WeWriWa—A strange choice of dance teacher


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes about a page and a half after last week’s, after Igor and the Likachëva ladies have had a lively conversation about art, movies, their church community, the upcoming presidential election, and the unfairness of the voting age being twenty-one instead of eighteen.

Igor is very surprised when 11-year-old Flora reveals her ballet teacher is his aunt Lyolya, since Lyolya only teaches one type of student.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.


Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky (né Vatslav Nizhinskiy) as Giselle and Albrecht in the 1910 Ballets Russes performance of Giselle

“You’re invited to my Christmas ballet show,” Flora says as she takes back the geriatric Jitterbug. “I’ve been taking ballet for about five and a half years; your Tyotya Lyolya is my teacher, and I sometimes dance with her daughters Gizella and Odetta.  She named them after characters she danced a lot before she had to retire.”

Igor tilts his head to the right and looks upward. “I thought my Tyotya Lyolya only taught crippled kids, since she was crippled herself and wanted to help kids who were in the position she once was.”

“Gizella and Odetta aren’t crippled, and they take her dance lessons.  Do I look crippled to you?”

Igor wonders if the long illness Violetta mentioned involved Flora being crippled, but he dares not say anything, since he barely knows these people, and doesn’t want to get accused of being rude or dredging up the painful past.  If Flora indeed were crippled at some point in the past, it must not be a subject they want to talk about.  What’s not nice society doesn’t show.

Wilfride Piollet as Odette in Swan Lake, 1977, Copyright La Volé

Lyolya (Yelena) Lebedeva was beaten over her kneecaps with iron crowbars when she and three of her sisters were taken away from home in 1917, and she was left badly crippled. During the next three years in various Siberian camps, her sisters found ways to disguise her condition and get her positions which didn’t involve standing or walking. When her condition was finally discovered, she was pushed off a bridge into the Lena River as punishment, and left behind.

Four young siblings found Lyolya unconscious on a large rock in the river, and dragged her home. In the Smirnov home in Bulun, Lyolya began the long, slow process of recovering both her body and mind, and in 1928, she was discovered by a Russian-born ballet talent scout on his way back to America. She, her foster brother Rostislav, and a number of other dancers were taken to America under false pretenses, and they all defected in San Francisco.

When Lyolya reached retirement age, she decided to become a ballet teacher to children recovering from polio and mobility injuries, since she knew firsthand what it was like to go through that. Her husband Savva, himself a premier danseur noble, teaches boys who’d prefer a male teacher. Savva’s leg was once so badly broken it was almost amputated, so he too knows what it’s like to relearn how to walk and dance after a devastating injury.


18 thoughts on “WeWriWa—A strange choice of dance teacher

  1. Without knowing how you’ve set up these revelations in the full MS, I’ll just say that the clues of an iron lung and a teacher who specializes in crippled children work well to let readers figure out what’s going on.


    • The reader definitely already knows Violetta and Flora had polio in the third book, and many other characters know as well. Igor is the one who doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to put two and two together.


  2. I love the story behind Lyolya. She sounds like an amazing woman. And it’s great the way you are giving clues to Igor as to they mystery of Flora.


  3. I’m surprised that he mentioned that she only taught crippled children at all, given the social taboos against discussing things like that, or mentioning it in front of one of her students.


  4. Family secrets and a repressive social atmosphere make for great mystery and tension. I’m interested to see how Igor proceeds in his relationships with both Flora and his aunt.


  5. Wow! That last line sure hits dead on home for this culture as well as that era. Nicely done. The girls have such interesting names also. (I’ll be honest though, I looked at Gizella and read it as Godzilla first. LOL. Sorry!)


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