Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Skating: Part Deux

As a follow up to my tremendous failure at roller skating on Sunday, I drove about an hour outside the city to a suburban roller rink with drop-in lessons on Monday nights last night.

Side note: This suburb isn't really an hour outside of Chicago - it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there in rush hour traffic, and about forty-five minutes to get home in non-rush hour traffic, so it's really not that bad. I just don't know how many miles it is, which is why I gave the time measurement instead.

What a difference an hour makes!

When I first stepped on the floor, everything about me must have screamed "BEGINNER!" in part because I am one, and in part because I was essentially pulling myself along the wall going around the rink. It was sad and pathetic. I know that. But I thought if I could just get used to the feeling of moving on skates, maybe I could get used to the balance thing and then I wouldn't feel so totally out of control of my body and then maybe I could figure out how to pick one foot up at a time and actually skate.

I got about half-way around the rink and a very nice gentleman skated over to me and said, "Just relax, just relax," as he grabbed my hands and sort of shook them to release the tension.  I told him this was my second time on skates and that I was an actor in a play for which I needed to learn to skate and found out he was familiar with the show already. He, apparently, helped procure the skates and gear for us. He told me the lesson would be starting shortly and that I should try to get back to the (now) far end of the rink because that is where the beginners would be.

I made my way over there and started skating back and forth against the wall. I felt bad for going against traffic half of the time, but the other skaters on the rink were far enough away from the wall that it wasn't a huge deal. The instructor came over and told me to just practice almost walking in the skates, keeping my feet under me. When you try to step in front of yourself, you lose control of the skate and fall on your butt. If you keep your feet under you, you actually start moving in the skates. Which is what the woman on Sunday must have meant when she said, "It's kind of like marching." So I did. I "marched" back and forth next to the wall, trying to hold on to it less and less with each pass. The instructor started working with his other beginning skaters on other things, but told me to just keep at what I was doing, and in five or ten minutes, he wanted me far enough away from the wall that I couldn't catch myself if I wanted/needed to. I took that to mean, "try this now," and moved away from the wall. Miraculously, I stayed standing! And moved across the floor, gaining more confidence and (some) speed with each pass. There were a few trips across the floor where I actually felt like I was skating - my balance was in the right place, the foot movement was easy, I could look up at where I was going instead of at the floor, I could almost give a little push to get some extra momentum, I was gliding. I decided I would throw in a toe stop at the end of each pass so I can get used to actual derby girl skate moves while I'm learning and figured out that I must be left-footed. My left toe stop is much better than my right.

After about a half an hour, the instructor came over and gave me my own set of cones to skate between. He wanted me to slalom around them, to encourage me to pick up my feet, which makes changing directions and turning easier. So I did. I slalomed around the cones. I was doing so well with it, in fact, that he added another cone in the middle to make two of the turns tighter. Only once in all of my passes did I stumble enough that I had to put one knee down on the rink. But I got right back up (since I know how) and finished the pass, turned around, and went back for more.

I have no idea how many times I skated across the rink last night. An hour's worth of times. And when the class was over, I thanked the instructor profusely. He had no idea how much his simple instructions helped me, but they did. I kind of get it now. I'm not saying I'm great at it by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to skate back to the bench near my locker when the lesson was over without holding on to anything or falling over.

I'm sure I looked silly out there in the full gear when I could barely skate. And I'm sure the tall, slender hot guy who skated like a pro was thinking a woman shaped like me should not be wearing yoga pants in public. But you know what? I didn't care. I didn't care in the slightest. This was not about looking good, or showing off, or dressing up so someone would hit on me. This was about me gaining a skill. This was about me gaining confidence. Which I totally did. I know I'm not great yet, but after last night, I know I can get there, which is something I didn't know after Sunday night. The instructor told me the next time I come back for the drop-in lessons, he'll have me away from the wall in the lesson with the other beginners. He was impressed with the progress I made in an hour. I was impressed with the progress I made. And I talked briefly to a couple of the other beginning skaters as we were taking off our skates and they were really nice. Including an older gentleman (probably in his sixties?) who just decided that he wanted to learn to skate, so he's been coming to the Monday night lessons for a few weeks already. He told me I look beautiful on skates.

I think it also did me a world of good to go and try this at my own speed in a place where I knew nobody. There was no fear of shame or humiliation - if I was really awful, I wouldn't necessarily have to go back to that rink. Nobody had to watch me learn or judge my progress, which means I was comfortable flailing my arms to regain balance when I needed to do that. I found myself biting my lip a lot and licking my lips - my signature "I'm concentrating really hard" ticks. But none of that mattered. I was learning to skate at my own pace in my own time. And I think a couple more sessions like that and I'll feel better keeping up with the girls at our next derby skate date.

A huge thank you to the suburban roller rink for being an awesome place with awesome people, and a huge thank you to the instructor who just let me learn in my own time. You have no idea how much you helped!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sometimes, You Just Have to Fail

I realize that the title of this post sounds very negative, and I realize that a lot of this post will contain negative language, but it is kind of necessary for documenting this process. I know if I document how awful it felt at the beginning, it will feel that much better at the end.

I have been cast in a play about the roller derby that goes up in November, in which I play a derby girl. I was thrilled to even be invited to audition for this company (they do great work and are awesome people), and even more thrilled when they offered me a role. It is a script they have already been workshopping for about a year, and they decided that they needed more derby girls in it to make it feel more authentic, so they did some searching and rounded out the cast with a total of ten derby girls. I think I was among the last to join the cast, if not the actual last person to join, so while this process has been in motion for a year already, it's only been a part of my life for about three weeks. This can be an issue in and of itself in some productions, but the writer, director, and other actors have been awesome so far in making me feel like part of the group. It has me really excited for the show, even though it is six months away.

Now the fun part. I don't know how to roller skate. I skated once at somebody's birthday party when I was in elementary school (if you count "pulling yourself along the wall while wearing roller skates" as "skating"), and of course I fell at some point and some other kid rolled over my wrist. I cried and sat on the sidelines until somebody took me home. And that is the extent of my experience with roller skating. I think my mom tried rollerblading when I was in high school, and I may have put the blades on and walked through the (carpeted) living room wearing them, but that was it. I was never much of an ice skater, either. I could maintain balance and use the toe pick to give myself a bit of momentum, but yeah. When it comes to roller skating, I am a total beginner.

Everyone else in the cast knows how to skate.

Last night, we went out to a facility where a woman who used to be a derby girl helps train women who want to try out for the derby. In other words, this woman knows what she's talking about. When she tells you to put your helmet on first and don't take it off until you leave the floor, you put your helmet on and don't touch it until your skates are off and you're seated in the lobby. We have a couple more of these skate dates scheduled to try to get the cast into good enough skating shape that we'll look like derby girls on stage. So we went over safety equipment (helmet, mouth guards, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards) and learned how to fall before even putting on skates. I was doing great up until that point - I can fall like a pro, especially when I have knee pads and wrist guards on. Besides, falling from skater stance means you're only falling about eight inches, so it's not that big of a deal.

Then the skates went on and my dignity and self-respect went out the window. I could stand up on them, and learned fairly quickly how to maintain a stationary position (toe stop or t-stand). But then they told us to move over to the wall and I was completely lost. I don't know how to move in these things. I know the theory of it, but my body has never done this before. Somehow, my feet felt glued to the ground and I was afraid to pick my skates up more than about half of an inch. Despite our falling lessons, showing us how to fall forward without injuring ourselves, I found myself relying on my stage combat experience of learning how to fall backward without injuring myself. I landed on my bum within about a foot of where I initially stood up.   The first one to fall. And it was suddenly broadcast to everyone in the room - the rest of the cast, the director, the writer, the trainers - just how far behind I am on the learning curve. There was no hiding it - I suck at roller skating.

Once up on our skates, the trainers/instructors started us on what they feel were the basic things you need to  know as a derby girl - how to stop and how to fall. In conjunction with "how to fall" is "how to get back up again really fast so you're not a target on the track and don't turn into a squished speed bump." I fully agree that these are important things to know how to do and I listened attentively to the theories presented. When we had to actually do them...how can you practice a good left toe stop if you're not moving to begin with? One of the instructors came over to me for about ten seconds and I told her I had never skated before in my life. She encouraged me to just practice skating back and forth across the floor, then, instead of focusing on the stops, and told me, "It's kind of like marching," before she skated away. In each drill, I was the last girl to get moving, the last to make it across the floor. I know my cast mates/team mates don't hold that against me at this point, but after a while, I couldn't tell if my face was bright red from exertion or embarrassment. I'm not used to being not grounded in my body and I'm not used to sucking so badly in a public forum with people I've not known very long.

When it was time to take a five minute break and get water, it took me the entire five minutes to get over to the side where I finally had to suck it up and ask one of the other women (a former derby girl herself) to bring my water bottle to me. And we were right back into it, now doing training drills. Skate like normal, then when the whistle blows, take the skater stance and hold it until the second whistle. I couldn't get moving, but I could hold the stance, no problem. Now we're going to skate and on the whistles, do our various stops, then our various falls, then switch directions and do it all again and again and again. "Skating" around in circles, I was hugging the inside of the track, which I realized was probably awful floor positioning for someone as inept at skating as I am, largely from the standpoint of my team mates - I was right exactly in their way a lot of the time. And finally, my frustration and exhaustion hit its peak and I crawled into the infield and made my way off the floor. I was largely a hazard at that point, anyway, so I felt justified in crawling off of the floor. One woman helped me get across the lanes of traffic at the end, and she was concerned for my well-being. I'm sure my face was neon red by this point - it was still flushed when I got home forty-five minutes later. I felt dejected and disappointed in myself and humiliated. Perhaps even a little bit angry. I know the point of the evening was not to work with an absolute beginner and help her learn to skate, but I felt thrust into something way beyond my skill level with no safety net, so to speak.

If this was something I was doing just for fun in my normal life, I probably would not go out of my way to skate again. But I am learning to do this for a show, and I have at least nine other women out there counting on me to get my ass in gear by the time we open. I apologized to the writer and director for having to call it quits early in the evening and promised them I would do better. They both thanked me for putting myself out there and trying in the first place. Because if there is one major lesson that we all learned last night, it is that when you fall down, you get back up as quick as you can and keep going.

So I'm going to drive about an hour tonight to get to a roller rink in the suburbs (they don't have many in the city anymore) where they have lessons on Monday nights before free skating time. And I'm going to take my helmet and pads and skates and I'm going to get back out there on that floor and hopefully learn how to move. Because this is not about my humiliation. This is not about my disappointment. This is about picking myself back up as quick as I can because there are people counting on me to do this. Last night when people were saying, "By the end of this, you'll be the best skater of all of us," and when the instructor pointed me out at the end of the night saying, "I think you did a really great job tonight, too," I felt like the three-year-old playing T-ball who can't hit the ball off of the tee, but gets a Participant Trophy at the end of the season. Except as an adult, I know exactly what that Participant Trophy means.

I'm not giving up - I think we all know by now that I don't give up on things that scare me. I feel like crap about this at the moment, though, and I thought it was important for me to keep track of that, so six months from now, when I'm flying around the track just like all of the other girls, I will be able to fully appreciate exactly how sweet that is. Sometimes, you have to fail first so you know how to succeed later.

And, on the up side, I have enough booty that I walked away from last night with only a bruised ego.