Two months ago I wrote an e- mail to Sergey Sereda, the President of the Russian Small Animal Veterinary Association under the subject: An “unusual request” …..
“Dear Sergey” it read, “ for a somewhat unusual performance at the Banquet in St.Petersburg I will need:
– a DJ who can play a couple of songs which I will provide
– a spotlight
– a large dark cloth under which one can hide a body
– a Russian lady who can dance a Waltz
Can you help me ? (And I would be grateful if you could keep this confidential…..)”
For three days I didn’t receive a reply ( which is not so unusual as Sergey doesn’t communicate much in English) – then an e-mail arrived:
My name is Maia Vakoulenko, I am 40 years old and I am Assistant Professor at the university in Rostov-on-Don and I can dance a Waltz. Sergey said that you would need my help – I am completely at your disposal!”
”Excellent !” I though,” I have found my Russian partner in crime…..”
So, what was this all about?!…..
FECAVA has – partially due to my fault….. – the probably most unusual decoration a vet in Europe can receive – the “Athenian Helmet”
which is a somewhat striking head attire which is occasionally presented to not necessarily the colleague with the highest professional achievements in the room, but to someone who is just a nice person, a great colleague, someone you is supporting other colleagues and someone we respect and love. The difficult thing with the helmet is that nobody knows when it will be awarded again and when this happens, it is usually as a part of a performance.
This year my plan was simple :
In form of a “Beauty and the Beast’” number, where the room would suddenly fall pitch dark, the first piece of music would start and I would wear the helmet while hiding myself underneath a cloth, while the spotlight would be on my partner. She would then move closer to me through the room ( of roughly 500 guests) as if she would walk through a dark forest. She would then come across the cloth which she would pull away (as one does when alone in the woods….) and would then be confronted with the slowly rising Beast ( I am talking about myself here…..). She would then run away, slowly followed by myself until the music suddenly changes to a Waltz , which the Beast indicates to want to dance with her….. Well, of course, dancing a Waltz she can not resist and once it had been danced, we would stop and announce the winner of the helmet ( which I had worn myself until then)……simple !
All had been been arranged when I arrived in St.Petersburg (helmet, music, cloth etc), but a day before the event Maia called me in a state of panic: apparently she had tried to dance a Waltz with Sergey Sereda the previous night on the street and it turned out that according to Sergey she couldn’t dance a Waltz….
Great – that was a challenge and I had wished that Christ Udell, a cat owner and a friend of mine and a former Austrian dance champion would have been around at that moment… The problem with the Waltz is – at least I find this – that as the lead you are moving often towards your partner when initiating a turn, which means that your partner needs to know the dance, otherwise you are bumping into each other…..I don’t find this with a Foxtrot where I can pull my partner towards me and where I often dance alongside my partner.
So what to do?….well, thankfully Sergey had asked me to attend a meeting of the “Baltic Forum” which was a very prestigous gathering of Russian veterinarians circa an hours drive away from the congress, so I asked Maia to come along to the same meeting, which was held in a restaurant with a large terasse.
So while the Russian guests arrived, they were wondering about the Russian-German couple speaking English and trying to dance without music while everyone was enjoying their aperitifs. Unfortunately Sergey was right…Maia couldn’t dance a Waltz and we struggled with the first few right turns, but she certainly had a great sense of coordination and she was a much quicker learner than I would have been in the same situation, so that I was confident that we could pull it off….
The following night a few people were wondering who the mystery lady was, who was sitting next to me at the banquet and when the light went off and I found myself lying on the floor underneath a dark cloth in the middle of a gathering of some of the most prominent members of our profession I thought to myself : “This is probably one of the most embarrassing ways to blow my reputation if this one goes wrong……”
Then suddenly the cloth was pulled away….
(image courtesy of Jaak Joeks)
Well, it wasn’t really a Waltz in the end, but it appears that it worked out and it was nice to be able to add a joint Western European – Russian co-production to the event….
Thanks Maia and Sergey and Iva from the congress organisers for your help and cooperation with this idea.
The helmet was awarded this year to our colleague and friend Kaethi Brunner from Switzerland
who is expected to wear the helmet on her forthcoming trip to Bhutan…..