One pitfall for the beginner is that as soon as he gets the easier dances under some semblance of control, he aspires to the progressively more difficult ones without sufficient preparation.
Accordingly, the overambitious skater is apt to experience a frustration that I call RBPW, or Rejection by Pretty Women. (All the women and girls in our club are pretty.) I ask some lovely to do the fox-trot, a dance about halfway up the scale of difficulty, and she allows as how she had rather not. I start to look for another partner, and, the next thing I know, I see the lady who has rejected me dancing the fox-trot with Bill Carson.
Is this a flagrant breach of etiquette that will get her blackballed from the club? It is not. Carson, the blighter, is three times as good a skater as I am (besides being 25 years younger), and it is an unwritten law of skating that a lady has a perfect right to turn down anyone she's leery of skating with.
I have found it advisable to skate with a) partners in my class, which is low, b) partners above my class who are used to my idiosyncrasies such as skating too far away from them, making sloppy turns, gasping, cringing and forgetting what dance I'm doing, to name a few, c) a professional who can cope with anything.
I have managed to get through about half the 20 dances right side up, but I wish I hadn't waited until a year ago to take professional lessons. My trouble—or rather one of my troubles—is that I formerly played hockey. This is a mixed blessing for one who turns to figure skating. Hockey gives one surefootedness and confidence against falling, but it also induces the habit of leaning forward, with the fanny protruding. This is bad.
Very bad. Vera, my teacher, is trying to cure this fault and others, and it is costing her a lot of breath and me a lot of cash. Skating pros tend to be perfectionists, chary with praise, profuse with criticism, and, in fairness to them, they probably wouldn't get results if they weren't. This is because the average skater is apt to be completely unaware of his faults unless they are constantly pointed out to him—whereas a golfer with a habitual 90� slice might at least suspect something was amiss with his form.
Vera—the name derives from Veritas or veracity, doesn't it?—is a lady who pulls no punches. We get on the ice, and she says, "Now let's see if you can do a mohawk without scratching so loud they can hear it in Bridgeport." On other occasions Vera is more explicit. To get my attention and keep it, she may state, "Get that fanny in, or I'll slug you." Oh well, she hasn't landed yet, and, besides, I've overheard her laying down the law to better skaters than I.
A skater may elect to take tests but to pass tests—advanced ones in particular—it is practically mandatory to take private lessons.
Taking a test can be a chilling experience. Only you and your partner occupy the ice, or, at most, there is only one other couple. All eyes are upon you. Not only the three judges', but those of your hopeful teacher and of various fellow skaters, some of whom have given you gratuitous pointers from time to time. And just to make sure you're not under the delusion that you're out there merely for kicks, a stentorian voice announces through the loudspeaker, just as the music is about to begin, "Mr. Cummings, you are now on test!"
I took the preliminary group test last year and passed the dutch waltz and the canasta tango, despite a pair of wobbly knees and a stomach full of butterflies. But what I remember best is the swing dance, the third one in the group. When I first tried dancing, six years ago, I remarked to a friend that it took a lot of concentration and memorizing to learn the patterns—the required step sequences—of the various dances.