A neighborhood needs its social center, its place for promenades and get togethers, even in winter. In Prague on a Saturday morning, our local ice rink fits the bill.
At our stadium, free skating starts at 10. When the hall opens its doors, Czechs of all ages jostle in. It takes practiced skaters no time to pick their bleacher spot, fortify it with bags and shoes, lace boots on tight and head to the floor. Ten minutes after the hour, the ice teems with people - figure skaters cut eights in the center; racers scissor by, arms and legs aswing; couples and children with parents hold hands and migrate to the edge of the crowd, setting their own, slower, pace.
We head to the beginner’s corner, a half moon of ice divided from the central rink by cones. It is, comparatively, a safe place to practice with children learning the basics, but Caroline and her friends wear helmets for safety - we’ve seen too many speeders skid out of control and slam into kids to be without them. Gloves, snow pants and parkas complete the package and sometimes C falls freely and for fun, well padded against the ice. But mostly she competes to not fall - reporting her trip ups to me at the end of each morning - „Only one time Mommie!“ or „Twice, but the big boy ran into me.“
There are lots of children in the kids‘ area this Saturday. Since I am banned from skates because I'm pregnant, I entertain myself today by checking out kid training styles: In the quietest corner, a careful grandmother (in shoes, not skates) stands behind her granddaughter, holding her hands and steering her forward; saloming around the cones, a couple balances their son between them, lifting him off the ice for the turns; a father skates backwards in front of his daughter, staying just out of reach of her windmilling arms; a mother encourages her daughters to race each other across the floor, to swoop down to the ice and grab gloves and stand up again - great balance practice actually, but better for kids with more years on them than C.
Our family’s style, based on two winters of skating with Caroline and trying all sorts of tricks, comes down to one phrase - stand on your own. Before C gets out on the ice, she practices walking on the mats surrounding the rink to get used to her skates again. (Our friends who know better remind me that this dulls the blades, but hey, what’s a sharpener for!) Once she’s in the rink, I issue a no cling alert, and challenge her to skate to the cones and back, well away from the walls. Arms spread wide for balance, feet already used to skates, it takes just a few minutes before she’s walking and then running across the floor.
Since C’s still happy skating like this, and I can sneak on to the ice only in my shoes, she’s probably not going to learn to glide this year. Her friend Paige though, five and more patient, goes from never skated before, to walking, to the slide glide in one day.
You know the slide glide, right? Keep one foot still, and push out and back with the other. Do it again, and then again. You’ll start off slow but it's a great way to ease into the dynamic motion of skating, and by focusing on moving only one foot it's much harder to get tangled up in feet. I’m looking forward to trying it out with C once I’m back on the ice next year, but in the meantime, my teeth are chattering and I decide it’s time to test out the hot chocolate from the rink's coffee machine. For 10 kc ($.60), it is the cheapest I’ve tried in Prague so far and nearly beats Starbucks (at 80 kc or almost $5) for flavor.
Cocoa in hand, I cushion our bleacher seat with all the coats I can summon up and happily watch the parade of people circle the ice, waving at C as she runs races with Paige and they try to skate over and around the cones at the edge of the beginner's rink.
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