Rugby High School valedictorian Anja Selland has a busy summer planned. Selland is one of 15 students from across the United States who were chosen to study dance and the Russian language this summer at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Russian Language and Culture Russian American Foundation and Bolshoi Way Summer Intensive.
"This is a great honor," said her ballet teacher, Rinat Mouzafarov of the Mouzafarov Institute of Dance and Ballet Theatre in Minot. Mouzafarov recommended that Selland apply for the intensive, since she is an excellent student academically and is one of his most technically advanced students. Applicants for the program also needed to have a good knowledge of current affairs and to demonstrate an interest in Russian culture.
Selland said she had a chance to study the Russian language when she lived with her family in Alaska for a year when she was in seventh grade. She has also been a student for years of Mouzafarov, who has given her the nickname "Annushka" and knows most of the master teachers at the Bolshoi since they are his former colleagues.
Students attending ballet intensives this summer are back row, from left to right, Brianna Berg, Macy Christianson, Anja Selland, Laurel Collins, Makenna Sartwell and Kimzey Creasman; front row, Anastassia Hofer and Chloe Ondracek.
Mouzafarov first taught Selland's mother, Sharon Baker, who later enrolled her children in his ballet classes. Selland had to submit a video of her ballet dancing and do an hourlong phone interview, as well as submitting letters of recommendation and other items along with the application.
The six-week program is intended to help the students learn Russian and more about the Russian culture. Students between the ages of 15 and 18 will attend three hours of Russian language classes and 2 1/2 hours of ballet classes from Monday through Friday. All the ballet classes will be taught by the academy's master teachers and will be conducted in Russian with no translation, so Selland will have a good chance to stretch her language skills. Selland and her classmates will also have an opportunity to stay with a Russian host family during the weekends and have a chance to practice her Russian with them.
The American students will also take day trips, visit cultural institutions and attend seminars while they are in Russia. All international travel, health insurance, housing, meals, classes, cultural excursions and a program mobile phone in Moscow for emergency use will be provided to the participants at no cost. Mouzafarov will be teaching dance in Europe this summer and said he plans to make a trip to Moscow to see how Selland is doing.
Many entities are credited for sponsorship of this program, including: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Russian American Foundation, and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
Before she travels to Moscow in July, Selland and other students from the Institute of Dance and Ballet Theater in Minot will attend a separate three-week summer intensive at the New York Bolshoi program, where Selland will also be attending some Russian language classes. Some of the other students who are headed to Moscow will also attend the New York program first. Selland said she has communicated online with some of the other American students from around the country who will be attending the program.
Selland is a strong student in mathematics and science, and had at one point thought of becoming a doctor like her dad, Dr. Brian Selland, but she also loves ballet. She and other senior dancers at the ballet school dance more than 20 hours each week and also take private classes. Selland gave up participating in extracurriculars during high school, socializing with friends and the possibility of a part-time job. She drives to and from Minot several days a week in good and bad weather to take classes with Mouzafarov and stays over in Minot at her grandparents' house one night a week. Her busy schedule meant she had to get very good at time management to maintain her top grades at Rugby High School.
Selland, who will be starting college at St. Olaf's in Northfield, Minn., five days after she returns home from Moscow, said she plans to study dance at there too. She hasn't completely made up her mind what career she will pursue.
Mouzafarov's students do well when competing for positions at summer ballet intensives at ballet companies across the country. Mouzafarov is proud that all of his students who auditioned were accepted, while other ballet teachers might be lucky to have one or two students accepted for a ballet intensive.
Ballet students Selland, Laurel Collins, Macy Christianson, Makenna Sartwell and Chloe Ondracek were all accepted to the summer intensive at the Bolshoi in New York; Brianna Berg has been accepted to the summer intensive at Point Park, Pa.; Alexis Schriock has been accepted to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York; Anastassia Hofer and Kimzey Creasman were accepted to the Ballet Magnificat summer intensive in Jackson, Miss. Ondracek is also an alternate for the Moscow program and would be chosen to attend if one of the other students is unable to go.
All of the girls said Mouzafarov has taught them the discipline and skills they need to pursue ballet professionally if they want to do so.
"I am very proud of them," said Mouzafarov.
"I don't think we would be where we are today without this teacher," said Christianson.
"It's not just about learning ballet, it's about learning discipline and respect," said Selland.