Three adults lace up their worn black shoes as they sit against a wall in a roughly 30 square meter basement room in the center of Kazan, a city on the Volga River.
Two leprechaun dolls dangle on the wall to their right while photos of Irish dancers hang above them and on the wall to their left. A green leprechaun hat covers the entrance door.
Lilia Zinatullina, a dance instructor, shakes droplets of water on the wooden floor from a plastic watering can to create friction as the adults – seven in total including one man – finish dressing.
Once laced up, the adult dancers – ranging in age from about 20 to 45 – form a line and begin to stretch their necks and legs.
Kazan’s Only Irish Dance School
Then Lilia presses a button on her computer in the right-hand corner of the room, the music begins to play and the weekly Thursday night Irish dance lesson in this Tatar city 900 kilometers east of Moscow begins.
Welcome to Sonas, Kazan’s only Irish dance school.
One of five Irish dance groups Lilia teaches each week, these adults will spend the next 90 minutes stamping their feet and practicing their leaps and kicks.
She currently has about 30 students in her five groups, ranging in age from five to 45. The majority of the students are female.
Destined to Dance
Lilia, a Bashkir native, opened her school ‘Sonas’ – which means happiness in Irish – in Kazan in 2007. In addition to Irish dancing, she also teaches Tatar, theatrical and a few other styles.
‘’Since age 6, I knew that dance was my life,’ she said. ”I confidently pursued it even though my parents didn’t quite approve of it.’’
Were it not for a small, random gift from a friend twenty years ago, Sonas may not exist today.
Lilia got the Irish dance fever back in 1998 while still a teenager studying dance at a technical school in Bashkortostan. She recalled how her friends returned from Moscow with a VHS tape of the show "Riverdance."
“The VHS accidentally fell into my hands. I didn’t even know about the existence of 'Riverdance,'” Lilia said. ”I was blow away by it – the smoothness, synchronization and speed of the movements and music.”
She began to practice Irish dancing on her own by watching the VHS and continued to pursue it after entering the choreography department at university in Kazan.
Upon finishing her dance studies in Kazan, Lilia married and gave birth to a son. Later, she began to attend a series of Irish dance master classes led by John Carey, Colin Dan and others.
In 2007, she began to teach Irish dance.
Carey Academy Russia
‘’Not many people signed up for the class as few in Kazan knew what Irish dancing was at the time,’’ she said. The number of students enrolled changes ‘’as not all can handle the tough workout.’’
Sonas takes parts in Irish dance competitions with other schools in Russia and puts on an annual show at year’s end. The main difficulty is finding enough male dances for the show.
Lilia’s Sonas school is one of the Russian branches of the Carey Academy.
In addition to Kazan, there are Carey Academy schools offering regular Irish dance classes in Ufa, Samara, Tolyatti, Izhevsk, Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk.
John Carey and his colleagues come to train the teachers and students in Russia a few times a year.
To see the full photo gallery, click here.
Todd Prince grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating CUNY in 1999, he moved to Moscow with the intention of teaching English for nine months. Todd stayed to work as a journalist for Bloomberg News for five years before joining Bank of America's Moscow office, where he worked as a stock broker for seven years. Todd is currently working on a Russia photography project to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse. His landscape and street portrait work can be seen at toddprincephotography.com while his Russia portraits can be viewed @shadesofrussia.com.