Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Axel Goals

So, on November 14, 2014 I landed an axel for the first time.

It's been about 4 months since then, and I'm really pleased with how the jump is going for me right now. It's getting easier, it's getting more consistent. I'm having the opportunity to work on quality. I don't get a lot of flow out of the jump, and am hoping to change that. And of course, I want to be able to skate into it with more speed. For the time being, though, consistency is still the primary concern.

I tried it in competition for the first time last weekend. It's funny to say that, since the axel has been in my program since last June. I just planned to do my under-rotated attempt as always. But one of my goals for 2015 is to land a real axel in competition. I'm not surprised that I wasn't successful in my first go round.

I landed a great one on the warm-up. Good enough that other coaches who do not see me skate on a regular basis commented on it when I got off the ice. I don't know what happened in my program. It was just the competition nerves I think. I went into it and next thing I knew, I was on my butt. Observers tell me it was fully rotated. I didn't have the bandwidth to evaluate that at the time, because it was up and on to the next thing!

Well, this weekend is Sectionals, so I get my next chance right away. I'm even more glad, now, that I decided to do this small local competition last weekend, just to get the experience of trying the axel in competition before going to a bigger competition. I have 14 skaters in my event, which is twice as big as the largest FS event I've skated in so far.

I'd reaaaaally like to land a real axel in my program... but if I miss the axel and skate everything else well, I'll be okay with that too ;)

I'll let you know.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Axel Agony

These past two weeks have been axel agony. For almost all of October, I seemed to be getting closer and closer, and then all of the sudden, I was moving backwards again. I tried and tried to think of each practice as a fresh start, an opportunity to get back what I knew of the axel and make progress, but it just wasn't working. It was hard not to get frustrated. Well, I did get frustrated. But I tried to diligently put frustration behind me and work at what was going wrong. But for two weeks, I made no progress. Suddenly, what had become a pretty stable take-off for me started falling apart and it was waxel city. I bailed on the take off a lot and sometimes just got it plain wrong. I did a lot of two footed once arounds.

Saturday morning, I got to the part of my practice in which I was practicing axel. I did some exercises, muscled through a few poor attempts, flubbed some take-offs, and then I went for one again. My toe-pick hit the ice and I went down on my butt. I felt dejected. I sat there grumpy, a little longer than I should have. I made eye contact with one of the only coaches on the ice. He isn't my coach, but he's on just about every session I skate on. Pretty sure he had seen the jump I said, "Was it even close?" I wasn't sure of how far around I'd been when my toe pick bounced off the ice. "No," he said unequivocally, "maybe half a turn short." I sighed and pulled myself to my feet. It wasn't what I had wanted to hear, but I appreciated his candor. Then he whispered to me, "I would hold the edge a little bit longer," and then he put a finger to his lips, as if to say it was our little secret--after all, he's not my coach. "The entry edge a little longer?" I asked to confirm. "Yes, a little longer," he confirmed and again held his finger to his lips. We then went our separate ways.

I was willing to try anything, so when I went for my next attempt, I waited on the entry edge. And there it was. Not a fully rotated, beautiful axel with lovely flow out, but the quarter turn cheated axel that I had been doing for the previous month. I tried it again and again, and I was still bailing on some, but when I reminded myself to wait that fraction of a second longer than I think I have to, the majority of the jump would come. It felt familiar; it felt good.

Today, I did enough of them to even be able to think about my position in the air and holding still and tight until the landing, which I think was what had done me in in the first place. I'm still in this tenuous back and forth place. When the take-off finally got consistent, I started focusing on getting that landing, and then I stopped getting the take-off right because I was no longer thinking about it, but it's not quite muscle memory yet. I'm so ready for all the pieces to come together. But why do I feel like the axel will always be the cause of some amount of agony?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Any-Day-Now Axel Update

I've started joking that my dying words will be that I'm going to land my axel any day now...

I suppose as long as I keep the optimism that it's going to happen, it's a good thing.

The take-off feels much more consistent, even good, and I generally get around to the quarter mark, but often my weight is still traveling forwards instead of backwards at that point, and it's like I reach for the ice with my skating foot. I think my take-off is generally pretty good, but what needs to be adjusted is my air position, and holding that position all the way through landing. I'm trying to identify those things by using video and exercises that train the correct feeling so I can finally land the darn thing.

But here's a few videos of recent axels so you can understand the phrase I utter virtually every day, "It's sooooo close!" In chronological order, but all from the past month. Typical axel practices.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Dramatic Program: It's So Funny!

I've had this song picked out that I wanted to do a dramatic program to for about a year and a half. I was playing the album on a nearly empty session one day and this song just grabbed me. My friend said, "Oh, you *have* to skate to this!" But up until now, I'd never done it. First, I was a little scared to try doing a dramatic event. Then I couldn't figure out how to cut the music. With the registration deadline for my last competition of the season coming up, I decided it was now or never. If I could cut the music in time for the registration deadline, I would sign up. And that's what I did.

My goal with this program was to try to move in a way that felt comfortable and expressive for me, so I wanted to do my own choreography. I ended up doing most of it, but because I only had about a month to put it together,  I enlisted my coach for a little bit of help when I got into a time crunch.

There are parts of this skate that I love, and also a lot of parts that I'd like to rework. But I'm going to count my first dramatic program outing as a success, and I think I will continue to work on this program and keep it for Adult Nationals next year.

Oh, and the title of this post? Right before the competition, I ran into a young girl on a public skate who had been on a number of freestyle sessions where I'd practiced my program. She told me, "You do that program where you kick your leg! It's so FUNNY!" Her interpretation made me chuckle, but I corrected her, "Well, it's not supposed to be funny, it's supposed to be..." I struggled for the right word to use with a 7 year old, but she piped up first, "I know, I know. It's supposed to be dramatic!"

So there you have it folks. It may be funny, but it's supposed to be DRAMATIC! You be the judge!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

About That Axel...

This post actually has almost nothing to do with skating.

It's about a pronoun.

And axels. It's about axels, too.

When my club did its spring show, they brought in an outside choreographer who chose soloists for the show by reviewing video submissions in which the skaters gave an introduction of who they are and showed some of their skating. One young girl earned herself a spot in the show by quipping, "Now about that axel..." in her video introduction. This phrase stuck out to the choreographer and inspired him to give her a little piece in the show where they explained to the audience a little bit about what the axel means to figure skaters and included a double and triple axel demo from our top skaters.

I've never talked about any interests outside of skating on this blog, but I am a language geek. I speak a couple of languages and I enjoy thinking about language structure and word connotation and all sorts of other language related issues. I listen to this podcast called Lexicon Valley that recently did an episode on demonstrative pronouns, you know, like this, that, these and those. Now everybody knows how these words are used to refer back to topics and things previously mentioned, but this podcast explored a different use of pronouns---using them to refer to things that you have not immediately been talking about, such as "About that axel!"

You can listen to it here if such a topic appeals to you, but the gist of it is that this use of pronoun is used to refer to a common understanding that the audience and the speaker share. Its intent is to cause a familiar emotional reaction to the thing and it forms a bond between the speaker and the listeners. The podcast centered around how a particular politician made frequent use of this type of pronoun, which has the effect of strengthening the positive reaction of people who agree with the common understanding that's put forth, and enhancing the negative reaction of people who disagree. Anyway, it can be a powerful rhetorical tool, and I didn't think much of it after I listened to the podcast.

But now I can't not notice it. I realized that I write and talk about "that axel" all the time! I am doing this exact thing with language and have never thought about why! Obviously, I've made previous posts about axels, so I could be referring back to those, but in the case of the auditioning girl in her video, no previous mention of an axel had been made, but the way she used that phrase, "about that axel"... inspired an entire piece in the show. She had tapped into that angst that all skaters have known just by the use of that one pronoun and it resonated with the choreographer who knew exactly what she was talking about. She did that with just one word! Isn't language fascinating??

Oh yah! And skating is fascinating, too. I'll get back to rambling on about that axel in my next post ;)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Camera Shy

It was a blissfully empty morning on the ice. Two adults in lesson, one responsible teenager and me. I was getting close to the end of my session and I decided to go back to the waltz-backspin axel drill to practice the feeling of take-off and alignment over my right side.

The first one was a mess. I had a good take-off, but I landed on my inside edge and wasn't able to hold it and turn it into a backspin. Suddenly I hear my coach and his adult student exclaim from across the rink, "That was an axel!" I turned and looked at them. "That?!?" What are they smoking? I think. They confirm, "Yes!" and I ask again, because I'm sure what I've just done is a mistake. But they're waiting for me to do it again.

So I line up to do an axel from a stand-still, which I don't do often, but that's how I do the drill. As they watch, I push onto my left leg, push through the toe and lift my free knee through. I came down on the quarter mark on the other side and landed on one foot. Now that was an axel! A cheer came up from my coach and his current student, as well as the teen who had now stopped to watch.
Buoyed by this success, I tried again, the same way. Again, success! A third try was not so succesful.

"Do you want me to video you?" the teen asked. I accepted her offer, since my camera was out of battery and I needed someone to hold my phone to film me. "Of course, they probably won't show up for the camera," I joked. And so it went. The first few were back to my old familiar forward landings. "I'll take as many as you want!" The teen promised, "This is a big deal!" That one statement meant so much to me. She is not a girl who minces words. She won't tell you it was good unless it was, and she's seen me working on axels for a year. I kept going. Eleven videos later, we had a few okay ones, but none as good as the two I did before. I knew then that lightning wasn't about to strike again, so I released my volunteer videographer to her own practice.

Every day, though, that axel is getting closer. I capture that feeling that I know is the right technique and I almost get all the pieces to come together. I feel it getting closer and closer. I continue to think "any day now..." even though I've been thinking that for months. Days of progress like this one keep my hopes up.

So stay tuned for the news and the video because I'm going to land that axel any day now...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dancing for Bronze

I interrupt this post hiatus to announce that I will be testing the Hickory Hoedown and the Willow Waltz on August 23.


I've pencilled it in, because I'm testing on a freestyle so I don't have to turn in papers in advance. I'm hoping that neither Dance Coach or our judge has to back out.

But the good news is that Dance Coach pronounced my Hickory much better and the Willow 90% correct. This is pretty high praise coming from him. The better news is that I feel like I'm finally making improvements on these dances where I feel like I've been unable to correctly apply his corrections for months. I was getting so frustrated, not being able to understand what I was doing wrong, and never getting it right.

We had a good talk at the end of my lesson about the times when we struggle the most often being the times when we're learning the most. I mentioned that there are times when I understand that's what's happening and can continue to hope but this was a time when I started to lose faith that I was progressing through the struggle. He reminded me that all skaters go through that, citing how he sees it in the most advanced and talented skaters at our rink. It was good encouragement and a good lesson for the next time this happens, but it also just feels so good to be finally coming around and seeing the progress again.

So August 23rd I dance for two of my bronze dances. I hope for good results because the following weekend I hope to dance for gold in my first ever pre-silver solo dance event!