The Art of Dance During the War

The Art of Dance During the War

In Mariupol, Liliya Polyakova had her own school of classical and modern choreography and dreamed of opening a sports studio. And her dream came true! Yet, for a rather short time as only six weeks after founding her dream studio, Liliya was forced to leave her hometown and her life's calling. All because Russia started its brutal war against Ukraine. Kyiv became a new home for the choreographer, where Liliya later decided to start her business from scratch. A microgrant from the EU4Business programme provided significant support for her new school.

It all started with a dream

Liliya Polyakova devoted most of her life to dancing. The girl won international competitions many times and sought to teach this art to others. Therefore, Liliya became a certified choreographer and in 2017 opened a professional school of classical and modern choreography Fouetté for children and adults in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The main highlight of Fouetté was the possibility for children and mothers to train at the same time in neighboring halls. During the five years of its existence, the school has achieved great success and many victories in dance competitions. Liliya’s students became prize winners of all-Ukrainian and international dance festivals.

At the beginning of 2022, the school had over 200 students and four teachers. In January, Fouetté school had expanded to add a sports studio for children and adults. The Fouetté sports studio featured breaking, pop and sports dancing.

Opening my own studio was a dream that came true and lasted only a month and a half,” said Liliya. “I also cherished a dream to organize our own dance competition, which, unfortunately, did not happen.”

The day that changed everything

In the early morning of February 24, 2022, Mariupol was one of the first cities in Ukraine to wake up to explosions. All plans, aspirations and dreams were destroyed by Russian shells.

The school of choreography Fouetté stopped working with the outbreak of a full-scale war. Liliya hoped that in a few days or weeks the situation would stabilize, but this never happened. Due to the fact that the studio was located in the basement, it became a real shelter for many. The school employees and students, together with their families, hid there from shelling for a long time.

Liliya herself left Mariupol immediately with the outbreak of hostilities, and in April she moved to Kyiv after the de-occupation of the region.

"At first it was scary to even imagine how to start all over again in a big city. With that, we still did not give up a hope of returning home. This was probably the most difficult,” says the entrepreneur. “In May, I concluded that it was enough to hope for the best. To begin with, I decided to at least rent a dance hall."

Restart business from scratch

Liliya found it was financially impossible to rent a suitable dance hall and renovate it. Ultimately, a professional dance studio must create an inviting environment and have all the necessary facilities. Finally, it was the girl’s fortune to see the announcement about a microgrant from the EU4Business programme on the website of the Center for Support and Development of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses of Mariupol.

It was the first time the choreographer took part in the grant competition. Thanks to her experience, she had a very precise idea of funds and an action plan necessary to open a new studio. The news of winning in the grant competition pleasantly surprised Liliya. She recalls that she was incredibly happy to receive a positive answer and immediately started looking for the right premises.

"One of the challenges was to find suitable premises with spacious halls,” says Liliya. “Besides, there should be a shelter there, too, because nowadays it is a necessary precondition for any business activity like that."

And she succeeded! Thanks to the microgrant,  the choreographer rented appropriate premises to accommodate the needs of the dance school, with a total area of 141 square meters. Now, like before, Fouetté has two separate halls to hold classes for children and their parents at the same time. Part of the microgrant was spent on the building renovation and the purchase of necessary equipment and inventory. Thanks to the help, Liliya employed an internally displaced person from Mariupol as an administrator to ensure better communication and search for clients.

The microgrant helped to resume activities of a sports and dance studio and to meet the needs of people in concurrent training for children and adults,” said the entrepreneur. “Since the outbreak of a full-scale war, many studios have been forced to close, but, if we take the city of Kyiv alone, the demand for such service is there and growing.”

New life — new achievements

In November 2022, the professional school of choreography Fouetté had begun its full-fledged activities in Kyiv.

Currently, the studio employs two choreographers who offer courses in classical choreography, contemporary and modern dance, as well as acrobatics and stretching. There are several groups of children and adults who have started taking dance courses already. The total number of students is more than 40, including three students from Mariupol.

Children who were forced to leave Mariupol were able to return to my training. Now they can attend their favorite classes in the new city. It is extremely important for children to feel a part of their home nearby,” said Liliya. “And physical development is always of great importance.”

New clients come to the studio mainly thanks to social media or recommendations. Liliya’s new goal is to gather a large team like the one Fouetté had in Mariupol. And for this, you should let the new city learn about your school. In the foreseeable future, the girl plans to resume work with groups of children with special needs. According to Liliya, for these children, physical development is crucial, because it stimulates mental activity. The choreographer cherishes plans to resume taking part in all-Ukrainian and international competitions together with her students.

Liliya hopes that later she will be able to realize another dream — to organize her own dance festival. And, of course, to resume the activity of the studio in the Ukrainian Mariupol.

A healthy, strong, athletic nation is very cool!” said Liliya. “Therefore, we will continue to promote the benefits of sports and dance among both children and adults."

Background information:

The microgrants is supported by the international cooperation programme “EU4Business: SME Competitiveness and Internationalisation”, that is co-financed by the European Union and the German Government and is implemented by the German federal company “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH” in cooperation with The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, The Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, the portal of public services online "Diia", the national project for the development of entrepreneurship and export "Diia.Business" and the Ukrainian state institution "Entrepreneurship and Export Promotion Office". The implementing partner of the microgrant initiative is the International Charity Organization "East Europe Foundation".

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union and the German Government. Its contents are the sole responsibility of East Europe Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the German Government.

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