Skating Rough, and Getting Over It

Commentator Amy Dickinson says she has always ice skated, but she never had much style. Where she grew up, everyone knew how to skate — some quite well. This year, Dickinson found out that her problem was that she was trying to be a figure skater, when her inner style was a little rougher, almost a hockey style of skating.

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SIEGEL: It has been a pretty warm winter so far, but that hasn't stopped commentator Amy Dickinson from thinking about one her favorite wintertime activities.

AMY DICKINSON: I grew up in a place where children strap on their first pair of ice skates as toddlers and where the essential question of childhood is: hockey or figure?

My brother, sisters and I spent our winters skating on ponds, lakes and even the flooded portions of neighbors' lawns. One memorable winter's day, my mother sent us to the grocery store on our ice skates. We went down to the frozen creek, skated the mile or so into town, scrambled up the bank behind the store, got our groceries and skated them home.

One time when I was a kid, I saw my friend Nancy's father glide around the frozen pond in back of their house, whistling and with his hands in his pockets. He could change direction instantly and skate backward or forward with the exact same amount of effort. His whole body was a smooth, musical expression - a Perry Como song.

Ever since then, I've had only one ice-skating dream. I wanted to be like that on the ice, gliding and comfortable. Unfortunately, as a child skater, I had rubber ankles and a tendency to be sent home crying, with snow down my pants.

I've ice-skated about a dozen times each winter for the last 40 years, though my skating is mainly confined to rinks these days. And unfortunately, my ice-skating skills seem to have frozen to what they were at around age 6. My arms spastically windmill, and I seem to have a permanent right-legged limp, like Walter Brennan in the movies. I can only skate counter-clockwise.

The rink where I go has piped-in music. They play smooth jazz, Kenny G and the Carpenters or schmaltzy waltzes. There are always a few show-offy girls spinning in the center of the rink while I stagger along the fringes. All I can do is skate forward, around and around and around.

I try to internalize the music. I think that it will make my legs do what they're supposed to do and make me look more glidey, and less like a dog trying to walk upright. But one time, I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the safety glass that surrounds the rink. "The Skaters Waltz" was playing on the sound system. I looked like a rodeo clown.

I tell myself that it doesn't matter. Form isn't everything in life. It's enough to be out there doing something that I enjoy doing. But that's not true. With skating, form is everything.

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough. The guy who normally runs the rink must've been away. Instead of the usual easy listening on the sound system, they were playing Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, ZZ Top and Guns N' Roses.

It turns out that I'm not Michelle Kwan. I'm Elvis Stojko. I'm a heavy-metal skater. My lurches, lunges, desperate windmilling arms and near crashes make perfect sense to this music. Now, I'm exactly the skater I've always wanted to be. Finally, I feel it.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Commentator Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated advice column Ask Amy.

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