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POV: Russian- American Jewish Dancer

Asya Zlatina of @ARTIST HOUSE/Asya Zlatina + Dancers examines her own combination of cultures publicly for the first time.

Individuality guides us to our greatest heights and grows our footprints in life. Embracing our many unique qualities, we color the world, add spice to living and pay homage to ancestors. And this is beautiful! But on a less serious note - how many things do you do on the daily that are your most interesting quirks? How many commonplace routines do you have that you do without giving them a second thought, but that would surprise someone else? As I get older, I realize that I have many. And whereas before I barely noticed this, I now believe that I have fully developed into everything my identities have set up for me, seldom aware of how different my mundane movements may seem to any outsider. Only when I notice people expressing some surprise (read: dumbfoundedly staring; pleasantly), do I realize that some things I do are not like the other…

I finally bit into my existence as a Russian-American Jewish dancer for the first time, and took self-reflection (brought to you by quarantine) to a new level.

Russian… Mayonnaise -- goes on everything, favorite condiment. Growing up, I never even knew that “salad dressing” existed, or that salads had leafy greens in them. We dressed everything with mayonnaise, and salads were strictly made out of chopped up, denser veggies like cucs, tomatoes, radishes, peas, onions and potatoes. I carry on this delicious weirdness. (I get my veggies at C.R.O.P.S. Market, Sundays 10-1pm at the Tennessee Ave. Beach block, free parking – gravel lot. Always fresh! Photos courtesy of C.R.O.P.S. Markets Facebook Page.)

The superstitions – I don’t believe in them, but trained in them like it’s my job. No keys on the table, no whistling in the house, and don’t you ever hand anything to a Russian over the threshold. Either you step in, or they come out but both parties must be solely in one clearly marked section.

…American… Ok – also pronounced ah-kay in my family – this is a less surprising list because I am writing about the country where I am living, to an audience reading in English. The following is only surprising to those who are not super familiar with the American culture, but here goes – General Convenience: an American reality, and one I love. Specifically, one-use dish-ware, paper-towels and the Swiffer in daily life. (But you don’t always want to pick up a Swiffer – thank you local cleaning!!! Galloway’s Affordable Cleaning Service but the point is you can use this easy tool if you want!) Microwave use. (My mother still uses pots to warm foods. Strangely, so do my friends Duncan and Jenna, but they generally have European tendencies.) Let’s also throw in the dishwasher…..face it Russians and others, you only use it for storage. (It’s true, ask any Russian friends over 30.) …Jewish… Oy vey, where do I start? I eat kosher and don’t touch the light switches on Shabbos (Sabbath), but this is true of many people. A more unique quirk here is probably donating to causes in increments of 18: 36-54-72 etc. This numerical value symbolizes “life” in Judaism, as it stands for “Chai” (pronounced closer to Hai than the type of latte sold in Starbucks.)

…Dancer This is who I am, I don’t even notice that it is a thing. Only when I put on tall socks (all the time) or am caught with a leg lifted above standard table-height level do I realize something is different. And the constant waxing – as a performer, my dancer legs must be stage-ready, even when the stages are closed. I swear by International Salon at 17th and Sansom in Philly . Emma and daughter Natasha are the best! (Yes, they are open –and if you haven’t gotten a #wax since quarantine, now is the time to go! No appointments needed- just walk in.)

Photo by Keith Reid

And now you know. Among the many faces from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles that make up our beautiful cities, you may see one or more combinations of all the things that make up the Russian-American Jewish Dancer, and you will always have a conversation starter. Connect the world! Let’s learn about each other.

If you’d like to share your unique blend of identities and all the quirks that make you YOU, write to Asya for a chance to be included in an upcoming segment.

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