For the love of dance, an American ballerina visits Russia

Catherine Cata, a 17-year-old ballerina from Stafford, Virginia, recently got the chance to study with the world’s best dancers.

Invited to spend six weeks at the Bolshoi Ballet dancing and studying the Russian language, Cata felt some stage fright. Though used to the rigors of ballet training, she wasn’t sure what to expect in Moscow. “I remember thinking before I got on the plane, ‘This is really happening.’ I was anxious but excited,” she says in a blog post about the experience.

The Bolshoi — one of ballet’s oldest and most prestigious schools for classical training — has produced some of the world’s most accomplished dancers, teachers, artistic directors and choreographers. Few aspiring American ballerinas are lucky enough to train at the famed institution, whose graduates have graced stages around the world and earned ballet’s highest accolades.

Ballerina standing at barre (Courtesy of Catherine Cata)
Catherine Cata practices at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography in Russia. (Courtesy photo)

Cata’s experience — provided by a scholarship from the Russian American Foundation and the National Security Language Initiative for Youth — put her among 600 students from the U.S. and 13 dancers accepted to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs supports the language initiative to spark Americans’ capacity to speak languages through cultural immersion.

Since its inception in 2006, the initiative has helped hundreds of American students travel abroad to study Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian and Russian. In addition to cultivating language skills, students learn about international culture.

“I can’t stress enough how important these exchanges are in building a strong relationship between our countries,” former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a statement. “These exchanges provide academic opportunities for students in all fields … and help to undermine stereotypes.”

Girl standing next to large sign with Russian words (Courtesy of Catherine Cata)
Catherine Cata stands next to a sign in Moscow that reads “I (heart) Moscow.” (Courtesy photo)

While in Moscow, Cata was busy. She attended Russian language classes during the day, completed several hours of dance classes in the evening, and did homework afterward each night. She stayed with a host family, which allowed her to experience typical day-to-day life in Russia. She enjoyed cultural outings and explored the city.

“NSLI-Y organized cultural events with the whole group that were great experiences,” Cata said. “We ate at an authentic restaurant that served amazing blini … attended ballets, a cooking class, and danced with Russian folk singers. Weekends were spent with my host family, and it was the most amazing experience.”

Girl doing ballet pose in front of statue and ornate building (Courtesy of Catherine Cata)
Catherine Cata visits St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. (Courtesy photo)

Since her return to the U.S., Cata has decided that she will study international relations, ballet and Russian in college after she graduates from secondary school in 2018.
“This experience … was more than just ballet,” Cata said. “It was unforgettable, and I loved every minute.”