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Thursday, June 12th, 2008 12:15 pm
Whenever I teach somebody to contact juggle (if you don't know what I'm talking about, this video's quite good), I always start by asking the same question:

"Do you know how to ski?"

Skiing and contact juggling, you see, work in very much the same way.

In order to ski down a slope successfully without falling over or hitting a tree, you need to maintain control over your speed and direction. You do both of these things by turning. Consequently, skiing instructors spend a lot of time teaching you different types of turns. The usual sequence is as follows:
  • snowplough turns, in which you keep your skis in a wedge formation, and turn by pushing outwards with the ski which will become your downhill ski;
  • stem Christie turns, in which your skis start parallel, briefly flare out into a narrow snowplough for the actual turn, and then become parallel again at the end;
  • parallel turns, in which your skis stay parallel throughout;
  • carving turns, in which your edges stay engaged for the maximum possible time, carving a big curved gouge into the snow.
Terminology varies: those are the names I use.

There's also a fifth type of turn, which doesn't receive as much attention:
  • hop turns, in which you jump fully into the air, swing your skis round in midair, and land with your edges engaged.
Hop turns are extremely useful on steep ground and on ice, but they're very tiring: this is probably why they're usually taught as a fairly advanced technique.

But here's the interesting thing: all parallel turns are hop turns. The way you make a parallel turn is by
  1. crouching down slightly, to turn your legs into springs;
  2. standing up tall, momentarily reducing the weight on your skis (and thus the frictional force between the skis and the snow) to nothing;
  3. swinging your skis round to their new position;
  4. sinking back into your normal stance.

In other words, you go through the same sequence of moves as for a hop turn, but your jump is so gentle that your skis stay in contact with the ground at all times.

In contact juggling, we reverse the teaching sequence. If I'm teaching someone a palm to back transfer, for instance, I'll first teach them to throw the ball up, turn their hand over while the ball's in midair, and catch the ball on the back of their hand when it comes down again, sinking the hand
slightly to absorb the momentum. This is like a hop turn, and works in essentially the same way. Exercise: which corresponds to the skier, the ball or the hand? :-)

After my pupil's got the hang of that, we move on to the "contact" part of contact juggling. We make the throw gentler and gentler, until eventually the ball never leaves contact with the hand at all, and instead rolls over the sides of the fingers and into its new position. This is now more like a parallel turn.

This general pattern is common. To perform a move, you throw the ball up, move your body underneath it, and then catch it again in the new balance, but make the throw gentle enough that the ball and your body never break contact. This doesn't cover the whole of contact juggling (in particular, isolations don't work this way), but I reckon something like a third to a half of contact moves (including most of the early moves that you teach to beginners) are variations on this general idea.

Personally, I think it's lovely that the same idea is fundamental in two disciplines that look as different as skiing and contact juggling :-)

Another idea suggests itself: would it be easier to teach people to ski by teaching them hop turns early on, and refining the hop turns into parallel turns?
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)
That's a really fascinating parallel! I imagine the difference is one of scale, really, so if you can find someone who can leap into the air as easily as they can throw a ball into the air, they might benefit from learning hop turns first...

(I say this as something who is terrified of skiing generally and the concept of hop turns in particular)
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, I suppose so - teaching hop turns to your class first would quickly result in all but the fittest of your students getting knackered. Might be a good way to quiet down a class of rowdy kids...

I say this as something who is terrified of skiing generally and the concept of hop turns in particular
Nah, the scary thing is the kind of terrain where hop turns are needed :-)
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
Also the wobbliest of your kids would fall over and then decide that they couldn't ski and didn't want to try. Would certainly have been my response.
[identity profile] michaelp-j (from livejournal.com)
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
I was first taught to ski by a guy called Simon, who had once taught skiing in the Army. His "fast-food" technique was beautifully simple. Get people to put skis on and stand up in a line. Then make them mime opening a can of baked beans, and mime pouring the beans into the front of their ski boots. Explain to them that they need to stand with their ankles flexed and knees slightly bent, crushing the imaginary beans between shin and boot. Having explained this, and deprived of ski poles, we were then encouraged to slide down a gentle slope and come to a stop naturally, keeping the skis parallel (like "chips"). We were then told to lean our weight onto one foot or the other in order to steer, and given a slalom to do, again on a gentle slope. The final stage was the snowplough ("pizza"), initially as a stop and then as a turn. The whole thing took about an hour and a half with 10 of us.

Sadly after that Simon left, and my progression to parallel turns had to wait until much later! But various people used to shout "baked beans" at you if you stood wrongly...

Another variant on teaching techniques: a German friend of mine was taught to lead very early in her climbing career, on incredibly easy routes. This got over the apprehension that otherwise builds about leading if you've only ever climbed top-rope or second. Similarly, the York Uni sailing club used to make beginners crew for about a year before teaching them to helm, whereas when I learned we were put out on the river in a single-seater boat after an hour's talk and made to get on with it. Helming is easy, really, but the York Uni method made a big deal of it.
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)

That kind of mental image can be very useful - I remember being taught to row "like Superman going round corners".

You're probably right about it being a good idea to lead early: it's all too easy to build leading up into a big thing otherwise. [livejournal.com profile] wormwood_pearl did a multi-pitch climb on something like her third or fourth trip climbing, and consequently found multi-pitching much less of an issue than I did.
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)
Aaargh, don't get me started. I spent a good chunk of Saturday trying to teach circus skills to Cub Scouts and Beavers, and they were all like that - if they didn't get it immediately, it was too hard.

On the other hand, it would weed out the weak and the no-hopers early on: Para-style (http://pozorvlak.livejournal.com/20947.html) ski instruction :-)
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
Neither the hand nor the ball, exactly - the ball goes up and down (like the skier - and I don't think this is just a frame-of-reference thing, because the ball accelerates and decellerates as it goes up and down, and also there's The World as a common frame of reference for truth here) and so the ball is like the skier, but the hand rotates, like the skis of the skier rotate.

But if I had to pick one, I'd say the hand, because it's which thing rotates that is more crucial to the movement.

Which did you have in mind?
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 02:09 pm (UTC)
I think of the ball as being more like the skier, because of the direction of the movement and the forces. But you're right, one can argue it either way, and the analogy's not exact in either case.