It was 6:45 a.m. Saturday when Sergey Barsukov walked into the ballroom at the Marriott Waterside hotel.
His dance card was full.
He'd been here until 9 p.m. Friday, 14 hours after his first number on Day 4 of the Millennium Dancesport Championships. By the end of Day 5, he would have led six women in 510 dances. This is a living for the 27-year-old Ukrainian dance instructor:
He holds teenage girls as they foxtrot and teaches women twice his age to swivel their hips.
And when they want to compete in a professional-amateur category, he dances with them.
In an age of bump-and-grind, Barsukov is a stand-in Prince Charming. He is handsome, not hot. He smells sweet and sweats with grace. And when it was time to take his first partner to the dance floor on Saturday, he led her by the hand.
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The hot pink dress danced around her legs, with its fringes and feathers and sequins. Her bust sparkled as the light caught the Swarovski crystal bra.
But Sharon Sanchez was missing something, which Barsukov was quick to whisper.
"Smile!" he said.
So much to remember.
But the 58-year-old from Treasure Island loves the pressure that comes with the judges and their clipboards. She taught ballet before her three boys needed a soccer mom. Now that they're grown, it's her turn again.
She started ballroom three years ago, first two days a week, now up to five.
"I'm hooked," she said.
A big reason is Barsukov.
One of the first times they competed, he wore tails.
"Oh, it's so wonderful to dance with a gentleman who wore tails," she said. "You get dressed up in this beautiful dress. It's a fantasy. Sergey really knows how to show a woman. He knows how to make her look beautiful."
In the sessions he teaches at the Magic Dance Club in Pinellas Park, he tells her she can't be stiff, that she must let him move her, that she must express the emotions of each dance - the love-hate of the tango, the fun of the jive. During the pasodoble, he looks like an angry bullfighter. His waltz face says la la la.
They began the rumba, his hand extended to hers, and they swayed to the slow beat of a Spanish song about amor.
He tells his students the way to know if they're doing the rumba right - if their boyfriends are sitting in the audience, jealous.
But Richard Sanchez, 59, watched with a smile. He has taken a few lessons himself. He buys into the romance. He recently traveled to an event in Vienna, where he and his wife were escorted, by horse-drawn carriage, into a palace. He wore a tuxedo. The Blue Danube played. They waltzed all night.
He loves seeing his wife this passionate about something.
On Saturday morning, Sharon Sanchez and her instructor took first place for individual heats in four different types of dance at one of the nation's largest ballroom dancing competitions.
Barsukov gave her a hug.
"Good job," he said.
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With his first partner off to breakfast, Barsukov sat at a table, took a few sips of blue Gatorade and looked at his schedule.
It wasn't long before a freckled 7-year-old boy joined his side, sporting a number on the back of his new Latin dance shirt.
Barsukov's little brother, Dany, dances the rumba, too.
In fact, his entire family is rooted in dance - his father met his wife when she was Sergey's instructor in Ukraine. Six years ago, the entire family moved to the United States and brought dance with them.
"It's really no different," 16-year-old Artem said about growing up ballroom. "It's just a job for Sergey and my mom. For me, it's a sport. It's like baseball, but more elegant."
At some point, Barsukov lost sight of little Dany. Then he found the boy with the tallest woman on the dance floor, looking up at her as they moved.
"Oh!" Barsukov said, "Dany has a competition!"
He smiled and whistled and shouted in Russian.
And for just a brief moment that morning, Prince Charming was swept away.
Reach Alexandra Zayas at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.