Culture of Another; Trio introduces Russian dance, music to Southgate Elementary

Published 7:36 am Friday, April 6, 2018

Southgate Elementary School came alive Thursday morning with the sights and sounds of traditional Russian music and dance with the visit of the three-person troupe Barynya.

The trio, consisting of founding member Mikhail Smirnov from Moscow, Elina Karokhina from St. Petersburg and Sergey Tshnok, thrilled the students of Southgate with examples of dance and music from their homeland along with the instruments they played as well as getting a smattering of the Russian language.

It was a chance to see first-hand a culture that maybe the students don’t get to see every day.

Alexcia Austin, left, and Trinity Kitzman clap along with Mikhail Smirnov as he performs a Russian folk song.
Photos by Eric Johnson/

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“We had a goal this year in our building of really learning about each other,” said principal Katie Baskin. “Learning about the other cultures in the building and having exposure to other cultures.”

Barynya formed in 1991 and have performed throughout the United States since that time. This year alone they will perform 800 shows through visits to schools.

The goal is very simple.

“We want to introduce Russian culture to Americans,” Smirnov said. “We want to bring something good about Russia other than what they might see on TV.”

Smirnov started their first show at Southgate with a traditional folk tune played on a garmoshka, a Russian accordion, while helping kids learn the words for hello and goodbye.

“That was good,” he said, smiling when the kids echoed him back.

It wasn’t long before the students began clapping and cheering to each energetic piece the ensemble played or performed. At one point, one student turned to another, and with wide eyes said, “That was really good.”

Mikhail Smirnov recruits Southgate Elementary students to help him play a song during the ensemble Barynya’s visit to the school Thursday morning.

“I just think it’s super important,” Baskin said of opening students up to these opportunities. “Often times kids get really used to what they know and this gives them that chance to celebrate those differences in all of us.”

At other points in the show, Smirnov, Karokhina and Tshnok invited students to learn dances with them or play traditional instruments. At another turn Smirnov asked to join in a dance and song with Tshnok, joking, “He is not a very good singer, but I am not a very good dancer.”

Throughout, the students were drawn more and more to the artistic side of Russian life. For the performers, the fun the kids were having in watching and taking part was one of the best parts.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Smirnov said. “It’s impossible to trick kids. If they do not like it they will not dance, they will not smile. This brings me so much pleasure.”

Dancer Sergey Tshnok leaps high into the air during a dance.

Get to know the troupe

Mikhail Smirnov: Born in Moscow, Smirnov has been playing in Russian folk dance and music for over 25 years. On Thursday he played the guitar and garmoshka, a kind of accordion.

Elina Karokhina: Born in Leningrad [now Saint Petersburg], Karokhina has trained at several Russian colleges for music as well as played in the Military Ensemble in the Northwest Order of Red Stars. While performing several dances Thursday, she also played a string-instrument called the balalaika.

Sergey Tshnok: Born in L’viv, Ukraine, Tshnok started dancing with a folk dance ensemble called Iskorka. Throughout his childhood and teens to adulthood he has been dancing with several different ensembles, including Barynya.

For more on Barynya visit: