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The Story Of Sonya - For All Dog Lovers
Sonya was my constant companion. She came along with me to all of my rehearsals. During the Kalinka Russian dance rehearsals, she would lie on a pile or Russian shawls in the dance studio and watch every move the dancers made. At the balalaika orchestra rehearsals she would sit and listen, loving the sound of Russian folk music.

She even appeared in some of my ballets as a walk-on.

Photo: Sonya onstage in my Tucson "The Two Pigeons" choreography

Sonya was my dog. She certainly was no pedigree but just an ordinary, all white terrier-mix. I retrieved her at the Tucson Humane Society. She went practically everywhere with me and, like all menís dogs, loved to sit beside me in the car. Even when I drove to Hollywood she came along and once peed on a Paramount Studios sound stage.

She came along with me to Disneyland, well, at least as far as the kennels at the main gate where I had to leave her for the day.

I donít know where she came from or what kind of abuse she may have suffered at otherís hands but she always felt safe with me.

This circle of protection was broken one morning during our usual walk on a nearby desert trail. We were passing two greyhounds held on leads. I had no sooner mentioned to the owner how beautiful they were when suddenly they broke loose, ran to Sonya and viciously attacked her. As I later found out, they were rejects from a Tucson race track; a notoriously cruel place where they kill and discard the Greyhounds in the desert when they have no further use for them. These adopted dogs probably thought Sonya was a white rabbit that they were trained to destroy.

One of them dragged her down the rocky trail and onto the highway with heavy, morning traffic. I was still pounding on the greyhounds to let go of Sonyaís back legs. Fortunately a man from one of the stopped cars managed to kick them off and with Sonya in my arms, I ran home. Both her sides were torn off and her back legs were terribly mauled. I rushed her to the animal emergency hospital and left her there while I myself, with bitten hands, went to a hospital, still wearing my bloody shirt.

Then there were the weekly visits to the vet. Every time he led her away to his operating room she would look back at me pleadingly, knowing somehow he was going to hurt her again.

With clever skin grafts and lots of medications, Sonya survived and spent 3 months in recovery, at a cost of over $6,000. Finally she was able to go through her doggie door and into the garden but was never able to run and frolic again.

The Death of Sonya
Several months later, a Russian dance group was performing in Prescott, Arizona, a four hour drive North from our home in Tucson. By then she had also developed vestibular syndrome (head stays tilted to one side) and was on medication for that, but her vet said it was okay for her to take the trip.

Our hotel was across the street from Yavapai College where the performance was to be held. As soon as I checked in she began acting peculiar. I thought she was asking to go for a walk so I took her over to the campus and around the College Theater in hopes of seeing some of the dancers. She was not to make it and suddenly fell with a convulsion. I picked her up. She gave a pitiful cry and there, while waiting for the highway's cross light to change, she died in my arms.

That evening I attended the performance as I knew she would have wanted me to. Sonya she died in close proximity to the Russian dance that she so loved to watch.


I drove back to Tucson with her lying in the car trunk and buried her in my garden, surrounded by cactus.

Sonya was known far and wide. In Moscow, a Russian writer friend of mine wrote a book recounting his visits to Tucson, including the story of Sonya..

Photo: Sonya in her later years

In the foothills overlooking the city of Tucson, when I walk the desert trails around my home, I can still see her dancing by my side.

After I left New York City and moved to Arizona, I never dreamed that I would ever dance again. But I did. There were few male dancers around when I created the Kalinka Russian dance group in Tucson. To fill that gap I had to join in and dance myself. During the years there must have been hundreds that I trained as Russian dancers. Some stayed for many years. Others left after they graduated, moved away, changed jobs, married.

Photo: Drawing of Kalinka dancers in womenís round dance around Saguaro cactus.

Iíve long wanted to write down my memories in a narrative form. The story of my life has not been one of a linear struggle, but of sporadic events. Who knows Ö sharing these recollections may help other young dancers as they begin the long and difficult journey to a career in dance. I hope they may gain the ability, as I eventually did, to transcend the hurts and the many disappointments that seem a part of a dancing life and to forgive those who may have violated their trust.

We might not care to admit it, but weíre all headed in one direction. Growing old paints a scary picture. But once we look at that picture closer we can find that our later years can bring us a new vitality and rich rewards.

Photo: CD cover photo of musicians, singers, and dancers of the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra. I'm on the right in green rubashka [a Russian shirt].

I chose dance as a profession; a profession filled with struggle and disappointments. I faced these alone yet managed to achieve a measure of success. But this should not be a story of victimization or of retreating into the past.  Living in the desert of Arizona, we see cactus of all kinds surrounding us. Sometimes we can get caught by them clinging to us and must spend a long, painful time pulling them off. But cactus can also teach us a valuable lesson. A cactus - being covered with sharp, protective thorns - has built in survival. A dancerís life, in fact everyoneís life is often filled with thorny situations and conditions. It can become a bed of roses only when we are willing to pull the cactus thorns out of the flesh and throw them away. The only time any of us will ever have is now. Our lives can never be filled with complete happiness, with everything our hearts desire. Living here in the desert of Arizona, surrounded by cactus plants, I canít help but admire them. They remind me of my own life. A cactus has its survival built in. A dancerís life, in fact everyoneís life. is often filled with undesirable situations and conditions. It can become a bed of roses only when we are willing to pull the cactus thorns out of the flesh and throw them away.

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