Monday, February 5, 2007

Day 23: Henderson, NC

You rarely receive a warmer welcome than we did in Henderson, North Carolina.

Located 40 minutes north of Raleigh, Henderson is a rural town built by the tobacco, cotton and textile industries. It has a main street that does not appear to have changed since the 1950s. The building that houses the Ballet Arts studio was built in the 1800s. It has three stories of studios and locker space.

There was excitement even before the class. As Valery went to change, one student rushed in with her cell phone hoping to get a photo.

Valery taught a one-hour class for small children age 7 and up followed by a very large class of older students. You can see everybody in the picture. There was lot's of picture taking and parents watching through the window.

After the class, he posed for more pictures and the students performed one of their jazz dances. The LaKernick family was warm and generous. They offered us gift bags-- Horay, a present for me, too! In Valery's gift bag was a collection of gold-plated Christmas tree ornaments with scenes of Henderson landmarks, mostly old churches.

They also treated us to a wonderful dinner at the local Japanese restaurant. Valery has toured Japan many times, and he tried out some of his tourist Japanese on one of the waiters. He looked at the dancer with a blank expression because he doesn't speak the languge.

"Do the other studios take you out to dinner?" asked Philip LaKernick.

"Not usually, but sometimes," I said.

"Well, that's just a shame," he said.

We had a very nice meal with the Lakernicks. At one point our waitress, who exemplified Southern friendliness, tried to take Valery's plate before he'd completely finished.

"I'm not rushin' you, baby," she said.

To which Valery replied, "I'm Russian."

Eating sushi in Henderson remains one of our warmest memories of the trip.