Thursday, July 24, 2008

The calm before the Placid

There's always a captive audience in a mall rink. Above, a rowdy group of fashion models supervises our practice.

The countdown to Lake Placid has begun. It is a frenzy of list-making, packing, wrapping things up at work so I can go on "vacation," and making sure the teenagers staying at home have enough food and money to get through the week on their own.

I am judging, not skating, so I won't be blogging any updates. As a judge I am not allowed, for obvious reasons, to comment publicly on any event which I have judged.

However, I can comment on packing for the event: glasses, power bars, stop watch, warm clothes. (There's more, but I don't think anyone except TSA wants to know what's in my luggage.)

I can also say that my dear husband Perry has volunteered to help with photography. Perry learned a long time ago that if he wants to spend time with his wife, he may have to go inside a skating rink now and then. He did a whole bunch of announcing at the Fairbanks competition and did a great job. He can't announce at Lake Placid - not enough experience - but he can take some photos as a volunteer.

Last night we discussed everything he needs to know, such as the fact that yes, this is a very prestigious competition, it's ice dancing only, the skaters come from all over the US and Canada, and some get evaluated for grand prix assignments. Thus it's a bit less laid back than, say, the local non-qual.

Also we discussed that, when assigned to photograph the Open Fiesta Tango event, he will be hearing the same atrocious piece of music at least 200 times. We talked about taking potty breaks whenever possible because you won't have a chance later if you're volunteering. We discussed the best way to get a good photo (my amateur opinion is, "the opening pose is best and then you can doze through the rest of the dance").

We discussed the fact that the people on the east coast think of "Terri Levine" as the president of the Skating Club of New York, and I'm known as "The Other Terri Levine" when I go there. So he may have to answer questions about me, such as what level I judge (Perry had no idea until I told him) and what's really in my luggage. Hopefully the conversation won't be about me, but of course people are always curious, and even though I was there last year my hair is a different color now, rendering me unrecognizeable. (For proof of that, watch the "Learn to Ice Dance" DVD, made when I was at Lake Placid last year, featuring my very red, frizzy, mess of hair.)

That reminds me, I had better pack the anti-humidity hair spray.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation Daze

The judging assignments are out, and I am going to Pacific Coast Sectionals in Scottsdale, AZ in November. This is clearly a good excuse for Perry to get in some golfing while I freeze inside the rink. I am also assigned to judge dance at Junior Nationals in Lake Placid in December, meaning I will freeze both inside and outside the rink. (I am not going to Regionals in Jackson Hole this year - enough is enough already.)

It's always a kick to tell the people at work where I'm going on vacation. Yes, esteemed work colleagues, it's November, a dark and dreary time here in Oregon, and I will be spending an entire week out of the office in sunny, warm Scottsdale, Arizona! Aren't you jealous?! But don't expect me to come back with a tan or any golf stories because I'll be spending all of my time in a dark and dreary ice rink. I'll be packing my down coat and Ugg boots and mittens and a hat to take to sunny, warm Scottsdale. I'll be working hard at least 8 hours each day. (Ha! I'm a dual judge, who am I kidding? Make that TWELVE hours each day.) I'll spend my time off work concentrating on GOEs and PCs and other concepts that are even more taxing than what I do at work most days. I'll come back to work cranky, tired, and in dire need of a vacation.

In December I'll be leaving the office for a week again to go to beautiful snowy Lake Placid, where I won't have time to ski or go down the bobsled run because I'll be spending all of my time in a dark and dreary ice rink watching 500 patterns of the European Waltz. I'll come back to work cranky, tired, and in dire need of a vacation.

Of course my co-workers think I'm totally nuts when I explain that I'm not getting paid to do any of this.

Hmmm, what else can I do with my vacation time? How about judging the Lake Placid Dance Championships (Lake Placid in summer looks the same as Lake Placid in winter when you never leave the rink), trial judging at Nationals (January in Cleveland, a treat!), Adult Sectional in Las Vegas (OK, that one could be fun) and Adult Nationals in Grand Rapids, MI in April (sorry all you midwesterners, Grand Rapids just doesn't sound like a vacation to me).

But there is hope on the horizon. Perry and I are planning a trip to South America at the end of the competition season. Buenos Aires and Macchu Picchu, with no clipboard, no Uggs, no skates, no rinks. I plan to come back rested with lots of stories and photos to share and maybe even a tan. (OK, it's a year away but can you blame me for planning it now?)

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Today I limped to the rink with my pulled groin muscle for a choreography lesson. "Choreography" is a term which means "standing around talking about elements and where they go on the ice and in the music while said music blares repeatedly in the background, annoying other skaters." So, even an injured skater can stand around and take part in the fun.

Of course I'm incapable of not skating if I'm on the ice, so we did more than stand around, we "walked through." This is a pretty hilarious term too; it calls to mind tiptoeing around lightly in time to the music while pretending to do the elements. But that's not what we did either.

By the end of two hours we were actually skating the first minute or so of the program. We don't have our actual starting pose (which will no doubt be a highly stylized ballroom dance-like maneuver) or opening steps, but we do have all of our elements mapped out and some connecting steps. Our first element is our level 4 twizzles (callers, you can go ahead and write that number - 4 - down now in case you aren't paying attention in April). We then have some pretty neat footwork to get back together and into our first lift. Coming out of the lift we have a twizzle for me and some nifty steps for Tim. Then we aren't sure what comes next to get us to the middle of the ice, where we do our circular footwork (which is coming along nicely if I do say so myself, and going to the music well).

Our coach asked if we had any "tricks" - meaning signature moves that we "always" perform - to be included. (Always, haha, right, we've performed publicly all of 5 times together, so I think all we are "known for" is showing up.) But we did mention the drape from last year, which we hated. Then we tried to do it and could not remember at all how it went. Some signature move! I just watched the video from last year and I still can't figure out what we did. I guess we're going to need something new.

That's where we stopped today, desperately seeking a signature trick. We're making great progress and we'll continue with another choreography session on Sunday. We are aiming for full run-through ability by the end of September. We are very happy with our revised music choice, which is upbeat and fun, bringing out a new and previously unknown side of our personalities. All of this smiling, sigh, I'll need to get my teeth whitened before we compete this season.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So So ...

For my birthday this year, Tim gave me a sewing machine. This may sound like an odd gift from a skating partner, but he had two of them and I have always wanted one. You know, to whip up a new set of curtains for the living room one weekend, for example, or to slipcover the sofa on a lazy Saturday afternoon. All of those decorating projects I would do in my copious spare time if I were not busy working, skating, judging, renovating, volunteering, traveling, etc., etc.

The best reason to have a sewing machine, of course, is to sew skating wear. We’re talking practice clothes (do you know how much Seku charges for those great foldover waist pants I have?) and competition costumes of course. I have tons of ideas for those and I know what looks good on me; how difficult could it be?

So based on the advice of our wonderful costumer Jim Kerber (who knows he is not going to lose our business because there is no way in hell that I can come up with the kind of gorgeous costumes he does), I started with a pair of simple practice pants.

It took me three weeks to find the time and courage to go to the fabric store and take the plunge. The pattern I chose was in stock and they had some fabric which had the required 4-way stretch. I bought elastic, thread, needles, and other “notions” (such an apropos name), and I was on my merry way.

As I sat in my “sewing room” aka my “office” with the fabric spread out in a huge expanse on the floor, all of my 7th grade home economics phobias came flooding back. My pin phobia (“careful, you are going to snag that fabric!”) was first. Pins are also sharp and they hurt when you stick them into your finger, which I am genetically predisposed to do because I carry the "klutz" gene.

My scissor phobia was less trivial. I am left handed and have many residual emotional scars from having to use the squishy green-handled “lefty” scissors in kindergarten. Of course there were never enough “lefty” scissors to go around, and I was a wimpy kid who didn’t fight for the scissors, so I was usually left to mangle the construction paper using right-handled scissors in my left hand. Just try this some time if you think I'm joking. My mother happily framed the resulting “art,” but I’m sure she must have wondered about my fine motor skills at the time. As I grew older and more dexterous I bit the bullet and learned to cut with my right hand, but I was never very good at it.

So here I was, faced with a sea of slippery, stretchy lycra and a brand new sharp pair of left-handed scissors which I had bought for the occasion. After cutting out the pattern itself (using another pair of scissors which weren’t earmarked for fabric), and pinning it to the material (only a bit of blood ensued), I was ready to cut. I felt like a medical student operating on her first cadaver as I hesitated before making the first incision.

Needless to say, the cutting didn’t go well. I soon learned that my left hand had forgotten how to cut and felt awkward, so I had to use my right hand, which meant using not-so-sharp scissors and, well, my non-dominant hand. Cutting two layers of fabric is challenging since they move and slide around each other. At the end I had all of the pieces but lots of ragged edges. Oh well, I thought, those will be inside the garment anyway.

Which is true. But the pieces still have to match up, and if they are not cut accurately, they don’t. But now, the good news … Lycra fabric stretches! It hides a multitude of sins because you can simply stretch the pieces to fit them together. Aha, I thought, perfect. I pinned the front to the back and started to sew. The seam was pretty straight, the machine was humming, I was starting to relax. Then, disaster struck. The fabric started getting sucked down, down, down into the nether regions of the machine … where the bobbin lives. I pulled on it, and it pulled back. I opened up the bobbin case to find a mess of fabric and what looked like a thread bomb which had gone off inside. Thread and fabric everywhere.

This required me to get out the sewing machine manual, and some patience (which I lack) while I took apart the bobbin case, removed the thread remnants, cut out the fabric which was stuck, and put it all back together again. Jim reassured me, saying that this “sometimes happens.”

The part of the pants which had been sucked in happened to be the crotch, and now they had a big rip in them. By this point I was tired, sweaty, and ready to have some new pants, dammit, so I cut the offending crotch part out and figured it would all come out in the wash. These pants might have a slightly funny looking crotch but who is going to be noticing that?

After sewing the front to the back and the other front to the other back, I tried to fit the two front and back leg pieces to each other at the waist. The notches were not lining up and no amount of stretching was going to save the day, because the notches were totally backwards and upside down. How could this have happened? The pieces had fit together so well when I was sewing them. After about 20 minutes of pondering this and staring at the pattern instructions, I realized that I had sewed the front to the other front and the back to the other back vs. vice versa. Oops. Out came the handy dandy seam ripper (the key tool that every sewer must have). I ripped out everything I had spent all morning doing and called it a day.

The next day I carefully pinned the front to the BACK and the OTHER FRONT to the OTHER BACK. The rest of my pants-sewing adventure was pretty nondescript. Several hours later I had a pair of pants which … amazingly … fit me PERFECTLY. I could not believe it. They were flattering and they fit. The misshapen crotch was undetectable. The seams were straight, at least on the outside. I had even taken some creative liberty by putting the waistband from “view A” on the legs from “view B” and added a slit on the side hem all by myself, and the world had not come to an end.

I'm happy with the pants, although they are a bit too loose to actually skate in, although I can envision myself wearing them with heels to a cocktail party. (A dark cocktail party where everyone is nearsighted would be best.) I chose fabric that is actually TOO stretchy and not form fitting enough for skating. Despite this, I'm very happy with how they turned out and I feel I've learned quite a bit about sewing.

I am now looking for fabric so I can sew the skating dress pattern I bought. It’s more difficult than pants, with about a hundred more pieces to cut out (I am buying a rotary cutter for that) and several pages of instructions that are on par with those for space shuttle landing gear. It’s a hot little Latin number complete with a ruffle and a flirty skirt. If all goes well I may have a dress to wear for my Samba and Cha Cha Congelado tests.

Um, that is, if I ever test them. Who has time with all of this sewing?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"F" Words

It's true confession time. For the past week I have been skating FFFFFreestyle.

I hate to say it publicly in a forum read by my ice dancing peers, but I just have to. It is so much FFFFFun, and I am just so amazed I can still do some of this stuff after 30 years, give or take. They say that as you age you should do something every day which scares you (in order to keep your brain "young") and while Tango Romantica qualifies as scary, this pushes it just a bit past that point. If healthy FFFFFear keeps you young, I may just live forever.

Now for some reminiscing (skip this paragraph if you bore easily). My parents would not let me compete as a kid and as a non-competitor back in the '70's no coach really wanted to work with you very much. Add to that the fact that I sucked at figures (I was nearsighted and 90 lbs., and just couldn't see my tracings at all) and I was the kid who got a lesson if the coach had some free time. Maybe. So there were a lot of things that slipped through the cracks and didn't get taught, such as back spins, which would have been oh-so-helpful. I never learned one, although I did learn a flying camel and sit change sit. And as I recall, jump technique was taught by repeatedly yelling "jump UP and pull IN!!" It's a wonder I was able to do double jumps at all.

Last Tuesday I was warming up for my MITF lesson when I saw my coach (who is my age) doing loop jumps. Something clicked in my brain and I said whoa, why not. So when she came over to work on my Brackets and Rockers, I told her I wanted to work on JUMPS. She was a bit surprised, but even more surprised were the kids, parents and others who have until now only seen me do ice dancing. We ran through all of the single jumps and some combos, and then some spins (oh my, a layback in short blades is really quite a trip!) I was shocked that these things were all still in my muscle memory bank and while they weren't stellar, I could do them, sort of.

Nowadays I weigh a lot more than 90 lbs. and my jumping muscles are certainly not in any kind of shape. They scream at me each day after I work on freestyle, but it's a good kind of pain. And my coach actually cares about my skating even though I don't compete, and she gives me actual technique pointers (e.g., leave the left side back, get your weight over your skating side, put your free leg HERE) and exercises to work on. If I follow her advice, I see actual improvement. Her amazed comment during my second freestyle lesson last night - while warming up for axels -- was, "you have no fear, that's good."

(Well, if she only knew --- but I'm not going to tell her.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Circular Footwork

Shocking progress made today on the circular footwork despite me being in an utterly foul mood. No, you don’t understand what that means unless you are my partner who has to put up with me. Perry knows of course. I am sometimes not pleasant to be around. Oh yeah, and I know it, and I don’t like it either. But today a host of things including the bathroom remodel that never ends, a work situation, another work situation, and lack of sleep all conspired. So here is my public apology and now on to how the situation improved.

So after agreeing that all of our warmup exercises stink and will never get any better (this was me agreeing with myself and Tim just hoping it would all pass soon), we moved on to the circular footwork we learned on Monday. It is difficult, full of rockers and counters and twizzles and power pulls and Choctaws and strange dance holds and places where we are on one foot for so long it seems like a run-on sentence and we don’t even get to push.

At first my bad mood continued as we trudged along trying to remember it all. I kicked my own stupid self in the shin with my blade only once (hardly any blood, I found later). After two sessions worth of my bad mood getting a bit worse followed by a bit better, we put on the music and amazingly enough we got through it multiple times with (I’ll admit minimal) flow, mostly in time to the music and it even made a full circle. Wow. What a great day’s work. From hopeless to almost having fun in one morning. Another reason to love ice dancing.

(Drat, now I can’t even pretend that I’m still in a bad mood.)