Former U.S. Ambassador To Costa Rica Dances With The Stars

Nov 10, 2017
Originally published on November 10, 2017 9:03 am

Leaving the foreign service — especially when a new president is elected and you are told to leave — can be a difficult transition.

But one Obama-era ambassador is actually enjoying some new steps.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica S. Fitzgerald Haney decided not to leave the tranquil Central American country after President Trump asked for his resignation. Instead he traded diplomacy for dancing — as a contestant on Costa Rican TV's top-rated version of Dancing with the Stars.

For the past 10 weeks Mr. Fitz, as he's come to be known, has been sporting tight tuxedo pants, shimmering low-cut shirts and swagger. Gone are his button-down shirts, glasses and formality.

Last week, in a not-so-subtle attempt to boost his slumping scores, Haney brought the whole family onto the dance floor: his wife, four kids — and even their dog, Clifford.

The judges approved. Mr. Fitz got a 28, his highest score so far.

Haney says his dancing foray began innocently enough. A local reporter asked what was next for him. He joked: "Maybe I'll do Dancing with the Stars."

He didn't give the comment another thought, he says, until he got a call in May from producers of the show saying they had heard his comment — and asked if he was serious.

Haney says his family was staying in Costa Rica anyway. His kids wanted to finish the school year. And they've also stayed longer because they love the country.

"We saw this as an opportunity to try and give something back," he says.

Shortly after his appointment, when Haney was an Obama fundraiser, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He says she received excellent treatment in Costa Rica. Haney donates his show stipend to one of the country's leading cancer institutes.

And he's serious about the competition. When Haney went to Israel for a business meeting, he brought his dance partner Lucía Jiménez with him so he wouldn't miss out on their three-hour daily practices.

Jiménez says Mr. Fitz is a smart, smart man, but "somehow he can't connect his brain to his body."

Social media has been harsh on his stiff style. One tweet said he showed as much sabor ... flair ... as a bowl of water.

"I see what they are saying," Haney says. "I'm definitely not the best dancer on the show but I work really hard and I'm enjoying it."

He even survived what could have been a show-stopping wardrobe malfunction. His partner's skirt covered his head briefly during an upside down body twirl.

But Mr. Fitz fights on. He's hoping for some international support to reach the semifinals. Unlike the U.S. Dancing with the Stars, Costa Rica's version allows Internet voting — from anywhere in the world.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. For diplomats serving abroad, leaving the Foreign Service can be a rough transition. But one Obama-era ambassador is actually enjoying his new steps. S. Fitzgerald Haney, the former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, stayed in that country after President Trump asked for his resignation. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, Haney traded diplomacy for dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SISTER SLEDGE SONG, "WE ARE FAMILY")

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Gone are his button-down shirts, glasses and formality. For the past 10 weeks, Mr. Fitz, as he's come to be known, now sports tight tuxedo pants, shimmering low-cut shirts and swagger. He's a contestant on Costa Rican TV's top-rated "Dancing With The Stars."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Fitz - (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Last week, in a not-so-subtle attempt to boost his slumping scores, Haney brought the whole family onto the dance floor - his wife, four kids, and even their dog, Clifford.

(APPLAUSE)

KAHN: Judges approved. Mr. Fitz got a 28, his highest score so far. Haney says his dancing foray began innocently enough. A local reporter asked what's next for the soon to be ex-ambassador. Maybe I'll do "Dancing With The Stars," he joked. He didn't give the comment another thought.

S. FITZGERALD HANEY: Until I got a call in May, saying, you know, hey, we saw you had said that. Were you serious (laughter)?

KAHN: Haney says his family was staying in Costa Rica anyway. His kids wanted to finish the school year. They've stayed longer because they love the country.

HANEY: We saw this as an opportunity - you know, try to give something back.

KAHN: Shortly after his appointment - Haney was an Obama fundraiser - his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He says she received excellent treatment in Costa Rica. Haney donates his show stipend to one of the country's leading cancer institutes. And he's serious about the competition. I spoke to him via Skype in Israel, where he was for a business meeting. He brought his dance partner Lucia Jimenez with him so not to miss out on their three-hour daily practices. Jimenez says, Mr. Fitz is a smart, smart man. But...

LUCIA JIMENEZ: Somehow, he can't connect his brain to his body (laughter).

KAHN: Social media has been harsh on his stiff style. One tweet said he showed as much sabor - flair - as a bowl of water.

HANEY: I see what they're saying. I'm definitely not the best dancer on the show, but I work really hard. I'm enjoying it.

KAHN: He even survived what could have been a show-stopping wardrobe malfunction. His partner's skirt covered his head briefly during an upside-down body twirl. But Mr. Fitz fights on. He's hoping for some international support to reach the semifinals. Unlike the U.S. "Dancing With The Stars," Costa Rica's version allows online voting from anywhere in the world. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE FAMILY")

SISTER SLEDGE: (Singing) We are family. I got all my sisters and me. We are family. I got all my sisters and me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.