Pikesville-based Kalinka Russian Dance Ensemble turns 10

With a step, a kick and an energetic stomp, a handful of children bring to life an old and beloved part of their families' Russian culture as part of the Kalinka Dance Ensemble.

The Pikesville-based dance troupe, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, will perform March 15 in the auditorium of Park School at 6 p.m.

Among the ensemble will be local dancers from Owings Mills as well as others from Ellicott City, southern Maryland and suburban Washington.

Some Kalinka members are originally from Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, including Katya Denisova, a St. Petersburg native who formed the troupe in 2002.

A junior group is the newest part of Kalinka, according to Denisova, who migrated to Baltimore in 2002 to teach physics at the now-shuttered Walbrook High School.

"All the choreography is mine," said Denisova, who listens to Russian songs during her daily commute that she has collected on her iPhone, looking for a song that inspires her. "That's how a dance is born."

The Owings Mills resident is quick to say she's not a professional, at least when it comes to music and dance.

Instead, with a doctorate in physics, she is the science coordinator for Baltimore City Public Schools.

Moreover, Denisova is part of a $7 million National Science Foundation project at Johns Hopkins University designed as a five-year plan to enhance engineering and science education in city elementary schools.

Like her dancers, Denisova seeks a change of pace at Kalinka.

"You come here," she said. "You change your shoes and you're in a different world."

As she teaches or joins in a dance, it's easy to see she is blessed with grace and rhythm while on her feet.

"It's been a big part of my life," Denisova said, noting she began dance training in Russia when she was 7 and continued until her third year of college. "This is what I grew up with."

Kalinka was born at a concert of the Washington Balalaika Society.

While attending the concert, Denisova decided she wanted to choreograph dances to some of its music — and won support for the idea. In fact, a trio from the society will perform at the March 15 concert.

Denisova then approached a stranger to become her first dancer — just by the way the young woman stood and walked, Denisova knew she had dance training.

From there the troupe grew, attracting Russians and non-Russians alike. The exuberant music and athletic steps drew a wide variety of people. A Korean dancer who danced for five years, Jean Lee, plans to travel from Chicago to perform in the concert.

The junior group began about four years ago when Denisova's son Gosha, now 8, was old enough to dance. At first, it wasn't easy attracting younger dancers, she said, since many Russian immigrants came here to escape hardship.

"They left the culture behind and wanted their children to become integrated in American culture," she said.

Now, sessions, taught mostly in Russian, have about 30 students from age 4 to 13. Students meet at the East West Cultural Center on Reisterstown Road in a dance studio created especially for them. It's the first time Kalinka has had its own studio, Denisova said.

The original adult group meets weekly at the University of Maryland.

At a recent class, Denisova encouraged her younger students, growing stern only occasionally at an incorrect move.

She is demanding, Denisova admitted, expecting precision and accuracy. The boys kick with strength and perform traditional Russian moves called "prisiadka."

The girls move gracefully in colorful costumes they wear for the rehearsal.

"The challenge is to find something they can actually do," said Denisova.

Some middle-school-aged dancers have become friends through Kalinka. Most of them have other dance training — ballet or modern — as well.

Natasha Kravchenko, 8, has been with Kalinka since the junior troupe's beginnings.

"It's fun to dance," said the Pikesville native.

Everyone in her family but her brother and she were born in Russia. She and fellow dancer Katya Grigorev attend Summit Park Elementary School.

Kamilla Muminova, 11, an Uzbekistan native who attends Pikesville Middle School, quickly became hooked on the demanding pace.

"I sort of didn't want to go at first, but then I decided, Why not?" she said. "It's one of my favorite sports."

The traditional dances appeal to the girls, linking them to their family heritage. That's important to Valeria Malorodova, 9, of Ellicott City.

"They are traditional dances from our country and I like to do them," she said.

Dance can be a family affair.

Anastasia Borovikov, whose family lives in Ellicott City, has a brother and sister in the company. Arseniy, 10, and Lada, 6, rehearse in Pikesville and all three will be in the March 15 show.

Sandy Nichols is still learning the steps and delights in the chance to dance with her son, Andrew, a senior at College Park. "I've been dancing off and on since I was a kid," she said. "Once it gets in your blood, it doesn't come out."

Liza Kalashnikova, who learned to dance during her childhood in Chelyabinsk — site of the meteor that recently blazed a trail through the atmosphere, said they are character dances.

"Each dance is like a story in itself," Borovikov added.

The dancers perform throughout the year at schools and festivals. They perform regularly in Washington, D.C., at Hillwood Museum and at the Russian Embassy.

Kalinka's 10th anniversary celebration will include performances by fellow Russian ensembles, including Lada, which sings folk songs, and the St Petersburg Trio, which is part of the Washington Balalaika Society.

Tickets are $10 and can be ordered at 410-428-5155 and will be available at the door (cash only).

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