Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Where's the Freestyle?"

The time has come, dear internet friends, for me to blog. In the past two months, it has often crossed my mind, but only now do I feel truly ready to say something on this internet platform. Every time someone says they read this, it startles me a bit, but people are reading (even if they don't comment), so it's nice to know I have an audience.

So, the Cobra still waits, a recluse in his dank and foul den, but that's not what we are here today to talk about. No, no, we are here today to discuss something else which is equally mysterious in nature. It is a thing from which the sting cuts just as deeply and painfully as that of the dark serpent. It is elusive, unpredictable, and surprises many with its swift, cruel justice. And like its shadowy counterpart, this beast will likely warrant several sessions of Socratic questioning, wringing of the hands, and general melancholy and stomach upsets.

We are, of course, talking about battle judging.

But what about battle judging? We all know about the rules. What's that, you say? You DON'T know the rules of a slalom battle? Oh, well, why don't you go ahead and download them from here. There you go.

Great. Now that you are well-versed in the law of battle, let's take a look at some stuff, now, shall we? And since I am not in the habit of publicly critiquing other people over the internet without their consent, let's just go ahead and look at some video starring little ol' me.

Let's start with Battle Belgium 2009, when I had been slalom skating for about one year, and thought skorts were the greatest thing EVAR:

The reason I chose this video is because, well, Chloe is in it, and I just happened to come across it when looking for the video of this year's women's final.

NOW, take a look at the video from the women's final from this year's edition of Battle Belgium:

Can you please tell me what's wrong with this picture (video)?

Yes, that's right. My freestyle looked better two years ago.

How depressing is that? Sure, I can do some TRICKS now. Oooooh, how we all love TRICKS. I'm stronger. I'm faster. I am smoother. I fall (slightly) less. My fashion is less 1980's-Madonna. There are a lot of things improved about my skating in general, and also specifically my slalom. And when there is no competition in sight, my freestyle is actually very good, sometimes rather awesome, I must admit. But as far as freestyle in competition goes, I was stylin' it out better in '09, because I didn't really care about doing tricks during the battle. Because, well, then I couldn't do any.

Well, I will be the first to go ahead and say that I spent too much time during this final doing screw-type tricks. I did a bunch of toe-toe screws, swans, and toe-heel screws. I have been training these tricks really hard so that I can do 20 of all of them, so doing about half that number of each felt about as ordinary as eating Loops for breakfast. I really enjoyed the power of being able to turn as many as I wanted, without being controlled by my own lack of technique which, in the past, used to dictate how many of each of these things I could do.

And for that, I would like to thank Polish women skaters. :)

I didn't sleep for two nights in a row after judging the battle in Berlin. It was a thoroughly traumatizing experience, because the essence of battle judging is lining up four of your friends, and then telling two of them that they can't play slaloms anymore. And then there are all the gray areas. Which is better --a line of beautiful, playful freestyle; or 20 labored toe shifts? You tell me.

No, really. You TELL me.

After Berlin, I found myself preoccupied with the concepts of rules and justice. I started reading about all kinds of rules, systems, ways that people cope with and eliminate uncertainty. I might have gotten slightly carried away with my learning, but I was looking for answers to help me sleep at night, because after all, I DO take this whole slalom thing rather seriously, even though I try to keep it light.

So what's the answer? Which is better, the freestyle or the toe shifts?

Well, according to the rules, it's the technical difficulty of the skating being presented that must be considered. Technically, we are supposed to leave aesthetics out of it, while still incorporating into the judgment the qualities of speed, continuity, finishing of each trick, integration into other freestyle, and the range of tricks presented. That's a whole lot to see, and judge, during somebody's 30 seconds.

However, this still doesn't give us an answer. Let's say that the toe shifts were executed without fault, that they were clean, but that they just looked like they were a lot of hard work and they weren't pretty to watch. And let's say that the freestyle was gorgeous, it gave you goose bumps, and it was fast and fluid and clean.

Out of these two things, which is more technically difficult to display?

Now, here is where we get to the fact that judges are humans with souls, and that they are very often impassioned skaters themselves. Personally, as a skater with loads of experience practicing one-wheeled tricks with only moderate success, and also with loads of experience simply expressing joy through my feet, I would be tempted to say that the toe shifts are more technically difficult. After all, I seem to have no problem coming up with nice-looking freestyle, right? So it must be easier to do.

Also, it's taken me a long time to train to be able to turn as many screw-type tricks as I want, and to be able to do them consistently in battle as well. The "freestyle" part I have also worked on, to be sure, but I've spent more time gritting my teeth and PRACTICING on the non-freestyle movements. And maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

WAIT. Maybe it is only easier for me. What about this "trick monkey" type skating (Dance, monkey, dance!), where skaters execute their complicated trick sequences like good little robots and then roll on over to their coaches for a Sweet Cookie? (Yum yum.) And, of course, if they fail, they get a Shame Cookie. (Yum yum, but with tears rolling down their faces as they choke on the bitter crumbs that taste of their own ineptitude.) How easy is it for them to bust out a line of gorgeous freestyle?

Of course I'm being completely over the top and sarcastic (and mean no offense to anyone who sees himself in this category of skating) but I'm also not going to pretend that I've never fallen prey to this mentality myself...after all, how many screws did I turn in the battle final? And can I please have a cookie now, hold the shame?

So, how do we define and reward the soul of freestyle? Because I want to. It's very important for me, and I know it is for so many people. This discussion has been on everyone's mind all year. I know the answer lies in the fact that we have to reward both the difficulty and beauty of slalom, but the beauty part is so often perceived as subjective. However, it's only subjective to a degree. As a culture we can define our own standards of beauty, and in fact these standards already exist, which is in part amusingly demonstrated by the huge wrench in the system that the Koreans' dancing has thrown into everything. :)

Well, before I write again, I WILL have revisited my art philosophy books. There must be some applicable thoughts in there somewhere, and if not, I'll just keep questioning til I discover the answers.

Anyway, it's all part of a greater adventure, and I'm very happy to be a part of it.

Until next time, enjoy your slaloms (however you like them served up!) and thanks for reading. :)


  1. The only thing I know about Freestyle is that it blows my mind whenever I see you skate. As far as when you compete in battles, the only person you really have to answer to is yourself. Skate whichever way makes you the happiest and proudest, and the rest will fall in place :)

  2. Too long, too long, but I think I can answer the main question :)

    For me it's FREESTYLE slalom therefore I prefer stylish skaters. I can watch them for hours!

    But when I practice for a real battle I pay attention to tricks -_- And I've also noticed my freestyle is worse than few years ago!

    I'm looking forward to taking a part in more freestyle than tricks battle again :)

    But I'm glad that top skaters are the ones who can do tricks nicely and put some freestyle in they runs. So it's not that bad nowadays ;)

    Buzi Buzi :)

  3. thanks dave! that's what i hope everybody does. personally i would like to see myself embodying the ideals i have always strived towards, and technical achievements are a big part of them. but i don't want to tip the balance too far in the "robot slalom monkey" direction, so i have to be careful. :P

  4. haha lidia, tim always says "TLDR!" (too long didn't read)

    belgian slalom series 2012 will be very interesting for you, i think.

    perhaps we will call it "belgian style series", to better reflect what we want people to show.


  5. Hi Megan. In my opinion, you´re describing a process that is common to many sports that combine difficult technique skills with art. For example, gimnastics. Or, for our case, artistic rollerskating. If evolution on sports means only judge by difficult, then we would be watching only triple or quad jumps!!! At the end, I believe that judgements developes as well as sports, adding difficult and combining them with the essential movements (in many cases, keeping them as obligatories). So Megan, you write very pretty also. I really tried to summarize in a few words what your "essay" suggest to me today. XOXO Go ahead!!!!

  6. No matter now many turns you screw into the ground, it's all about skating and and you do it with the most grace and style of anyone.

    As you skate more battles and learn more the rules and such, your skating is going to evolve even more if that's possible... When I watch you skate my head moves in motion along with you.
    Look how much faster and smoother you recognized of your skating. Putting speed into tricks you did slower in the past requires a lot of more technique so maybe call this a transition period!!
    I'd give up all the snacks and yum yum good skater Pop-tarts for your skill anyday.

    I love watching you and reading your essays.

  7. lol johan. :) i forgot to say that tim actually ends up reading everything, even though he says TLDR. that's because he's a good boyfriend and very supportive and appears to really care about what i say. :)

    vicky, that's a good point. also, thanks for the nice words. i have never really seen much artistic roller, but i have logged many hours of watching figure skating, and i would definitely argue that figure skating competitions have become relatively devoid of soul, clich├ęd, and only about jumps and spins. any "artistic" qualities to the skating seem to be centered on ripping off ballet for only the length of the awkward spiral sequences, then the skater has to get "spunky" for a few seconds as he or she slogs through a clunky footwork sequence (which comes off as a mere necessary evil), and then it's back to more jumps and spins. everything in between is just cross-overs and pointless arm movements.

    but i'm not cynical about figure skating or anything. :)

    every once in awhile, a figure skater comes along who truly gets me excited about what i'm seeing, but it happens about as often as a lunar eclipse.

    susan, thank you for the compliments and the Pop-tarts. They're both delicious. :)
    The trick is just to skate a lot so you don't have to give up the Pop-tarts. :)

  8. edit: just watched some pretty amazing figure skating from the 2011 season. i take back what i said. O.o

    it's a lot better than i remember!