Daryl Hall & John Oates - You Make My Dreams
How America Made My Dream Come True
Her parents, a factory worker and a kindergarten teacher, could never have afforded the lessons. Fortunately, in the Soviet system, which prided itself on athletics, lessons were free. So from that moment, Tatiana raced to the dance studio every day after school for three hours of training. "My marks in school were really bad because all I was thinking about was dance," she says, laughing. "I just loved it so much, I was living and breathing it."
At 19, Tatiana married a ballroom dancer named Vitaly, and the two performed as partners at competitions around the country and gave private lessons to younger dancers to earn a comfortable living. But just a year after their wedding, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, plunging the Russian economy into chaos. Money was so scarce that Vitaly's parents were paid in milk, butter and eggs; her parents brought home soap and shampoo instead of cash. All things cultural in Volgograd, from movie theaters to puppet shows, shut down. For Tatiana, there were fewer dance lessons to teach— and fewer rubles. "People didn't want to pay for private lessons; everyone was in survival mode," she says.
Tatiana's marriage was also floundering. After five rough years together, the couple separated. But in 1995, Vitaly was offered a job teaching ballroom lessons at a dance studio in New York City—and he asked Tatiana to go with him. The chance to make a better living with dance, her passion in life, was too good to pass up. Besides, she says, "I wanted to save our marriage."
By their second day in the U.S., work visas in hand, Tatiana and Vitaly were hard at work. "We had to teach and we had to practice ourselves to get ready for competitions," says Tatiana, whose employer insisted on English only. She spent her days frustratingly clapping and counting—one, two, three, four were among the few words she could say—while her American students chattered away in a language she couldn't understand. At night she'd go home and cry, or worse, fight with Vitaly. "If I knew five words in English, he knew zero," she says. "We used to fight over who had to make phone calls. He'd say, 'Pick up the phone!' and I'd say, 'No. I don't know what to say!' Then he'd start yelling. I remember thinking that if I had only one wish, it would be to speak English."
Since dancing left her no time for English classes, she tried to pick up the language from her students by day. At night she watched the news, grasping for any words that made sense. Finally, after six months, it all began to click. "After that, I started talking all the time," Tatiana says.
Being able to speak English made her feel comfortable getting to know people, and she soon noticed that men and women were more like equals in America. "That was a complete shock to me," says Tatiana.
"I started seeing how people treated each other, how much freedom you get. I think that's the reason I finally decided to leave my husband."
At age 24, after less than a year in New York, Tatiana was on her own, with just in her checking account and staying with friends from the studio. "It surprised me that people were so generous," she says. "They'd offer to help even when I didn't ask, whether it was a place to stay or a home-cooked meal. I wouldn't have survived without their kindness."
Despite her difficulties, Tatiana was determined to keep teaching and dancing. "I wasn't ever going to give it up, no matter how little money I had," she recalls. "In Russia, you pretty much have to have a partner to teach dance. But here in America, you can be a single dancer and still have a job teaching. I was very grateful for that. Hearing the music, feeling my body moving—it kept me focused and positive. When you dance you forget about all your problems."
She especially loved Latin dancing for its speed and abandon. When she sambaed, her legs had a life of their own. Now living in her own apartment, Tatiana hopped from competition to competition, showing off her skill—each small win bringing a little more recognition and sometimes a cash prize. In 2000, at age 29, Tatiana won the U.S. Ballroom Championship with partner Tony Dovolani, who later found fame on Dancing With The Stars.
That same year she applied for an EB-2 green card for permanent residence, designated for immigrants who have shown "exceptional ability" in their field. In 2003, it was finally granted. Free to travel outside the U.S., Tatiana headed to the Super Bowl of ballroom, the Blackpool Dance Festival in England, and reached the quarterfinals on her first try.
She was ecstatic. She had achieved her dream thanks to the kindness of friends and the freedom her new homeland gave her to support herself. "Now I was ready to lead a more normal American life," she says—which meant starting a family. So she retired from competition in 2003, at age 33, and focused on giving dance lessons and performing in private shows. Four years later, she was married to an American journalist and mom to a newborn. But it wasn't long before she began missing her first love: competitive dancing. So last year she staged a successful comeback on the ballroom circuit, winning a major competition and placing highly in many others. But her proudest achievement is becoming an American citizen.
"I don't think I'd be the woman I am if I'd stayed in Russia—not just a professional dancer, but a person who is open and accepting of others. I'm a part of this land now, a part of these people.
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