Wednesday, December 4, 2013

DWTS Close Encounter of the Third Kind

"To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak." Hopi Indian Saying

After having arrived in Pennsylvania two days prior, Thanksgiving morning my brother, sister-in-law, two nephews, three kids, and myself piled into the car and made an hour and half drive due east to Central Jersey, venue of Turkey Day, home to Dad (aka Cranky) and Nona (aka Mrs. Cranky). They have a lovely home and Thanksgivings with them are always filled with warmth and good food. Mrs. Cranky’s family always joins the grateful gathering and I thoroughly enjoy their company. I expected to spend the day with the usual crowd.

So imagine my surprise when I enter the foyer, and lo and behold, beaming at the other side of the room, is a tall and handsome, OK gorgeously, beautiful man. Was it Christmas already? Had my gift come early? He spoke. My sister-in-law and I had to hold each other up as we were weak in the knees and fixed in a trance. With a deep and soft Russian accent this beautiful specimen spoke, “Hello, very nice to meet you. I am Andre.”

“Andre so nice to meet you. Do you want to marry me?” Well I didn’t actually say this. I did just meet the man.

“This is my wife Lena and my little boy Sergei.” Lucky for Andre he was married.

“Oh, so nice to meet all of you.” I say a little caught off guard, but not because he was married. Over the years I have met many unfamiliar faces at Mrs. Cranky’s, though they are usually named Uncle Paulie, Uncle Louie, Uncle Mikey, or Uncle Sal just to name a few. Mrs. Cranky has a large family of Italian heritage. I have never met an Uncle Andre with a beautiful Russian accent. Curious of their connection to Nona I ask, “So Andre and Lena, how do you know Mrs. Cranky?”

“From dance studio, “replies Lena. Nona works as the office manager at a ball room studio. I start to put the connection together. Lena continues, “Vee are dancers. Zough I don’t dance anymore after bebe born.”

“Oh, dancers!” I am instantly in awe.

Nona yells from the kitchen, “It’s his studio. He’s my boss so be nice.”

“Oh!” I am still in awe. “Oh, nice. Wow, ball room dancers. Are you familiar with Dancing with the Stars?” Stupid question.

“Ov course vee are.” replies Lena.

“Have you ever competed against any of the dancers?”

“Oh yes, dancing community very small. We know zem all.”

“Have you ever met Maks Smirsmirninoff?” I love Maks. He is one fine bad boy and who doesn’t love a bad boy?

“You mean Maks Chmerkovskiy?”

“Oh yes, sorry my Russian pronunciation is not very good.”

“Yes, ve know Maks. He wants to be an actor now.” She rolls her eyes.

“Do you know any of the other dancers?”

“Yes vee know all ov zem. Mark Balas and Tony Dovolani, zey plays in band together. Yes, vee know zem all. We pearformed vis dem. Dancing community very small.”

“You danced viz them, I mean with them?”

“Oh yes. Andre danced on first show season. Vee too busy to be on show. Andre vaz asked but vee no time. Too busy viz studio, students and now bebe.”

“Andre was on the show?!”

From the background my stepmom, aka Mrs. Cranky, hollers at me, “What are you, a celebrity whore?”

I respond with quite shameful pride, “Yes, I am. I am surrounded by greatness right now.” I mean, what are the chances? Here I am traveling to dumpy Central Jersey, and it is a little dumpy. I grew up there, I can say that. And here I am having a celebrity encounter of the third kind. Yes, I am a celebrity whore. I know it’s wrong but it feels so good. I can’t help but ogle and obsess with fascination. After my great interrogation of these poor, innocent guests I retreated a little and mingled with my family, but my eyes were on the dancers. Andre’s posture alone looked as if he were dancing standing in place.

Brunch was ready and it was time to sit down for round one of the feast filled day. Mrs. Cranky had a beautiful dining room table set and decorated. My dad and brothers sat at one end of the table and Mrs. Cranky’s family at the other. Since I was so caught up ogling and obsessing, all the seats at the big table became taken. There wasn’t a spot left. I was stuck sitting at the fold out table attached via “T” style, parked in the foyer, next to the front door. Being the princess that I am, I was slightly miffed. After all, I just drove north with three kids and a dog, eleven hours in horrendous traffic, and then hopped in the car again. I spent a lot of time traveling to spend time visiting my family and I get stuck at the kiddie table?! Really? This is how her majesty is treated?! “Oh well, no biggie,” I thought and quickly got off my thrown.

I took my place at the head of the fold out table and started to eat my bacon while five kids ages three through eleven reached and grabbed, were active and loud. Ready to pull out my hair, Andre and Lena joined me in the chaos. Suddenly the fold out table by the front door felt like the head table at the royal ball. I felt like I got the big end of the wishbone and my wish came true.

My daughter, mom and I watch the show “Dancing with the Stars” religiously. In fact, we just finished immersing ourselves in Season 17. We love the show and the dancers. We have gained such a keen eye we are able to accurately predict the judges’ scores and comments. The glitz and glamour is magnificently eye catching, and the dancers, those dancers, they are so talented. They are artists and athletes wrapped in a pretty, perfect packaged. They perform flawlessly to any dance style, have multiple routines seamlessly memorized like a pianist memorizes a ten page classical piece. But my fascination with ball room dancing goes even beyond the show.

Andre, Lena, and I conversed very nicely. They are super down to earth and very Americanized for two people who seem so foreign to me. As new parents, they were so cute and doting, and I loved observing their family interaction. We traded parenting stories, laughing all the while. But I felt compelled to tell them a story.

“Andre and Lena, let me tell you a story. A couple of years ago I was at your studio when Mr. and Mrs. Cranky had their apr├Ęs wedding celebration. Remember?”

“Yes, I do.” Andre responds.

“Well Andre, I was at a very low point in my life when I attended the party. I was going through something extremely traumatic and stressful.”

Lena said, “Traumatic and stressful? Try having to stand in line for a roll of toilet paper.” Well she didn’t really say this but I imagine she was probably thinking it.

“I was going through a difficult period. I felt very sad and my heart was very heavy. A dark cloud hung over my head.”

“I see,” said Andre.

“Well you see Andre, that night was magical. One of your dancers from the studio went around asking guests to dance. I was one of the chosen ones. This dancer asked me to dance the waltz with him. Why I had never danced the waltz before? Playing in the background was this beautiful piece. This dancer gently reached for my hand and told me he would teach me. He instructed me to dance one, two, three, four, in a square pattern. We glided around the entire ballroom as if we were floating on a white, fluffy cloud. I felt transported to a place of beauty. I felt stunning. We glided around and around. I felt elated. This dancer ignited a spark inside of me that was dead. I felt alive, I felt so alive. I felt happy, I felt so happy. I was glowing. That gift of dance reminded me what happiness was and gave me hope. Andre, after the song ended, I gave the dancer a hug and thanked him so much for giving such a gift. To this day I remember the feeling of gliding along the dance floor and how high I felt. Something as simple as music and a dance awakened my soul. I will never forget that experience.”

Andre listened so intently to my diatribe and replied, “Zat is za feeling I get every time I dance. Dancing is like a drug.” When he told me this he was glowing and beaming, truly loving and grateful for his talent and fortune to be able to have dancing in his life. Lena too, shook her head in agreement.  I felt as if as if I understood their world, speaking the same language, albeit a brief and passing moment.

Then Andre gently reached for my hand, held it lightly, and said, “My dear, I vaz za vone zat taught you the valtz. I am glad you enjoyed za dance.”

Lena, Andre and Sergei said their goodbyes as it was time for their son’s nap. They would not join us for dinner. My encounter with them was short but out of this world. I had been transported to another planet. I was grateful for so many things that Thanksgiving day. To be able to gather with family in a warm home with good food and good company is a blessing. Being able to revisit a special moment and catch a glimpse into a world of such talented individuals was the whipped cream on my pumpkin pie.

See for yourselves the beauty these too bring to the world. Thanks Andre and Lena!!


  1. I can only wonder about the time and energy that must go into dancing like this. Total dedication.

  2. What a wonderful day that must have been!!

  3. They are beautiful. What good people to have spent time with.