March 11, 2012

The Sisterhood Series: Dancing Through Life

To celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day, I launched The Sisterhood Series, in support of all kinds of women, from all walks of life. It is so important to stick together and be there for each other. Our predecessors did so much in the name of women's rights - we can vote, we can drive, we can wear pants and carry a briefcase better than any man. But like they say, with great power comes great responsibility. We have gained a voice along with freedom but there is much to be done, much to still stand up and fight for. And we can do it. If only we look around and hold hands with other women and work towards the same goal. You can read the intro post of The Sisterhood Series here.

For the first post in the series, I could think of no-one better to start with than Katya Bryleva. 

"There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good."  ~Edwin Denby

We met in university and if there was one thing I quickly learned about Katya was that she loved to dance. No - she lived, breathed and exuded dance. But that's not all there is to Katya (pictured above). This feisty lady hails from Tula, Russia; she is 24 years old and got a job straight out of college as an Assurance Accountant at Ernst & Young, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms in the world. While Katya is a young accountant by day, this free-spirited woman transforms into a dancer by night, bringing the roof down with her mad skills! Here is my interview with her:

1. Who are you and what do you do?
Hi! I'm Katya Bryleva. I'm from Russia, went to the University of North Dakota for college and I now live in Minneapolis, MN and work for Ernst and Young. I also recently started my own dance studio in the Twin Cities with my friend and partner, Amy Dorman.

2. What does a normal day look like for you?
There is really no standard pattern so far. Depends on the time of the year (we are in busy season right now at my accounting job) and client location. But no matter what the day brings me I try to always have time for breakfast (the most important meal of the day!); during that time I get the right nutrients and mentally organize/re-organize my day and catch up on the news.  A workout (running, dance, Pilates), even if it is just 40 minutes. I try to have some social interaction with people that are important to me through a quick phone call, coffee break together, an email. It is safe to say that the rest of the time is occupied with work.
Katya performing at Feast of Nations with her partner, Andy Tanem
Katya (third from right) in her early dance days

3. You started dancing at a very early age. What inspired you to continue dancing?
It’s just never been an option not to dance. Even at an early age,  before my  actual training began, every time I had a chance to dance I would : at family functions,  on the street, in a grocery store  ( I still  have my mini jam sessions as I am browsing through Target aisles!).  There were a couple of moments in  my life when I was stupid  enough (due to family pressure, moving and other life transitions)  to try  to convince myself  that me and dance are going to have separate lives from now on, but thankfully that never happened.  As I became more mature and confident in my decisions, I realized how lucky I am to find something in life that truly makes me feel alive and helps me power through any life circumstances.  Not everyone discovers that through their lifetime.  And how powerful it is to be able to share your passion with others and to be able to influence people’s lives in a small way: one dance lesson at a time.

4. And eventually start your own dance class?
When I moved to Minneapolis I tried out a few studios, but none of them quite gave me what I wanted, probably because teaching gives me way more satisfaction as opposed to just taking the class.  In one of the classes I met my future partner, Amy Dorman. It only felt natural to start teaching together.  Both of us had been accumulating some creative energy (every time I hear a new great song, I start mentally choreographing) that we wanted to share. So after our first meeting in my kitchen, we started planning, marketing, looking for space to rent and a month later we had our first class.

5. What is it like to be an accountant by day and a dancer/business owner by night?
Busy! And Fun!  They are two quite contrasting worlds. The first one is all about following the rules, predictability, staying within the borders and not creating discrepancies in your work, words or clothes.  The second one encourages individuality, creativity, and pushing yourself in directions you've never been.  At the same time there are lots of skills that are transferable from one world to another: accounting knowledge is a must for a business owner; as a dance/fitness instructor my clients come from a variety of backgrounds, including the business world. Knowing what they are facing on a daily basis helps me to understand what their fitness needs are, before they even realize that themselves; being physically fit and knowing how to relax helps me to stay sane at my accounting job.
From belly-dancing and ballet to zumba and flash mobs - this girl's done it all!
With business partner, Amy Dorman.

6. How would you describe your personal style?
Developing my personal style is a work in progress, which takes time and creativity (especially since I am on a budget. Usually shoes are the most expensive item in my wardrobe because I am always on the go and want shoes that look great and feel great. I also don’t mind spending on great fitting jeans/pants.  But when it comes to seasonal must-haves like scarves, hair bands, party dresses, I frequent places like Forever 21 or Target. At the end of the day, it is YOU who makes the clothes, not the other way around.

7. How has living in so many cities in the world affected your style? How did you adapt your style?
Russian women pay close attention to the latest fashion and like to emphasize (in some cases by overdoing it) their feminine side. I used to be the girl that wears three inch heels to go grocery shopping across the street from home. So coming to North Dakota was a bit of a shocker to me (I still can’t get over the fact that wearing ugly huge backpacks is a common practice for ladies). My first day of classes I was dressed like it was a normal Grand Forks Friday night. I have learnt my lessonJ. When I started teaching two/three dance classes per day between my classes and jobs, I opted for shoes that can get me quickly from one building to another- an urban look that went great with who I am as a hip hop dancer. It was comfortable to dance in, yet did not look like worn out sweat pants and my uncle’s t-shirt.  Moving to New York was a life changing moment in many aspects, clothes included. Streets of New York are the most inspirational fashion place for me and many others. Creativity and individuality is what people are striving for and they do it well. I have learnt to include more ethnic inspired patterns, started listening to my instincts, and reconnected with my feminine side.  I used to have certain stores that I would typically go to, but while in NYC I started searching for “me” pieces at a variety of places.

8. Describe how you dress for your day job and your day-to-day life outside of your job.
 My work environment is one of the most conservative places when it comes to dress code - no sleeveless tops, no open-toed shoes, and no crazy patterns. So it is challenging to make it more like me, less like stereotypical accountant from the movies in a black suit and a briefcase.  Accessories have been lifesavers for me.  Chunky bracelets, colorful necklaces, purple/leopard print shoes are the pieces I have been incorporating lately. I am also on a constant search for multi-functional pieces.  I own a few tops that you can wear as business casual with a jacket over it during the day, but when it comes night time, leaving the jacket at work, adding a belt or other accessories turns them into a perfect going out outfit.  For daily life beyond my job skinny jeans and leggings work great for dancing, casual weekends, and going out. 
"I like to have one “statement piece” in my outfit: boots, a purse, a belt, anything in color that makes the most 'normal' wardrobe piece look fresher." Here, Katya is a rocking a short sleeved animal print jacket, which makes a basic turtleneck and jeans combo go from blah to rawr!

9. What is/are the piece(s) in your closet that you consider a favorite at the moment? I am currently in love with colored pants: bright blue jeans and red dress pants.  They just add a little more color and fun to my life and helps me to distinguish myself from others yet stay within work appropriate borders.  One shoulder tops have been my favorites for years for dancing and going out/casual chic outfits. And my sneaks/white converse shoes are dear to my dancer heart.

10. How do you like to relax and spend your weekends?
Taking dance classes; having breakfast in cute coffee shops with a book; shopping; sleeping; catching up with friends; skyping with my family and wandering around the unknown parts of the city with one of my best friends, my iPod.
Katya (left) with close friend, Kate Sharkova

11. What motivates you?
Passion and people and people with passion. Passion for what you do in everyday life and people you are with. I really believe that a handful of passionate individuals can change the world, or impact someone’s life, even if it is one person at a time. I believe that everyone matters. I have deep appreciation for everyone’s individuality and not fitting into standards. Humankind never ceases to inspire me and to give me numerous learning and growth opportunities.  I  was extremely lucky to  meet a few  people that  I can call my mentors and who always manage to provide me with some guidance and inspiration when I need it most.

12. Where would you like to be in 5 years?
In NYC having my own studio (or two) with dance classes for adults, making people healthy and happy!

13. How do you sparkle and spice up your life?
Travelling, exploring, learning...and shoe shopping of course!

Dance for yourself, if someone understands good. If not then no matter, go right on doing what you love.” ~Unknown

You can check out dK Hip-hop's YouTube channel here. I hope Katya's story inspires you. And remember, even if you think you're not good at it, just let go and dance because it makes the world a better place. Life is meant to be danced away. Follow your passion - it could be juggling, or rock climbing - doesn't matter what it is, just do it!

But don't forget to always dance.

[Photos taken from Katya's Facebook]


  1. Great write up Chris! You've chosen a very colorful and interesting personality :) The pictures also add up nicely to the text.
    But I must confess that I zoned out a little when it came to the fashion stuff :P

  2. I like.. very inspiring.. and she sounds amazing =) I wish her all the best for the future... and keep them coming Chrissy!

    1. I'm glad it inspires! Please feel free to share this post with others (as long as it links back to this page!)
      I'm sure Katya will be happy to here you comments as well :)

  3. This is a great article! I loved the photos you used and you really highlight her talents!

  4. Katya is amazing. I still remember her infectious energy and smiles at Zumba classes at the Wellness Center. She will run a studio in New York someday! Interesting interview!

    1. Thanks Laura! Yes, she is - that's why I thought it would be appropriate to start with Katya :)