Monday, June 22, 2009

Viktoriya, My Teacher, My Friend Part II

Viktoriya's lessons weren't cheap, by Provo standards. We paid $120.00/month. But really, her knowledge of the middle-eastern culture and her expertise in dance and choreography were worth much more. The choreographies that we learned from her were authentic, artistic and meaningful. As our lessons progressed we moved from the gym, to her own little studio that Dave built for her, to Noah's in Lindon, to another home with another studio. We never stayed stationary for very long and sometimes it was really hard to get a continuity of what we were trying to learn. Often she would start on a choreography with us and then become distracted because of a show she would be preparing for or a photo shoot or personal problems with her own family. After all, she was adjusting to a totally new country, new language, new customs, new family structure, new faith, new friends, new everything. This takes time and she was trying her best to fit in the best way that she could, trying to make everyone happy, including herself. Sometimes it was more than she could handle. But when she was able to give us her absolute, full attention, it was well worth it. The cboreographies were amazing and we were so lucky to be called her dancers.

Throughout this time, I learned that she had a very fiery temperament and sometimes she would manifest it in word and gestures and Russian expressions. She would often halt our lessons to vent about an issue she felt strongly about. Once she gave us a detailed description of life in Russia and the culture there. It took about an hour. Did we say anything? After all, we were paying for dance, not a cultural dissertation on Russia. No, we just ate it up and listened to every enthralling detail. Another time, she told us exactly what she felt about Utah culture. Viktoriya is very metropolitan and she felt that Utah is so provincial in many ways. She definitely loved the area for the protection it offered to her girls and the good religious values around her. But she also felt that there was a bit of close-mindedness as well. Those of us in the class heard her talk about this and although many of us were native Utahns and we love our state and our way of life, many of us could relate. She talked about how many of the women in the LDS church were raised to be so careful sexually that they were even restrictive in their own relationships with their husbands and thus the reason why many of the men here stray into deviant, secretive lifestyles. She told us, "Don't be afraid to be a woman! Show your femininity and be proud of it. You don't have to be loose to do this. " She told us of how men in her ward would make passes at her, unprovoked by her, and that she didn't like it at all.

She had great charity because of the experiences she had lived through. Once she had a special class about nutrition, all compliments of her. She talked about her experiences with the fast food and convenience foods here in America and told about the ill effects this food can have on women, especially. She showed us alternative ways in which to cook, eat and prepare food. She had us taste things she had cooked. It was so very interesting and although I'm sure most of the women couldn't put everything she told us into effect, we certainly took away some things that benefited our lives. I know I did. I gained a renewed appreciation for the nutritional value of raw fruits and vegetables and how bad the white breads are. Viktoriya called white bread "white death". I have to agree wholeheartedly. She was an avid gardener. She had an amazing variety of vegetables in her garden, which she cared for herself.

Because of the many experiences she had throughout her life, she had a lot of charity for people of all races and religions. I have never seen anyone embrace all different kinds of people in every class so readily as Viktoriya did. The only prerequisite for you to be her friend was that you were able to appreciate her and accept her for what she was, listen to her and be available to help her sometimes. For some, that was a tall order. But for many of us, it was a privilege and an honor. She spoke of one day being able to go to the temple and there be sealed to her husband and her precious daughters.

She desired tolerance from others--here was a woman from a totally different culture, trying to assimilate into the American, LDS, Utah culture, to the best of her ability. She just wanted to be seen for the good that she did and for the people around her to give her peace. There came a time when she separated from her husband, Dave. She moved into another neighborhood. She was very low on finances and needed to support herself. She took in some boarders, who were a bi-racial LDS couple. The woman was from Russia, like herself and the man was black. They were married and quite happy, but she received a lot of harrassment from the neighbors. They called the Housing Authorities on her for having renters. She had lessons in her small studio. They called the city for that. She never got any peace or understanding from these LDS neighbors, who smiled sweetly to her to her face, but then turned around and backstabbed her. She felt like her visiting teachers were a sort of gestappo, trying to figure out what her status was so that they could report her and gossip about her.

Her husband, Dave, turned out to be a user and a manipulator and he was terrible to her. He blackmailed her, he lied to her, and he made false promises to her. His family was very intolerant of her and her daughter. Her feelings toward Utah and members of the LDS church turned sour. Many of us were so sympathetic but we wouldn't go so far as to deny the truthfulness of the Gospel and the reality of the plan of Salvation, the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith. I told her that the people weren't perfect, but the plan was.

She eventually moved to SLC, where she had a position with the Utah Ballet Conservatory as a teacher and where she was nearer to film and modeling opportunities. She continued to teach middle eastern dance and perform at weddings and competitions. Her name was only getting bigger. Her birthday came around and she turned 39. She felt a sense of urgency to establish a solid reputation in a business where youth and physical beauty were the top selling commodities. She needed to establish security for her two daughters.

Then the fateful day in the middle of April. She was going down the road with a million things on her mind. She was still in a new country, learning a new language, learning new customs, with new people, surroundings.....and traffic patterns. She didn't see the light turn yellow, then red. She ran straight through it and her little white Toyota was hit by an oncoming van. She was rushed to the hospital with extensive internal and head injuries. Oddly enough, not one bone was broken and no external injuries were incurred. But Viktoriya was gravely injured. She lay in a coma as the surgeons tried to help her. They shaved her beautiful hair. That was a tragedy all in itself. But she was unaware of anything that was going on around her. It has been 2 1/2 months since that horrible accident. She now lays in a care facility, still in a coma.

I have been to visit my friend. She doesn't recognize me. She lays there day after day. I wonder what will happen to her beautiful daughters. One of them is left parentless and the other will most likely be raised by her estranged husband's family. One thing I do know--she has a most beautiful spirit and had so much to overcome in this life. Maybe Heavenly Father has taken her into his arms and rescued her from the grasp of the world, to teach her of His ways, to surround her with His love, and to give her a peace that she never could know otherwise. Somehow I know that He will not leave Viktoriya alone. She has done too much good and has too much love for others. I am grateful for this and grateful for His love and mercy. So rest, Viktoriya, and learn, even in this state of limbo. Your destiny is one of greatness. I love you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Viktoriya, My Teacher, My Friend (Part I)

been hearing about a Viktoriya for awhile from one friend of mine and then from another friend of mine. So when I was invited to "try out" one of her classes, I decided to do so with some trepidition. I do have some dance background. I took ballet as a little girl for about 4 years and that effect is still with me to this day--I can do full splits and am very limber. I was in a Modern Dance Group in HS called Culliver's Choreographers and in Jr. College, I took an advanced Modern Dance Class where we did a few choreographies there. So I felt like I wasn't totally a duck out of water going to "Middle Eastern Dance." The class was in a small gym on Canyon Rd by Day's Market. When I got there Viktoriya greeted me and had me start right in on their class. My first impression of her was "foreign", with a heavy Russian accent, quite pretty and very sweet, almost solicitous in her friendliness. They did bar work, about an hour and then moved into the dance technique part. The bar work was really easy for me, because of the dance experience I had. No sweat! (Wrong expression, yes, I did sweat, but it was all do-able for me and didnt put me out of commission afterwards.) Then came the technique. Not so easy. I didn't realize hips and belly could move that way and it was difficult to get them to do even a little of what she was asking us to do. Then one of her "intermediate" students, from her dance group came in. She started practicing in front of the mirror. I thought, "I could never shimmy or move like this person, ever." That's when my inner challenge knocked on the door of my pride. I decided to give it a try. I worked with Viktoriya for about a year, taking lessons about once a week, and am happy to say that I was able to work enough so that I conquered the moves that I at first thought were so difficult! I actually had new people comment to me on how they didn't think they could ever do those moves and how I was such a pro. (Yeah, right!)  It was through the great teaching of Viktoriya that I was able to conquer these moves.  Sadly I thought she'd be around forever!

Viktoriya is an extremely interesting person. Born and raised in the Ukraine to a "family of Doctors", ranging from a mother who was a psychiatrist to aunts and uncles who were all very well educated and trained in their professions, Viktoriya started out early in her education. The Russian Education system is nothing like our own. She was sent to school and in Russia, dance training is mandatory. The teachers in Russi are very strict and to berate a student in front of the class is perfectly accepted and normal. In dance class, teachers stroll around with canes and tap or even hit students if they aren't in perfect form. Those students accept this and don't take out major lawsuits, etc. It always amazed Viktoriya about the lack of respect American students show their teachers... 

 Those few dance students that make the cut are sent to more advanced training and from that advanced training is where the prima ballerinas are found and sent to the professional schools of ballet. There is no ballet in the world like Russian Ballet, known for its perfect form and discipline. Viktoriya was one of those talented ones who was sent on to the advanced training. But she had no desire to be a prima donna in the Russian Ballet. Thus she didn't put in the required hours to do that, as I will explain later.

Another thing that Viktoriya was amazing at, was the piano. Her mother made sure that she had the opportunity to have lessons with the finest teachers available. She became a concert pianist at a very young age. She has shown me what she was able to do. She played a little bit of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata for me, and it was stunning. She talked about practicing 4 - 5 hours each day on her piano. To me, the discipline she had was amazing.

But alas, Viktoriya didn't want the disciplined life of a concert pianist or a prima ballernina or a doctor or some such profession. She was a beautiful girl with a lot of life and personality. She left home and lived in Moscow and partied! She talked of nights of fun and dancing and drinking and just major good times. Viktoriya probably would have settled down and come back home to continue some sort of career and all. But she got married and had her 1st daughter. This marriage was a disaster. Suffice it to say, she landed in the hospital with serious injuries at one point with this marriage.

Then the economy went bust in Russia and pretty much through most of Europe. Some girls, who were good dancers, travelled to the Middle East and became bellydancers, to make money. Some of them did OK and some became famous, making a boatload of money. Viktoriya became famous and made a boatload of money. She danced at major hotels, did parties, made videos and really became quite a commodity. She learned the culture of the Middle East and she learned that bellydancing is not cheap and tawdry, when done in the right atmosphere. There is absolute beauty in it and long tradition behind it. Bellydancers do have their place in society, however. As she established herself in Lebbanon and other places, she became famous. For several years she was the lover of a University President. She wanted so much to marry him. But he wouldn't, because she was a bellydancer. The best she could hope for was to be his mistress.

She ended up back in Ukraine for awhile...until she met Dave, from Provo, UT, her ticket to America. He was visiting Ukraine and met Viktoriya. They fell in love and he brought her back to Provo in 2002. Bellydancing was in the past. She became pregnant and had her little girl. She lived a very humble life. She had some health problems, she gained a lot of weight. She became resigned to a humble life. But then, she danced for Dave. He was blown away! Never had Provo Dave seen such a thing. He begged her to start dancing again. He knew that she could make a name for herself if she did. So slowly, she started eating the foods she knew she needed to eat in order to gain health back. One of the things that so appalled her when she first came to America was the food. Apparently, Dave was more than enthusiastic about introducing fast food and convenience food to her. Apparently, it was his staple and for awhile it was Viktoriya's staple. Viktoriya wasn't used to Del Taco or Burger King or Mikky D's. It wreaked havoc on her health. So she slowly searched out foods that were raw, or organic and she used her nutritional training to heal herself from her many health problems that developed. She lost her weight and started dancing.