Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A timely post from Mombo

Mombo strikes again with a lovely post which talks about why we (all of us) ice dance, why we compete in ice dance (especially as adults), and why we work so hard at it:

It's "just doing something that you truly love the best that you can do it."


Sunday, August 17, 2008


I think we may have found our signature move.

This is despite Tim's insistence that "hydroblades have no place in ice dancing." I agree, except for the Bourne and Kraatz version, because they were just so good that it worked.

By the way, I also don't see how spins have any place in ice dancing, but we're working on those too. In typical "what the hell" spirit, we're doing all kinds of things we may not agree with in order to get points. I mean if we're going to compete, we would be wasting our time if we didn't try to rack up a few.

This is also why I'm taking yoga, the better to contort myself in lifts, to get more points. I give in - it's all about points now and we want a ton of 'em.

(Those who know me realize I have some strong views on this subject. I won't go into a discussion of IJS tonight, although I promise to do so in a future post.)

But back to that signature move. Today I tried a hydroblade for the first time in a long time. I used to do a back inside version but that now hurts my hip, so I tried a back outside version and had much more success. So much so that I was shocked I'd never tried one before. It was fun and easier than I thought it would be. Tim could almost do one too. So even though it's not really dancing, we had fun doing some hydroblades today and we may include one as a highlight this season.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What is up with falling down?

This is the second time in as many practices that I've had a fall where I went straight down directly onto my hind parts. These were quick falls, as in "one moment I'm up, then boom, I'm sitting down." Both were from pretty much a standstill and had no "slide" to take away some of the impact.

Eskimos have many, many words for "snow." Likewise, skaters should have a full lexicon of terms for different types of falls in order to do justice to their differences. In skaterspeak, I would describe this type of fall as a sheer-drop-straight-down-no-slide-single-impact-booming-buttfall. That name doesn't really capture the moment though. It's something I'll have to think about. Stay tuned for future blogging brilliance on this topic.

Now my back hurts but that could also be from the lift we are teaching ourselves. It's a cantilever that we're trying to do without any support other than my legs, which are wrapped around Tim's leg while he's doing a spread eagle. Right now we are holding on with one arm each (for about 2 seconds, then I need his other arm or I start sliding down toward the ice).

Clearly I will need to hit the gym, and ask a personal trainer how to get more "leg squeeze strength." I hope I can say that with a straight face, especially when I have to demonstrate what it looks like. Right, I'll probably say, "I need to be able to support 100% of my own body weight with my legs by wrapping them around someone else's leg. Then I have to hang there parallel to the ice ... uh, ground ... while someone watching counts to 3, like this: 'one-one-thousand-two-one-thousand-three-one-thousand.'" (Then I have to use my abs to pull myself back upright so that I can go into a "skate-to-the-head" position, but I'll tell that to the yoga teacher so two people can make fun of me.)

Yeah, I really have nothing to lose, they already think skaters are freaks at the gym anyway ("yeah Joe, so this woman comes into the gym, wants to increase her "leg squeeze strength" ... needs to be able to contort herself, but only for 3 seconds ... and has some ginormous bruises on her butt. Should I call the cops?")

And to think that I had a problem with the rocker foxtrot!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Ultimate Test

The Rocker F#@$!trot: AKA the most difficult ice dance ever created.

I’d rather do the Midnight Blues, Finnstep, or Golden Waltz than the Rocker Foxtrot and any of those would no doubt be easier and less anxiety- producing for me. That’s because the Rocker Foxtrot contains the one step in ice dancing that I just have not been able to master: the FO Mohawk in foxtrot position.

I know, I know. An outside to outside Mohawk should be a piece of cake for someone who has passed gold dances. But the catch is “in foxtrot position.”

I can do the dance just fine solo, but attach me to a partner and I am “Stuck.” As in, “blocked,” or “physically prevented from turning.” Frustratingly so, since I do the turn just fine by myself. I start to turn, as does my partner, and then I can turn no farther and either fall or have to bail out.

(I did pass the test, many years ago, with a partner who was patient and skated very much like me, and for some reason the turn worked with him. But it has never worked with anyone else before or since.)

I’m not afraid of falling on the turn, as I’ve pointed out to the many coaches who’ve tried to help me fix it. It’s not a fear thing, although I do feel paralyzed as my body hangs there in mid-turn and goes no farther, while my partner drags me along, or I fall, and that can be a bit anxiety-producing. It’s more a frustration thing – why does my body all of a sudden stop in mid-turn? What can I do differently?, I would ask coach after coach. There has to be something going on with my body that can be fixed, some small technical detail that is the key to this turn.

“It’s all in your head,” I was told. “You just need to go for it!” “You need to bend your knees more.” “Just turn out your hips more” (give me a break, I have no turnout but can still do the turn myself, so that can’t be it). “Don’t look down.” “Track in front of your partner.” “Don’t break at the waist.” None of these worked.

After all of this advice, I finally “went for it” one day enough to fall harder than normal, sliding headfirst into the wall and getting a mild concussion. That’s when I said enough was enough and stopped doing the dance for many years. I joked that I was born without the Mohawk Gene, and always found a way to be in the ladies room when the Rocker Foxtrot was played at dance weekends.

Enough really WAS enough because I had no reason to do the damn thing until Tim came along, and had to test it in order for us to qualify for the Gold dance event. Which meant I had to either swallow my pride and ask him to test it with another partner, or swallow my fear of failure, bite the bullet, and conquer the RF once and for all.

While in Lake Placid recently, I studied the rocker foxtrots on practice. I saw that everyone could do this turn, even if they weren’t the greatest skater. I watched body positions, tracking, and edges into and out of the turn, and I tried to mimic what the best rocker foxtrotters were doing in my mind. I had an epiphany and thought I had figured it out, so when I got home I asked Tim to try the dance with me. We were both skeptical, but it turned out that my own observation and mimicry were able to do what years of advice from coaches had not: it wasn’t pretty, but I was finally able to do the turn without getting blocked.

I thought this must be a fluke, so we tried it again with more speed. No block. We did several patterns. No block. The mohawk seemed, dare I say it, easy.

That was Monday. This is Sunday. This morning, Tim passed his Rocker Foxtrot test by all three judges, as did the other 3 people testing it (a veritable Rocker Foxtrot Festival! ... And all 8 of us dressed in black, which was unnecessarily pessimistic as it turned out). Congratulations to Bill Cloran, Bill Fisher (Bill also passed his Foxtrot and European, completing the pre-silvers), and Annee Magee (Annee also passed her Tango and American for a silver sweep). Tim has now completed his Silver dances.

Of all those testing today, Tim's prop was definitely the most nervous. This was more a test for me than for him, as he is comfortable with the dance and skates it well and could have tested it a long time ago. I feel happier about this result than my own gold dance test. I can do the rocker foxtrot, that's right, yes I can! Today, dare I say it, the mohawk seemed easy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

That's Entertainment ...


I just read my last blog post and wow, it was just not entertaining as promised. An entire synopsis of our free dance elements, including imaginary GOEs and levels??? Wow, what was I thinking? Who would be interested in reading that other than a bunch of ...


wait ---


Friday, August 8, 2008

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging

I will be starting a new blog for my hip related issues so that this blog can be used for its original purpose --- that’s right -- entertainment! TnTsk8 will focus on Tim and Terri’s preparation for Adult Nationals this season. (Don’t you love it when people refer to themselves in 3rd person? Terri does!) I will only mention my hip when it is directly relevant to our training. My strong hope is that it won’t be very relevant. We plan to compete this year unless I am in so much pain I have to stop. Cross your fingers.

Now, moving on to the entertainment as promised. Today we had a good practice which for me was almost pain free. We did our circular footwork and made some changes to it. We had one fall on a twizzle where Tim apparently kicked my feet out from under me and I went straight down on my butt (but missed my tail bone). It didn’t hurt much but I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow. We are trying to increase our speed in the footwork and so things like this are bound to happen. We like the changes overall. I am pretty sure we won’t get more than a Level 1, but if we skate to the music we should get decent GOEs.

We modified our curve lift to make it a serpentine lift, which is a 12-second lift as opposed to a 6-second lift. We need one more position change to make it Level 3, or else I need to be able to get my foot to my head. (Maxiflex, anyone?) I haven’t been stretching lately but I used to be able to do this, so it’s not an impossible goal. Stay tuned for more entertainment in this direction, perhaps even pictures of me stuck in unlikely positions.

Our balance/straight line lift is the same as always and very reliable. It’s Level 3 since we both have a difficult position (me upside down and cantilevered and Tim in a squat). Our twizzles are pretty consistent and if we both do them they are Level 4. We now need a spin. Our spin from last year is unique but won’t get a high level since we are both upright without a difficult position. I think dance spins should be abolished, actually, but since we need one, we may just stay with our old reliable this season because it’s pretty consistent.

The rest of the practice was spent on the Rocker Foxtrot. The Rocker Foxtrot is not meant to be entertaining, so I’ll sign off until next week.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thank yous

Thanks to all who have written me privately. The response has been truly overwhelming. It upholds my belief that ice dancers (and adult skaters in general) are some of the friendliest, kindest and most caring people in the world.

I am over my shock, anger, depression and denial (I think there are 4 more steps but now is the time for action so I’m postponing those). Tim and I have been skating, albeit a bit cautiously. I’m walking slowly and sitting gingerly but I’m not out of commission yet.

There are some encouraging surgical options out there (possibly not covered by my insurance company as they are considered “experimental,” but I really need new hips more than I need a remodeled kitchen) and so I am not giving up. Many of you out there are skating on artificial hips and I have been so encouraged by your stories.

I need some time to process all of the information I’ve received. I’ll keep everyone posted. Terri

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Possibly Cathartic, Probably Immature,

...and Definitely Angry.

This is an addendum to my post from earlier today regarding my recent hip problems. If you haven't yet, please read that post first.

I realized today that my hip deformity has caused physical and emotional problems for a long time, even though I had no idea that I had this defect until today. This evening while feeling sorry for myself I recalled some of these problems; it is not much comfort now to know the reason behind them but I feel I should list them here for posterity.

I remember in Kindergarten when we were being read to, all of us kids were told we must sit "Indian Style" for 30 minutes (Not such a PC term now, but I'm sure you all know the position I mean.) At age 5 I could only sit that way for a few seconds before my legs started to shake and hurt. My femurs naturally rotate inward, not outward, and so I could then (and still now) more easily sit with my upper legs together with my lower legs turned out in "W" position.

I remember being told that we MUST sit for the half hour reading period INDIAN STYLE, and I was corrected by teachers, publicly, over and over again for being unwilling to sit that way. (Somebody explain the mindset of these Kindergarten Nazi Bitches to me ... I am at a loss.) Sometimes it hurt so much that I would cry. I remember the teachers scolding me for being "a baby" and "disruptive." Nobody thought it was a medical problem; who ever heard of a 5 year old who couldn't sit "Indian Style"? They never told my parents or sent me to a doctor, just strongly suggested to me that I was a bad child. Needless to say, children being the savages that they are, I was picked on mercilessly for being such a loser. Perhaps that's the starting point of some of my more interesting personality quirks.

Kindergarten teachers of mine, if you were here right now you'd be appalled at the highly disruptive and disobedient gesture I'm making in your direction with my middle finger. That's right, this is my blog, and I can do that if I want to. Nyah nyah nyah.

So I didn't see a doctor for the x-rays that would have made it obvious that I needed corrective surgery which, at that young age, would have prevented so many problems I've had since. Problems such as being unable to ride horses, something I love to do, because I can't walk for weeks afterwards due to my stiff and sore hips. Problems such as being yelled at as a teenager by skating coaches because I couldn't do an Ina Bauer (obviously not trying hard enough, probably lazy and bratty to boot). Problems such as difficulty in my late 30's riding a bicycle for more than a mile because my hips hurt (I chalked it up to being out of shape at the time and never rode a bike again). Problems walking over the last 3 years that I attributed to arthritis and old age which have caused me to groan like an old man as I get up and walk stiff-legged after getting up out of my chair at work, which co-workers have found amusing; I did too until it got so bad I realized that it wasn't normal.

{Addendum -- 8/8/08 -- my research reveals that periacetabular osteotomy, the surgical procedure used on children and young adults, was pioneered in 1984, so unfortunately it would not have helped me as a Kindergartner in the late '60's. However, I still wish I'd known about this problem earlier.}

Now it appears I may be too old for that type of surgery, leaving me again with the double hip replacement scenario as my only option, along with a lifetime of memories of things I could never do, or can no longer do, or stopped doing a long time ago.

Yes, I'm feeling sorry for myself, but this is my blog and I can say whatever I want to. Nyah nyah nyah.

Hip, Hip …

You thought I was going to say “hooray,” didn't you! Fooled you.

I wasn’t going to post about this, but I’m hoping someone reading may have advice for me. My diagnosis today is acetabular dysplasia, a congenital hip deformity. (German Shepherds often have hip dysplasia, so let the dog comparisons begin.) In this abnormality, the socket of the hip does not surround the ball of the joint as it does in a normal hip; those with this condition inevitably have pain, which progressively worsens; they develop arthritis, and eventually need full hip replacement. The edge of the bone may more easily fracture since it is not stable.

Of all the sports to participate in, according to the doctor, skating is just about the worst. Running or other high-impact sports would be the only things that could be worse. The doctor, I must say, was pretty unsympathetic; even though I described how I participate in the sport of ice dancing and what that entails, he clearly thought that my skating was just any old activity because, let’s face it, I’m 45 years old and most people can’t picture us old farts skating any way other than round and round the rink for exercise. I described lifts, and ballroom dancing on ice, etc. but his answer was that I’d need to find a different activity, such as swimming, or no activity at all, which would be easier on my joints. He didn’t seem to understand that skating isn’t just going around in circles; skating is my one and only creative outlet. I've never found any other type of exercise I enjoy as much.

He gave me the name of a specialist and said good-bye.

I did some Internet research and it was then that I realized that for a skater, this was one of the worst possible diagnoses. There are many other career-ending diagnoses of course (knees, head trauma, backs) but this is right up there with the more commonly-seen injuries. The fact that I was born with this and skated for so many years without symptoms, all the while a ticking time bomb, makes this even more difficult to swallow. I will admit that I’ve shed some tears today in the bathroom at work and in my car.

The Internet says that once someone has pain from this condition, the arthritis sets in quickly, so surgery is indicated right away. As the condition worsens, the outcome of surgery is less and less likely to be positive. While there are many people who skate at a high level after hip replacement, I shudder to think of the many ways such a major surgery can go wrong, and that surgery won’t necessarily mean that I’ll be able to skate again at my current level – or walk for that matter. There are no guarantees.

I have always been healthy and never had surgery, so I’m also fearful of the process. Even giving blood is a trauma for me since I have rubbery veins, so the thought of being hospitalized for 5 days or more is truly frightening. I’d almost rather just let the arthritis take its toll, until I think of the true consequences of that. Doing nothing and continuing to skate until I can’t stand the pain any longer is an option, but then I may not be walking when I’m 50. Having surgery which isn’t successful seems like a worse option.

The internet shows that 17% of people having the surgery are able to function at the same level as before when it comes to “athletic activities”; another 37% are able to function well enough to “ambulate.” Those numbers seem particularly disturbing to me. Hip surgery is great when it allows an elderly person to continue functioning so they don’t have to be wheelchair bound. Hip surgery that means I won’t be able to skate any more does me no good at all, and seems like quite a trauma to put myself through.

An aside - this explains why I could never do a spread eagle or an Ina Bauer, despite being able to do Biellmans. Typically people with this type of dysplasia have very little hip turnout, and no amount of stretching can change that - it's just physically impossible for the hips to move that way. To think of all the time I wasted doing plies, pilates, and various other stretches to improve my turnout which never seemed to improve ... and to think of all the coaches who told me I was "just not trying hard enough" to do that Ina Bauer. Well, it's vindication all right, but somehow THAT doesn't feel very good right now.

I’m in a little bit of shock right now since this was not the diagnosis I was expecting (I was hoping more for "you pulled your groin, now rest and ice it for a month then you will be good as new"), but I need time to process this and figure out what I am going to do. Readers, I already know I have your empathy. If any of you have constructive advice, I could sure use some now.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sleep Deprivation

We’re back from Lake Placid, site of the world’s largest ice dance competition (“All Ice Dance, All The Time!”)

First, I have to brag and publish the link to, where Perry’s photos are published. He had some great shots in various events, including the Finnstep seminar, many of the Open events, and various others. Look for the “Perry Levine” watermark on the photos.

I was busy judging which I can’t discuss here, other than to say that as promised in a previous post, I am cranky, tired, and in dire need of a vacation. Our plane got in late last night, and after four 12-hour days of judging, critiqueing and assisting referees (timing lifts, a necessary evil), and a couple of sleepless nights, I am exhausted.

So, what to blog about since I can’t really discuss the skating? (Other than to say, in general terms, that everyone should make the pilgrimage to Lake Placid at least once; nowhere else will you see that many ice dancers all in one place, including all levels and disciplines; the level of skating is very high even for this early in the season and it is inspiring to see that ice dancing is not by any means dead).

I have not skated in 3 weeks because of my hip injury. I see the doctor tomorrow (I can’t believe it takes 3 weeks to get in to see a doctor these days, and meanwhile I can’t do anything because I don’t know the extent of the seriousness of the injury). I hope I’ll be cleared to skate after that.

Today’s admittedly non-skating topic will be the state of manners in this country. Yes, that’s right, I said manners, as in “courtesy.” I won’t go into a long discussion of table manners, although I could (I am tired of looking across a crowded restaurant to see Neanderthals of every age and gender chewing loudly with their mouths open … do they know how disgusting they look? … and it’s not just kids, it’s also their parents, which is why the kids don’t know any better … but that’s not what I want to talk about today even though I just did).

I’m talking about the more destructive problems that come about in our society because people aren’t courteous and they are no longer brought up to take accountability for their actions. I’m sure I sound very old fashioned saying this, and I have no problem being perceived as an old fart.

The last 10 times I have traveled, mostly for judging- and skating-related events, I’d say that at least 5 times – that’s half, by the way, and it may be more – I have had to call the front desk to complain about NOISE. I’ve stayed in four-star hotels and “economy” motor inns, and all have the same problem.

Now, when I put my good money down for a hotel room, I expect only a few basics, really. I expect cleanliness, and I usually get it at a tolerable level. I expect hot water to come out of the shower when I turn it on. Finally, I expect enough quiet so that I can get a good night’s sleep. So on weekdays I expect that there will be no screaming, running in the halls, jumping on the bed over my head, throwing up in the hallways, or prank fire drills between 10 PM and 6 AM. On weekends I can go to 11 PM, but would extend the quiet zone to 7 AM because sometimes I like to sleep in when I can.

Many hotels have a posted “quiet policy,” but few enforce it. In some venues, it seems they’d have to hire a full-time staff of burly bouncers to keep the peace. During just the past year I’ve had to endure multiple episodes of children squealing and running up and down the halls for hours (while their parents do … what ??? … I’m not sure …), people who have loud conversations punctuated by hysterical laughter for hours, drunken screaming parties (no further explanation needed), alarms clocks in the empty room next door which go off at odd hours and don’t get turned off by the “night clerk” for 45 minutes, people in the room above me tap dancing in lead boots while dragging heavy cadavers and rearranging the hotel furniture (that’s what it sounded like, I actually have no idea what they were wearing or doing and I don't really want to know). All of this during my “quiet zone” hours. And of course this usually occurs when I have to be up at 6 AM to do 12 hours of judging the next day.

(Don’t get me started on hotels built in the “Embassy Suites” configuration, with an open “atrium” – AKA “echo chamber” – which channels all noise from the lobby - and bar - directly up to the guest rooms. One time while judging Regionals in Seattle I slept in my car when Embassy Suites in Lynnwood couldn’t find a way to quiet down the people pacing and yelling above my head at 2 AM, to the LOC’s chagrin. I now ask for a top floor at the end of the hall when I can get it, but there are never any guarantees and even those rooms can have problems.)

This past week in Lake Placid Perry and I stayed at the highly recommended Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn. The reviews raved about Art Devlin’s, which has been run by the family for 40 years. The reviews touted the place as friendly (true, it was), close to the rink (also true), reasonably priced (for Lake Placid, yes), and quiet.

The first two nights were indeed fairly quiet, although we had to unplug the phone and alarm clock because they buzzed loudly any time they picked up a cell phone signal – which is disconcerting at 2 AM and woke us up enough times those first two nights for me to be cranky and tired by Friday. The next day was going to be a full one for judging and I needed my rest, so we retired early.

The party next door started around 1:30 AM, after we’d had about 3 hours of fairly restful sleep. It started with loud footsteps in the hallway, doors banging (how many times did they have to bang the doors? Just go in the friggin’ room and shut the door for crying out loud). Then they went out on the balcony and yelled across the parking lot to their friends for 10 minutes, and then the loud music, hysterical laughter and screaming conversations began.

After about 30 minutes we called the front desk, but there was no answer. We found later that Art Devlin’s doesn’t employ a night clerk, “to keep costs down.” So Perry got up, got dressed, and walked over to the office to knock on the door, since the proprietors live on site. (If they can’t afford a desk clerk, wouldn’t it be a smart idea to have the phones forward to their personal apartment after hours, in case there is a problem??? I don’t know, seems like a smart idea to me.)

The proprietor quieted the party down, but unless you were born yesterday you KNOW that parties don’t die a quick death. It was in full swing again about 15 minutes after he left, and we weren’t about to get up and walk over to the front desk again. We put the pillows over our heads and tried our best to sleep. Sometimes there would be a lull and we’d doze off, only to awaken with a start when someone screamed with laughter or the door banged.

When we complained the next day, the proprietor apologized but did not even offer to refund our money for that night’s stay, which would be the proper thing to do. He said he had tried to call us to give us his cell phone number in case the party got out of hand again, but “our room phone was off the hook.” I explained that this was so that we could sleep without being awakened every time someone used their cell phone in the town of Lake Placid. Hmmm, he said, nobody has ever reported that problem to me before. Hmmm, I said, very strange that you have so many deaf people staying here.

Interesting also that he said this was the first time in “two years” he’d had to break up a party. (Really? How interesting. It must only happen when I go to a hotel, and I guess this is true everywhere I stay, which leads me to believe that I should just stay home from now on for the good of society.)

I told Art that we would never stay there again, and that my only recourse was to bad mouth the motor inn to everyone I know since he had not done anything to make it right. But honestly, the same thing was likely to have happened in any hotel in town, even the most expensive grand resort. Based on my experience with travel lately, people leave their courtesy at the door when they travel, and if I want a relaxing vacation my best bet is to stay home and sleep in my own bed.