Size no obstacle for these Russian ballerinas
Political freedom spills onto dance floor
December 31, 1996
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT)
From Correspondent Betsy Aaron
MOSCOW (CNN) -- The exuberance and bold new spirit unleashed
in Russia by the collapse of the Soviet Union is manifesting
itself in many ways. An unorthodox ballet star in St.
Petersburg is one of the new era's jewels.
Marika Tamash is a large woman, and she likes it like that.
Pleasure in her life can be defined by the next meal, the
next drink, the next cigarette and, in her case, dancing and
performing. (1.6MB/41 sec. QuickTime movie)
Tamash runs an exercise studio in St. Petersburg that caters
to people, mostly women, who have reached a weight and age
where few expect them to be physically active. The goal of
the studio is to throw off the shackles of societal
stereotypes and move with vigor, grace and abandon across the
"People that come to my lessons begin to look at themselves
in a different way. They begin to trust themselves more,"
Tamash explained. "The woman sees me and says, 'If that kind
of woman can do that, why can't I?'"
Classes are twice a week and require real stamina. But the
goal is mental freedom, not physical fitness.
When asked what he thinks of his classmates, one male
participant says he thinks the full-figured Russian woman is
on the way up, replacing the waif look of the past.
Thin people often come to Tamash and ask if they'll lose
weight in her classes. She responds by telling them to take a
hard look at her figure, then suggests looking elsewhere for
The ballet troupe Tamash works with outside of class is not
bashful about its larger dimensions. Known as "240 Tons,"
they take their dancing seriously, but not their weight.
Recitals focus on routines with names like the "Three Little
Pigs," a number from "Swan Lake", and Tennessee Ernie Ford's
Even if "240 Tons" is not the Bolshoi, Tamash is proud of her
work on stage and in the dance studio -- and the public
performances are a hit. She says it would not have been
possible to bring large women out of the closet for such a
liberating experience in the darker days of the former
"It [performing] would have been underground, something like
a politburo sauna party with a much higher-placed audience,"
Tamash said. "As for aerobics, that was considered bourgeois,
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