Stanislav @ Capital Swing JnJ 2024 w/Victoria Henk

Getting to know Stanislav Ivanov

I sat down with Stanislav Ivanov at a quiet table away from the soothing koi pond at the pretty Hyatt Regency during Houston’s Novice Invitational in March 2024. The mostly Korean/part Russian (and Mongolian) pro was super positive and energetic, even though he wasn’t performing on the dance floor.

One interesting factoid people don’t know/get wrong is how his Russian name is pronounced: it’s Stahn-ee-slaahv (not “ih” like independence and not “luv,” hence his Instagram handle = @not_stan_is_love). His last name is pronounced “eeh-vah-nohff.”

He also loves gambling, especially playing blackjack.

The self-proclaimed tech geek (and Apple beta tester) started with ballroom dancing before moving to West Coast Swing in 2013, mostly because there weren’t many competitions for ballroom.

“I kind of burned out from ballroom and wanted to try something different, too,” he explained. “I really love Salsa and Bachata and these styles of dance are very similar to West Coast Swing, which also has lots of improvisation… One of the best parts about West Coast Swing is that there is a huge difference dancing to the same song with five different people; there’s just infinite opportunities and infinite options.”

When a friend sent Stanislav a video of Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann competing in a Jack and Jill, he remembers blurting out “Oh my God this is amazing!” and instantly being intrigued. More motivation to try WCS came when he found out that Benji Schwimmer started his dance career in ballroom too.

Benji, Jordan and Tatiana are his main inspirations.

“I also get a lot of stuff from Maxime from France, learning all the patterns from him and just watching his videos,” he gushed. “I told him that and he knows it. I enjoy watching all the amazing dancers.”

So pros fanboy/fangirl out too!

I soon learned that dance instructors—including an Arthur Murray ballroom dance studio co-owner like Stanislav—experience shyness and fear too.

“I remember when I was an All Star and I asked a Champion to dance,” the approximately 6-month-christened Champion said. “Sometimes we feel a little bit intimidated because we feel like oh, we’re not good enough, but I think it’s very important to ask. Don’t be afraid; you know, the worst they can say is “No” or “I’m unavailable,” and that’s ok… You have to be in it to win it.”

He stressed the importance of knowing dance etiquette and having a mentor or someone who can teach you about etiquette as helpful too. His first example was to not correct someone on the dance floor unless they ask for your opinion, and another was if you say no to someone, you have to say no to everyone, unless the reason you turn someone down is because that particular dance was earmarked for someone else.

“It’s kind of rude to do that,” Stanislav said. “If you have to step out to grab a drink or use the bathroom, make sure you find that person you said no to later and ask them to dance. Be considerate too. If you notice the follower is a beginner, try not to do anything too complicated; make them feel like a superstar. Take care of that person and give them a high five after the dance, and always smile.”

He also suggested making small talk with someone before asking them to dance, even something as simple as “Hi, how are you?” or “Where are you from?” or “I really like watching you dance” helps develop a relationship.

Stanislav acknowledged that a lot of men, including himself, have to deal with sweaty hands which often adds to their fear of asking someone to dance. But he argued convincingly that sweating, in most forms anyways, is the body’s natural way of cooling itself down, so it’s a good thing.

WCS is a cardio workout after all.

But the Bostonian, who loves wearing business suits, also remembers not having good dances.

“I think during every dance I surprise myself and sometimes not in a good way,” he admitted. “I’ve had multiple dances in the past where I’m not proud of myself, and I blame myself for missed opportunities in terms of I could have done it so much better, or I didn’t provide my follower enough chances to style.”

He was adamant that lessons always help, as in, always. If you can’t afford privates, he said workshops could be a substitute but to at least take group lessons.

He now takes lessons from Jordan. These started after Stanislav broke the ice and reached out to Jordan to tell him he loved his YouTube videos and appreciated Jordan’s teaching style.

“When people say “Oh, I’ve never taken a lesson in my life” and they brag about it? I always say, “Well you could be much better if you actually took a lesson, right?”” he said with gentleness. “The result will eventually show in your dance not only on the competition floor, but you will also notice a big difference in your own movement. Just be patient.”

Then Stanislav acknowledged that sometimes other factors may come into play regarding a bad connection on the dance floor.

“I think usually it’s the music that influences [connection],” he said. “You know, sometimes there’s a certain song that we both just feel good about? But sometimes you’re just so tired, or hungover, or have a headache or stomachache that it can affect your dance too. It could be anything.”

Stanislav said that a certain skillset is required to be able to “fake and pretend like nothing happened” when mishaps on the dance floor occur. Patience, which came up a lot during our chat, is a must in order to develop this skillset.

“Of course, you know the nature of the dance is freestyle so mistakes will happen, but it’s very, very, important that we recover from those things, so they happen in a good way,” he explained.

Sometimes recovery can mean taking a break too, such as deciding not to travel too much to avoid fatigue.

“I know my limits so if I traveled every single week I would probably get burned out,” he said. “I know I cannot take too much time off of work and usually jet lag is something that can affect my workday schedule, so traveling to European events is kind of tricky for me.”

(France and Budapest are two events on his bucket list by the way.)

Stanislav has never suffered from dance-related injuries, but he did break two toes back when he played soccer and has been in a cast. He also hurt his wrist while trying out boxing. The multitalented athlete used to ski and snowboard too but worried about getting hurt and not being able to WCS, so stopped.

“If you do get hurt, take time off and listen to your PT and your doctor,” he suggested. “People who are recovering from surgery definitely need to be mindful to their body, pay attention, and listen to what their body tells them. If it says, “I’m tired” or “I’m not feeling well” then go to bed and rest.”

His parents put him in many different activities when he was younger to help determine what he was good at. His mom’s only rule was that her son not get hurt or eventually experience a concussion.

“I really, really like the NFL,” he said enthusiastically but also with disappointment in his voice. “I’m a big Patriots fan and huge Tom Brady fan; I understand how the game works. Even if I had a chance to be an offensive coordinator or coach? Wow! Unfortunately, I’m not built like a football player, but that would be my dream.”

He looked down at his slender build, shrugged his shoulders, and we both laughed.

“I definitely need to start lifting weights again, but I think I’m pretty good at receiving the ball. I do practice sometimes you know,” he said all happy. “I’m pretty shifty and quick on my feet [check out this YouTube video for proof!] so I think it helps with my dancing as well.”

In addition to avoiding injuries, Stanislav said he didn’t want to be a jack of all trades, but a master of something. He also wants to dance for a long, long time, even if he does eventually take up golf.

“I feel like a lot of the West Coast Swing dancers peak in their 30s,” he said. “Like you get better like a fine wine, you know?”

It took Stanislav about 10 years to advance from Newcomer to Champion, and he confessed the Novice level is called the “black hole division where everybody gets stuck.”

“So, I was taking my sweet time to get from one level to the next,” he shared. “It was not part of my job, and I wasn’t thinking of becoming a professional swing dancer... I wish I would’ve started [West Coast Swing] sooner.”

Even though he’s known for being a bit silly on the dance floor and encourages those who take his workshops to be more playful during competitions, he is very serious when it comes to taking care of his body.

“I’m very, very, mindful of what I eat,” he said. “I try to eat a balanced diet and never skip a meal. I try to get protein at every meal, I don’t drink soda, and avoid processed food, and I also know my limits in terms of consuming food. I never get my money’s worth going to a buffet because after one plate I’m full.”

Well, that’s one difference between us for sure.

Stanislav said one of the biggest mistakes he thinks some dancers make is skipping meals to attend a workshop or a competition.

“I try to eat something before I compete because dancing on an empty stomach is very, very, hard,” he said. “Some dancers don’t get enough sleep or drink enough fluids either.”

Other advice included learning to switch, or dance the opposite role, because of how much it improves someone’s dancing. He also suggested watching contemporary ballet videos for help with spotting to avoid dizziness when spinning.

Then he brought up patience again.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?” he said. “Enjoy the journey, enjoy the process. Some people who are very competitive get frustrated when they don’t get immediate results, especially with regards to advancing, but you need time to mature and develop.”

One big mistake he sees a lot in competition—in addition to being off time (he calls timing “king and queen” and says it affects every single level)—is when dancers try too much with all the “flash and trash, which usually backfires.” He warned against being a selfish dancer who tries to outdance his/her partner too and how some dancers forget about who they’re competing with.

“I’m guilty myself of performing for the audience,” he said. “So, I sound like a hypocrite, but it happens to the best of us. You should dance to your partner. If you give all your attention to your partner and create something together the audience will react automatically.”

He also warns dancers not to be too sensitive with disappointing competition results and who then want to quit because of them.  Stanislav realizes that everybody enjoys WCS for different reasons: some people just like the social dance part, some like hanging out with friends, and some do like to compete.

“You don’t have to be a competitor to be good at this,” he said. “But if you really want to challenge yourself, I highly recommend competing because you learn more about yourself and discover things... A lot of people act differently under pressure.”

That would be me.

“I’ve danced with some people who are really, really, good and said they should compete and they’re like “Oh, no, I don’t want to compete because that’ll change it and then I won’t love it and it won’t be a hobby” and I’m like good for you for knowing that about yourself,” he added.

He hopes that people enjoy watching him dance and perhaps become inspired.

“Sometimes you have a good dance, sometimes you have a bad dance,” he said. “It doesn’t determine the quality of your dance… Move on, there’s always the next opportunity.”