Nov 28, 2010

So you want to join the ice show!

by guest blogger Nora Chin

Joining a show is a great way to travel the world, meet lots of cool people, and develop your skating in a whole new way!

Choosing a show
The first thing you need to decide is what you want out of your show experience. If you want to travel the world, your best bet is to join either Disney on Ice or Holiday on Ice. Both are great shows! On the downside, you move around a lot and are often far away from home for 9 or 10 months at a time. Sometimes it can be kind of a bummer not having the same room for longer than a week. If you want to be closer to home and have your own room, working on a Cruise ship is a nice alternative, plus you can get in lots of beach time! (I was with Disney, so that is what this is all based on.)
(Here's all the princesses. When they do these meet-and-greets, they're required to stay in character no matter what. That's our guest blogger as Mulan.-- Xan.)

Who's who?
I don't really remember what I was expecting when I joined the show, but there are some things I wish I did know before joining. An ice show is a traveling circus, really-- there's the skaters, the Production Manager, Line Captains, often a rep from the home company, the technicians and stage crew, costume mistress, and all of our concessionaires as well. I even worked on the stage crew for part of one tour to earn extra money.

The Production Director (PD)
is basically your boss and is someone you can talk to for advice on how to achieve your goals. They make sure the show is running the way it is supposed to (lights, sounds, costume everything!). They have a very extensive knowledge of the show and also are in charge of progress reports for every skater. Your PD can suggest understudies that you would do well in. If you are interested in trying something like adagio pairs, your PD might be able to partner you with someone you would skate well with. Figuring out what your goals are for your time on the show and talking with your PD about achieving them is a good thing to do.

Your line captain is another person you can talk to. Line captains are kind of like assistants to the PD. They give notes to skaters for the PD and run rehearsals. They can help you if you are having trouble with any steps. If you get any notes, or corrections, from the PD, your line captain can help you fix them.

Make sure to always try your hardest. Sometimes it can seem like your hard work is not being recognized, but remember, no notes are good notes!

Where do you sign up?
It's good to know what production companies are looking for as well, when deciding where to go. With Disney, having a few doubles is a good idea but not strictly necessary.
A strong skating resume (gold tests, national experience, etc.) can help but again is not a prerequisite. You don't see that many people with international credentials on Disney, more on the cruise ships which tend to have a more discerning audience (i.e. fewer 3 year olds in princess costumes). Many people do character work (like Snow White's dwarves) and don't need to do any jumps or spins, so it really depends on what you want to do. For a cruise and Holiday on Ice the expectations are higher. They usually want to see at least a double axel from a singles woman and more from the men (a backflip is a bonus for a guy!).

Look up how to audition on the company's website, and check the ads in Skating Magazine and the PSA Magazine. For Disney, you can audition after a show when they are in your home town, or you can send in a video (I think it is the same for Holiday). For the cruise, you can send in a video. Sometimes you can post it on YouTube and send a link to whoever casts the shows, but once again you'll need to look up who to send it to on their website. The website can also tell you what they want to see on a tape. It's good to have a few takes of each element on your tape to show consistency.

Disney on Ice is run by Feld Entertainment, and the ships are Willy Bietak Productions. Holiday is its own company.

Life on the road
Sometimes the schedule is so light, it's pretty relaxing! When the show schedule is light (meaning there are only a few shows that week), you have a lot of time off to explore whatever city you are in. (There are also weeks where you work three shows a day 5 days in a row, but they're rare.) Food on the road tours isn't provided for you so you need to buy your own groceries, which can be difficult since there isn't always a fridge in your hotel room. Sometimes people buy little portable ones and travel them. It's a great idea to have a hot pot (like this one) so you can boil water and make pasta. Some people have hot plates and pots and pans so they can make an array of dishes, but it takes up a lot of space in your luggage. I suggest being on the road for a few weeks before making any final decision on cookware. Be careful as well, because not all hotels allow you to cook in your room.

One of the hardest things for me was saving money. It can get pretty boring sometimes, especially when touring the states, and it is very tempting to go shopping A LOT. Be super careful with your money! Other skaters might spend more
so you might think nothing of it but you need to remember that they might make more than you, and in some cases their parents give them money too.

There can be a lot of drama on a show (putting all those figure skaters in one place!) and my advice would be to try and stay out of it. Just do your best and don't apologize for it! I barely skated my first year and only auditioned for one thing, and was resentful of other skaters who seemed to get all the stuff I wanted, but didn't get that you had to ask for. Once I started taking my career on the show more seriously by skating more and talking to my PD, I got all those things I wanted before. It can be hard but try and see everything from the point of view of your PD. Even if your PD knows you are a good skater and would be good in a role, they aren't going to give it to you if you don't show them you want it and are willing to work for it.

But really, just wing it! I loved being on the show! I made great friends and saw more of the world than most people even dream of. Even though I made mistakes and could definitely have done things differently, I wouldn't trade my time on the show for anything! If you are on the fence about joining, this is me SHOVING you over to the yes side!!!

A former Disney Princess

This former Disney Princess (that's her in the pictures as Mulan, as an Evil Stepsister, and practicing adagio lifts) is my personal princess, now home and putting herself through college as a skating coach and sales clerk. She has her gold tests in Moves, Free Style, and Ice Dance, and once managed to get herself to Junior Nationals (in dance). She skated with the show for three years, straight out of high school. She has traveled to, I think, 17 countries on 4 continents, and 9 American states and likes to brag that she's been to every Disney World in the world, except the one in Florida.

Nov 25, 2010

How to get used to new skates

It's gift giving time-- are there new skates in your future?

If you're an experienced skater, you already know the bad news-- new skates are awful, especially if you also have new blades; they just feel completely different. If you've been in rentals, you might even have the experience of suddenly not being able to stand up.

High level free style skaters have the fewest problems, for multiple reasons. First, their skill level is solid, so they have a more instinctive understanding of the balance and motion. Second, the new high-level boots are made of some space age material that allows you to skip the old, agonizing "break in" period, where the leather got soft and molded to your foot. (Unfortunately, it also means that these skates, which are essentially plastic, smell terrible after a while.)

For children and beginners, you're going to have an adjustment period. Here's some things to do:

Start slow

Don't expect to go out and immediately skate exactly the way you did in your old boots, or the rentals. Some people feel an immediate comfort, or even improvement, but most people find it very disconcerting to wear new boots and blades. So the first couple of times, just skate around until you feel solid. Younger children especially, even if they are very good skaters, will be extremely sensitive to the change. Kids like things to be the Way They Are; they're the most hide-bound conservatives you'll ever meet.

Skate a lot
As you skate more in the new boots, your body will start to forget what the old skates felt like. You don't have to skate for a long time each outing, but come every day that you can for a couple of weeks.

Don't give in

Let yourself adjust. For beginners, trust me your blade isn't "mounted wrong" and it's sharp enough. The problem is with you, because you're still inexperienced enough to be very sensitive to changes in your skating environment. For parents, try to figure out the difference between actual pain and just that it feels different. Some kids fall a lot the first few times out. This can be for multiple reasons-- the blade might be a different length, which changes your balance; if you've switched from rentals, new boots will hold your ankles straight, which again affects the balance you've learned. Out-of-the-box blades from places like SportMart sometimes have a coating on the surface of the blade to protect it during shipping (we call this "factory edging". If you hear someone say, oh it's still got the factory edge, this is what they're talking about.) This needs to be ground off by a professional skate shop (do NOT use steel wool, although you can rub aluminum foil over it a few times.)

Listen to your child, but not too much
Ask "does it hurt enough for a bandaid?" or "do we need to stop skating now?" Most kids will answer very honestly to these specific questions. Sometimes even the ones who actually get off the ice, if you tell them okay let's go home, will decide that it's fine and get back on. Especially for a kid who loves to skate, telling them that "if the skates hurt that much, we'll just stop skating" will make them evaluate the discomfort honestly. I confess I have let kids get to actual tears before giving in on new skates, especially the ones that have established themselves as complainers. Seems cruel, but I haven't lost one yet. (You don't have to let your child cry, that's just me, meanest tot teacher on the planet.)

Make sure it's the correct size
The number one reason that kids can't skate in new skates is that people get skates that are too big. Do NOT, I beg you, get skates with grow room. One 1/2 size up is the biggest you can go. Extra socks or extra insoles are not the answer. Boots that are too big force a skater to tense up their feet to keep from slipping around inside (and doubled socks makes this worse). This is what causes foot cramps, which is extremely painful. Along with a boot that's too big, will be a blade that is too big. Blades are designed to have specific points of contact with the ice. If the blade is too long, that contact point will be in the wrong place relative to your foot, and it will be harder to stand up.

If you don't know much about skates, go to a professional skate shop
Even if it means a long drive, like several counties. Buy a known brand, like Reidel, Jackson, Graf, or SPTeri. Be honest with the clerk about your skating level (i.e. don't buy a freestyle boot for a beginner-- it'll be too stiff, and will have too big a toe pick).

Here are some prior posts on skates.

Nov 24, 2010

Figure skaters don't need to dream of flying

It's a trope-- the "I'm thankful for" essay on Thanksgiving, but I'm not above a useful trope. So here are my figure skating thanks.
I'm thankful for coaches like Chris Hyland, Sheila Lonergan, Kristen Tanakatsubo, Henk Green, and Jim Draheim, among others, who have never disparaged, discouraged, or belittled my desire to be a skating coach, even when my skills or attitude were not really up to the task.

I'm thankful for my apprenticeship mentors Nick Belovol and Craig Bodoh, and my more informal mentors Angie Riviello and Jan Tremer, who have been generous to a fault with their time and knowledge.

I'm thankful for all the skating directors I have worked with, who put up with my moods, skill building (on their dime) and occasional unwarranted (as well as occasional warranted) arrogance.

I'm thankful for skating parents, both the sane ones and the crazy ones, because I understand what they're going through, and for sharing their fantastic children with me.

I'm thankful for my students Ella, Sophie, Schuyler, Gia, Rachel, Alexa, Mariette, Molly, Sonia, Elizabeth, Alina, Spencer (and his mom), and Evan (and his mom), and for the nearly 100 private students and thousands of class participants before them, who remind me every day of the joy of childhood, skating, teaching and just being.

I'm thankful for my coach friends, who took me into the fold on very little motivation, and my non-coaching friends who still can't quite believe I did this.

I'm thankful for my daughter's coaches Christian, Chris, Sharon, Jola, and Jim, who helped make her the beautiful skater and wonderful person she is today.

I'm thankful for the networks, both "real" like PSA and "virtual" like Twitter that have helped me find lifelong friends who share my passions for gardening and skating.

I'm thankful for my daughter, who has never evinced embarrassment at my teaching where she was a student, even when she was a teen, and for my uber-cool son, who apparently thinks that doing this is also cool.

I'm thankful for my husband, who supported me when I quit a very high paying executive job to work as a $12 an hour skating instructor.

I'm thankful for the skating bloggers who helped Xanboni find a voice, and an audience.
And finally, I'm thankful for the sport of figure skating, which lets me fly.

What are you thankful for?

Nov 21, 2010

Conversations with coaches

A couple of years ago, I sat down with Highland Park Ice Arena show director Sheila Lonergan and Robert Crown Ice Arena coach Jola Wesolawska, who coaches many of my rink’s most competitive skaters, about what parents and skaters should expect when they start to get serious about figure skating, with its costs, competitions, and interesting culture. The following is a compilation of several conversations.

Jola—What parents need to realize is that this is a sport that requires a lot of commitment, and there is no team that creates the structure for you. You have to do it all yourself.

Sheila—Changing in the back of the car on the way to the rink.

Jola—Fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up!

Sheila—Freezing feet!

Jola—Wake up every day at 5 a.m.! One mother told me her daughter is not a morning person, but you know, I am not a morning person either and I have been getting up at 5 a.m. more than 30 years! And I am the coach!

Xan— My daughter would get up if I would.

Jola—Yes, that is it. Parents make a big difference and the skaters learn that this is what you must do if you want to be really good.

Sheila—That’s right. And these kids really learn how to set goals and how to make a commitment, and how rewarding it is to do something this hard and succeed at it.

Xan—But, really, how many kids are going to make it to Nationals? What do the rest of them get out of all this time and money?

Jola: Success in skating does not always mean to place first at competitions or go to the Olympics. Success can be not quitting too early—don’t get discouraged! You can set a goal to pass all the ISI or USFSA tests or even set smaller goals along the way like land an axel. It is a wonderful success if you fall three times at the beginning of your program, but then you are able to skate and finish it strong. It is a success if you skate a clean program at competition, whether at your local rink or a big competition.

This is a sport that really builds character, because the skater knows she or he must rely on themselves, and must finish what he or she starts. If you fall in the middle of a soccer game, your teammate grabs the ball and the game goes on, while you take your time getting up. But if a skater falls in a show or competition, it’s all up to the skater, to just get up and keep skating. And they all do it.

Sheila: It can be a very moving thing for a parent to watch—when that skater just gets up and keeps going because skating has helped him or her to develop the character to do this.

Jola: Skating teaches you to be disciplined, organized, to manage your time, to be determined and patient, have a strong work ethic and to be consistent. It teaches you to learn from mistakes, to be humble—you land the jump but it doesn’t mean you keep it forever.

Sheila: There is no quick fix or instant reward in skating.

Jola: Right. It is a long-term sport and you won’t see the results immediately. You have to work hard, consistently and over a period of time, but you will see the improvement.

Sheila—And there is no getting around that the skills are hard, but these kids really push themselves to get to the next level. There is a lot of respect given to the higher-level skaters—the younger kids look up to them, because they know how hard those girls worked to achieve that high level.

Do you like the idea of conversations with coaches?

Nov 14, 2010


In a skating relationship, it's not always clear who is in charge of what. For one thing, it's a very intimate menage- parent/skater/coach. For another, the skill sets overlap. Third, the goals are fraught- with fear of injury, failure, keeping up with the Joneses, cost, time.

Parents, therefore, often want to know everything about what you're doing. Take it from me-- I wanted to know so much about it that I ended as a coach. They want to know what techniques you're teaching. They want you to justify every minute spent on and off the ice. They want to be able to call you at 10 at night. They want you to have a certain demeanor, except when that interferes with their expectations which may vary from week to week. It's not necessary. Coaches complain a lot about how parents just don't get it, or don't listen, or don't follow what seems like perfectly logical, reasonable advice from the coaches' point of view.

I have a lot of conversations with other coaches that begin "If I'd known as a skating parent what I know now..." But how much should we really rely on what parents know, or even more, understand, about skating culture?

I'm not talking about technique. As far as I'm concerned if a parent knows that an axel is an edge jump they're already in too deep. You really don't need to know anything about technique-- if your skater is passing their tests, they're doing fine. Think about it-- when was the last time you asked the piano teacher what technique they were teaching, or why your child was still doing sarabandes, when the other children are doing concertos. How often do you mime proper bowing technique while your young violinist is practicing? Yet I see parents miming jumps from the stands every day.

Coaches say a lot of things to parents that sound completely insane, forget logical. Unfortunately, some of these things are insane-- there are self-serving, venal, and plain old incompetent people in coaching just like there are in any other profession. So how do you separate the just plain nuts from the nuts but true?

The most important thing for you to know is not either skating culture or technical knowledge, but your own skater's and family's goals, desires, and capabilities. There are benchmarks you can watch for-- when are the jumps solid, is the skater competitive at their level and type of competition (ISI, qualifying, non-qual, test track or whatever), are they "aging out" of the test levels, how are they doing compared to their competitive peers, can you afford the costs. (Their peers are the kids with the same training schedule and goals, NOT just everyone their age. Don't compare your once a week skater to the rink's national champ.)

It starts with trust. You have to trust your coach and the coach has to trust you. If you're part of a team-- synchro, pairs or ice dance-- you have to trust the other families. If you don't trust these people, you are going to spend all your time arguing with them, and demanding explanations and rationalizations instead of getting the job done. If you and the coach are constantly fighting, the skaters are going to start checking out.

The coach needs to be able to trust the parents, too: will she be paid at the negotiated rate, on time? Will the skater be there, ready to work? Will the parent be able to listen to hard truths, or soft ones?

If your coach tells you "this is what needs to happen to meet those goals" you have to take a deep breath, start from the premise that your coach is not one of the venal or incompetent ones, and ask yourself "can we do that." If the coach tells you your goals are unreachable or longer term based on your level of commitment, he's not just trying to get more money out of you. He's trying to make you understand what it will take. If you don't trust that your coach is telling you the truth, the relationship is doomed anyway.

If the parent tells the coach "we can't afford that" (be it time or money), or that a skater doesn't really share the goal, the coach has to accept that.

You can't make excuses for your kids either. I can't tell you how many times I hear a parent tell me "oh, she's only 6," or "oh she's a hormonal teen," or any number of other excuses for poor training, bad attitude, and lack of commitment. You know one kid. Coaches know hundreds. They are likely to have a better idea of what a kid of a given age, skill, and level is capable of than you do. Sure, you know your kid. But you have to trust (there's that word again) that your coach has expertise in the discipline and will help your immature, hormonal, tired, overcommited child be the best skater they can be, in line with the goals you have all set together.

Don't sabotage a relationship with a lack of trust. Because we all have just one goal in mind-- the best interest of the child.

This is why he's head of the PSA

An excellent post on practice etiquette from Jimmie Santee, Executive Director of the Professional Skaters Association. Complete with traffic diagrams! Everyone who uses practice ice should read this!

Nov 12, 2010

Observing a test session

I've been to a LOT of test sessions. Somewhere around 60 just between me and my daughter (between us nine moves plus retries, ten USFS Free Skate plus retries, six ISI FS, two Figures, and twenty-eight dances plus retries). But I've always been the skater, or the mom.

Today I went to a test session as part of my prep for the PSA ratings I'm currently working on- Registered Moves, Registered Free Skate, Master Group, to watch with an objective eye (okay, I tried to be objective.) (Okay, not really), to help me learn the elements and to call the skills like a technical specialist, if just to myself.

There was only one skater there that I knew, so the objectivity part was easy. I recognized all of the coaches, but I fly a little under the radar here, so I'm pretty sure none of them recognized me. Even though Nora tested with this club, I don't think the moms register all that much so they don't really know me. So I was able to be fairly anonymous.

First observation: when you walk into a test session everyone in the lobby snaps around to glare WHO THIS? Then faces fall and they all lose interest because it's no one interesting. I mean it. It was so bizarre, and something I'd never noticed before, (since I was probably one of the ones doing this), that I tested it a couple of times. Weird.

Second observation: watching a test session that you're not involved in is a little strange. The people in the stands, and the coaches outside the boards kept looking over at me WHO THIS? so I finally found a less conspicuous place to sit. (Maybe they did recognize me and were wondering what I was doing there-- stealing students?)

Third observation: if you come with the toddler sister for god's sake shut her up. Several poor girls had to skate through their entire moves test with a toddler louding demanding attention, candy, potty, access to forbidden areas, ice skates and you name it at the top of her voice for the entire time they were skating. The judges glaring at you is a really good clue that you should maybe, um, leave? Okay, maybe if the toddler shouts once or twice, but she kept it up for nearly 15 minutes before mom got a freaking clue and took her away. It's nerve-wracking out there folks, please remove unnecessary distractions.

Fourth observation: it's really cold sitting there for two hours. Judges are saints.

Fifth observation: they passed kids who looked terrible and failed kids who looked fine to me. They passed a kid on a reskate who made the identical error on the reskate that she made on the test. Or else I have no idea what I'm seeing, a distinct possibility.

Sixth observation
: if your skating sucks, it helps to have a famous coach stand with you at your test. Just as a general observation. I didn't actually witness this. Or anything.

Seventh observation: "Calling" the elements is fun, and hard. I tried to use the IJS abbreviations, ending up with several lines of code that look like this: (tr) SpUL, 1A, (tr) 1T, (tr)1Lz1TCo, SpCoCSU, StSeqSS, 1L, (tr) ChSp CoSpCSChCUL (that's verbatim from my notes, so if there are errors in coding forgive me). This was a Juvenile Free Skate, and it was damned hard, plus I can't figure out how/if they code all the transitions that were present even in these very low-level programs. I invented the little (tr) code to indicate where transitional steps were inserted. Even Juvenile programs have a lot of content these days.

Eighth and final observation: Skater gurlz have a lot of poise and self-possession. I'd choose them to take on any little hockey princess in full-body armor any day.

What's the craziest thing that has happened to you at a test?

Nov 7, 2010

Skating books

I know from my stats that the most popular posts on here are the "how-to's" (most beloved by people who are taking private lessons, making me wonder exactly what their coaches aren't teaching them), and there are a couple of books that you should know about.

My copy of Figure Skating for Dummies has mysteriously gone missing, (as has my copy of Coaching Hockey for Dummies, hmmm), so unfortunately I can't point you to any specific advice that I liked or didn't. It's great-- starts at "fall down, get up" and goes all the way through triple jumps. Unlike a lot of other "how to" books on skating it really is geared to people who do not already know the basic terminology, so you can follow it even if you've never been on skates. Ostensibly written by Kristi Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton, which I take with a little (okay, a giant) grain of salt. The overly-cute language and illustrations of these books can be grating, but the information is flawless.

I used this book a lot when I started teaching because it has a really good ordering of skills. Unfortunately, it has not been updated in more than a decade, so the sections on competitions and judging are outdated to the point of uselessness. It doesn't even show up on the website as a selection. There are always a few available on Amazon.

At the other end of the how-to spectrum is the book that is the closest thing to a technique Bible as you'll find, John Misha Petkevich's Figure Skating Championship Techniques, from Sports Illustrated. Petkevich also starts with swizzles, but his language is a little more technical and dense, and the illustrations (photos of skaters Brian Boitano and Tracie Brown) are hard to follow if you don't already understand the skill. He also sometimes arranges them from right to left, for some impenetrable reason, but not always. (I also believe that some of the photos are actually reversed, probably an editing error, where the editor put the transparency wrong side up, so that the skater appears to be jumping or spinnng clockwise instead of counterclockwise, again very confusing for someone who doesn't understand the skill.)

This book is laid out the way a coach thinks about skating-- with basic concepts, common errors, and standard corrections for hundreds of skills and variations. It also includes a lot of skills that are seldom taught anymore, let alone used in competition, like the open axel, double walley, and various flying spins.

Several years ago I found a marvelous little self-published gem in a remainder box at Rainbo Sport Shop. The Skaters Manual by Kenny Isely is part history of skating, part technical manual, and part diatribe against the United States Figure Skating Association, the clubs and various individuals, by name. I actually found 10 copies on Amazon this morning, although it's not always there. Includes wonderful information, not available anywhere else, on boot and blade mechanics and care. A truly unique and marvelous little book.

There is a terrific workbook on School Figures called "Figure It Out" which includes drawings, coaching, and execution tips for all of the old school figures. I had borrowed a copy from someone who made me give it back and then lost it. If anyone can find this book for me, I would pretty much mortgage my oldest child to own it.

Finally in the how-to is the mother of them all: Lynn Copley-Graves' The Evolution of Dance on Ice. There are usually a few on Amazon, and they turn up on Powell's Used Books as well. Hands down this is my favorite geek skating book; a comprehensive (to say the least) scholarly treatise, it demonstrates how free figures from the late nineteenth century eventually became ice dance. It shows every single world championship free figure ever laid out, season by freaking season. It shows how the "European Waltz" morphed into the "American Waltz" and traces the controversy, which sometimes literally came to blows, over which one was more "correct." (A lot of dance coaches still roll their eyes over the 3-turns in the American. You gotta love ice dance coaches.) It also relates the history of clubs and explains their rise and eventual fall as powers in figure skating. If you ever wondered why they always announce the club that a skater "represents" at U.S. Nationals, this book tells you.

If you're a skating uber-geek, get this book.

Do you have a skating "how to" book that I don't know about?

Nov 4, 2010

Turn, turn, turn

My Wednesday night Gamma-Delta adults are a class with more ability than confidence ( what adult class isn't like that?). I went in last night without an idea in my head about what to do; there was a private on the ice working on Mohawks, so I thought, okay, turns "in the field."

Gamma and Delta classes, especially adults, spend inordinate amounts of time doing "patchy" little turns on half circles, in place. But once you start working on turns, especially once you've actually turned a few, you can start doing the fun stuff- moving across the ice and working toward those mysteriously effortless-looking transitions from forwards to backwards.

We started with a weight-shift warm up and then moved to turns on a Serpentine pattern (alternating half-circle lobes along a long axis). The trick to these patterns is to maintain flow (not necessarily speed) and to place the elements in the correct spot (push at the long axis, turns at the right place on the lobe, etc.)

Warm up: Forward wide-footed slaloms up the long axis, forward crossover to forward outside edge glide (or make it a spiral, if you like). Forward mohawk, repeat pattern backwards. Do this along a continuous axis, i.e. all the way around the rink.

Forward power 3 turns (from the Adult Bronze Moves in the Field test). Forward outside 3 turn on one side of the long axis, cross the long axis backwards, back crossover takes you around the lobe back to the long axis, step forward to outside edge and repeat. If you do a left 3-turn you do a right cross over. We then did this pattern substituting a Mohawk for the three turn (add an extra step after the forward outside edge-- instead of just a 3 turn, do forward inside edge, Mohawk).

Alternating three turns, inside and outside
. Just what it sounds like, alternating 3-turns down a long axis.

Five-step Mohawk
, another alternating pattern on a Serpentine along a long axis. Forward inside edge to mohawk, change feet to back outside edge, step forward to forward outside edge, slide chasse to forward inside edge; repeat on other foot on the other side of the long axis. You can fit five to seven lobes on a full size rink; if you can do this in four you're a superstar.

Adult Pre-Bronze inside-outside 3 turns
. This one's a brain-freezer. Forward inside three turn from the long axis, step forward along the same lobe to forward outside three turn; back power cross over on the other side of the axis, step to forward inside edge, repeat from forward inside three turn (in other words, there's a cross over and a step on the second lobe, unlike the power 3- turn pattern, where you step into the three turn straight out of the cross over)

All of these patterns must be skated with as much confidence as you can muster-- make sure you are making these shapes, or it's easy to get lost.

These are not the only patterns you can do with turns. Make up your own, and see what combinations you can invent. If you have a cool one, share it here! I'll add it to the repertoire.

UPDATE: you can find all the Moves in the Fields patterns in pdf form at the US Figure Skating site.

Nov 3, 2010

And we begin

It's Nutcracker time at my rink.

Every year we stage The Nutcracker on Ice with nearly 200 skaters, about 400 costumes, and a parent volunteer corps of 80 or more. (Full disclosure-- that counts the parents who sign up, but don't show up.)

We've just finished the first week of rehearsals; I'm "choreographing" the tots, which, for tots, means getting them from one side of the ice to the other before the music ends. Last year we nearly had the soloist take off a kid's head with a poorly placed camel spin. This year looks like they can all actually move; whether they will actually move on demand remains an exciting mystery!

I got to choreograph my first Freestyle 5 solo, including a footwork sequence, which was very exciting for me, since my niche is Learn to Skate. I'm working toward my PSA Master Rating in Group and Registered Rating in Free Skating so it's something I need to be able to do, and it's great to have this opportunity. It's a "couples" number (i.e. two girls) so I also have some Pairs skills in it, which is also an area on the Master Group test. Fortunately, one of the girls' regular coaches is a former Pairs world competitor, so I'm definitely mining him for pointers.

The last group I'm working with is Intermediate Freestyle.

Thirty-eight teenagers.

Kill me now.

Nov 1, 2010

What to get the coach for Christmas

For some reason that escapes me, a lot of parents are hell-bent on giving gifts to their skating coaches. And it fills them with anxiety. It's a weird sort of relationship-- this is your employee, but on the other hand the coach is kind of the boss. Plus, she's your friend? Or not? Personally, I love getting those clumsy hand-made pictures from the little kids, or a "certificate" promising no back talk for a month from the teenagers. But parents persist-- they want to give presents.

So what do you get your skating coach?

A bonus.

That's right. Give your coach a bonus. Your coach is your employee. I do understand that he or she is also your friend, and that you entrust her with your precious child (I mean that in the best way, no sarcasm intended), but in general, this is not someone you would otherwise have much of a connection to.

Now, because of the intimate nature of the relationship, sometimes parents are uncomfortable with handing over extra cash. It seems so cold. So make it a gift card to a local department store like Target or Macy's, or a pre-paid Visa card that can be used anywhere. If there's a concession stand at your rink, see if you can set up an "account" for your coach with a set amount of money in it.

If you really insist on an item, make it coaching related: the latest hard cover "tell all" book about skating scandals, or a pair of gloves or a scarf. I wear those little trading pins all over my coaching jackets, and I had a student once get me a collection of Olympic figure skating ones. A very thoughtful gift. (I confess, while I personally don't care if you get me a gift, I do like swag as much as the next person.)

I had a conversation with a coaching friend recently that just made me shudder: she actually steers her kids toward a certain store that she likes, and tells everyone to get her a gift card from there. I guess there's a certain practicality to that, but my grandmother would be rolling in her grave.

A Tweep asks: is there a formula for how much to give? And you'll be happy to hear that, yes, there is. A week's lesson fee. If you take one lesson per week, then Christmas or Hanukkah week, double the check, with a notation in the memo line "holiday bonus." This might seem like a lot if you're doing multiple lessons, for instance national qualifiers will be paying upwards of $500 per week for multiple lessons approaching unlimited. This seems like a big bonus, yes? On the other hand that coach got your skater to Nationals. Or helped her land her triple salchow. Or doubled her component score in a season. Or just spent a lot of time nurturing your child. Work it into the budget.

If your coach is only working with you once a week, then I think it's fine to just send a card, or yes, that $10 Starbucks gift card. (I confess, the $5 cards drive me crazy-- so, I spent a year with your kid, and you're, um, buying me a cup of coffee? I have gotten $2 cards, which doesn't EVEN pay for a cup of coffee. Really, folks, think about this. Better to do nothing but "Happy Holidays" and a hug.) The more lessons you're getting, the more progress your skater is making, the more you really should be considering this not as a Christmas present, but as a bonus for a job well done.

P.S. to my parents reading this: I like unmarked, non-sequential bills in small denominations and condo timeshares in Aruba. No no no, just kidding. Adorable pictures and hugs are fine.

What do you get your coach for the holidays?

No place like an ice rink for the holidays

We're coming up to the holiday season, with family in town and time off from school. I've already been fielding questions about what skates to buy those new skaters for Hanukkah or Christmas.

It's a great time to think about skating just for fun, or getting a little extra practice time in. A lot of rinks have extra public and practice ice during the holidays, so here's some things to do:

Have a family skate day
Especially if your rink has a "studio" sheet (a smaller sheet of ice, typically 1/3 the size of an NHL standard sheet), think about renting it for the day after Christmas or for New Year's Day or New Year's Eve (or just any random school break day). A skating rink is surprisingly cheap to rent (generally around $100 for studio rinks in the Chicago area, your pricing may vary), and the rink will often also have a package that includes a party room and skate rentals. If you've got family in town that you need to entertain, this is a great all-ages activity. (Some rinks will even let you put Grandma in a chair and push her around!)

Arrange a holiday exhibition
Again, rent the rink and have the young skaters in your family put together a show for the relatives-- they can invite their friends to skate, and even choreograph their own synchro or theater on ice number. Kids as young as 10 can handle this with guidance, and teens can do it on their own (um, using your money...). Probably best to rent the big rink for this, but even that can be surprisingly cost effective, especially if you share the price with other families. And with on-line media, it's really easy to get the word out. Add an auction or a gift bin and donate the proceeds to Toys for Tots.

Arrange for a group lesson with your rink or area's "favorite son"

Does your coach know any famous skaters? (Hint-- yes. We all do, figure skating is a very small world.) See if they could arrange for someone from Jason Brown (at the getting famous end of the spectrum) to Ben Agosto (superstar!) to come and do a group lesson (any level), especially if they know they'll be in town for the holidays, so you're not paying travel costs or accommodations. If you're at this skater's home rink, chances are they'll be at least receptive if not eager to come. (Again, possible rink rental, definitely coaching fee or really really nice gift.) Make sure to have someone to take pictures and arrange for the skater to do autographs.

Add extra practice time
The kids are off school and under foot. Find out if the rink has added additional practice times or is running clinics. Some programs even run all-day mini-camps and clinics the week between Christmas and New Year. If your rink doesn't offer a program, see if your coach can set one up. With 5 or 10 kids in a group, this can be way cheaper than taking the week off work.

Going to a winter holiday?
Bring those skates! If you're heading to Lake Placid, Southern California, Boston, or Denver, you're bound to be near some famous ice rink. Bring your skates and skate on Olympic ice. My friend Adam ended up with a friendly (free) lesson from no less than Brian Orser at Lake Placid recently, just because they happened to be on the ice together.

Take a break
If your competitive skater is "done" with their season-- i.e. didn't make it past Sectionals-- think about offering them this time off. Have them try hockey, or basketball mini-camp, or volunteering in reading corner at the library for a week. Or just let them hang out all day playing video games. Skaters work really hard and need rewards too! (Chances are by Day 3, they'll be begging to go to the rink).

What are you planning with your skating this holiday season?