At my last moves lesson, my coach started me off with the usual warm-up drills around the rink. It was a busier than normal day, because there was an upcoming local competition and a lot of young skaters in costume were running programs back to back. The session is usually predominantly adults, but today I found myself dodging skaters, not quite able to fill out the whole pattern.

“I know it’s a crowded session,” my moves coach started off, “but… you skated like it was a crowded session. Like you didn’t want anybody to notice you.”

Ah, guilty as charged. I don’t usually think in those terms ā€” Don’t notice me ā€” but when it’s crowded, I do tend to shrink away and put myself in evasion mode, rather than actively attempt to skate. So I’d been more focused on dodging people than completing my moves, even when I probably was okay to continue, because I have a thing about not being That Adult Skater who gets in all the flashy teenagers’ ways.

It’s partly because, as an adult, there’s a certain amount of teenage know-it-all-iness you encounter, where the show-offs get annoyed at you for daring to intrude on their practice space. And it’s also partly because once when I was brand-new to freestyle sessions and not quite used to the flow of movement, a coach pulled me aside to warn me to pay better attention to the people around me, which I found mortifying and unnerving (because I was horrified at the idea that I was that clueless adult). (Also, where are those coaches now, when the high-level show-offs are whizzing dangerously close to everybody and expecting everyone else to clear their path? Hmph.) But because this is what I do, I took one bit of critique and went extreme overcorrection on it: So now, I scan the ice way more than I practice on it, I step aside readily when a more aggressive skater is around, and I abort moves at the drop of a hat. It’s not a productive habit. I should probably work on getting more assertive on the ice.

My coach sent me back for another lap, instructing me to skate with more purpose and confidence. “When you skate, it looks very pretty,” he said, with a twist on the “pretty” that made it clear it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, “but it looks like you’re just going through the motions. You’re very meticulous, but it’s like you’re thinking through all the positions.”

Another spot-on critique, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m too busy concentrating on proper form and technique that as a consequence I generally have zero power, and no thought to presence or flourish. So I went back into the crowd, trying to do as he instructed: Chin up, shoulders down, arms raised, looking like I had every right to be on that ice ā€” taking up space, rather than feeling apologetic about my presence on it.