Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: email@example.com
Elina Kalita (Ukraine)
(She’s been in Japan since mid 90s)
Today we introduce you to a beautiful belly dancer. Elina Kalita from Ukraine is a born artist. Her career as a belly dancer spans about two decades and she’s been raised on many kinds of performing arts since she was a child.
Now she is both a performer and an instructor of belly dancing. She always tells her students, “Do not copy me”. What does she mean? Is there a teacher who says you do not need to take him/her as a model? You’ll see why as you read this interview.
*Interview in Kayaba-cho (Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
*Edited by Daniel Penso
Art has nothing to do with nationality.
Many women ask me, “Can I lose weight by belly dancing?”. Actually it’s enjoyable and you can create a beautiful line. But it’s different from slimming. So I answer that you cannot thin down by belly dancing.
And I’m often asked, “Why do you belly-dance even though you’re a Ukrainian?”. Every time I’m asked that, I feel bad. Because dancing has nothing to do with an ethnic group or nationality. It’s not at all unusual for us to feel something when we see dancing. Actually many Japanese are belly-dancing. When you come right down to it, I have a Turkish strain in my blood. I think that’s part of the reason that I got interested in belly dancing.
A riveting dance.
I learned figure skating, classical ballet and rhythmic gymnastics when I was a child. My mother wanted me to be a ballerina or figure skater. That was not unusual in my country because the former Soviet Union was strong in those events. Many mothers in Ukraine make their children take ballet or figure skating lessons to raise them.
But I chose my course in the end. I joined the Ukraine National Folk Dance Ensemble and globe-trotted, going to the US, Italy, Finland, Czech, Slovakia, former Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, India, Taiwan and Japan among others. I’ve danced in North Korea, too.
One day in Dubai, I saw belly dancing for the first time. I danced with my ensemble and belly dancers performed on the same stage at a different time. When I saw their performance, I was totally absorbed by it. I’ve always been interested in various cultures and have learned other folk dances as well. But belly dancing was special to me. I felt that belly dancing has “intelligent sexiness”, which means it’s not indecent at all even though its dancers are revealing.
I joined a belly dance workshop in Turkey and learned it for a couple of months there. After I came here, I took workshops that were held by a teacher from the home of belly dancing many times and mastered how to dance.
When I came to Japan, I left the ensemble. But I continued the Ukrainian folk dance.
Love a place where you are in order to survive.
I came to Japan for the first time when I took part in a revue at a hotel in Tokyo. At that time, at sometime, I joined that kind of show. I didn’t imagine that I would live here at all. But things just happened for me to settle down in Japan. So if you ask me, “what attracted you to Japan?”, it’s difficult for me to answer.
Of course I love Japan. Rather, you won’t be able to survive here if you don’t like it. You have to accept all the different aspects of Japan in order to live here. If you cannot accept them, go back home. If you want to reside here, you should look for good things of Japan instead of unacceptable things.
I’ve mastered the Japanese language because I thought that it would be disrespectful to Japanese people if I didn’t study the language. If you want to live here, I suggest to you one more thing – study Japanese hard enough to interact with people.
I’ve made my livelihood here. Sometimes I go back home but I’m treated like a guest there now. So I feel like I “visit” Ukraine, not “go back home”.
Opening my own school.
I opened my own dancing school in Naka-meguro, Tokyo a year ago. It’s called “Make your body with ELINA”. I have about 30 students who practice with enthusiasm and about 10 students join my Sunday class on average. My school has classes such as beginners’, intermediate and intensive ones. Some children are learning with their mothers.
To be honest, I was disinclined to own my own school because I wanted to brush up on my dancing skills more. Actually some women who saw my performances asked me to teach them how to dance, but I answered, “OK, I’ll teach you later”.
One day a woman and her daughter came to me after the show. They asked me, “Please teach us dancing!”. I said yes kind of tepidly and swapped phone numbers. And the next day, she gave me a phone call. She said, “We`ll wait until you open a school.” Other women also asked me that. So I opened my own school.
Initially, I had only four students. But my school spread by word of mouth gradually. Also my shows at the Turkish restaurant chain called “Istanbul” helped promote it to people.
There are many belly dancing schools in Tokyo. Some sports clubs have belly dance classes. Belly dancing is popular among Japanese and it has various styles. But many people join my school after they learned at other ones.
Her students’ performances.
I never say, “Dance like me”.
The definition of beauty varies according to people. So I often tell my students, “You don’t need to copy me.” Each person is individually unique. What I do is to draw out the individuality of each student.
Of course I ask or suggest to you many things when I teach you basic actions. But I never say, “Dance like me”. Never. Instead, I would say, “Dance like yourself”. Because you’ll never be able to dance like me because you remain steadfast about who you are. You are totally different from me. So dance like yourself.
If you begin belly dancing because you want to dance like me, that’s OK. But find what needs to be learned from me. If you can say, “I know what I need to learn from Elina”, I welcome you.
“Energy exchange” brings magic into myself.
To me, a stage is like a drug. If I don’t go on the stage for one or two weeks, I feel that something is missing.
When I dance, I radiate much energy. But I also receive energy from the audience, too. That kind of “energy exchange” brings magic into me. So I usually neither drink nor smoke.
Now I’m in charge of booking dancers for shows at Istanbul, which has restaurants in Akasaka, Shinjuku and Ginza. Of course I dance, too, but I arrange shows for other dancers there. If you want to see our performances, you need to make reservations aside from dinner. When and where I dance depends on the status of booking, but I usually dance from Wednesday through Saturday.
Also I perform at a Belarussian restaurant called “Minsk” in Roppongi at random times. If you want to reflect on my performances with great satisfaction, please call each restaurant (*Numbers are below).
What is Tokyo to you?
Many people and things are moving back and forth twenty four-seven here.
I love that because I receive energy by moving. I go to busy towns even on holidays. I can’t be in quiet places more than three days. So I’ll be in Tokyo until I retire.
I think I’m a “Tokyo woman”.
Elina Star: http://elina-star.com/
*Elina on the radio! Click here to read the blog.