Features of Ballroom Dance Development in Russia.

The Russian people have always loved to dance and dance culture has always been a part of the overall Russian culture. Throughout the development of the nation the dancing attended and developed in different forms. Today, Russian and world culture can not be imagined without the Russian Ballet, rich folklore and incredibly popular modern ballroom dancing.

Balls have become popular in Russia in the late 17th – early 18th centuries, when the Tsar Peter I the Great opened Russia to Europe, and the process of mutual influence was started, including cultural. Representatives of high society regularly arranged balls at all sorts of occasions where new ballroom dancing was performed, and their ability to dance became mandatory criterion corresponding to the cultural class.

The Revolution of 1917 and the formation of the Soviet Union abruptly changed the history of our country, created new Soviet traditions of the proletariat. European dances, along with jazz music and many others advanced international cultural achievements, did not meet the proletarian convictions of the new state and were almost wiped out by going into hiding for many years. By thin streams boston, tango, two-step and charleston leaked in to our country. But Soviet ideology did not allow them to develop fruitfully. Simultaneously, the government strongly supports the development of Soviet ballet, which became at that time the best in the world and folk dances. These types of choreography were the hallmark of Soviet art of dance and provided an excellent basis for the development of a common dance culture in the country. Many of the leading ballroom dancers in the USSR went through classes of ballet and folk dancing, received an excellent additional choreographic training, the evidence of which is always marked by western specialists.

The official starting point advent of competitive ballroom dance in Russia is the date of the first international tournament at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow in 1957. Then, not only dance couples from abroad, but also a foreign judges were invited to Moscow for the first time.

Since the 60’s a new era of ballroom dancing begins in the USSR. At that time it was in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture. Across the country, at the Palaces of Culture and City parks ballroom dance groups and studious were organized: in Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Rostov, Taganrog, Gorky, Novosibirsk and many others. They began to be held the first regular competitions.

Modern ballroom dancing became fashionable and accessible element of pastime. It developed by enthusiasts, the true fans of this new genre for Russia. There were mostly students and representatives of the Soviet intelligentsy who studied at the dance studios. Everything was in deficit: from records of dance music to materials for making costumes and dance shoes. But the biggest deficit was information about dance techniques. Russian pioneers of ballroom dance manually copied or reprinted famous books on a typewriters: Alex Moore book and his famous brochures MLS “Moor Letter Service”, a book of Walter Laird, the English magazine “Ballroom dancing times”, Czechoslovakian dance magazine “Tanechni listy.” Lectures and seminars with the world’s best teachers were virtually inaccessible, and even amateur films recorded on a film cameras were huge rarity. Moreover, their work was accompanied by numerous obstacles from the authorities, prohibitions and restrictions. The Soviet Union was closed for the outside world, ballroom dancers were called “agents of bourgeois ideology” and ballroom dancing itself as “corrupt influence of the West”. For ideological reasons USSR Ministry of Culture initiated the establishment of a special Soviet ballroom dance program (based on folk dance traditions). Among them there were “Polka”, “Sudarushka”, “Rilio”, “Russian lyrical”, “Polka-Veselka”, “Heels”, “Waru-waru”, “Vilkis” and many others, totally about 150 (!) dances. It was mandatory in all competitions among with international program of ballroom and Latin dances. One can argue about the benefits of this initiative, but generations of soviet dancers have gone through it. These dances were somewhat similar in structure to the popular English Sequence dance and lasted until the end of the 80s.

The penetration of information into the country happened mainly through the Baltic republics of the USSR (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia). This was facilitated by preserved historical and cultural ties of these republics with Europe and dance traditions, and their distance from the center. They set the tone and were leading at that time in the USSR in the quantity and quality of the dancers. There were also the first regular international competitions established there. They were visited by foreign dancers and specialists. Seminars, exchange of experience, start dating. And most important, so necessary for the development information came to Russian dancers. But the development as such, occurred mostly not because of, but in spite of the existing system, the overall unfavorable atmosphere and attitude of the state.

“In order to win you have to be poor, hungry and determined” – so said to me in my childhood. Russians of Soviet period, for the most part, were poor, hungry and purposeful. They are fairly consistent in their preferences and choices, and they do try to go to the end. Russians are very well developed in savvy and acumen. They are spiritual, sensitive and sensual, musical and flexible. Living in a world rich in history of Russian culture, music, theater, literature. They sprouted deep suffering generations, so they are honest and natural in displaying of their feelings. They are reckless and risky (think of the famous “Russian Roulette”), allowing them to express feelings at the highest level. In my book “With Reverence. About life in dance and dance in life” I wrote such aphorism: “If you know the measure in sorrow and in joy, then you are definitely not Russian.” Of course, not all Russians are the same, but this is a common characteristic features of a nation.

The beauty of Russian women is recognized around the world. They are hardworking, patient, thoughtful and persistent. If we add to this the unconditional availability of talent those ones who are seriously engaged in dancing, it becomes clear why so many girls from Russia today are dancing around the world with foreign partners. They are chosen for these qualities.

Russia – a country of strong family traditions. This reflects its Asian component. Love of Russian parents to their children is boundless, often through them parents are realizing their not carried out under the Soviet regime (and not only) desires. They forever feel responsible for their children. Therefore, recognizing the presence of talent, they spare no effort and money on children’s education, including dancing. Ballroom dancing for them is a ticket to a beautiful world of aesthetics, to the world of recognition and success.

A huge role in the development of dancing in Russia was played by peresprtroyka in the 80’s of the last century. The “iron wall” was felt and Russian dancers got ability to constant communication with the world’s top teachers, to compete with the best world dancers, to visit the most prestigious international dance festivals. My generation had the lucky fortune to be at the peak of the implementation of their talents just at this time. Following the outstanding individual enthusiasts the first galaxy of Russian successful dancers of international level was created in the country, conquering the world’s best dance floors, and then of them – well, and most importantly correctly educated teachers. Today they are leaders of Russian teachers’ tradition, producing a quality product called “Russian dancer.” Of course, it would have been impossible without the energy of predecessors, constant contacts and work in our country of numerous foreign specialists, the activities of public dance organizations which are leading the dance industry in the country.

It should be noted that any trip abroad at that time was followed by an incredible bureaucratic difficulties. We had first to get permission to leave the country from the government and Communist party authorities, obtain a lot of permits, Komsomol and Communist party characteristics, to pass the KGB’s interview on reliability. And then seek for permission to enter a foreign country – and again the mass of documents, certificates, permits. I remember the vigils in frozen winter nights in line by the British Embassy for a visa, daily morning roll call in the cold with hand written in number. And all that instead of preparing for the upcoming competitions. Then the problems with the purchase of plane tickets, and sometimes in despair and the high cost of air tickets overseas travel by car. Once I drove with my partner from Moscow for 9,000 km through 9 European countries for 17 days to visit following each other European Championships in Norway, then World Cup in Netherlands and World Championships in England. To talk about the readiness of the body for high-quality dancing after 10-15 hours driving the car is not necessary. But we went to the dance floor and danced because we loved dancing. And we were not alone with such decissions! We were not aloud to carry out from Russia more than 50.- US dollars and that is why took pasta, sausages and canned meat in our suitcases to save money on food and have the means to lessons from foreign teachers. We exchanged caviar, matryoshkas and samovars on fabric, ostrich feathers and rhinestones to sew our costumes. Washed dishes in restaurants, washed the cars, cleaned the studious and swept the streets to earn money for lessons. And we were not alone again! I remember 1991 year. When my colleagues at the kitchen of German restaurant discovered that I’m a 30-year highly educated engineer and architect, champion and winner of international competitions, world-renowned dancer and teacher, they are asked me with wonder: “Why then do you work here as dishwasher?”. The answer was simple: “I want to dance and I need the currency.” And there was not only me who did same actions, and not only in Russia. I was not alone! Many of dance champions will recognize themselves in my story. It was a way for everyone who wanted and sought. And my generation really knew the price for success!

I am writing about it not for pity or sympathy. At that time for most of us that existence was the norm. I just want to explain with this peculiar the Russian dancer’s stubbornness, their special dedication, willingness to give everything to achieve the goal. «Russians are coming!» – was hounded in the world at that period. And Russians came on to international dance scene!

In the late 20th century ballroom dancing In Soviet Russia have gained immense popularity, we have always had a lot of dancing children and therefore a broad base for selection. Dance clubs worked in secondary schools and numerous Palaces of culture. No, it was not a state program for the development and support of ballroom dancing, but there were the presence of assembly halls, suitable for dancing, lets us to open classes and clubs there. Most of them have focused on the preparation of competitive dancers. Education was free of charge for students but teachers received a salary from the state. Initially focused on tournament activities, and competitiveness created incentives for rapid progress and mastery of dancers and the genre itself.

The current situation in Russia is largely changed for the better. Modern Russian dancers having other problems, but no less desire to solve them.

The modern model of the organization of dance processes in our country is significantly different from the Soviet one, which was mostly naive-patriotic. Dance industry has become a business. There are many of private dance schools and studios established in a country. Some successful dance network studious began to actively developed, a lot of competitions of different levels started to be organized. Over the past 10 -12 years in Russia there was a real boom of Pro-Am activity, and today a huge number of people already enjoys this style.

Ballroom dancing is not a cheap kind of activity and pleasure. Private lessons, constant trips to competitions, sewing costumes are expensive. But Russians still find the desire to make big spendings on their favorite dance hobby, enjoying the results of their own development and competitive results.

There were changes in the structure of the mass. Previously, almost every of retired top competitors opened their dancesport’s clubs, coached children to become competitive dancers. It created an enviable mass and as a result improved the quality of competitive dancing in the country as a whole. Today many of retired dancers are realizing themselves in a social dancing activity or Pro-Am, getting a job in the network dance schools or open their own studios of these profiles. Therefore, objectively kid’s breeding pyramid base from where the masters of the highest level are growing over the years is reduced. Besides, there are many other attractive leisure activities for people developed and improved in a country. Also all sorts of controversy between existed dance organizations do not add genre appeal. Although today in Russia a certain parity of forces and the peaceful coexistence of different organizational dance models are formed. Such officially-parallel existence of organizations with multiple contacts on a personal level.

It is impossible to imagine modern dance world without Russia. Successes of Russian dancers are impressive. There are no finals of most major international competitions without them. Russians regularly climb the tops of pedestals of World Championships. A massive participation of Russian couples at many dance festivals makes their significant financial and high-quality content. And Russia itself regularly hosts and organizes the most prestigious world titles of different versions.

Russian ballroom dancing has come a long and difficult path of development, and today is an advanced public industry and significant for the Russian culture, sport and social education.

Russia is a unique country in many respects. It is unique of its geographic (1/6 part of the Earth), climatic, multi-cultural and multi-national characteristics. It consists memory and suffering of previous generations, great victories and defeats offensive. It has respect for traditions, the ability to be grateful and generous. It has great and mysterious Russian soul!

Russian ballroom dancing and modern Russian dancer are filled all that with vengeance.

With Reverence
Leonid Pletnev

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World wide known and one of the best teachers, coaches and choreographers, recognized and well respected adjudicator and Chairman at major international competitions, World and European Championships. Lecturer at WDC World Congresses. Dance critic and publisher. Author of «With Reverence…». Organizer of numerous international dance festivals.

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