I'm a nitwit sometimes. I've been thinking for a while that it's difficult to know whether I'm doing anything right in the dance studio because I can only see myself in the mirror in flashes. I can see that I look roughly right when I do the 180° to start an axel, but after that I'm too busy trying to make myself spin to know what I look like in the air. It dawned on me, after far too long, that my phone has a goddamn camera in it. In my defense, I spent years doing my best not to own a phone with a goddamn camera in it, and nine times out of ten, I only remember this one can do that when I accidentally hit the shutter button and interrupt my solitaire game with a sudden, puzzling view of the floor of the train car. (The other 10% of the time, it's because I've developed an urgent medical need to take pictures of rats.)

So now I've some idea what I look like when I do this, and while I won't be posting any of these until I look less like I have some sort of incurable neurological disorder, I'm at least approximating the motions of a proper figure skating jump. You could decipher what I was doing, if you stared a while and maybe squinted.

This is helped by the fact that these things look and work distinctly differently from dance jumps. Almost all of these differences make me much happier. It's rare, for instance, when you do anything in dance where some part of you isn't supposed to be rigidly vertical. Take the landings, for example. You see a lot of references to skaters landing jumps en arabesque, but they don't really. This is a proper arabesque. The standing leg is rigidly straight, in profile to the audience, and her working leg is turned all the way out at the hip so that the foot and knee are completely outwards. This is a bitch and a half. You're only supposed to lean exactly as far forward as you have to in order to not fall over, and there is an emphasis on keeping everything 'tall' and 'lifted', up to and including having the toe on the working leg pointed slightly upward instead of straight out.

(When they teach dance to little kids, it's common to tell them to stand tall 'like you have a string pulling up from the top of your head'. This meant nothing at all to me for years until I finally got someone to explain that the actual point of this is to get you to stop jutting your chin forward and correct an anterior pelvic tilt while leaving your shoulders in a neutral position. Another great example of telling me what to do but not why or how.)

Skating jumps actually land in something closer to what's called an arabesque penchée. Technically, in ballet, you're only allowed to lean that far forward because your working leg is waving around way over your head and you need to counterbalance that, but the skating people say you don't actually need your leg all that high up, as long as you're clearly landing on only one foot. Watch Nancy Kerrigan here -- she does do a proper arabesque penchée for a spiral near the end, but when she lands her jumps, including the waltz jump, and swoops into the picked camel spin thingie, her knee is bent. You can raise up into a locked position, especially for the camel spins, but quite a lot of knee-bending is allowed in skating.

It is, in fact, kind of required for landing jumps, if you don't feel like breaking a very large and important part of your landing leg. You could probably technically stick the landing if you were just coming straight down, but you need that much play in your knee to land a jump, or you can't brake the spin properly. You lean much farther forwards than a ballerina would dare, and your landing leg feels distinctly out of true, mainly because, rather than being on the front of your foot as in dance, jumps land (squarely and very very hard) on a back edge. The line supporting your weight runs down the back of your leg, not the front, so you have to tilt that leg slightly back and shift yourself slightly front in order to keep your center of gravity over the part of your foot that just went thump.

This is a much more forgiving way to balance. You can see for yourself if you bend over to touch your toes. Rock your weight forwards so your legs are perfectly vertical and it's harder to balance and maintain the stretch; rock back on your heels so your legs tilt slightly backwards, and it gets a lot easier. Dance teachers are very displeased if they catch you doing the latter. It's the only way to balance yourself for something like a camel spin, since your back leg extends out so much farther than your torso.

Kerrigan also doesn't have her working leg turned nearly so far outwards as the dancers do, and in all cases, you're allowed to swing the leg out and into position, whereas in ballet you're supposed to sweep it straight up out of a rond de jambe in a more or less vertical plane. This is harder than it sounds, mainly because it doesn't give you much leeway to stabilize yourself laterally. Obviously, people can do this, but I always found it an unnecessarily nitpicky way to go about things. Bodies can move in all kinds of directions!

The way skating handles knee bends also feels much more natural to me. Behold the grande plié. Ballet version, and a bellydance variation done with knees front. In dance, the proper position for things with bent knees is with the spine centered and on the same plane as the heels of the feet. Notice what that does to the foot and ankle. If you're a ballet dancer and can keep your heels on the floor, it creates an acute bend at the ankle. If you're a normal human, or going into a full plié, you come up onto the balls of your feet, bending your toes back at about a ninety degree angle. You cannot do either of these in skates. The ankle bend wouldn't work because the boots are stiff enough to splint your ankle while you do spins and jumps. The toe bend wouldn't work because, on figure skates, that would roll you right up onto the toe pick. That foot would immediately stop in a most embarrassing fashion, followed quickly by the rest of you, as you slid ignominiously into the boards.

To get into a deep knee bend on skates, as when going into a sit spin or coming down into check right before a jump, you need to cantilever your weight around wherever you're contacting the ice, without bending your ankle too sharply. It's thrown surprisingly far backwards for a sit spin, where you have your free leg balanced front in some fashion, and oddly far forwards in check, when you're about to boost yourself upwards. In both cases, quite a lot of you is far from vertical. I used to get yelled at all the time for this in dance class. I can still hear one of the teachers ask me, "Are you a frog?" when I tried to not fall over by leaning forward. Yes, apparently!

I keep seeing mention that a lot of people have trouble snapping upright into the deadspin position after they've taken off, but that feels like a necessary part of the jump for me. It's mostly not a problem to pop my foot up after I take off either, although I do have a tendency to kick myself in the instep, and a nice bruise to prove it. My main issues are remembering not to let my arms flap around too much, and getting enough time in the air to finish the spin. I go around doing coordinated things with my feet a lot, but I don't make a habit of sproinging up into the air at random, although possibly I should.

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