Sunday, January 21, 2007

Day 12: Okemos, MI

Our travel adventures continued on a snowy Friday afternoon. Our morning class in Ada wrapped up before lunch time. This is very early for us! Our next class was not scheduled until 7:30 PM in Okemos, which is near Lansing, Michigan. This gave us a good five or six hours for the one-hour drive.

Thus we had a little time for one of Valery's favorite American activities-- shopping for gifts for his friends back home. Watching him shop has taught me a bit about the differences in Russian and American culture. For his friends, Valery buys practical things. For example, this past summer he purchased an ironing board cover. He likes to give clothing and shoes and things that can be used for a long time. On this day, as he browsed for practical gifts, the store had its Valentine's Day merchandise on display. There were all sorts of pink knick-knacks and tchochkes. It seems to me that while Russians value gifts for their usefulness, we select gifts for their uslessness. Something with no practical earthly use is sentimental and from the heart, but something that could be used time and time again-- like an ironing board cover-- is just too utilitarian to be an appealing gift for an American.

Now back to our journey. After a successful afternoon of shopping, we brushed off the car, hopped in, and headed along US-96 towards Okemos. Somewhere along the route our car's heater stopped working. This was not ideal for our comfort on a bone-chilling day, but the real problem was the lack of a defroster. The rear defroster continued to work but, generally speaking, when you drive it is also nice to be able to see out the front. So Valery Lantratov added a new title to his resume-- windshield wiper. As we looked for the Happendance studio, Valery used a small ice scraper, and dragged it across the inside of the windshield, giving us our own personal snow storm in the car as the frost fell on our laps.

Most studios we have visited are located in strip malls and have big neon signs featuring cartoon drawings of ballerinas on pointe. The Happendance School is an exception. As we came to the corner of two rural roads, we scraped and peered through the frost looking for the street address. It quickly became apparent that Happendance had to be located in the only building we could find-- a big, red barn. The studio itself is tucked around back and down a few steps.

According to Happendance's brochure, the school is "where dance means more than just learning steps." Our sentiments exactly. Valery was especially energized for this class. Maybe it was all that scraping. Thank you to so much to Diane Newman and the Happendance Staff for inviting us to work with your talented students.