VICTORIA MIRONOVA: AN IMMIGRANT IN CANADA
Dear Victoria, will you please introduce yourself for our readers?
I am the founder and artistic director of Victoria International Ballet Academy and of Victoria Ballet Company. Today this school is known beyond Canada. Students from around the world study here to get a wonderful academic and ballet education and in some cases they continue their life here in Canada. I came to Canada from Russia, after I finished my career of a ballerina and became a ballet teacher.
As in the case of most immigrants, my husband and I were looking for a better life for us and for our children. Things were not going well in Russia when we moved here. I do not mean the economic situation, as it was not that bad for us. I used to be a ballerina travelling all over the world, making good money and I was considered to be part of a privileged class. I looked for a country where I could realize my potential after I finished my career. When I came to Canada, I fell in love with this country right away. It does not mean that I was immediately well off ; there were times when I had to clean houses or look after children or just take any job that would allow me to feed my two children and pay for my apartment. Fortunately, my work as a ballet teacher was in good demand, and I found my way in Canadian life.
Then you opened your own school. Weren’t you afraid to do that?
When I was interviewed by an immigration officer who was going to decide if I should be allowed to live in Canada, I told her that I was going to open my own ballet school in Canada. She said she believed me. It took a few years for me to decide that I was ready to start my business. My husband was a lawyer in Russia and his background helped me to gain confidence. It was his idea to name the school Victoria Ballet Academy. By that time, I had already gained 21 years of professional experience as a ballerina. I had received my master’s degree in ballet and choreography pedagogy. So I can say that I was not afraid. It is only through this later experience I have learned how hard it is to run a business.
You were brave enough to build an international accredited school.
The word «international» was later added to the name of the academy. So far, we have had students from Japan, Thailand, Mexico, Germany, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., and Colombia among other countries. The word “ballet” indicates that the school specializes in ballet, on top of the academic subjects like Mathematics, Science, and Geography; languages, such as English, French, Spanish, and Russian as an optional language. Our aim is to let our students become part of this beautiful profession. Our first graduates are already dancing professionally in Canada, the U.S., and Russia. The word “Academy” has a different connotation in Russian. In English it is used for any type of
school. It can be a fashion academy or a recreational dance academy. In Russia and in many European countries, Academy means a higher education institution, like the Vaganova Ballet Academy, where I studied twice – to become a ballerina and then to obtain my diploma as a ballet teacher. Or, like the Military Medical Academy, where my late father studied to become a surgeon. As I understand it, a ballet academy is the one which offers education from accredited teachers with university studies, who have professional stage experience and who can guarantee good results.
We can assume this gives good results?
The task of training someone to become a real ballerina is as difficult as to plant and grow a rare flower. This task takes years of hard work, knowledge, skills and experience from an experienced teacher who has received the right education. Talent and patience are important too, as are the ability and the willingness of the student to work hard. The parents’ support is also very important. And then, when all that happens, that priceless flower will bloom and will be called a Ballet Artist. There cannot be too many. Those who become Ballet Artists understand what a rare profession they possess. They are always needed. Anastasia Loskutov, one of our graduates who is now 18, is really appreciated in the company where she dances. Young Elizaveta Mironova is dancing in Moscow, Russia, and travels around the world. A new generation of graduates is growing now. I see their potential. There are girls and boys who studied at our school and chose other professions; they are now attending the best universities. Everyone was accepted where they chose to be and I am sure they will all lead interesting lives. Yes, these are very good results.
Tell us more about yourself, your family.
My father was a military surgeon and my mom was a civil engineer. As you see, there were no artistic roots. But my parents were creative and talented people. They guided me to my destiny when they took me as a ten year old girl to the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy. I graduated from it in 1978, with excellent marks in all dancing subjects. Then I worked for 21 years in one of the best opera and ballet theatres: The Mikhailovsky Theatre. You know, in Russia ballet and opera companies are not separated from venues, or centres for the arts, as they are often called in Canada. When I finished my artistic career, I started teaching children. Even before finishing the 5-year teaching university course at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. I know only two teachers in Canada, who can claim to have this kind of education and experience. After a few years of living in Canada, me and my husband first opened a ballet studio, and one year later we created the only private professional ballet school in Canada registered with the Ontario Ministry of Education. Indeed, the main credit for creating such a school should be given to my husband Vladimir Demine. He has a brilliant education from the Law School of the Moscow State University, and then he was a corporate lawyer and a judge in Moscow. The creation of a school of a business of such scale would be impossible without his involvement.
In regards to your school as a business, do you receive any subsidies?
Not at all. Private schools are not supported by the Ontario government. We do not expect external help so the school has to run on the tuition fees paid by parents. Sometimes it is not easy. So the school staff and parents of the students need to be very clear on what we want to achieve, to believe it is possible. On the positive side, we appreciate so much the freedom to create and do what we deem is right. As the artistic director, I am free to determine the growth and direction for the school. I choose the best available teachers for our students. I am proud of our star teachers Elena Dmitrieva, Nancy Greyeyes, Irina Sokol, and Benjamin Fradkin among others. Their educational background and attention to their students is very important. I request honesty, clarity and fair treatment of the students, as well as discipline. This is what parents pay for. This is why they chose to pay for a private school.
Do you offer scholarships for especially talented students or for those who are in need of financial assistance?
It is possible to obtain partial scholarships. We offer discounts for low income families. Some foreign students from poor countries are eligible for financial assistance, but they have to pay for their stay. Parents understand that the school teachers put a lot of effort, energy and knowledge for the benefit of their children, so we have the right to expect the same from the parents. When they want the best education for their children, they work as hard as everyone else for their children. We cannot save on our children. If we do, it can become more expensive in the future.
Ten years ago we rented a 3000 square-feet studio. In four years, we moved into a bigger building and offered our students 9000 square-feet facilities. Five years after that, we bought a wonderful two-story building with the help of the Business Development Bank of Canada and Marat Ressin, a businessman in our community. We revamped the place, replaced the lighting, heating, equipped four professional dance studios with specialized floor and mirrors, equipped a dining area, and classrooms. We created the atmosphere and coziness of a real school. And this is not the last thing we will accomplish. Everything is done by our team. We have not increased our wealth but we can proudly say that this is our school.
We know that you have created a classical ballet company.
Yes, the birth of a ballet company is the logical development from the school. We have everything to create the best company. Our human resources are our graduate students. There are a lot of wonderful dancers in Canada and abroad who are looking for a job. These are all opportunities for our company. We have rehearsal studios, ballet classes, change rooms, and a repertory, including Sleeping Beauty, Four Seasons, Les Sylphides, the Nutcracker, Cinderella, and others.
On Saturday, March 29, Victoria ballet Company will present the ballet Cinderella at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, with music by Prokofiev. The main role will be performed by Anastasia Loskutov, alumna of Victoria International Ballet Academy. Anastasia is now dancing with an American company. And the Prince will be performed by Andrey Krauchenka, dancer from the American Ballet theatre. Come and see for yourselves, we promise real ballet for the whole family. Every December, our company performs The Nutcracker at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. It has always been warmly received by our audience. As you see, ballet is my life, and I am happy that I chose the right and best country to realize my dreams.
We wish you good luck and success in your wonderful endeavour. Good luck to your school and your company.
Thank you. Victoria Mironova was interviewed by Mila Markin