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
She even appeared in some of my ballets as a walk-on.
Photo: Sonya onstage in my Tucson "The Two Pigeons"
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
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
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
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
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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