tim finally explained what he wanted me to do to get into the balance lift and I finally understood what he meant, so the lift was much better from his perspective. Same thing on the spread eagle lift; Tim finally made me understand what he wanted me to do. Maybe after two years we are finally learning how to communicate.

Lifts are much harder for him because he has to lift 115 lbs. of dead weight while skating. I just have to hang there and try to look good. So I try to accommodate whatever he wants me to do to make the lifting process easier on him. Since my past experience with lifts is limited it's not always intuitive to me what works best. Today was a breakthrough in that he finally felt comfortable with where I was and how we got into the lifts. We've done the balance lift for two years and I'm just understanding it now. I guess I'm a little slow.

We tried a variation on last year's spin and we like it better. We worked on the footwork our coach gave us and actually saw improvement. All of this was really fun too. What more can I say?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The value of practice, part 2

I decided to do the Tuesday evening MITF class at Lloyd Center last night just for some fun, and since Tim is in Hong Kong on business so really ... what else can I do? I skated a freestyle beforehand even though it was crowded with little jumping beans who frowned in my direction as I practiced my Midnight Blues and Ravensburger Waltz patterns in their lutz corner and axel setup path. Right before class, I saw the instructor looking at the Junior Moves Choctaw pattern and my mental cash register went, “KaChing!”

I have been working on the Junior Choctaws for some time now. In fact, whenever Tim isn’t looking I throw in a pattern. When Tim is out of town I spend a lot of time on them. They have gone from truly pathetic to basically acceptable after several long months … why? Well, because I practiced them of course.

I have utterly no aptitude for them since (1) my hips are so closed I actually walked pigeon-toed as a child (home movies confirm this fact) and (2) I had a lot of trouble getting the twisting action, knee bend, and re-bend all to happen in the correct sequence at first because I am not-so-limber at my age and (3) these were something I never learned as a child so I had to create new muscle memory in middle age, which is not an easy thing to do.

But I practiced, and practiced, and practiced them. I fell over while practicing, and tripped myself while practicing, and hit myself in the face while practicing (I really wish I had that one on video). Then they started improving, slowly and almost invisibly. Soon I gained confidence and bent my knees more (which of course is the key to doing them well in the first place) and they got better. They are not perfect or 100% consistent yet by any means, but they actually look like Choctaws on accurate if not super deep edges. (Let’s face it, I will never do them like Doug H., but not many people can!)

So when we got to work on them in class, I was ecstatic. Two adults, 3 kids, and nobody could do them except … me. And I’m not bragging (ok, a little bit, because I’ve earned it, because I practiced) but I have to say it was gratifying to have the instructor ask me to demonstrate them, and to do them well while demonstrating. Perhaps not “passing the Junior Moves test” well, but “well for someone who couldn’t do them at all a couple of months ago.” And then she asked us to add two quick twisting rockers on the end (THOSE are easy for us "closed hip" folk) and I could even demonstrate that. Followed by kudos from the instructor on my nice deep choctaw edges, yee haw. Especially nice to demonstrate them in front of the kids who, on the freestyle before the class, likely thought of me as the old lady doing solo ice dance who was perpetually in their way and why oh why was I on their freestyle instead of attending Coffee Club or sitting in a rocking chair knitting sweaters.

Wait, there’s more! Learning where to put all of my body parts on these Choctaws has addressed many of my weaknesses in other areas too. The hard work has made some other things easier and better, such as the FI edges at the end of the Samba and Cha Cha Congelado. My inside edges are just deeper and more flowing now as a result of having better control and alignment. Clearly practicing one thing can often help other things improve.

(Side note to those of you who skate with me -- now the cat's out of the bag, so every time you see me do these I'll probably trip, fall, or hit myself in the face and you'll say hmmm, she obviously didn't practice enough. Don't worry, it doesn't happen every time, only when you are watching. Keeps me humble.)

So there you have it, the many rewards of practice. Now I need to step it up even more by doing the first Choctaw from a FI edge (not from a BO edge). Starting forward is harder, but necessary for the Rumba which is a dance I really should be working on … so I guess it’s time to stop writing and get to the rink to practice that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The value of practice

I just read a great article on Practice from one of my favorite bloggers, skating coach Jocelyn Jane Cox. We all know that practice does not really make perfect. However, a coach once told me his philosophy: "Practice makes easy." This has stuck with me for a long, long time and I know from my own skating history that it's true. The more I practice something, the easier it gets. And, usually, it gets better too.

Jocelyn discusses "practice with thought" vs. mere repetition. You can't keep practicing the same thing over and over without change and expect it to improve if you are doing it wrong. The older I get, the wiser I get about practice. I have to; my body is aging and just isn't capable of doing stupid things repeatedly. If something isn't working I have to analyze why, sometimes seeking the advice of a coach, and change things until it does work.

I haven't done much solo dancing the past two years because I have a partner and skating together has been our focus. Before that, I solo'd pretty much everything all the time and was confident doing so. Since Tim is out of town on business I have spent the past week working on my international dance solos. The internationals aren't meant to be solo'd of course, and I can't do the Midnight Blues drape by myself. But forcing myself to do some very difficult turns and steps ON MY OWN has solidified some of the things I've been learning all year long.

I solo'd Samba, Cha Cha Congelado, Rumba, Ravensburger, Midnight Blues, and Tango Romantica Tuesday. It was a public session and the rink decided to play a medley of 1970's disco for about an hour. So, there I was, transported back to Junior High School, doing the Cha Cha Congelado to "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees. It was great fun, actually. There was a pretty big audience of shoppers and I noticed some watching. I'm sure they had no idea that this was a "boring" compulsory dance. (You know, too boring for prime time TV.)


Monday, June 9, 2008

Our new gig - pairs

Here we are, breaking all the dance lift rules.

Two patterns of our Viennese Waltz, right on top of the other. Yee haw!

Lesson with Sandy.

Donny, Justin, Eileen. {The following is a public service announcement:} Justin is a great skater looking for a partner; ladies, feel free to contact me if you live in or near Colorado Springs and can skate/are willing to learn international dances.

Ravensburger Waltz Injury Log:
(Who says the Rave is more difficult for the lady?)
Tim - Kicked in the shin with toe pick during Terri's FI 3 turn
Tim - Hit in the face with elbow during Terri's RBO twizzle
Tim - Hit in the face with ponytail several times during Terri's RFI twizzle
Terri - Acquired hangnail while lacing skates

(Thanks to Bob Raemer for the great photos.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flooding in the heartland

The waters are now receding in Indiana, but 10" of nonstop rain caused flooding and other misery across the midwest.

Here we are after getting caught in some of that rain:

We look a bit demonic. (Perhaps this is the true meaning of "redeye.") This was also after Tim lost his shoes. Although eventually we did find them.

By Saturday afternoon the weather was sunny and beautiful. In downtown Indianapolis, you'd never know that devastating rains had just ended.

More pictures to come soon, I promise. I just want every dancer at the silver level or above reading this blog to think about coming to Indy next year. This is always the best learning experience and the coaches are OUTSTANDING. By the end of the weekend we could get through the Ravensburger -- kind of --- slowly. But we know how to do it and can work on it. Our Samba and Viennese (the latter not covered at the clinic but due to our private lesson) are much improved. I had a blast doing the Cha Cha which I really love to solo. And, Tim changed his opinion of the Midnight Blues -- very difficult but fun.

The ratio of men to women who knew the Ravensburger was about 2:1, which was a nice surprise and meant that I, who really didn't know what I was doing, got to partner a whole bunch of unsuspecting men through the Ravensburger twizzles (while they worked on those tricky chasses). Somehow I managed to stay on my feet through all that, although I almost plowed into a group of young ladies by the boards while soloing the Cha Cha Congelado later on. Luckily it only looked dangerous and we all remained vertical.

When asked why I hadn't tested any internationals yet, I commented that I am waiting 4 more years so I can take them Masters. That didn't go over very well with Sandy. The real reason of course is because I'm incredibly lazy! But perhaps, if I can ever find any spare time at all, and if I can find someone willing to take me through, I'll test the Samba and Cha Cha one of these days as I keep promising. Somebody please make me do it this time.

Stay tuned for pictures.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Postcard from Indy

Your intrepid Portland ice dancers (Tim, Terri and Bob) are reporting live from the 20th annual Indianapolis International Ice Dance Seminar. After an interesting redeye trip here (more on that later), we arrived to thunderstorms.

After a brief nap at the hotel we headed to the rink and skated for a couple of hours on beautiful ice with only a few other skaters around. We had a lesson with Master Rated Coach Sandy Lamb on the Viennese which fixed quite a few things. Then, after a tornado warning where we had to leave the ice to go to the basement (this was later found to NOT be a tornado warning so we returned quickly to the ice), we did the 2-hour Ravensburger Waltz clinic with Donny Adair (also Master Rated). Wow, did we learn a lot, and were we sore after 5 hours of skating!

When we finally got off the ice we found that someone had stolen Tim's (only pair of) shoes. Since he works for a shoe company that isn't really tragic, but we did have to trek late at night to the 24-hour drugstore to purchase some flip flops for him to wear.

After dinner, which we spent discussing all that we had learned, we headed back to the hotel. At least we thought we were headed toward the hotel ... but somehow we took a wrong turn. Then the rain started to pour down. We were carrying our skates, dressed in shorts and Tim's brand new wonderful shoes ... not a cab to be found.

Of course we are used to rain from home, but this rain (which was warm) included a sound and light show which was a bit scary. The lightning was spectacular. When we finally made it to our hotel, drenched, we were more than exhausted.

Since we had taken a redeye here we decided to sleep in today and skip the Midnight Blues clinic since we hadn't worked on it beforehand, saving our energy for the Cha Cha Congelado this afternoon. This morning we found out that the lakeside town where Sandy lives was flooded and the highway was closed so she couldn't get to the rink! I'm sitting in the hotel room now, watching the lightning storm. We'll go skate this afternoon as long as there is not a tornado.

Some interesting pictures, and more about our plane travels here, coming soon.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No Ice? No problem.

I got to the rink early this morning to find a whole bunch of people: judges, parents, kids … it was an ISI competition. I’m sure I should have known about this as the rink has posted flyers for weeks (“rink closed June 1st”) but clearly I did not pay good attention. Shortly Tim showed up and we decide that if we can’t skate, we’ll go to the gym and work in front of a mirror. It’s something we did a bit of last year and we’ve been wanting to do it more this year, but just haven’t had the opportunity.

We were the only ones at the gym at 8:45 on a Sunday morning. We danced for an hour an 45 minutes. I’m sure the guy who let us in the door thought, “look at those middle-aged ‘Dancing With the Stars’ wannabes. Wow, that is the worst attempt at ballroom dancing I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, skating off the ice does look strange.

Of course, the Viennese Waltz loses a lot in translation from ice to floor. The music seems slow, and we trip over our own feet on the first try. It’s hard to hold the extensions which would be moving if we were on skates. Here on the floor we just stand in one spot, looking kind of silly. But our second try is better and we are actually starting to move around the floor. Without worrying about skating technique we concentrate on our frame, presentation, heads, extensions, and “skating” close together. By the 10th pattern we are looking pretty good.

We find it’s easy to forget the steps off the ice. There is no frame of reference such as where you are in relation to the rink. We have to really concentrate to get the steps consistent and on time.

(Wow, I can see why dancers are so skinny. Mirrors are helpful, but if I have to see myself coming and going every day at practice I surely won't be eating ice cream later. Yikes.)

It also feels like more of a workout when you are sweating profusely. I was dressed for skating so I had tights on, and leggings over those. I removed the tights and danced in my bare feet and leggings but shorts would have been apropos. Granted, we sweat on the ice too, but not like this. A thin layer of dust settles on the sweat and the heat seems stifling. Without a cool breeze in our face the air temperature just seems to keep increasing.

Our Samba opening, which we’ve struggled with on the ice, is a lot more fun in front of a mirror. Once we are done giggling at how silly we look we set about fixing it. By the 50th repetition it looks a whole lot better and we are actually in synch. Other parts of the samba are illuminating in front of mirrors, such as the samba steps in the second half of the dance. While watching ourselves step through them, we finally understand the concept of “hip lead.” We look like we are having fun, although some of the facial expressions I see in the mirror are hilarious (perplexed, amazed, deep in thought, transported).

Working on the floor shows us other fine details we don’t really notice on the ice. Our concept of the timing tends to be slightly different. We pay attention to this for awhile and find that Tim syncopates more on both dances. When I try to be not so literal about dancing on the beat, I am able to stay with him better. I like the syncopation for both dances, and it’s actually appropriate. We’ll keep it.

We work on our upper bodies in the Samba – rolling the shoulders, using my free arm for expression. We do our Viennese opening and realize after seeing it in the mirror that our arms are very ballet-like and we really like this, so we’ll play it up on the ice.

In a couple of ways ballroom dancing, or our version of it, is a lot easier than ice dancing. For one thing, we don’t have sharp objects on our feet with which to kick each other. We can’t get going very fast on the floor so it doesn’t seem as dangerous. Falling can’t possibly hurt on a floor going that slowly! Maybe we should switch to ballroom.

We do a swing roll in waltz position, and my toe connects with Tim’s leg. “Ouch!!” We both say, and then laugh. I guess you can get hurt on the floor, but it doesn’t seem as bad.

Overall I think we learned more today off the ice than we usually do on the ice. I think we’ll be doing more off-ice work. In fact, we didn’t have time to do lifts at all, so we’ll be back for those. Good practice!