While everyone else went to hear Audrey Weisiger and Nick Perna talk about "from grassroots to champion," I watched Kerry Leitch and Roger Glenn teach about pair solo spins. The demonstrators were Themi Leftheris and his new partner, Jacqueline Jimenez. They had never worked on side by side solo spins before.
Leitch said there is no mystery to teaching pairs: it is plain common sense. His approach to solo spins is that they are the most obvious place for the judges to note unison, and they are a relatively easy pair element, but North Americans (as opposed to Russians) spend too little effort on them. As a result, a pair with decent unison on steps and stroking may lose unison on spins and get judged as having poor unison overall. In addition, he noted that North American judges are better trained in pairs than European judges, so European judges are more prone to putting too much weight on lack of spin unison for deductions.
Leitch shared the specific techniques he's developed for this element. He never places the spins the short way in front of the judges, which would reveal the slightest unison break; if choreography necessitates short-axis placement, he puts them far from the judges.
Leitch teaches his pairs to keep unison by head-spotting. He has the guy step into the spin looking at the girl, because the guy head-spots on her, except when he messes up and then she takes over and head-spots on him. He has the guy take charge because in most pairs, the guy is older and therefore a more experienced and better spinner.
He taught Themi and Jackie how to head-spot right in front of us all. He had each spin and hold their heads longer to look at each other on each revolution. To prove they were doing it, he had the non-spinner hold up a different number of fingers every two revolutions, and the spinner called out the number.
Leitch -- and Glenn, too, who is a top judge -- both expressed their loathing for pairs calling out audible cues like "Change!" or "Out!" Leitch has pairs count out revolutions instead, and has them do the minimum revolutions +2. Leitch gives his guys one revolution only to fix unison breaks, because he said judges probably won't mark the break after one revolution, but they will after two. Glenn confirmed that a judge will think "are they off unison?" after one revolution, and confirm yes or no on the second.
Another judging point involved a skater falling on a change spin. If one falls on the entry, gets up right away and gets back in synch before the change of feet, the deduction will not be as severe as if the fallen skater just sits there and watches while the partner finishes the spin.
Leitch advised that speeding up or slowing down can be understood by thinking of how the spinning circle on the ice can be made smaller or larger.
In the last few minutes, Leitch covered tracking, meaning the pair skating together in a circle. He said North Americans don't learn this well, and the coaches always think they can cover it in a lesson, but end up spending three weeks on it. If the girl is closer to the judges and the boy further, they will each remain on that side -- so as they skate around the circle, the boy is ahead of the girl, then next to, then behind, then next to, and so on. I hadn't realized how much work it takes to get that down.
Leitch has his pairs do solo jumps with the boy in front, not the girl in front, because the boy jumps bigger and doesn't want to step on the girl. And having them in this position instead of jumping side by side means that when they come out of their circles on the landing, they end up aligned in front of the judges' line of sight, and give a better impression of unison than if they start out next to each other and finish the jumps not aligned.
You will have to pardon me if this report is not clearly written -- one of my roommates is studying aloud for her ratings exam tomorrow (and rapidly falling asleep).
Leitch was quite the joker, especially since he and Glenn go way back. Themi and Jackie were in for a lot of ribbing from him, but they held up well. I was, as always, impressed with the fortitude of demonstrators who pick up new skills almost instantaneously in front of a critical crowd. I only wish conference protocol stressed introducing the demonstrators formally by first and last name at the beginning of the session, when the seminar leaders are introduced. I feel that would formalize professional respect for the skaters.