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Rec Center presents Russian cultural performance

March 6, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

Children attending the North Fort Myers Recreation Center's afterschool program got a special treat Wednesday as they got to have fun watching and learning about Russian culture.

The Barynya Balalaika Musical Duo, which performs around the country, returned to present an entertaining mix of Russian, Cossack, Ukranian and Jewish traditional popular music and dance, courtesy of the Lee County Library System and the Friends of the North Fort Myers Public Library.

The group last performed at the rec center in June 2016 in front of children and parents during summer camp.

Article Photos

Elina Karokhina performs a Russian dance while Mikhail Smirnov plays in the background as the Barynya Balalaika Musical Duo on Wednesday at the North Fort Myers Recreation Center.


For hockey buffs and fans of the old Ed Sullivan Show, some of the songs were very familiar but most weren't, which is why Mikhail Smirnov, one of the performers, helped explain the songs, taught the kids some Russian phrases and tongue twisters and even had them volunteer the play percussion.

"We try to explain to people something good about Russia. People don't hear many good things about Russia anymore," Smirnov said as the afterschoolers said "thank you" in unison, to which Smirnov responded in Russian. "We are trying to bring something good."

Meanwhile, Elina Karokhina was changing costumes, of which there were a few.

She donned several Russian and Jewish outfits for some of the traditional dances she did.

She is also a noted musician with the ability to play string instruments with the dexterity of a heavy-metal guitarist. On one in particular, the balalaika, she is among the best in the world and has a doctorate in playing the instrument.

As a finale, Elina was able to get the children to dance while Mikhail took his turn changing costumes, turning himself into a bear, warning the children (and a few adults) beforehand not to cry in the event you happened to see a scary animal enter the room.

Smirnov, who grew up in the old Soviet Union, said it's important to learn about other cultures, since he didn't know much about us while living there.

"We try to make it fun and educational so people can see a little bit of Russia without having to leave here," Smirnov said. "When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to see anything about other countries. If I had known about cultures in the United States and Germany, it would have been a lot better."



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