Welcome to the first guest post of 2013 guys! It's my pleasure to introduce you all to Olga Godim, author of the brand-spankin' new book Lost and Found in Russia. Below the line Olga has offered up a brief synopsis of her book (more details can be found here) and a fascinating interview between her and the protagonist, Sonya. Enjoy!
After the shocking revelation that her daughter was switched at birth 34 years ago, Canadian scholar Amanda embarks on a trip to Russia to find her biological daughter. Intertwined with Amanda’s account of her journey is the story of Sonya, a 34-year-old Russian immigrant and a former dancer, currently living in Vancouver, Canada. While Amanda wades through the mires of foreign bureaucracy, Sonya struggles with her daughter’s teenage rebellion. While Amanda rediscovers her femininity, Sonya dreams of dancing. Both mothers are searching: for their daughters and for themselves.
As a professional journalist, I decided for this blog post to offer you an interview with one of my protagonists, Sonya.
Olga Godim(OG): How and why did you become a dancer?
Sonya: I always danced. When I was three years old, I entertained my parents’ friends by dancing in the middle of the room. We have a photo – it’s so funny. When I was about six, I started taking folk dance lessons at our community centre and I loved them. My first recital was a Moldavian dance (I was about eight.) People applauded, and I felt like a goddess, enraptured by my success. We lived in Moscow, Russia, at that time. When I was ten, my mom took to me to the Moscow Ballet School, and they accepted me. I like ballet and I was good at it, but I always liked folk dance better. So a couple of years before graduation, I transferred to their folk dance division. Upon graduation, I started dancing for the Petushko Folk Dance Ensemble. We traveled all over Russia, to Hungary, China, Finland. The best years of my life.
OG: Do you have a photo of you dancing?
Sonya: Several. I also have a painting – an artist friend, a very talented guy, painted me performing a Spanish dance. It’s very flattering, better than I am, but I’m very proud of this portrait. Here it is.
OG: It’s beautiful. You should continue dancing. After you immigrated to Canada, did you try to find a job as a dancer?
Sonya: No. I was already over 30 when we emigrated. I thought I was too old to start a new dancing career. Besides, my English wasn’t too good. I just work to pay the bills. I work at a burger place in a mall and I care for a paralyzed woman, Jane. I hate burgers, but to my surprise, I like working with Jane. She is a wise, no-nonsense woman. She is very ill and very courageous, no whining. She is urging me to go back to dancing, and I’m really tempted.
OG: What do you like best about working for Jane?
Sonya: Everything. Every day, when I come, we engage in a match of insults. We insult each other. It’s like a competition: who can come up with a more elaborate, more imaginative insult. Jane made me learn English. We studied a dictionary of Shakespearean era insults together. It’s fun. And I dance for her. She makes me remember what I am.
OG: So what kinds of folk dance can you perform? Irish dance?
Sonya [laughing]: No, no. Well, it’s not really folk dance I do. It’s called character dance. Folk dance is very simple. It was what people danced in villages during celebrations, at least in the past they did. It was more about participation than skills. Character dance, on the other hand, is a stage dance, a show, like ballet. It uses folk tunes and some of the movements of the genuine folk dances, but it also uses the entire range of ballet movements. Character dance is always choreographed and it’s performed by the dancers trained in classical ballet.
Here are a few examples of character dance. These recording are not of our ensemble, but of another character dance troupe in Moscow, famous around the world – Moiseyev Ballet:
Russian dance, Sicilian Tarantella, Spanish dance Aragonese Jota
OG: You said Jane is urging you to go back to dancing. Will you?
Sonya: I don’t know. It’s complicated. A new career requires an infusion of money first, and I don’t have any. Maybe I could get a loan from the bank. Jane has another crazy idea. [Sonya laughs again. She seems embarrassed.] She said I should strip-dance, perform at some night clubs. I never considered such an idea before, but maybe… I have to explore the possibilities. I can do it, I’m sure, I can perform any kind of dance, and my training is superb, but… my mom and sister will disown me. I heard the money is good, so… maybe. I’m torn.
OG: The opinions of your mom and sister are important to you?
Sonya: Yes. Our family is very close, has always been. My daughter’s opinion too. I will talk to her, see what she thinks. My daughter Ksenya is only fourteen, but I wouldn’t make such an important decision without consulting her. Her respect is everything to me.
OG: Are you close with your daughter?
Sonya [sighs]: We were. Now, she is going through a teenage stage. It’s like a swing: today – perfect, tomorrow – not so much. But we both try. We love each other very much. Let’s not talk about it. It’s a depressing topic
OG: Okay. Can your mom and sister help you financially to launch your new career?
Sonya: No. Nobody in my family is rich. My mom lives on a small pension. My sister has two twin sons - toddlers. Her husband works like crazy – he is a computer person – but he doesn’t make that kind of money. We are just normal people. [She blushes.] Jane offered me a loan. She wants so much to see me perform. She is rich and can’t even use her money, the poor woman, because of her severe disability. She enjoys when I dance for her. Maybe I’ll accept her loan. It will make her happy.
OG: What did you like about being a professional dancer?
Sonya: When I danced, I could lose myself in music and movements. I’m not good with words; I express all my emotions through dance. It’s an amazing experience. And it’s my gift to the people who watch me dance. I’ve never been stage-shy. I love giving the gift of my dancing to others.
OG: And the applause?
Sonya[smiles]: Of course. But that’s all part of the whole. People’s applause is their thank you. It means they liked my gift. It makes me all warm and bubbly inside.
OG: What did you dislike about being a professional dancer?
Sonya: Well it’s not an easy profession. We have to practice a lot. There are sweat and pain and traumas. But even all that is part of what I like. I don’t think I dislike anything about being a dancer. Traumas are professional hazards. They are a price you pay for the privilege of dancing. You don’t like them; you accept them, like mosquitoes. You pay such a price in any profession.
All the rest is perfect. I like performing and I like practicing. I don’t dance now, but I still exercise every day. I have a barre in my bedroom and I do ballet class every day.
I do dislike one thing though: in large prestigious ballet troupes, like the Bolshoi, for example, the competitions for roles are ferocious. There is backstabbing and envy. I hate that. I never worked in a ballet theatre and I never wanted. Character dance is mostly an ensemble show, with some solo parts. [She grins.] I always performed solos, almost no ensemble parts. But nobody begrudged me for that. Everybody was happy for me.
OG: Then why did you leave the ensemble?
Sonya: I wanted to leave Russia. The situation there was very unstable, still is. Too much crime, too much poverty, too much danger. I worried every day about my daughter’s safety. I wanted to give her better chances in life. If not for her, I’d never have left the ensemble. I would still be dancing. Of course, the poverty issue is still relevant, but we’ll muddle through somehow. Canada is a good, safe country to live in, and my daughter has a much brighter future here. I don’t regret my immigration.
*Olga Godim is a writer and journalist from Vancouver, Canada. Her articles appear regularly in local newspapers, but her passion is fiction. Her short stories have been published in several internet magazines, including Lorelei Signal, Sorcerous Signals, Aoife's Kiss, Silver Blade, and other publications. In her free time, she writes novels, collects toy monkeys, and posts book reviews on GoodReads.*
A huge thank you to Olga for taking the time to share this interview. If you'd like to learn some more about either Olga or her book Lost and Found in Russia you can find her at: