By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh how I love my favorite Bulgarian, my dance instructor, Ivan. His language gaffes keep me entertained.

So here’s the story:

Ivan and I are working on our Samba routine. I think we have it completely choreographed but I have yet to dance the entire thing full-out, to music, in sequence, and we are days out from my next competition, people! AHHH!

I will just do what I did for Jive last competition. We had practiced it once, count it once, before Desert Classic and I knew all of three, count ’em, three steps. I did three steps for the entire Jive. So anyways, then with the un-practiced Jive, and now with the un-practiced Samba I’m simply going to give myself a mental pass on that dance, meaning that I will dance it the best I can and that I will be fine no matter if I mess up or how well or poorly we place because the fact of the matter is, we simply do not have the time to really make this routine polished. Heck! We are still working on, improving, and polishing the Rumba and Cha Cha routines and I’ve been dancing those for a few months now!

So I’m not going to be too hard on myself when it comes to performing the Samba this time around. I will be a little more serious about it for my next competition after I’ve had the opportunity to work out the bugs and practice! And yes, I may be in a pickle with this Samba dance at the competition for lack of preparation, but that is not what this post is actually about.

You see, on my last lesson we were working on the Samba and Ivan’s shirt flew up. I saw this big brown june bug on his side. I thought perhaps he had a tatoo on his abdomen or something. I was curious – I know, like it was so important to find out what this brown dot was when I was in the middle of learning a routine I will be dancing in a few days – I don’t pretend that I make any sense when it comes to these things. Well anyways, I had to know. I just did, okay?

So I told Ivan, “Ivan. Pull up your shirt! What is that brown dot on your belly? Do you have a tatoo?”

“No. What you talking about?” He pulled up his shirt to reveal his belly button and I scanned the skin for the mark I’d seen.

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I’d thought.

“What you looking at?” He inquired.

“Well, I guess it must have been this.” I pointed at a small brown dot on his side.

“My pickle?”


“My pickle.”

Tears streamed down my face as I gasped for breath between guffaws.

“Ha ha ha, Ivan! No, that is NOT a pickle! A pickle is a very different thing.” (If you know what I mean)

“That’s a freckle.”

Sometimes It Just Takes A Little Smell

Ah, the joys of learning another language!

Today Ivan and Marieta got back from the Hollywood Dancesport competition where they placed 3rd in the Open Professional Rhythm division.  It was super exciting to watch live online via streaming but even better to get to see them in person for my lesson today, to congratulate them, to work on the open Cha Cha routine, and to give Ivan a birthday card.

It wasn’t a very aerobic lesson but we were really pounding out the details of the dance.  I’m still working to simply remember the steps.  Beyond that are layers and layers of little details that must be addressed because these seeming little things are what make the routine really pop.  For instance, I noticed that on one part I was doing something slightly different than Ivan.  We need to look in unison, like we are dancing the same dance.  Just that one little bit, deciding if we would do a check hip hip or a swirly rounded hip hip took a minute to figure out.  In the end, it looks much better.

Also, we worked on how to do a variety of cross-overs.  We have 3 right in the beginning, each slightly different.  Then a turn into quick Cha Cha step.  I need help with balance, making the steps quick, clean, and sharp, putting my body weight on at the right place at the right time over the right foot, and then how to place my arms.  It’s a bit overwhelming.  Scratch that, it’s extremely overwhelming.

Strangely, one part I am feeling more secure about are the stupid splits.  Truly this is bizarre to me but it feels more strong, safe, and I even did a little jump to bring my feet together and worm my way up twisting my hips to the next step, something I really didn’t think I could do.  We have yet to execute this to speed or with music, but there is progress and this is encouraging.

I think the most difficult thing is the ronde’ we do after a cross-over.  Ivan wanted my arms to be different and since Marieta was there we took advantage of her presence.  She did the move, and it was completely different from what I was doing….like night and day, and I liked her way so very much better.  “Wow,” I uttered.  Even just a simple little step looks exciting and intense and tells a story when Marieta does it.  I, therefore, spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out how to emulate her, and to no avail.  I conceptually know what I’m going for, and I can tell when I do it incorrectly, but figuring out how to actually execute it proprerly,…how to compress my right side, to remember to place my feet together before the last step, where to place my head, how to attack the ronde’ and not make it so soft and balletic, how to change my weight after placing the feet together, to look up rather than down when I face Ivan as the step ends, well, it seriously made me want to cry.

Why?  Because I have this thought that I wish I had been studying this style of dance since I was a child.  It is overwhelming to realize all the knowledge I just don’t have, my lack of experience, my inability to place my body correctly.  I honestly don’t think there is ever a way to truly “catch up” and this thought makes me incredibly sad.  I know, I know.  I can’t change the past and it is pretty useless to dwell on it.  It is the anthesis of empowering.  And still, it makes me sad.  I mourn the loss of an imaginary reality where I could have been a professional dancer.  Irrational, I know.

But after the lesson, I wasn’t able to dwell on this because I gave Ivan a card for his birthday.  It was a nice card that said something to the effect you make more of a difference in my life than you will probably ever even realize.  At one point (It was a wordy card) it said “Sometimes it just takes a little smile or a word of encouragement at the right time…”  Well, Ivan was practicing reading in English.  I have to give the man some serious props because I can’t even begin to fathom trying to read something in Bulgarian with that Cyrillic alphabet.  But anyways, it was pretty funny hearing him sound out all the words.  Instead of saying the word “smile” it came out as “smell.”  Ha!  Ah, yes, sometimes it just takes a little smell….. heh heh heh.

Lucky for us, Marieta was there today to translate the content of the card into Bulgarian for Ivan.  A lot of times he will say the words while reading but not truly understand what is being communicated.  For once he actually understood the message and was honestly touched.  He said, “Oh, so nice this card.  You touch my bottom.”


He meant that the card touched his heart, that he was moved deeply.  But, well, literally it translated into “bottom” which in English has a very different meaning!  He explained, “What is it you call the deepest part of the ocean?”

“Well, it’s the bottom of the ocean.”  I replied.

“See!  I right!”

We laughed hysterically but the fun didn’t end there.

I tried my hand at some Bulgarian, trying to impress Marieta with what I’ve been learning.  Now it was my turn to make a gauche faux pas.

I meant to say, “I’m sorry.  I don’t understand.  Please repeat that slower.”

But you see, the word for repeat and the word for fart both start with a “P” and get mixed up in my brain.  Why do I know the word in Bulgarian for fart, well, for that blame Ivan who thinks it is hysterical to teach me inappropriate things.

So, I ended up saying, “I’m sorry.  I don’t understand.  Please fart slower.”

Sheesh!  Marieta was so sweet about it.  Because I was serious when I told her this, she was trying to be encouraging and kind but ended up asking Ivan how a person could fart slower.  “I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that one!” She shared.

Yes, the difference between prog-na-li and pov-tor-ri-li is important!  Not a mistake I will make again.  I also said that I like green wine.  Actually, it’s red wine I like.

So, there you go.  I have a lot to learn both as a dancer and a speaker of the Bulgarian language.  Hopefully I will approach both with joy, humor, and humility rather than sadness and despair at my shortcomings…celebrate the wins, like feeling better about splits, and laughing at the mistakes, like the rest of my lesson, trusting myself to learn and grow from them and to continue this evolution.