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A Chance for an Abandoned Dream

Ball dancing is something that I once dreamed of doing and it brings painful memories when I think of it. For one period of time a dream of being trained in ball dancing occupied such a significant place in my life that my young years memories are somehow divided between things that had happened BEFORE my attempt to get enrolled at a ball dance club and AFTER it.

One day, someone from the ball dancing training club turned up at the school where I was a student and invited all those who wanted to go dancing to come to the gym for a sort of an audition. For some reason, all the boys who showed an interest were put on the list of acceptees, but the girls were discriminated against we were told we had to demonstrate first whether we had an ear for music and whether we could do the split. Now, many years after the event, I still remember very vividly the cheerful spots of sunlight on the yellow-green floor of the gym, cold and assessing stares of the talented scouts and the piercing silent scream of stabbing pain from my muscles when they were suddenly stretched in an awkward and incomplete split. She wont do, was the devastating verdict. Her bodys not made for this.

Whenever I find myself sitting in a darkened auditorium and watching dancing pairs on the stage, I leave my body which is not made for this, and become the dance, music, perfect, unstoppable rhythm and fiery passion. The stage is that of the Kyiv Shans Sport Dance Club, and one of the dancers is my ten year-old son. And I smile to my childhood dream which has come to be realized in a manner much different from the way I wanted it to be realized, but realized it has been. The Club Shans (which means chance) and ball dancing have become an integral part of my life.

I love everything connected with this ball-dancing life: I love watching the coaches Natalya Bednyahina and Roman Mirkin dance and the younger trainees avidly follow their every movement with their eyes from the wings; I love watching a group of recalcitrant boys try hard to repeat Romans dancing step; Im much moved and emotionally warmed by the sight of Natalya brushing the small girls hair and arranging it in tiny buns; I find it very touching when older children take care of the younger ones when there are no grown-ups around, or when at the dance competitions the children cheer and support their teams shouting at the top of their voice, Come on, come on! Youre the best! Or when the clubs director Iryna Bednyahina wipes the tears of those who have failed to get into the final. I find myself under the spell of the solemnity and bustle of the moments before the performance is to begin, all those excited eyes, rustle and slow movement of the folds of girls dancing skirts, shimmer and sparkle, young handsome bodies, bright colours, whiffs of perfume, open faces and dazzlingly white shirts of the boys.

Shans was founded in 1996; it is a member of the Association of Sport Dance of Ukraine, whose president is Svyatoslav Vlokh. In the time that has passed since its foundation, Iryna Bednyahina, Shans director, has turned the club into a family, a close-nit team of like-minded people. Ms Bednyahina is a judge of the highest category of the Association of the Sport Dance of Ukraine and an IDSF Category B judge. The two coaches, Natalya Bednyahina and Roman Mirkin, are Masters of Sports, International Class, two-time champions of Ukraine in the 10 dances programme; winners of the European Cup 2001, ten-times champions of Kyiv; in 2002, at the world championship held in Portugal, they reached the semi-final. In other words, they are dancing coaches, that is they take part in professional dance competitions. They are among the fifty best dance pairs of the world in the World Sport Dance Federation rating.

Both my parents are actors and in my early years I was exposed to the world of the performing arts. I know how hard it is to preserve a performing troupe stable, to protect it from the ruining forces of conflicts, misunderstandings, intrigues, wounded pride and thwarted ambitions. Is it tactful and yet firm management? Wisdom and love? These were the things I wanted to find out when I talked to Iryna Bednyahina and her daughter Natalya Bednyahina at their apartment in a house located in Horodetsky Street, right in the heart of Kyiv.

Iryna Bednyahina wanted to tell me everything at once, and show me hundreds of photographs, and souvenirs her students had brought from exotic countries, and videotapes with performances and rehearsals recorded on them. Soon Natalya joined us and we watched the sequences they liked best, and though they must have seen these tapes a great many times, they laughed and cried happy tears together with me.

The time passed so fast in conversation, video watching, tea sipping and cake eating that when I looked at my watch I was appalled to find that several hours had passed since I had come in. Frankly, I felt reluctant to leave.

The world of dance seems to have precedence for you over everything else.

Yes, the world of dance has squeezed everything else to the margins of our life. I dont even know whether its good or bad, but I can hardly think of anything else happening outside our world of dance its all the time on our mind, all our thoughts are about it, all efforts and time go into it. Every child that comes to our club needs attention, every child has his or her ambitions, every child needs to be comforted if things do not go too well. Then therere also relations between the dancers in the pairs to be regulated, to settle conflicts, to deal with the parents. Every childs heart is very sensitive and it requires a lot not to hurt any sensibilities. Every child is a world, full of hopes, secrets and images and its not a banality for us or an empty statement. We bear a great burden of responsibility and we do our best not to hurt, not to offend, not to ruin. Dance reflects the different psychological states so well, and we cant afford to show indifference or lack of attention. We share our students happy moments, and they are like our own children for us to whom we devote so much love and care.

Do you have a way of determining whether a child who wants to be enrolled at your club has a talent or not?

There are ways but intuition is of a particular importance. Sometimes, when we look at a group of children, we can see a potential star among them this child emanates some kind of inner energy, theres something charismatic in this child. Sometimes the talent is hidden and it takes an extra effort to get his talent revealed. One of the first coaches of my daughter Natalya told me that she did not see much of a physical potential in my child and her chances of becoming a dancer were low, but as it turns out that it is my Natalya from the whole group which she originally joined who has become a professional dancer and who continues to dance. That is why if a child has an ear for music and a sense of rhythm, but does not seem to have a physical potential, we will never discourage this child or the parents by saying theres no talent. Talent is much too complicated a thing given by God, and it does happen often enough that the talent becomes revealed only after some time.

How much depends on the coach?

A lot. Its an intricate science of sorts to be a good coach. Even such a seemingly simple movement as the right turn in a slow waltz can take years to learn to do right and yet after so much effort put into it you may fail to do it as well as the world champion does it. Theres some magic in it, theres psychology of dance as well. Children often ape the grown-ups, play the fool, and I have to keep explaining thats no good just aping or mindlessly repeating the movements you have to deeply understand, to feel the dance youre dancing. I tell the children, Try to become one with music, get into dance, into the very depth of it. The dance sort of waits for you, teaches you, checks whether youre ready for it. To teach all that is one of the greatest secrets of coaching. And a great responsibility as well.

Im always very much impressed by the fiery passion and abandon with which very young dancers dance Latin American dances. I wonder where this passion comes from. Young children lack life experience, they have seen so little yet, they have known no grown-up passions.

Children learn so fast, they feel things with their hearts. To learn the body movements of the dance is akin to learning to read. We read books and gain some new experience children dance and also gain new experience through body movements.

Learning and gaining experience through dancing seems to be a unique way of cognition. Does the inner world of the children who regularly attend dancing classes develop in a way different from that of the children who dont?

Yes, and it concerns both the development in a spiritual and in everyday sense. Attending dance classes is different from attending classes at school. Dancing requires a different sort of learning. Besides, take this situation, for example someone whom you considered a bit inferior to yourself in, say, general knowledge, turns out to be better than you in dancing. When you see it, you are inspired to try harder and do better. Theres a spirit of competition, of powerful motivation that helps you achieve better results in dancing. I am of the opinion that the world of dancing is greatly different from the everyday world.

How did you yourself enter the world of dance?

I dreamed of becoming a dancer in my childhood but this dream has never been achieved. Ive never become a professional though I danced a lot. My husband loved dancing as well, we went to ball dance clubs, we danced whenever and wherever we could, but he was a Soviet army officer and it was considered that ball dances and the status of a Soviet officer were incompatible. I found it very hard to be denied ample opportunities for expressing myself in dancing in fact we had to engage in what you might even call clandestine dancing. I did not want to cause problems for my husband but I did have to discharge my creative energies in some ways. By education, I was an interior designer, and I did a mural in the Moscow Institute of Pediatrics, I organized dancing hobby groups. We moved from place to place from Ukraine to Moscow and then to the Far East, and then back to Ukraine, all the time on the move, and everywhere where I stayed for a longer period of time I sought to find something into which I could channel my pent-up creative energies. Once, when we were in Kyiv, I, quite by chance, ran into my old teacher of dancing, Valeriy Korzynin, and later I took my six year-old daughter Natalya to the dance classes he was conducting. It turned out to be a turning point in my life.

It seems that fate has been kinder to Natalya and she has achieved your dream for herself.

In the world of dancing the more is given you the more is required from you. In dancing similarly to any other art you have to be dissatisfied with what you have achieved that what creativity is about. Creativity entails self-sacrifice and anguish when you fail to reach perfection you seek. Only through overcoming sloth, inertness, achieving what at first seems impossible to achieve, you reach a measure of success in dancing. To become a leader, a champion, requires so muchworkouts that tire you out so much that all you want is to lie down and die; training to the point when every muscle in your body aches and pain is unbearable. Natalya rebelled more than once, refusing to attend dance classes. She even threw her dancing shoes into trash cans hoping it would prevent her form attending dance classes.

When it came time for Natalya to chose what to do after completing secondary education, we thought itd be worthwhile to go to study at a prestigious college and drop dancing. She performed very successfully at dance competitions and contests, and every time we thought itd be the last competition shed take part in and then shed quit dancing and devote herself entirely to studies, a new competition came along and she participated in it.

What were you doing all that time?

I taught art at the international relations school where Natalya studied, then I went to work as an assistant to a member of parliament. Upon graduation, Natalya enrolled at the International Christian University to major in international relations with a view of entering a diplomatic career. But she did not quit her dancing and continued taking part in competitions. It caused problems she missed classes, she did not have time to prepare for the exams and it became evident that she had to choose either studies or dancing. She chose dancing and dropped out but soon after that an opportunity presented itself to get her enrolled at the Choreography and Art History Department of the Slavonic University. It was really a stroke of exceptionally good luck.

When did Natalya start teaching dancing?

When she was in high school. By that time she had won championships of Kyiv and championship of Ukraine in the 10 dances programme. She taught dancing after classes, during the breaks between the classes all of it voluntarily and free of charge. I knew then that in addition to the dancing talent, she had an aptitude for teaching. The children she taught did show considerable improvement in dancing.

But its one thing to give private lessons, and quite another to found a dance club. It was a difficult step to take, wasnt it?

Yes, it was. Back in 1996, when we founded Shans, there were a lot of skeptics who told us nothing much would come out of it professional dancers cannot become good coaches. Coaches should be experienced in coaching, should be older, should have a lot of time to devote to coaching rather than to taking part in competitions, the skeptics said. But in dancing theres a golden rule in order to achieve something, in order to win, you have to overcome all doubts, fears, indecisiveness and lack of resolve. Its a victory over yourself, and theres no other way. Roman, Natalyas partner, became an indispensable figure in Shans. He graduated from the International Slavonic University, the same one Natalya graduated from, and he proved to be very good at coaching. Romans joining the club marked a new phase in our development. He brought a new spirit to the clubs life. He became not only an ideal partner of Natalya but an excellent coach and teacher as well, and now Natalya and Roman complement each other as coaches. I am pleased to say they are heart and soul of Shans, they are Shans energy core. The clubs successes is particularly evident if its adult dancers achieve a success, and Natalya and Roman are well known in the world of dance, and the impressive results they have achieved show that we are moving in the right direction. Natalya and Roman continue to coach and take part in competitions. And they also continue their post-graduate studies. I think its very good that coaches do more than just coaching and participate in the top-level competitions. They stay abreast with the latest trends in dancing, they keep in top shape. At Shans, we do everything by ourselves, without inviting any outside help choreography, music selection, making of costumes and organization of contests included. Our friends supported us, both morally and financially. Among the biggest contributors were the Dnipro Hotel and the Prominvestbank Bank. Both the children who enrolled and their parents believed we had a future. And now we are into the seventh year of our existence as a ball dance club. Once, the well-known Dutch dancer, athlete and coach Ruud Vermier who conducted a master class for our children in Kyiv, said that there is no such thing in dance as I can do it or I cant do it but only I want to do it or I dont want to do it.

So, Shans is in its seventh year of existence, as you say. What are your main achievements?

Our main achievement is the children who have been coming all these years to Shans to learn dancing. Many of them have won prizes and titles at various Ukrainian and international competitions. Ill give you just a few names. Dmytro Shumyhay and Tetyana Terekhova (juniors) won international competitions held in Slovenia and Spain in 2000; Heorhiy Laptiy and Mariya Rosynska (juveniles) won prizes at international competitions held in Poland and Slovenia in 2000, in the Czech Republic and Slovenia in 2001, and in Russia; Vladyslav Kudin and Alla Borovska (juveniles) won a competition held in Belarus in 2002 and prizes at a competition in Slovenia in 2002; Serhiy Tytarenko and Katya Trishyna (adults) won the third place in the Cup of Ukraine competition in the 10 dances programme, Oleksiy Bysko and Kseniya Horb (youth) were vice-champions of Ukraine in the 10 dances programme in 2001, won an international competition held in Russia in 2002, and prizes at an international competition held in Belarus. At present they have different partners but continue to perform successfully. Maksym Ihnatov and Kateryna Panchuk, our new pair (juveniles) got into the final of Ukraines championship and won an international competition.

Shans organizes local and all-Ukrainian sport ball dance contests that are held in Kyiv. In 2002, Shans organized for the third time The Kyiv Mayors Cup IDSF Open Standard and IDSF Open Latin, in which several hundred pairs form all parts of Ukraine and from Eastern and Western Europe took part.

I know that learning to dance at a club like yours involves a lot of expenses, and it is like this all over the world. Who in Ukraine can afford it? And who can afford to go abroad to take part in international competitions? Children of the rich only?

Today both in the west and in Ukraine sport ball dance is speedily gaining in popularity. And it is getting to be increasingly popular in Ukraine as well. The market reacted the way it does in similar situations and the prices for dancing shoes and costumes went up. An average charge for a dance class in Kyiv is 1520 dollars an hour.

We must admit with regret that many Ukrainian children with great dancing potential have to quit dancing when they reach a certain age since they their parents that is cannot afford trips to competitions held in foreign countries, they cannot afford the costumes, they cannot afford private lessons with good coaches. And without all these things they cannot compete at advanced levels. Natalya and Roman, for example, in order to remain competitive, have to go to Slovenia and Italy or Moscow for training every month.

Do you have any idea how many able Ukrainian professional dancers leave the country in search for better chances abroad?

Unfortunately, in the past few years there have been many such people. For example, Natalyas good friend, Mariya Manusova, US champion and a finalist of the World Championship in Latin American dances, resides in the USA. Natalya herself has had lucrative offers from the USA, Italy and Holland, but she has rejected them as she wants to stay in Ukraine and work and live here. I fully support her in this decision you must not leave the country to which you are attached with all your heart, in which you do something that is dear to you, in which you have your own family and the great family of children whom you teach to dance, and for whom you feel responsible.

Have you ever been sorry you got yourself involved in the work youre doing?

I have to tell you in all honesty that there are moments when I feel so tired, so emotionally and physically drained that I want to quit everything, lock myself in, lie down, cry tears of fatigue and sleep for days on end. But when the next morning the telephone rings and I am reminded of the things that have to be urgently done, and I go to the club, see the rehearsals and training, I feel my fatigue is gone and Im back in the usual rhythm. Its an addiction of sorts which keeps you going and you cannot quit. The children who come to us are a new generation who are being brought up by the parents who live in a free country, whose mentality is so much different from what it used to be. It is so exciting to meet these children and their parents, its so rewarding and interesting to work with them. Its creativity, and according to Plato creativity is a transition from non-being to being.

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