My First Week in Perm

Before you begin reading, I will apologize in advance for possible repeating some things here! I wrote this over a period of just under a week – my first week here – due to lack of enough time on any given day to say everything; although, despite this, I think it ended up working out quite nicely, because rather than talk about just my first day, I was able to mention a whole week’s worth of experiencing life in the Perm State Ballet School! So, here it is…enjoy!

Friday, September 14, came and went like a flash of lightening, but so much happened in that one single day! It’s difficult, actually, to separate yesterday from the other days I’d been traveling to get here – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are all mish-mashed together.

We arrived early morning on Friday, and as soon as we stepped off the plane in Perm I started to understand just how cold it would get in the winter! Only September, and already your breath fogs up the air so clearly!

Before we left home, I tried calling the school to notify them of my flight itinerary so that they could know when I was arrive, as they were supposed to arrange for someone to pick my dad and I up from the airport. We couldn’t reach them on the phone, so we wrote them an email and hoped for the best. I never got a reply from them, but they must have read the email because upon arrival at the airport, after baggage claim, I saw a man holding a sign with my name in big letters. At that moment, everything became real.

The drive from the airport to the school was absolutely exciting! It was very early in the morning still, so the city was dark, but that didn’t stop me from looking out the window, eyes wide open, for the entire journey to the school. Because I was familiar with what the school looked like as well as some rough landmark features of the surrounding area, I was very much on the lookout for any hint that we were approaching the school. When we passed a McDonalds, I told my dad, “We must be near!” I knew that because some of the other students that were already there had told me they were using the free WiFi at McDonalds until they were able to get their own. Sure enough, within a few minutes we were turning the corner of a street that brought into view the yellow school building, a very ‘gentle’ yellow just like I like, but bright enough that it stuck out to me as if it were lit up in the middle of the still-dark city. And across from the school – the dormitories!

My father and I were led into the school and show to my room, being careful to stay quiet as everyone was still sleeping. We spent the next two hours unpacking and making my bed [or, rather, beds – I have my own room, but still there are two beds, two closets, two desks – it’s very convenient, actually!] Something I found amusing was that the pillows are square! I don’t know if this is just a PGHU thing or if all pillows in Russia are square…my school also provides me with linen and towels, which was nice because I didn’t have to try to fit that into my suitcase nor did I have to buy any upon arrival; it’s clean, and we get new sheets every week, or every other week – I can’t remember now. At around 9 we decided it was a good time to go to the school building to find out where exactly I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do now that I was unpacked and mostly settled in. We were hoping to get oriented around the school, be given my schedule, and take the rest of the day to take care of miscellaneous errands I had to run, such as buying internet, buying a cell phone, getting some stuff I needed for my room – you know, random stuff like that which needs to be done upon moving to a new home in a different country.

However, all of that had to be left until later; I was told that at 12, I would have to be ready with my ballet clothes and shoes for my entrance examination which would determine my placement at the school and, following that, my schedule. But let me back up a bit – I have a short story to tell about how things went down when we first entered the school building.

First of all, everyone was so lovely, saying hello and welcome and greeting us more warmly than we could have imagined. We were shown to the coatroom, which is where I always must go to upon entering the school building to take off my winter coat and outside shoes (in the school building we wear ‘tapochki’, or slippers, and while we can wear a sweater or what-have-you, actual coats are strictly prohibited! I think it is just an etiquette thing – like taking off one’s hat upon entering a building. In the cafeteria, they will reprimand you if you keep your outside coat on and will tell you to hang it up – I know from experience!) After we hung up our coats, we were told to sit down and make ourselves comfortable on the sofa in the lobby; but, no sooner had we sat down, than the women in the lobby (comprised of the security guard, the coat room person, and someone I believe to be a cleaning lady) asked us if we ate breakfast and told us to go eat, eat! They absolutely insisted we go have breakfast, and they pretty much pushed us step by step to the cafeteria, sat us down, and instructed the cooks to give us some breakfast. We were given a plate of gretchkaya kasha, bread with some thickly-slices meat on top, and a cup of hot chocolate. It was so yummy, and so satisfying! And I’m surprised I enjoyed it so much. Every time I had tried gretchka in the past, I thought it tasted horrible. I guess the Russians just know how to make it right! That, and they put butter on it. Which…I guess…makes everything taste better? Anyway, the food here is actually really great. Even Daria (one of our caretakers) was surprised when I said that, because she said most foreigners don’t like it. Well, I don’t mind it at all. And what’s more, I found out we can ask for the gretchka without butter. And, every day, the menu is posted on the cafeteria wall with the calorie counts of each meal item; everything is portioned out for us already onto plates – small plates, I might add, which is excellent and all you need is a little portion. So, it’s really good.

I will note that everything here is very old fashioned. And it’s really cool, I love it. Just wanted to throw that in there somewhere as something I took note of myself!

Anyway, after we ate breakfast, I was told to be ready for my entrance examination at 12. This was quite a test of my will! You see, I don’t think they realized I had been traveling for two days straight and was lacking sleep by three night’s worth! But I didn’t get a chance to tell them this, so on my way I went back to the dorms to get dressed, put up my hair, and warm up for my exam – without really knowing what the exam would consist of.

Have you ever seen the videos on YouTube of the little girls auditioning to get into the Russian ballet schools? They line up in the studio wearing only their underpants in front of the head of the school who is accompanied by a group of other teachers who together make up the commission; one teacher is in charge of actually testing the children, and they test them on their ability, facility, jumps, and musicality. They do this by, in the example of ability, stretching the children’s legs to the front, side, and back to see if they have what it takes to become ballerinas.

Well, my friends, this is exactly what I had to do. “Are you ready? We’re going to show you to the head of the school now.” And so, I followed Elena (who I would later find out is my Russian teacher as well as one of the people that takes care of various needs we might have, whether they be medical, psychological, etc.) to one of the third-floor studios in which a third course class (a graduating class) was warming up and stretching for their own class. At this point I still was not sure what the exam would consist of, so seeing all the girls preparing for class made me think I would be taking class with them. Instead, I was told to come to the center of the room, and that was the beginning of my entrance exam.

The head of the school was the one that did the ‘examining’ – I mean, he instructed me as to what to do and placed my body in the positions he wanted. The rest of the panel watched and together they would make a decision at the end of my exam. First, they looked at my body as I stood in first position with my hands by my sides. They turned me sideways and had me tendu one foot at a time, parallel, so they could see my arch, and stretched my foot to see what the maximum pointe I potentially have is. I was told to do a short pique turn combination (en dehors and en dedans) at different rhythms to test my turning technique as well as my musicality. I did sautés, so they could see my jumping ability. Then we moved to the barre, where I did port de bras back facing the barre; following that was the well-known stretch of the legs front, side, and back that I described above. And with that, unless I am forgetting something, my entrance/placement exam was over, and I was left to the side as they huddled together to discuss what would be my fate at this school.  I tried to listen in on what they were saying, but sadly my Russian is just not up to par yet!

It was only a few minutes, though, before I was given my results; they decided to put me in the certificate course this year, rather than let me go to the diploma course immediately. If I want to do the diploma course (which I do), I have to prove to them that I can handle it and that I am capable of making the progress they want me to make. Whether or not they decide to let me pursue my diploma after all is dependent on my teacher’s recommendation, my end-of-the-year exam score, and my success in developing the features they want me to develop during this year. So, my goal and focus for this year will certainly be to show them all that I am more than ready for the diploma course, and to be able to come back next year with a future diploma waiting for me with my name on it!

Next was my medical checkup. We have these periodically throughout the year, I believe, although I’m not sure when; it’s possible we only have the first medical check, and after that it’s only weigh-ins, although I admit to not actually knowing how often we have those, either. I heard it’s about once a month. Anyway, the medical check was nothing long or scary. They just checked my height, my weight, my eyesight, and my spine. They were really nice and were especially helpful during the eye exam portion, because all the letters I had to read were in Russian! And while I can read without a problem in Russian, I don’t know the names of the letters. So I just said the sounds they make instead – and I’m sure it must have been pretty amusing to the doctor and nurse!

When I got back upstairs to our floor, Daria, the main person who is in charge of us (there are several, but Daria does most of the stuff with us and for us) went over the rules and gave me my present; on 1 September, the school had their ceremony for the opening of the new school year, and all the new foreign students were presented and also given a gift from the school. Unfortunately, I had to miss this ceremony as I came late, but it was nice to be able to still get my little gift from the school!

In the early evening the school held a small talent show, which was really fun to watch! Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying, and my dad didn’t either, it was really nice and it made me feel like a part of the school immediately! All the students here are so talented, and I’m not talking about just ballet; some people did perform a dance, but others read poetry, did an acting skit, played the piano, and so on and so forth.

Finally at the end of the day, I received my schedule, which admittedly is not as full as I would like, but hopefully I can change that. It has to do with being in the certificate course currently rather than the diploma, and so when I get into the diploma course (and I will!) I will have several classes added to my schedule: duet, theater history, ballet history, ‘informatika’, and so on. But for now, I’m being kept rather busy still with classical, character, historical, gymnastics, Russian language, and acting technique; plus, today one of my teachers said she will try to add music lessons (piano) to my schedule. This would be wonderful! So, I really hope she will be successful in getting me that additional class.

Classes run from 9:00-6:00 every day, although the actual time I finish for the day varies based on what lessons I have in a particular day. Meals are written into the schedule, too. Breakfast is 8:30-9:00 or maybe 9:30. Lunch is 12:15-2:20. Snack is 3:30-4:00, but I don’t really ever go to this meal. Dinner is 6:30-7:30. And, finally, ‘Second dinner’ is in the evening, and for this meal we are just given a small snack in the dorms (not in the cafeteria). So far it has varied between a chocolate milk drink, a yogurt drink, and a kefir drink. The food here is actually good – I’m enjoying it and that surprised me. It’s also easy for me to watch my weight here, and the food they give is real food, not junk, and it’s healthy. They post the calorie counts on the menu on the cafeteria wall every day, and that makes choosing what to eat pretty simple! In case you’re wondering, if someone were to eat every single menu item that is provided every day, they would be consuming about 4,000 calories. Yep! But no one actually eats that much, except for the boys, of course! Everyone else takes their pick of some of what is offered, and many people don’t finish what is on the plate. The plates are also small – they give normal portion sizes, not the gigantic, oversized, intimidating portions that they give in America!

Now, as far as my actual ballet class, I am in course 2A this year, in the class of Lidiya Grigorevna Ulanova. If you recognize that name, it’s because she was Oksana Skoryk’s teacher, too! She is one of the best teachers at this school, but also one of the strictest – well, that’s what I’ve been hearing anyway. And it seems quite plausible from what I’ve seen in class so far! By the way, we’re mixed in classes with the Russians; there’s no separate class for foreigners, which is just great!

This is quite long already, and I think I’ve given a pretty good picture of what life is like here, or at least what I’ve learned of it thus far! It’s Thursday evening now, so I’ve been here for just under a week, although I guess you could say it’s pretty much been a week! But I have to say, it sure doesn’t feel like it. It’s strange – it feels as if I’ve been here for so long already; and yet, at the same time, I just caught myself thinking that “no way it’s been a week already!”

But it has! And I’ll have many more interesting weeks to come. For now I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to give such detailed updates, but I hope to be able to tell you all my stories at least once a week (Sunday is my free day, so I might make it a regular habit to wake up early before anyone starts doing stuff just for this!) And maybe I can post shorter posts or pictures or that sort of stuff more often here and there. So I’m not making any promises! Just that I will try my hardest to stay on top of this while also keeping up with my “Mission Impossible” here!

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