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Showing posts from January, 2014
I don't speak Russian. I actually mean that this time. Aside from "yes," "no," "please," and "thank you", I know maybe half a dozen words, all of them food. I have some minimal knowledge of how the grammar works, and a decent enough idea about the names to twitch when TV gets it wrong. I do know the Cyrillic alphabet well enough to read things aloud. Russian spelling is roughly phonetic, although not quite one-to-one; if you see it in print, you can take a pretty good stab at the pronunciation, but there are sometimes ambiguities in how you can spell something you've only heard. It doesn't help that Russia traditionally celebrates bloody regime changes by fucking with the orthography.

Despite this, I'm persistently mistaken for a russophone. When it happened in Arizona, I just chalked it up to general ignorance, but then I moved to Boston and got the same thing from several native speakers of Russian. Inquiries get the answer tha…
I have the same problem with athletics that I do with everything else: I have a pretty good grasp on what I can do, but absolutely no idea how that stacks up to a theoretical "normal" person. It's worse than academics, in fact. While I was growing up, I was consistently told I was good at braining (just not how good, or that it was particularly valuable), but I was small, disliked by most of my classmates, hated the outdoors, and didn't care for team anything of any kind, so gym class was a misery. I consistently got "sympathy" from my family for being lousy at anything that didn't involve having my nose in a book. Except for dance classes. I was wonderful at that! But I was the unathletic klutz child.

Don't ask me how that works. As far as I can tell, my mother survives mainly by kiting reality checks.

Anyhow, I haven't got any good references for average right now either, inasmuch as I have been hanging out with professional dancers and circus…
...so it turns out that axels are like the last jump you're supposed to learn on skates. Whoops. Chalk this up as another thing I've taught myself  mainly because I'm too stupid to know I can't really do that.

Apparently you start with less ambitious things like waltz jumps and salchows. All righty then. A waltz jump is essentially a flying jump starting and ending in opposing arabesques. It's been a while since I tried hopping around with my foot way the hell up there, but it's doable. Easier clockwise, but entirely possible in both directions. All four directions, if you count variations in what way your skating foot is going.

A salchow is a toe-assisted jump that takes off straight out of a 3-turn -- skating forward along the wall on your inside foot, you turn towards the center of the rink, and then put your other foot (previously the wall foot) down going backwards instead, and curve back out along the wall. This generally preserves your momentum while cha…
Apparently the universe really really wants me to learn figure skating.

One of my friends on Facebook was complaining that she was bored senseless by her workout, so those of us who were awake at 2am were suggesting things that were less stupefying. I told her the last time I ran out of things to do, I started trying to figure out how to do axels on the floor. One of her friends asked if I was a figure skater, and about four exchanges later she was going SKATING IS THE BEST THING LET ME TEACH YOU IT! She used to skate competitively as a tween, but had to stop before she destroyed her knees and ankles.

I want to see if it's really as much fun as it looks. She gets to be a coach, which is the traditional thing you do when you've had to retire from competition, and I get a few experimental lessons. I'm not going to let her do it for free forever -- maybe for cheap, but not for free -- but at least I can find out if I'm a wild hazard on the ice before committing. I did war…
Things you learn working at the low-budget end of the entertainment industry:
"Let me give you money for the train" does not actually mean "let me give you money for the train". It means "I understand that you were contracted for this job on a strictly volunteer basis, but you were awesome tonight / I was awesome tonight / the voices in my head are in a really good mood / I got heroically drunk during intermission and it hasn't worn off yet, and I would like to tip you anyway." You can try to answer if you want, but it won't make any difference, because you will be immediately handed some amount of money that bears absolutely no resemblance to the actual cost of transit in your area.
Also, if they're really nice, they'll buy you booze.
I volunteer for these things mainly because I want to go to way more shows than I can afford, but also because it gives me an excuse to buy small things that I could never otherwise justify, like a chartreus…

Weekend Radio Theater: Ellery Queen

If any of ye locals wanna visit, I'm running the merch table for Darling Niki tonight at Oberon. This may be the one and only venue I will ever get to visit, other than a photoshoot, that is appropriate for the electric green and black ballgown I've got on loan from Suki's Dareware.

I also have my hair drying in a bajillion braids right now, because I'm too cheap and lazy to locate an actual crimping iron. It results in this. With some time and a lot of hairspray, I think I could reach Whitesnake levels of epicness.

[Edit: Ah, '80s makeup. Fourteen competing colors and NO TWEEZING.]
I'm paying for all my studio fuckery on Monday. My launch leg is fine, probably because the jump mainly uses the same muscles as walking, and God knows I do enough of that. My landing foot is also fine -- see previous comment about walking, and note also that almost all of my good walking-around shoes have 1"-2" heels on them. My landing leg is sore in bits that Google informs me are the gluteus minimus and one of the adductor muscles. I would guess the former is from the half-circle rotation just before takeoff, and the latter from stopping the rotation and not falling flat on my face after touchdown.

You apparently also use the adductors in your thigh when going up and down stairs. I got frequent reminders of this. Boston is made of stairs, especially if you ride around on the T.

Central Square is very slippery right now. The skies opened up and dumped snow on us the other night, and though it hasn't been above freezing since then, there's a lot of foot traffic…
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 fin…
Still sliding around in socks. Not a large place, my apartment, but all the floors are wood. I'm beginning to realize how irritating friction can be. Dancing is fun, but often I feel as if I weigh too much -- not that I'm too bulky for my frame, just that one of the more annoying properties of matter is that it has mass, upon which gravity can act. There are a surprising number of dance moves that involve making like your feet don't stick to the floor, which of course they do. That's the whole point of thick, ridged skin on your soles. It's grippy, like the stuff on your hands. It's... obstructive.

I booked more studio time this week. I've done it before, but normally I just sort of go in there and stretch a lot and noodle around for a while, and when I leave I feel like I've accomplished a lot of nothing. I don't have any particular plan, and trying to choreograph something without a specific goal is a lot like those godawful assignments you get in…
Oh -- I think I've got it now.

I've spent the past week trying to figure out just what the fuck is happening foot-wise in figure skating jumps. The downstairs neighbors are probably wondering if I've moved a small elephant in, as the house is old and and has wooden flooring that goes whump every time I land on it. You can actually do these things on dry land. Not well, mind you. Earning enough airtime for a double or triple anything requires you to pick up a significant amount of speed. You could probably do an axel with a running start, kind of, but all of the other ones take off going backwards, and you'd need to be on skates where you can turn yourself around quickly without losing momentum.

The closest thing I already have to an axel in my dance repertoire is a pirouette, a front-traveling spin that rotates on one foot and lands on the other. There's even a variation that puts your feet into what skaters call the 'back spin position', where one leg is s…

Weekend Radio Theater: Ellery Queen

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I don't deal with sheet music especially well. I can read it, but excruciatingly slowly. Put me at a piano, and I can pick out -- with one finger, at great and usually boring length -- the notes, although I will have absolutely no idea of the timing, and it won't sound like music unless I've heard the song before.

I can recognize some of it from half a mile away. This is Chopin. I have no idea what it is or what it sounds like; I'm not the guy who could 'read' records by looking at the grooves. Pretty much everything by Chopin looks like that to me, with a strong running pattern throughout the page. The repeats are long, but not too long, and the motifs are prominent. Some of it is messier than others, with spotty patches of other patterns breaking through around the main one, but pretty much all of it, if I step back and see the page as a series of intertwining functions instead of a spatter of individual notes, looks like it has a path.

Compare Beethoven. Ther…
I spent a couple hours in a dance studio the other day, sliding around on the floor in fuzzy socks. I didn't feel as stupid as I thought I would. I'm considering making another attempt at ice skating -- the first and last one was about fifteen years ago -- so it was less a case of me being kind of seven-years-old and pretending to be in the Olympics, and more a matter of evaluating whether I have any gross physical incompetencies that would make it a terrible idea to try whizzing around on skates in the presence of other people.

Surprisingly, I wasn't that bad at it, as a teenager. I clung to the boards for a couple of circuits and then was fine. Ice physics and I get along, for some reason. I grew up in Phoenix, but have spent my entire adult life intentionally living in places that have real winter. It took me a while to realize that falling on ice was not just a thing that happens in sitcoms, in fact, because I didn't, and I figured if anyone was going to wipe out, …
I pestered the library into giving me a book called "Inside Edge" by a sports reporter who apparently spends a great deal of time hanging out with figure skaters. I've a bunch of thoughts I really want to write out completely (I have SO MANY OF THESE half-done. I need to take a week and finish all my damn book reports), but I am gratified to find that the community shakes out about how I thought it did: Nobody cares who's queer, the rivalries rise and fall with professional pressures, and some of these people are pretty cool in ways nobody ever tells you about when they're doing Official Biographies.

There are a lot of gay men in skating. One of the author's chapters, in fact, is about how many skaters, coaches, and other assorted persons involved in the sport have actually died of complications of AIDS. (The book was written in the mid-90s somewhere, when this was still something you didn't announce even in private -- the euphemistic equivalent of having…
I find I keep trying to pick apart what all the figure skaters are doing when they fling themselves around. It's not easy at YouTube resolution. The easiest ones for me to follow are usually the dancers. Brian Boitano looks great, but most of the stuff he's known for is strictly skating -- you couldn't do any of it without the momentum you build while zooming around on ice -- and it intersects little if at all with the kind of kinematic vocabulary I already have.

A lot of them, even at Olympic levels, are sort of stylistically-samey. Many of the girls are dancers, but someone has obviously been pestering them to skate and mayyyybe show off a bit of ballet, because few of them get to do anything really flash. Jumpers seem to be especially prized, which is a bit irksome. Are they figure skaters or show horses? On the flipside of that, it's apparently just a blanket assumption that all of the men can jump like fleas and that none of them are going to want to do anything b…
Well, I found the source of the stupid 'ladies wear dresses' rule in figure skating. Unsurprisingly, it was Katarina Witt. Witt, who skated for East Germany when there still was an East Germany, was and is rather infamous; I'm not entirely sure I like her as a person, as her media image is so aggressively temptress-shark that it's difficult to tell what she might be like when she's at home, but she is definitely very strong-willed and disinclined to take any shit from anybody, which I do respect.

Apparently what happened was that the international figure skating people had some general rules about not being naked on the ice, and the general sexist environment of the planet Earth took care of the rest. Until 1988. In 1988 -- the year before the Wall fell, so there was still an East Germany and it was run by the Stasi -- Katarina Witt decided that one of her Olympic programs was going to be set to a medley of classic Broadway show tunes. Witt has always been a very f…
I was trying to explain to someone the other night the whole idea of Being A Girl™. You can identify as a woman, or be biologically female, but these two things are separate from Being A Girl™. Girling™ is a technical performance skill. A lot of people -- including ciswomen, most of whom are raised in the culture from birth -- never learn it. Some people choose to spend their time and energy elsewhere, and this is cool. Some people never get a chance to learn it, and I think this is sad, because everyone should have the opportunity to learn anything they're interested in.

Girling™ is theatrical costuming for everyday life. There's equipment, there's technique, there's history. There's practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice. You have to learn how to use all the weird pieces of clothing and shoes and pots of paint to create different styles, different moods -- and then, if you're going to Girl™ that day, you have to get up in the morning and figure out whic…
All right. All the interesting crowds at the Garden are past the flood of red, white and blue balloons, through security where the ticket-holders are. I actually probably have $100 worth of interest in seeing the last day of the US Nationals tomorrow, but I don't have $100 of money to back that up, so never mind. I may have $35 of interest in getting nosebleed seats for the finale exhibition in the evening, but it'll probably come down to tickets or eating. Although, given what I've heard, in a really ironic, fucked-up way, foregoing food for figure skating would be entirely in the spirit of the sport.

Anyone else has $35 of interest in sending me as a journalist, feel free. Otherwise I'm going to go do some math, and see if I can figure out where the backstage entrance to the TD Garden is. They can't keep you out of most of the place; the public restrooms and the hockey box office are on the level right below the event seating, and the really good seats actually l…

Weekend Radio Theater: Ellery Queen

The cosmos are being helpful again. For some reason, whenever I suddenly develop an interest in someone, about 50% of the time they will suddenly turn up everywhere -- actors will be back on TV after a hiatus, people who have no idea what I've got my nose into will mention them, someone will express that they want a musician's new album apropos of nothing.

In a particularly egregious display of helpfulness, it turns out that the US National final figure skating round winners-go-to-Sochi thing is being held in TD Garden this weekend. Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are doing commentary.

I have severely mixed feelings about pestering celebrities who are not specifically doing meet-and-greets or signings.. but, on the other hand, Weir is generally nice about it, he freely admits he likes having fans, and his book did turn up in the mail a little bit ago. (It's very pink. And he's wearing one hell of a pair of shoes on that cover.)

I'm slightly more tempted to go down to…
About 95% of the reason I am experiencing the urge to punch most of the people who run figure skating right now can be demonstrated by, inferred from, and summed up in this one sentence:
Slovakian pairs skater Milica Brozovic made skating news in 2004 by being the first to take advantage of recent rules changes that allowed ladies to wear pants in competition. ...
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...

Well, now I know why Johnny Weir made their little heads kerplode. It must be confusing to deal with a young man who both skates and girls at championship levels when you've just woken up from that coma you fell into in 1924. Although this now raises the question of how Weir kept himself from beating these people senseless with his skate bag whenever they came into whacking range.

Apparently a lot of the really terrible judges are women. This is even worse. I had an eensy little identity crisis a few years ago, about whether I was perhaps making a fool of myself in this one area where I actually do activism, and …
A lot of the figure skating stuff I've posted has been kind of me being all frothy and snarky and growly and then staring back over my shoulder to see if the Feminist Gender Expression Police have come to arrest me for admitting that some people sometimes play to stereotypes on purpose because they think it's fun. (Feminism? Generally good idea. Telling people they're not allowed to express their thoughts because they're not in 100% pre-vetted safe-space approved language modules? Not so great.) So to break that up, here's a bunch of stuff I thought was just really fucking cool:


Kurt Browning / SP "Bedlam Ballroom"

I love him. A lot of his footwork is identifiably tap dancing on ice skates, which is not a surprise if he really got his inspiration from people like Gene Kelly. He's one of the very few I've seen so far who does any footwork on the back spikes of his blades -- if there is a word for that, and there really must be, Google won't tel…
Argh, dialects.

I found Moggie backstage footage of the "Kings on Ice" show (part 2, 3, 4) -- she's a theater tech, it's in her blood -- and she apparently adores Evginy Plushenko, so I went nosing around about the other performers in the thing. Brian Joubert does not appear to be having any fun with that show, figure skating, or indeed life in general, but everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves.

Stéphane Lambiel looks interesting. I'm shallow, he's pretty, and his self-appointed mission in life seems to be to sit next to Johnny Weir at press conferences and distract him until I start watching for their sixth-grade teacher to come stomping up the center aisle to ask them if that note they've been passing back and forth is anything they'd like to share with the class. The gibbery fan boards were swatting around a rumor that the two of them were involved at one point, and I can honestly say I have no idea. Their main "evidence" for this…
I've watched a lot more of Johnny Weir, and also had several drinks, and I have concluded: I need some better vocabulary for talking about this.

One of the terrible things I keep running into when writing about this stuff is that the word "gay" now has a sort of double meaning: We use it to mean both 'having a homosexual orientation' and 'behaving in a way, often in conflict with traditional gender representation, that is associated with communities of homosexual people', and it's only very recently that these have become not the same thing. It used to be that gay men were not terribly welcome in straight society, and reciprocally that straight men were not terribly welcome in gay society -- there was not a lot of chance for behaviors to cross-pollinate, as it were, and there was the added element of animosity that made it dangerous to be mistaken for someone on the other side of the line. You can still run into problems, depending to a positively stu…