Dancing (and Cruising) With the Stars

PHOTO: Elena Grinenko of "Dancing With the Stars."

Matt Jensen might have the best job on Earth. He cruises around the world for free to dance with beautiful women.

The 57-year-old dance instructor from Casa Grande, Ariz., works as a cruise ship dance host.

"It's a dream job," Jensen said. "I get to dance with people who love to dance."

On this cruise, Jensen got to dance with someone who really, really loves to dance, world champion ballroom dancer Elena Grinenko, from the popular TV program "Dancing with the Stars."

She was the star attraction in a group dance cruise put together on board the luxury cruise ship, Holland America's MS Eurodam.

The 38 people in the group got a chance to dish and dance with one of the best.

In between talking about the latest gossip on "Dancing with the Stars," it was an opportunity to learn new dance techniques.

"I don't teach them steps because each one comes from different schools that have different teaching patterns," Grinenko said. "So it's genuinely more about how to make those steps better. Technique, balance, styling, lead and follow."

Grinenko observed that the one area most students need help in is leading and following.

"As a lady I wouldn't know what my next step is so I have to know the basics in order to follow," she said. "Competitive dancing you learn this one specific routine. And it does not change. So there is not as much lead and follow in 'Dancing with The Stars.'"

Grinenko noticed that the TV program has brought more men onto the dance floor.

"Because there are a lot of sports guys on 'Dancing with the Stars,' men are more likely to go with their women to the studios right now," she said. "It blew up the business, especially the first two or three years."

One of Grinenko's partners on DWTS was former basketball star Clyde Drexler.

Even though Grinenko was on the cruise to teach dance technique, her most popular sessions involved talking about behind the scenes gossip from the TV program.

Some of the professional dancers on the program have become more popular than the stars.

This dance cruise, put together by Let's Dance Vacations of Nashville, and its owner Elly Engberg, was the first of its kind, adding a well-known ballroom dance champion to its mix of regular dancers and hosts.

While Grinenko has traveled all over the world in dance competitions, this was her first cruise and her first visit to the Caribbean.

She began dancing in Russia at age seven. Now 35, she has retired from competitions and spends her time as a dance judge, and she has a business that represents other ballroom dancers.

"I cannot imagine my life without dancing. I started teaching at 15-years-old. I never had any other job," she said. "People dance because they want to. They're passionate about it. As a girl it was about sparkles and costumes."

Her best advice to the students, "Dance your heart out. Don't become too analytical. Don't forget to enjoy your craft."

Matt Jensen, a one-time crane operator, has been cruising and teaching dance for 20 years.

He's done more than 50 of these dance cruises.

"It's not a job where I make money but I get the trip paid for," he said. "I've managed to cruise the world for free. I've never even paid my airfare, only gratuities."

On cruises all passengers pay tips, or gratuities, to their waiters and room stewards, about $10-$12 a day. It's the primary income source for cruise employees.

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