Alyona Chugay: Balance, ballet, and being bilingual


Alyona Chugay

Chugay performs her rhythmic gymnastics routine.

Alyona Chugay (‘24) waited nervously at the side of the mat before beginning her first performance of the day. Despite her sweaty palms and racing thoughts in her head, Chugay felt determined to perform her routine as confidently as she could. Upon stepping on to the mat, Chugay let all of her stress and feelings of nervousness ease away before twirling, turning, and jumping her way into a spectacular performance.

She leaped into the air as her final act for her routine before landing firmly on the mat.

“I did rhythmic gymnastics, which is like a really Russian thing, cause my mom pushed me to do it and I did that for ten years. And during that time, we were required to learn ballet, so I guess I did ballet for ten years too,” Chugay said.

Ten years ago, Chugay’s mother looked at her and said, “You’re going to do ballet because you’re Russian and you have turned in feet.” Five-year-old Alyona excitedly went for her first ballet class, which eventually led to a lifelong commitment to the dance.

Her passion and encouragement from others, is what eventually led her to become a proficient ballet dancer, and is regarded by many to be extremely dedicated at the dance.

Chugay’s family is originally from Russia and later moved to Ukraine, where they now reside. She has visited Kharkiv, Ukraine seven times in her life and recalls the impact her family’s heritage has had on her life. She states that Russian culture mainly affects her, “speaking mannerisms and superstitious beliefs,” and adds that although she was born in the US, the first language she learned was Russian.

“I went into preschool only knowing three phrases in English. I knew, ‘Hi, my name is Alyona.’, ‘I am 3 years old.’, and ‘Can I go to the restroom?’”

Chugay also claimed that she never fully started learning English until first grade because she spoke Russian at home with her family. She said , “I’d actually say that my friends played a big role in teaching me English, cause I really didn’t know anything apart from Russian.”

Chugay recalls how much she liked the sport when she first joined, but then later began to hate it as she got older. “I was really pressured to be good at it, when it was like, my main focus,” she said. “When rhythmic gymnastics and ballet was like the only thing I did, I worked out and trained four hours a day, for like six days a week.”

Although she still does ballet to this day, Chugay states that it has become “much more of a side hobby now” since she’s decided to branch out and try diving. She also notes that ballet became very difficult to balance with her other work and states that she felt very pressured by, “pretty much everyone.”

According to Chugay, a lot of the stress from ballet also came from Russian culture and the fact that, “it is the norm for girls in Russia to do some type of dance,”. She goes on to say, “my coaches were Russian. Actually one of them was Russian, and the other one was Bulgarian, which is again, Eastern European, and they could both speak Russian.”

It is clear that Russian culture had a very big impact on Chugay’s life and upbringing. From speaking Russian to doing ballet, Chugay states, “Russian culture has definitely dominated over my life.”