On a Saturday afternoon in mid-March, Centro de Folklore’s high school-age dancers lined up on the stage of the Hanford Fox Theatre to perform handkerchief-waving dances from Costa Chica de Guerrero.
The girls beamed as they showed off embroidered white blouses, red sashes around their waists, and mustard yellow skirts that swirled with every movement.
Spectators had to look hard to spot a novice Ukranian girl because she moved in sync with more experienced dancers whose roots are soaking wet with Mexican dance and culture.
It wasn’t until veteran folkloric instructor Óscar Hernández paused the show to introduce 17-year-old exchange student Alina Ivanova that the audience noticed there was a non-Latina performing the dances that define México to the world.
“I would say I made quite a few mistakes,” said Ivanova about her March performance. “I didn’t do it perfectly, but I enjoyed it.”
Ivanova’s world is far from perfect, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the uncertainty about the condition of her hometown of Vinnytsya, a city of almost 400,000 in western Ukraine that dates back to the 14th century.
On June 20, Ivanova will head back to Ukraine following weeks of not knowing where she would be headed.
As much as she loves Mexican folkloric dancing – she accompanied her group to a competition last month – Ivanova can’t shake her country’s situation even when she’s absorbed in dancing.
There’s no escape for her.
“Actually, it works for me in other ways,” said Ivanova. “It’s been harder for me to dance because when I’m dancing, I use my positive emotions and energy to express myself.”
From Ukraine to Reedley
Ivanova always dreamed of coming to America. She was a finalist for a student exchange program when she was in the ninth grade.
Then COVID struck and she had to wait another year to apply.
“I didn’t choose to go to California, so it was like a lottery,” said Ivanova. “I got lucky to be in California.
Her host sister, Amelia, dances with Centro de Folklor in Selma. It was only natural for Ivanova to try a different style of dance.
“It’s different from what I’m used to, but I liked it,” said Ivanova, who recently finished her junior year at Dinuba High School.
Centro de Folklor instructor Joey Zamora said Ivanova has improved greatly as a folkloric dancer since her arrival last fall.
“She was into contemporary dance, and that’s what she did back home,” said Zamora. “She definitely did develop.”
Zamora noticed that Ivanova “doesn’t give up. She really has the passion to learn. She’s just craving to learn all the footwork, the shirt movement, everything.”
Hernández, owner/director of Centro del Folklor, said Ivanova takes “no shortcuts” during her rehearsals.
Zamora said Ivanova questioned if she was ready to perform with the competition team.
“I wouldn’t have asked you if you couldn’t do it,” Zamora recalled telling Ivanova.
Hernández said Ivanova didn’t have a background in ballet like a former exchange student from Hungary did, “but she caught on very quickly.”
“Her tenacity is what really stuck out the most,” he said. “She started at the same time as two other brand new beginners; and you could see the difference of how much effort she was putting into the dance.
Embracing Mexican culture in the U.S.
Ivanova has fallen in love with tamales, the Spanish language and the Valley’s warm weather. She attended her first high school football game and eventually understood the sport.
“I love Mexican food because I always wanted to try it,” she said. “We don’t really have that in Ukraine.”
A conversation with Ivanova – who speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English while learning French and Spanish – always turns to the Russian invasion.
She stays in touch daily via text or a phone call with her parents. Her father is a technical engineer and her mother is a lawyer. She has a 13-year-old sister.
Most of her relatives and school friends remain in Vinnytsya.
She traces the current crisis to previous President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by massive protests in 2013-14 for being too chummy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Our government was supporting the Russian government and ignoring the will of Ukranians,” said Ivanova. “When our country was without a president, Russia annexed Crimea.”
Ivanova has confidence in current President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“He is a great leader, and the most important is he cares about people and our county; not about his welfare as many others did,” she said. “He is one of us.”
Esta historia fue publicada originalmente el 5 de junio de 2022 4:40 pm.