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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Life's a Ball for Moscow's Future Dancing Queens

MTTwo-year-old pupils of a Karpova dance class performing an exercise with colored balls designed to develop their performing skills.
Every Tuesday and Thursday around 10:30 a.m., Zoya Karpova pulls out bags full of toys -- hula hoops, toy animals, colorful balls, a bag of glittery magenta tutus and a big pink stuffed elephant -- to prepare for the arrival of her students: a group of rambunctious 2-year-olds.

For an hour twice a week, Karpova teaches these bright-eyed, energy-filled little ones how to walk on their tiptoes, point their feet, flap their arms and hop.

Karpova is just one of a group of teachers at Dance Center Timofeyevoy, tucked away in a basement off the Arbat at 20 Pereulok Sivtsev Vrazhek, offering classes specifically geared toward youngsters.

The center is one of the few places in Moscow that provide such classes, and all the teachers at the center have specialized degrees in teaching dance to youngsters.

"My specialty is very, very small children: 2-year-olds," says Karpova before a Tuesday morning class. "They aren't prepared to learn in a group nor, by nature, should they be. I try to lower the learning curve so that they start focusing on ballet and dance."

At 11 a.m., three little girls and a little boy burst into the dance studio, followed by their mothers. Karpova quickly switches on a tape of light-hearted children's music. The children and their moms start walking in a circle, then they pick up the pace and begin hopping like bunnies.

Two-year-olds, as a rule, attend class with their mothers.

"This is because very seldom will a 2-year-old willingly set foot in a dance studio where there is some strange woman, loud music and bright lights," Karpova explains.

This also has the added benefit that "the mom simultaneously takes part in the learning process," she says.

Though some parents bring their children to the classes to prepare them for study toward a career as a professional dancer, most just come for fun. Anyone is invited to attend, and Karpova promises that advanced Russian-speaking skills are not needed.

The main aim of the classes is to help introduce children to interaction with the outside world, Karpova says.

"The more information a child can gather from the world around him, the better," she says. "Instead of isolating a 2-year-old at home where he only sees his parents, these classes expose children to their peers and to other mothers, as well as to different sorts of toys and games and activities designed for intellectual stimulation."

Karpova is certain that children who attend her classes develop more quickly socially and intellectually than they would normally. A child's development of motor skills is also greatly enhanced by her exercises, such as walking like birds and leaping over blankets, she says.

Karpova encourages parents to participate and says mothers and fathers learn a lot about their children by watching them in class and participating with them.

Parents see "how their child behaves himself and how he interacts with other children and what the child's natural strengths and weaknesses are," she says.

The mothers say the lessons are helpful in providing a focus for the boundless energy their children seem to harbor. They even say their children sleep better and are less boisterous at home thanks to the classes.

Karpova acknowledges that a lot of patience is needed for her work. She says young dance instructors without their own children have a hard time working with such small children.

"At the beginning, I cried myself," she says. "It seemed as if I wasn't getting anywhere with the kids. But after more than 10 years of teaching and having my own children, I have gained valuable experience."

Just watching Karpova at work is exhausting.

Nastya, a little girl with blond ponytails, has a temper tantrum and starts punching her mom. Sonya runs to the stuffed elephant, hugs it and won't let go. Lev, who is only 13 months old, is too little to understand anything and keeps crawling after a red ball.

Yet Karpova displays steely patience and succeeds in each case in getting her pupils interested in her games. She pulls out silvery wands and proceeds to "trick" the children into doing exercises with their arms by waving the wands in different directions.

Perhaps the most difficult part of teaching 2-year-olds is keeping parents in line, Karpova says.

"Parents often compare their child's development to that of others in the class and worry that their child is worse than all the others," she says. "I make a point to talk to these parents and remind them that all children develop differently and that their child will eventually do everything just as well as the others."

Classes for 2- and 3-year-olds are held twice weekly and cost 100 rubles ($3.50). For information about Karpova's classes as well as classes for older children, call 244-7407.