Mike Wyly, executive director of Pittsfield’s Bossov Ballet Theatre, teaches a history of ballet course at the Central Maine Institute in Pittsfield.

Ballet occupies a relatively small portion of the American cultural landscape, but in Russia its popularity might be compared with that of professional football in the U.S., Wyly said.

He said ballet’s prominence in Russia can be ascribed largely to two factors.

First, he said, dance has been a prominent pastime in Russian villages ever since those villages first formed.

“It always has been,” he said. “If you’re the best dancer in the village, you get all the girls. It’s a very macho kind of thing.”

The other major contributor has been hundreds of years of financial support from Russian royalty, beginning with Peter the Great in the early 1700s.

Peter was hungry for western European culture, which had bloomed without Russia, while Russia was occupied by the warriors of Mongolia. His support of the arts caused St. Petersburg to become a mecca for artists of all types, including dancers.

“If you’re a dancer, or if you’re a musician, or if you’re a composer, St. Petersburg is the place to be, because that’s where the money is,” Wyly said.

The momentum created by those two factors has driven ballet into the 21st century, and modern-day Russians still appreciate its many subtleties.

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