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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Club Dances Around Female Issues

Yelena Ernandes believes that taking part in a lively flamenco dance is an ideal way to restore a woman's womanhood.

"Even a minimum of femininity allows every woman to turn flamenco from a Spanish ethnic dance into a possibility for endless improvisations," said Ernandes, 37, a dance instructor in the Moscow women's club called Gratsiya, or Grace.

Every Monday night, about 20 women from around Moscow gather in the Tsentralny Dom Rabotnikov Iskusstv on Ulitsa Pushechnaya to chat, drink tea, dance flamenco and develop their voices. Members say the Gratsiya club, created some four years ago, is more practical than other women's groups, which tend to be consumed with the history and theory of feminism. Gratsiya offers everything from hands-on advice on matters such as how a woman should carry herself to psychological and dance therapy aimed at empowerment and destroying gender barriers.

Masha Arbatova, one of the club's founders and an internationally recognized playwright, said Gratsiya first united only close friends, and then, much later, became open to the public.

"We realized that intelligent women with two or even three diplomas are especially vulnerable in modern life," said Arbatova, 38, who is also a weekly guest on the women's program "Ya -- Sama" on TV 6. "The purpose of our club is to develop the inner freedom in women."

Arbatova said Russian feminism differs from the Western women's movement. "It's not a problem in Russia that somebody is opening a door for you or kisses your hand," she said. "Russian feminism will never be as radical as, for example, American."

According to Arbatova, because Russians never had to fight for the right to vote, they never empowered themselves the way Western women did.

Yana Zhilyayeva, 25, a member of the club for two years, believes that feminism in Russia has a longer history than in the West and is simply about having an outlook on life that is different than that of males. "Masha showed me that the very fact that I am a woman doesn't necessarily mean I'll always be a part of a man and have to look at the world from his angle," said Zhilyayeva, who is a correspondent on women's issues at the daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Most of the women in the club are in their late 30s, have a higher education in the humanities and can't easily find jobs in the current job market.

"All these women are very interesting persons," Ernandes said. "But unless they talk to you, their original personalities remain hidden, because they can't express themselves in gestures and movements. We try to develop their natural grace and voices."

The meeting at the club starts with a half-hour tea party, during which Arbatova speaks about the basics of feminism and women's rights in Russia and often has guest speakers. On a recent Monday, for example, Arbatova invited members of the Moscow Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, who told of the terrible conditions under which their sons serve in the army. The tea party was followed by flamenco dancing and then a vocal exercise session during which the women stood in a circle and made loud sounds, each accompanied by a movement.

"This is the principle on which all dances of northern nations are based," said Nadezhda Vysotskaya, who attended the club from its very creation. "I feel as if a tiny gnome is bouncing on my diaphragm, which makes the sound jump out of the mouth."

Members pay 2,000 rubles (about 40 cents) for the tea party, 10,000 rubles for flamenco dancing and 10,000 rubles for vocal exercises. Men are usually not allowed to attend meetings. "Some women are too shy to wear T-shirts and shorts in the presence of unknown men," explained Arbatova.

But Alexander Miroshnikon, 43, who happened to wait there for his lady friend, said it's a pity there are no such clubs for men. "I think we all should try to hear the nature inside ourselves," he said.