Sometimes I wonder whether I have a tiger by the tail. I dance—or attempt to—on ice skates. Of course a number of other people do too, but I am well on the shady side of 50, and I did not take up figure skating at the age of 4.1, a parent, got into this just as parents get into such activities as the PTA—through their children.
Six years ago, when our daughter was 11, we tried to enroll her in the Southern Connecticut Figure Skating Club, which holds its sessions in Norwalk, adjoining our home town of Westport. In going about this, I received a tip that there was a long waiting list for girls, but that the club was anxious to obtain new members for its dance sessions. If I were to join, the tip went, Patsy might immediately be admitted on a sort of family deal.
I swallowed hard on hearing this. Although I had been on skates for most of my life, my knowledge of the figure skating branch was rudimentary, to say the least. I had seen champion couples in competitions and exhibitions, and the thought of my attempting those death-defying jumps and spins—or whirling my partner around my head like a hammer thrower—chilled my marrow.
But, ever the dutiful father, I resolved to make the sacrifice. For our daughter's sake I would try to learn to dance on skates even if it killed me, which, I was convinced, it would. Now, six years later, I am still alive—at this writing—and still dancing, not as a duty (Patsy quit the club three years ago) but because I love it. Or, at any rate, because I am too fascinated to stop.
Since I am still a skater of decidedly mediocre ability, the question naturally arises why I am able to dance on ice. Let's confine the answers to two. 1) I can dance after a fashion. 2) At the outset I had dancing confused with pair skating, and it is possible that this holds true with many people.
The difference: In pairs, couples make up their own routines, which are apt to feature the jumps and spins I have mentioned. They choose their own music, which may shift into different rhythms and tempos during a program. Lifts are permitted, and sometimes partners may be seen skating on widely separated sections of the rink.
Dancing, on the other hand, is done, as I soon discovered, to "set" patterns as described and diagramed in The United States Figure Skating Association Rule-hook. In each of the 20 official dances, prescribed steps, or strokes, are taken in prescribed directions, on prescribed edges, held for a prescribed number of beats, skated to music of constant tempo.
Formerly there were only a few dances, each of them requiring first-rate skating ability. But in recent years, particularly since the end of World War II, many new ones have been invented, and some are easy enough to be enjoyed by skaters of very indifferent skill. It is these that are making converts of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and sometimes beyond.
Ice dancers, however, are fond of proclaiming that their pastime makes ballroom dancing look tame in comparison, and they are right. In fact, I sometimes think they are more right than they suspect, for dancing, I have found, rings just about every note on the emotional scale. Not only can it induce soaring elation, but also galloping jitters, red-faced humiliation and brooding despair. And that's why I keep feeling I have a tiger by the tail. Ice dancing is entirely too much fun to stop, but it certainly has its pitfalls and frustrations.