In the front row of Oksana Latynina’s dance class
/ by Adam Desaulniers, March 2010 /
In the front row of Oksana Latynina’s dance class, the serious pupils aren’t just going through the motions. This instructor insists on demonstrating how to move not only with precision, but with beauty. “Whether we’re making you a social dancer, or concentrating on competitive dance, or wedding dance or especially performance,” she says, “it’s not just do this, this, and this… it’s about feeling it.” Performing since the age of five, Oksana’s youth was literally consumed with dance. In an era when talent was singled out early and aggressively, she was sent, at age ten, to the then-capital of her native Kazakhstan — over a thousand kilometers away from her family — to attend professional ballet school. “They trained us to be capable of anything,” she remembers. “Ballet every day, folk dance, duets, historical dance, art history, theatre history, makeup and costumery, acting… and of course, music.”
For the first five years, she says, she didn’t feel the passion that drives her now. “But then, at about fifteen, I knew. ” She credits “a very good teacher” with helping turn the discipline and strict training of her youth into an instrument of real self-expression, offering a creative outlet at a time when, she recollects, “it was very hard to live,” under conditions dominated by the economic displacement of perestroika.
She vividly recalls her first time seeing Ballroom and Latin performed, “by chance,” she says, in her early twenties, after taking a few years off to start her young family. “I cried. It just seemed so much more emotional — brighter, and more colourful.” It inspired a return to dance, and the beginning of a lifelong passion for these styles in particular. She and two partners established a dance club in Kazakhstan that still exists today, where she taught for several years before moving with her family to Vancouver. In her adopted home, she says, “I began to dance almost right away once we came,” finding a partner with whom to dance competitively, and resuming her teaching in short order as well. Her student body spans chlidren, teens, adults, and seniors, in classes ranging from basic technique and conditioning for beginners, to International Style Latin and Jazz “for the more experienced,” where pupils learn alongside her high-achieving son, also a dancer since age five, now 2009 BC champion and 4th in all of Canada.
Here, no matter what level, students take away the real thing, not Ballroom for Dummies or Latin Lite. “Yes, you need the basics,” Oksana affirms, “but then you want to know how to use it to express yourself, and do it properly.” This counts especially for students training for competitive ballroom and performance dance, she points out, where paying audiences “expect a certain standard” and perfect technique alone doesn’t cut it. She speaks not merely of conditioning the dancer’s body but of teaching it “body culture,” using the heightened body-awareness and control of the dancer to evoke metaphor, the same way a skilled musician or actor uses their instrument to tell a story. It’s what she’s passionate about passing on to new talent. “The body has no culture on its own! It takes time and effort — you see it there, when the student performs. First, you really have to think. Then, you really have to feel… feel so we see it. That’s the body education. That’s what we do.” (Note: It is illegal to reproduce this article without the expressed written consent from Adam Desaulniers & DanceWay.com)
Oksana’s classes are at Fraser Fitness Ballroom (5780 Fraser, Vancouver).
Ballroom Technique (Advanced, Age 6-15) Tuesdays 5:00-6:30pm
Jazz and Conditioning for Latin and Ballroom Dancers Tuesdays 7:30-8:30pm
Ballroom and Latin for Children (Beginner, Age 6-12) Wednesdays 6:30-7:30pm
Latin Technique (Advanced, Age 6-15) Thursdays 5:30-7:00pm
Ballroom and Latin for Children (Beginner, Age 6-12) Saturdays 11:15am-12:15pm