How I Met the Russian

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I was a dancer for much of my youth. Good enough that as a teenager I started charting a course toward Julliard and what I thought could be a professional career. Then two things happened:  Got tall. Got boobs. That might have led to a promising career as a Vegas showgirl but I had Balanchine aspirations. Somewhere around 1983, I gave up the dancing dream.

Fifteen years later, I got it back.

It’s Manhattan. I’m single. Me and the girls are tired of flirting our way past velvet ropes into clubs which for some reason in the mid-90s all have one-word names: Jet, Wax, Chaos.  One night Doris (the creative one) plans an evening of Latin dance lessons followed by dinner at Cuba de Asia. (It was a theme, see.)

We descend upon the dance studio in a cosmo-fuelled gaggle. While my friends laugh and stumble their way around the mambo lesson, I feel something flutter to life inside.

I am dancing. I haven’t set foot in a studio in two decades but here I am. There is a gazelle of a girl inside this 30-something body and she’s ready to move.

I go back for private lessons.  I casually mention that I’d appreciate a tall instructor. No problem, I am told. We have just the teacher for you.

I hand over the registration forms, am led to the dance floor and there he is.

The Russian.

It’s not exactly love at first sight — or maybe it is. All I know is something hooks me the minute I meet him. It’s not the dark eyes or beautifully-accented baritone — I think what strikes me first is his sweetness. I can tell immediately this is a kind man who will be gentle as I fumble my way around the dance floor.

In his hesitant English the Russian reads to me from a questionnaire: “What are your goals for these dance lessons?” I respond that I want to learn to surrender to my partner, to follow a lead, to move with another person as one.

I could have said – oh, I don’t know – lose weight, meet people, learn how to swing dance like that awesome Gap commercial…but I go straight for the metaphorical stuff without even thinking.

He looks at me intently. “You are susceptible.”

I learn later he means sensitive. He is groping for the words to say he understands how dancing touches me. What he doesn’t realize yet is how deeply-felt my answer really is. I am 33 at the time, not over the hill but badly worn down by the Manhattan dating scene. I’ve been in serious relationships, co-habitated, longed for wedding proposals that never came. I have pretty much given up on finding The One. Until the Russian asks a simple question that unlocks the truth. I am ready to move as one with a partner, for real and for good.

The first time my mother sees us together she says, “You will marry this man.” It’s performance night at the studio and she says this after watching us dance a rhumba together.  I wear a flame-red dress, he is sleek in head-to-toe black. Mom tells me that together we give off light.

That was September 17, 1998. The day we became a couple. We were married exactly one year later.

Happy 10th anniversary, my darling.

(originally posted at on September 17, 2009)

24 Responses to “How I Met the Russian”
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