national gallery ice skating rink

I had one of those perfect days with a friend yesterday: the Edward Hopper show at the National Gallery, tea at Teaism, and ice skating. We were supposed to skate at the more picturesque rink by the National Gallery on the mall, but the lines were too long, so we went to the far less hectic and still nicely situated Pentagon Row rink. By the way, these are excellent winter activities for Washingtonians, and a good way to beat the winter blues– both rinks are open until 11pm, and the prices are reasonable.

I was a bit apprehensive about the skating as the last times I’ve gone, I’ve always ended up with sore ankles and at least a bruise or two from a fall. Lucky for me, Katie spent her childhood in figure skating lessons, and patiently gave me some pointers. I’m happy to report that I had a fun, relaxing time and that there were absolutely no wall-hugging, falling, or sore ankles!

I found my knowledge of dance technique and dancer’s muscle memory helped out a great deal. Here are some of the tips/wisdom she gave me:

  • Sore ankles are not the result of bad technique, but bad skates or lacing. You ideally want a very stiff boot. The laces should be tight around the foot, a bit looser around the ankle (the first two hooks at the top), and very tight at the top (the last hook). It really helps if you flex your foot while lacing the skates, and this variability in tightness will happen naturally.
  • Bend your knees just a tiny bit (the stiffness of the boots will let you know where to stop) and lean your torso slightly forward to keep your weight on the balls of your feet.
  • Don’t let your ankles roll in–keep them perpendicular to the ice. The blade of the skate has two edges and your goal is to stay on both edges. This is particularly challenging if you tend to pronate or don’t have completely parallel knees (my issue). A good way to test this once you have gained some confidence is to briefly skate on one foot. If you’re well-balanced, you won’t wobble. To keep your balance, hold the lifted foot slightly behind the other one, with the toes pointed out.
  • Braking– the easiest one is a “snowplow stop,” where you turn 90 degrees, and the dragging of your skates will stop you. A little more challenging, you can also turn one of your skates perpendicular behind the other foot. There’s also always the wall!
  • Katie taught me how to execute a simple turn. Keeping everything tight (arms pulled in, strong core, etc), one foot points forward and the other pushes out, then in, making a small half circle on the ice. This will turn you around on the straight foot. You don’t have to get all the way around in one turn, in fact, it creates a nice scalloped circle around you on the ice if it takes three or four times to come around. Once you get comfortable with that, you can bring the skate of the pushing foot in sharply to meet the other foot at the end of one of the scallops, and the momentum will propel you around in a faster turn.

I’m actually looking forward to skating again. Maybe I’ll take some classes. It’s actually pretty far from dance, as far as I’m concerned. The beautiful ice dancing we see in high level competitions on TV must be a fusion of the athletic and technical sport of ice skating with the grace and strength of dance. It must involve a great deal of multitasking ability.

Here’s another post about dance and ice skating, on the Dance Meets Fitness blog.

I took this picture as we were leaving the Mall. It was a beautiful sunset, rare for this time of year as it is generally quite overcast in the winter.

a beautiful sunset behind the Washington Monument

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