Day 103 - Yelena (1st person I approached)
April 13, 2014 - Yelena was born and raised in Vladivostok, a peninsula on the far east coast of Russia. It's located near the borders of North Korea and China. Her parents separated when Yelena was young and her mother remarried. Yelena has a half sister.
The Russian schooling system varies slightly from ours. Grades 1-3 are elementary school, Grades 4-8 are junior high, and the last two years are at a senior high school equivalency. The final year is also consider prep for college or university. At 14 years old, Yelena left home.
“There were some differences of opinion, so I left. It was a struggle. I spent many times hungry. The college I went to paid some of my accommodation, although I did not live at school. My mother would give me 30 rubles, about $20CDN, the amount she received from my father for child support,” Yelena told me.
“My mother owned her own business, making fur hats. I would make hats after school and sell one whenever I could to supplement my income.”
Yelena made it through, completed school, and at 17 moved back home.
“My mother had opened a store, with her hats, and I ran the store. I also got married and had my daughter, at 17. At that age, you think you know everything and that no one is smarter than you are," Yelena says with a laugh and shrug of her shoulders. I had to agree.
When her daughter was just four years old, Yelena, her husband and daughter came to Vancouver.
“My sister-in-law lived here, so at least we had someone here to help us. I had had enough with the cold of winters in Russia. We intended to stay here in Vancouver, but a funny little thing happened. My brother-in-law fell off the roof, and injured his back. My sister-in-law and I decided to go to Edmonton to sell fur hats. The trouble was she spoke English with no selling ability, and I didn’t speak English, with lots of sales experience. We didn’t sell a single hat. You need to talk in sales, right?” said Yelena.
The women came back to Vancouver, and in time, both couples made their way back to Edmonton, to try again.
“We only intended to stay for a short while, and ended up living there for 15 years. My sister-in-law and her her husband moved back to Vancouver, and we stayed in Edmonton. I had my son there, and then got divorced. And then remarried. And divorced again! My second husband and I were together for seven years. He was younger than me and wanted to have children. I already had two and didn't want any more.”
After 15 years of Edmonton winters, Yelena decided she had had finally enough of the cold, and moved to Vancouver.
For years she has had a passion for dance as well, from her days back at school in Russia. She's now a personal trainer, ballroom dancer and a certified LaBlast trainer. (*Fact Check - see links below.) LaBlast is a dance fitness program, developed by ‘Dancing with the Stars’ celebrity instructor Louis Van Amstel.
“I do this full time now. I teach eleven classes a week at various locations. I’m the only LaBlast instructor here in Vancouver that's a qualified ballroom dancer. I’m also a personal fitness instructor. But not in a gym. I train with my clients outdoors. We have this beautiful great gym all around us outside, and it’s green and beautiful. What more could you ask for?” Yelena says, looking out the window from where we're seated.
Yelena’s daughter is now 21 and has moved back to Edmonton.
“She grew up there, all her friends are there, and she wanted to live there,” she said.
Yelena’s son, Dima is 14 years old. At 6'1", he too is a ballroom dancer, and has already amassed 44 medals.
“I was at The Grand Ballroom, and I met this young woman named Olesia. We talked for a while about dance. She has cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair and is a dancer. We later became friends on Facebook, and I had told her about my son being a ballroom dancer. We exchanged some videos of my son dancing and Olesia had shared some of her dancing. Then she sent me a message and asked if I thought Dima would dance with her at an event taking place in Vancouver," Yelena told me.
"I said ‘Olesia has asked if you would be her dance partner.’ He said yes immediately,” she says. Yelena was fighting back tears and rubbing the goosebumps that appeared on her arms.
"I get emotional every time I tell this story,” she says beaming with pride. “Olesia asked him how he felt dancing with someone in a wheelchair. He told her, ‘I don’t see a wheelchair, I see a dancer.’ I am so proud of him!” #notastranger
FootNote: Olesia and Dima will be dancing the ChaCha, tomorrow afternoon (April 14th) at the Yaletown Roundhouse Community Centre at 3pm.