KENSINGTON – When a mom from Moscow suggested our sons try an art class together, I thought: Why not? Maybe he— unlike the rest of us Newsoms—can actually draw more than a straight line with the help of a ruler. Turns out he can, and the place that unearthed my kid’s talent, as well as that of so many others, is My Way.
Under the rattling Elevated F train on MacDonald Avenue near Ditmas, My Way—a 3,000-square-foot facility with mirrored walls and a hardwood dance floor downstairs, and an art studio upstairs—offers more than 20 classes for youth ages 5-18, in visual arts, dance, and athletics. There’s also a summer camp, toddler program, and academic tutoring.
Founder Alyona Badalova is bringing diverse communities together to discover and celebrate both a collective heritage, as well as individual ability, with an inspired mission: to help children “find what they love, and shine.”
My Way is home to artist and sculptor Emin Guliyev, a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Tbilisi, Georgia, and a member of the USSR Academy of Art and the Azerbaijan Union of Artists. A soft-spoken man, Emin is the author of several statues of presidents and historical heroes in museums and cities across Azerbaijan.
With a warm welcome Emin ushers novice painters to their easels, then is mostly hands off. He makes a few motions to the canvas to demonstrate the law of perspective, or explain how all forms can be deconstructed into geometric shapes, then moves on to offer pointers to a student modeling a horse’s rump from clay. Believing all children are artists, Emin leaves creative decisions up to the creators.
Emin is just one in a world-class line-up of instructors at the My Way Child and Youth Development Center in Kensington.
Ms. Badalova offers her students not just the discovery of soccer, or figure drawing or ballroom dancing, but also the experience of joining a professional ensemble to work as a team, where they “grow as people,” she explains, her beautiful smile dazzling beneath her sleek black bob.
Ms. Badalova has a background and skill set to mine talent, as well as the passion for showcasing it. A mother of two herself, Ms. Badalova’s own children were among the first beneficiaries of My Way enrichment programs.
Raised in Baku, a pearl on the Caspian Sea, and the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the young Alyona learned to love traditional dance from an early age. She graduated from college with a Degree of Arts in Teaching and worked as a teacher, assistant principal, and program coordinator for children in orphanages and special needs facilities.
These days, in addition to running “My Way”, she acts as the child and youth program director for the Brooklyn-Baku Friendship Association, a multicultural organization that brings communities together through arts, dance, and heritage. She also serves on the board of The NYC Peace Museum, which promotes world peace through art and sustainability.
RHYTHMS OF THE CAUCASUS
“When I came to the U.S. I worked at The Cultural Center of Caucasus Jews, as director of children’s programming,” Ms. Badalova says. “I also formed my first dance troupe called The Lezginka NYC Dance Ensemble, featuring our traditional Caucasus dance, Lezginka. This was before My Way.
“Our dance ensemble, ‘Rhythms of the Caucasus NYC,’ is a great example of the way our center represents multiculturalism, which is so significant to our aim as an organization. The group of sixty dancers is composed of children coming from different religious and national backgrounds. The Caucasus Mountains, which is where Caucasus Dance originated, had around 100 nationalities that have settled in the region.
“Jews in Azerbaijan mainly consist of three distinct groups: Mountain Jews, the most sizable and most ancient group; Ashkenazi Jews, who settled in the area during the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and during World War II; and Georgian Jews who settled mainly in Baku during the early part of the 20th century. Due to this, we include different types of dances within our center, such as those from Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Southern Caucasus as well as Georgia.
“Many of the parents of our performers are native to Azerbaijan, yet come from families of different nationalities, which allows for unity to be created through dance. Our goal is to guard the culture and keep alive the traditions that unite us all.”
SILK ROAD FESTIVAL
The ‘Rhythms of the Caucasus NYC’ troupe rehearse tirelessly for the “Silk Road Festival NYC” event which, this year, will be held on Sunday, June 2, 2019, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at The Master Theater, located at 1029 Brighton Beach Avenue.
“The inspiration for this festival dates back to ancient history,” Ms. Badalova explains. “The Silk Road was an exchange of cultures, ideas, religion, science, art, music connecting over forty countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa, by land and sea. The Silk Road existed for thousands of years, enriching the countries it passed through, cultivating mutual understanding, tolerance and respect—the same way communities of New York are influencing each other’s lives today.”
‘Silk Road Festival NYC’ will feature music and dance from various cultures of the Silk Road, the Caucasus and Central Asia. We hope to fill all 1,326 seats, and educate and entertain our audience about the art and culture of countries such as Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia, Georgia, India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkey.
“Our goal is to establish an appreciation for multiculturalism, as well as improve the interactions between various communities. We will have professional performers, as well as children, who are currently studying the art of these various cultures.”
It was after 8 o’clock on a school night when I climbed the art studio stairs to fetch my son.
I passed two young dancers working out some tricky moves to a Paso Doble. A petite dance instructor, Antonina Scobina, with the gravitas of an Olympic coach, watched on intently. Ethan (13) and Anastasia (11), have been dancing together since 2016 and are great friends, with a deep connection and understanding of their shared passion.
Ms. Badalova describes their process with pride: “For at least two to three hours daily, they take group and private lessons, and train alone, to refine their technique, musicality, and stamina. Perfection is their goal. They compete in various championships, both domestic and abroad, and just became Champions of USA 2019 in the Junior 1 category! They are the darlings of both judges and audiences alike, and naturally, both children dream of becoming World Champions someday…”
I entered the art studio, my kid’s latest seascape still on the easel. “Hey it’s really coming along, Emin,” I remarked.
“It’s eeen-credible!!” he raved, “ It’s all him. I do nothing, he paints like an adult.”
Praise, encouragement, and respect for artistic autonomy—for all children—and respect for all cultures and peoples—and yes, the promotion of world peace—these are the golden veins running through the My Way mission statement.
And my son, all business, washed his brushes in silence while bursting with pride at the seams of his smock.