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By Alexandra Draggeim
Staff Writer
U.S. Department of State
September  7, 2010


Washington — In the midst of this year’s sweltering Moscow summer, and notwithstanding the smoke from nearby peat fires, 10 young American ballet students were busy perfecting different dance positions at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography.  Now back home from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive program organized by the Russian American Foundation (RAF) and the renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy, they ponder their new understanding not only of various forms of dance but also of the Russian people and Russian culture.

“Russia is more than just what I expected,” said American student Sarah Wiese. “I think now that I have been so immersed in this culture, I can never leave it; it will always be a part of my life.”

The Bolshoi initiative had received funding from a U.S. Department of State scholarship program providing American secondary school students with the opportunity to study less commonly taught languages, such as Russian, in the countries where they are actually spoken. Wiese told she is now more committed than ever to continue her Russian-language studies.

Like Wiese, many of the students said the summer program made a huge impact on their lives and has inspired them to continue to pursue their passion for ballet. “I had such an extreme passion for ballet before I left for this program that I thought it wouldn’t be possible for my heart to expand more for ballet. But it has,” explained Seth Ives. He observed that ballet is so prominent in Russian culture because Russians “respect ballet dancers and have a group passion for the beauty of the body.”

“I think I turned into more of a ‘bunhead’ [female ballet dancer] there than before I came. I truly think this was my best summer in my life so far,” said student dancer Mable Yiu.

Many of the American students in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy program had received Russian ballet training in the United States and were excited to be able to visit the country with one of the oldest and most prestigious ballet academies. “My training is Russian, therefore it interested me as a culture,” Micah Garton explained. “Since being here, I have a whole new understanding about Russia,” he said.

Currently in its first year, the RAF’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy program is different from other ballet programs in that it puts major emphasis on language and culture. The all-expenses-paid trip to Moscow from July 17 to August 28 included about 2.5 hours of ballet classes and 2.5 hours of Russian language classes every day. No previous knowledge of Russian was required.

“I never thought to have learned so much Russian as I did in six weeks. Everyone I have met — from the academy students in my ballet class, to the ladies who make our meals in the cafeteria, to the cashiers at the metro station have — all contributed to my experience here,” said Wiese.

The opportunity to practice alongside Russian ballet students not only gave the Americans the chance to practice Russian, but also inspired them to pursue their passion for ballet.  “The other students that were there that attend the academy year-round were also a big inspiration,” said Yiu. “Whenever it wasn’t our turn to dance, we would drool at some of them in awe of how amazing they were! It was also fun trying to communicate with them in Russian, trying to find out how old they were, and we even got to ‘friend’ some on Facebook,” she added.        

Ballet classes, conducted by Bolshoi Ballet Academy teachers, were taught in Russian so that the American students could improve their language skills and have a complete experience in a Russian ballet class. The courses included classical dance, ballet gymnastics and folk, scenic and historical dances, all of which are standard components of ballet choreography.

The American students said that the training they received helped them improve their technique tremendously. “The way I think now is a lot more about how to get the best and most technical line I can achieve. It isn’t about getting your leg to your head, it is about doing it correctly, and with time and effort you will be able to achieve perfection,” Ives said. “I improved 100-fold while being in Moscow,” he added.

Although students lived in the academy dorms, on the weekends they would join Russian host families who have teenage children of similar ages. “They got to know what Russian youth life is through being with them on the weekends,” said RAF Vice President Rina Kirshner.

The program’s cultural component included trips to many Moscow sites, including a private tour of the Tsereteli Art Gallery, located in a beautiful neoclassical building near the center of the city. Students also visited places such as the Stanislavski Moscow Academic Music Theater, where they saw a performance of Don Quixote, a ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa that first premiered in Russia at the end of the 19th century.

More information about the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive can be found on its website.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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