Studio time this afternoon. You all get to hear more about figure skating because as it turns out my imagination was perfectly right about what all goes into an axel, albeit I am not particularly good at the motions. Yet.

Explanations are not helpful because an axel does not actually launch off the lead toe. The right one, in my case. The power comes in way before that, and while it's probably possible to do one with a standing start if you've had a decade of experience, or are part tree frog, it's not especially easy. The weight shift is all weird.

I know this because I tried from a standing start at first. The position a skater is in immediately before the jump is essentially a staggered plié, which I gather figure skaters call a 'check position'. I can jump one-footed from there, but it's ugly and I don't get far enough off the ground to swap feet. This baffled me; I've been doing changements for decades now, and I can flip feet perfectly goddamn fine like that. A moment's thought and it dawned on me that this is probably because a changement, even though the spring is straight up and the move does not travel, also involves flicking your feet out sideways before bringing them back in to land. Probably for weird anatomical reasons I haven't bothered puzzling out just yet, this makes it much easier to spring upward.

Two more seconds of thought made me realize this is also probably the way you do everything on skates. Figure skate blades have a slight convex curve front-to-back. If you tried suddenly pushing directly downward on one, it's likely to shoot forwards or backwards and leave you eating ice chips. To exert any kind of helpful force, you would have to be pushing at a slight angle either to the direction of travel or to the normal force keeping you upright, both of which basically mean shoving against the side of the groove your skate blade is carving in the ice.

The power sequence actually starts from an incomplete backwards crossover. It's something like, push your right foot (back outside edge) to the left to shift (power and weight retained in a deep plié) onto your left skate, then instead of finishing the crossover, push (back inside edge) left with the left skate. This gives you leverage to swing your body around (open stance, both knees plié) and put your right skate down almost but not quite 180° from your left one (right front outside edge), maintaining direction of travel and putting you in position to dig in with the outside front edge of your right blade to redirect the momentum you've accumulated upwards into a jump.

It sounds more complex than it feels. Basically you just make sure you keep all of your pushing rotating you in the same direction with respect to the X-Z plane of the ice, and after you've gotten through 180°, redirect some of the kinetic energy to throw yourself in the +Y direction as well.

The next challenge is getting your landing foot in place. It's a sort of a changement jeté en tournant, except that in dance one normally throws the lead foot in the direction of travel, but in a skating jump you toss the back foot in to replace the lead foot instead. (Or, alternatively, it's a tour à l'air avec changement, but tours à l'air are for some reason taught almost exclusively to men.) I landed fine on my first try, but it took a couple of attempts to stop whacking myself in the instep. I suppose that explains why Weir keeps chewing up the inside of his left skate. I reproduced most of the popular failure modes in passing, really: kicking myself in the foot, getting my leg wrapped the wrong way, somehow getting both feet into the air when my brain thought the floor was coming up too quickly, two-footing the landing. Everything except actually fall over, more or less.

You land really hard on the chasing foot -- most explanations mention that you land on a back outside edge, but the weight shift is such that I don't have any idea how you could possibly land on anything else if you're doing it even remotely right. There is a very solid thump involved. The landing is also probably easier on skates, inasmuch as when you land on the floor that foot and only that foot abruptly ceases all forward movement, which makes you pitch forward like an idiot.

It's difficult, if not impossible, for me to get up the required speed on the floor. My jumping leg is not particularly used to this, either. By the time I left, I could consistently get through 360° of the required 540° of a full axel, and land square on one leg facing in my direction of travel. My posture is appalling and my arms are all over the place, but it's the practice kind of difficult, not the complex kind of difficult. It took about an hour. I've no reference for how long it takes normal people to figure this stuff out. If past history is anything to go by, I'm either solidly average or people are going to give me funny looks when I tell them how long I haven't been at this. I'm certainly not hopeless, or I'd have a lot more bruises right now.

I do go clockwise, and it's bizarrely difficult to go the "wrong" way with this. It's not really a matter of leg strength -- both legs are involved in spooling up for takeoff -- so much as a matter of which foot is better at keeping out of the way. My brain says 'hey, right foot, keep clear!' and my right foot goes 'roger!', but 'hey, left foot, keep clear!' gets mainly a response of 'bwah?' and I screw something up.


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