by Janet Anderson and Len Lear
If you were enrolled in ballroom dance classes as a youngster, you may not remember this with great affection. For many youngsters, especially the boys, the thought of getting a partner and putting your hand around her waist while you were trying to do some awkward steps to old-fashioned dance music might not have been as bad as drinking poison, but it was close.
Except, of course, if you could get that super-cute girl across the room as your partner, it might not be quite so bad. Some of these youngsters found that knowing how to do social dancing was actually a plus once they got to college and were a lot more interested in the opposite sex.
In Chestnut Hill right now, there is an excellent professional ballroom and Latin dance instructor, Alina Fiorella (maiden name Oborotistova), who is attempting to establish Strictly Dancesport, a competitive dance school “dedicated to teaching etiquette, respect and self-confidence through the unforgettable thrill of competitive ballroom dancing.” (“Dancesport” is the official name for competitive ballroom and Latin dancing.)
As they say in Texas, this is not her first rodeo. In her native Ukraine, Fiorella, 35, was a two-time national champion in ballroom and Latin dance competition. She has represented both Ukraine and the U.S., traveling to Brazil, Cuba, Argentina, Italy, Portugal, England and Czechoslovakia. Alina, who spoke no English at the time, came to the U.S. 15 years ago with her mother and father at the peak of her amateur career in Ukraine.
“My family, similar to all immigrants, thought we could have a better life here,” said Alina. “I learned English through a little bit of schooling but mainly by conversing and reading. We moved to Philly back in April because we thought this was a better place for a family.
“Our mission here in Chestnut Hill is to bring excellent dance instruction for all and introduce children and teens to the exiting world of Dancesport (ballroom dancing). I was introduced to the world of Dancesport at the age of 5 in Ukraine by my mother, a professional ballroom dancer herself and an owner of a top-rated ballroom school.”
Alina was destined to become an excellent dance teacher herself as well as a coach and choreographer. In attending multiple international seminars and workshops, she acquired a first-hand knowledge of the origins of ballroom and Latin dance. She gave her first lesson at the age of 15.
After moving first to New York City from Ukraine, Alina found that junior Dancesport was almost non-existent. Ever since then she’s been dedicated to promoting Dancesport for youngsters. Ballroom and Latin dancing are now seen on more TV shows than ever before, and they are taught in some public schools, but in the U.S. Dancesport is still viewed as a grown-up activity. Alina’s dream is to change that.
Alina, who now lives in Chestnut Hill with her husband and two daughters, formerly created and ran a dance studio in New York City. As to the value to young people of learning ballroom and Latin dance, she says, “It promotes the breeding of a generation of ladies and gentlemen and instills grace, fitness, respect, the will to improve and self-confidence. Those are the benefits of Dancesport that can not be tossed aside like a pair of old dance shoes.”
Alina’s former students in New York seem to agree. One, Amalia Ryvkin, commented, “ I have been to many dance schools since she left (New York). Nowhere did I experience the same level of professionalism, work ethics and excitement about teaching the art of dance. I am so sorry she left. I hope she’ll be back one day to teach us again!”
Alina teaches both boys and girls. One of her male students in New York, Sergei Motov, said, “Coming to her classes made my days. I just couldn’t wait long enough to get there and start absorbing all the great things she taught us. Her knowledge, spirit and creativity were unlike anything else. I wish those days were back again.”
Right now, Alina does not have a permanent location for her studio, although she is “trying to build a junior and teen teams that I could take to competitions, performances and city events to proudly represent the city of Philadelphia.” She is currently teaching ballroom and Latin dance classes at the Water Tower on Thursdays, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., and St. Martin-in-the-Field Episcopal Church on Tuesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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