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Photo by Yan Pekar
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We’re from a small town near Ekaterinburg, the fourth-largest city in Russia. We’re sisters and our mother had a dance school, so it’s in the blood. When we were kids, we used to put on performances at home and sell tickets to our parents. We did classical ballet, traditional dancing and ballroom dancing. We practically grew up in the studio.
The first time we saw Irish dancing, we were blown away. It was the famous Eurovision interval in 1994, when Michael Flatley and Jean Butler came flying onto the stage. It was a WOW moment. We’d never seen anything like it. In those days, no shows came to Russia on tour and there were certainly no Irish dancing schools, but our mother managed to get hold of a Riverdance video, and we watched it continuously.
We never planned to live in Barcelona. We came here on holiday for a month with our father, when Polina fell ill. She had a fever and was admitted to hospital, where she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. She was 25 years old. So we chose to stay here for treatment, which is much better than in Russia. That was 10 years ago.
We only had summer clothes with us. It was a shock, but at the time, it was better not to think and just get on with it. We could only speak Russian and English when we arrived, so we had to learn the language, and learn quickly. It was very intense. Polina’s treatment lasted about a year and a half, followed by check-ups every three months. Three and a half years ago she was given the all clear.
Irish dancing re-entered our radar after we had been here about a year. We were at an open-air concert by Carlos Nuñez, a famous piper from Galicia, and he was accompanied by a group called the Claddagh Ring Dancers. They were the first Irish dancing group in Barcelona, and originally started as an amateur group of local Irish dance fanatics.
Valeria called them the next day. We learnt our first steps with Claddagh Ring and danced together for a couple of years, before joining a professional company, Celtic Caos. It was a real fusion, made up of dancers from all sorts of different backgrounds. There was Irish, jazz, tap, ballet, Russian folk, all adapted to Celtic music. We danced full time, touring across Spain and Europe with a few different shows.
When the crisis hit, our gigs dwindled. Around that time, a qualified dancing teacher from the US, Erin Comaskey, joined Celtic Caos, and she took us right back to basics with technique. As meticulous Russians, we were relieved to finally go through it step-by-step from the beginning. After a couple of years, Erin went back to the US.
Suddenly, we found ourselves quite alone. The company had dissolved and many of the dancers had left. So, we decided to take the leap and open our own school—Nuala—named after the Irish girl’s name, meaning ‘fair-shouldered and exceptionally lovely’. We liked that! It started with around six to eight people. We now have over 30 students, aged between four and 64, and Valeria has passed the TCRG teaching exams to prove our credentials.
Barcelona is a huge meeting point, and our classes are really international. We’ve got students from all over the world, all learning Irish dancing with Russian teachers. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to direct the class. The international language is dance—jump, hop 1, 2, 3, point—and in between saying the steps, we improvise with Catalan, Spanish and English.
When we’re not dancing, we’re generally doing something related to dancing. Polina designs and makes the costumes for Nuala, and for other types of dance and gymnastics. She has even designed some wedding dresses. We also run workshops, plan performances and work on new choreography. And we’ve made to odd appearance on Catalan television—Polina had to cook, speak Catalan and Irish dance at the same time on TV3’s ‘Karakia’.
Our most embarrassing moment on stage was at the Juan Carlos I Hotel on Diagonal. We were performing in front of the Barça players in the hotel gardens, and the stage began to sink. We didn’t know what to do. We just carried on dancing, gradually sinking into the ground with every jump. We completely ruined the stage.
We breathe, we dance. It’s everything. You fall in love because you fall in love, you cannot find the reason. It’s what we are, our reason for being. When Polina was ill, she never stopped dancing—it was her respite, a breath of fresh air. And it may well have saved her life.