Dancers attending international youth arts fest in Ukraine

Dressed in an array of colorful costumes and dancing to music from around the world, 26 students from Lysaya Dance School are sharing the stage with hundreds of other young performers at the world's largest children's art festival in the Ukraine.

"All children should have a special place where they are completely happy," says Lotta Lysaya Burton, who with her mother, Rosa Lysaya Gady, founded the school five years ago at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Many of the school's students — ranging in age from 10 to 17 — come from Russian Jewish immigrant families.

A group of 26 Lysaya students is competing at the International Children's Dance Festival at Yalta by the Black Sea from June 27 to July 2l. The students compete in folk , ballroom and creative dance.

Funded by private donations, this is the longest trip for Lysaya students, who have traveled throughout the United States and Mexico. Over the past year, the school has participated in more than 20 concerts and recitals throughout the Bay Area.

"The Russian families are delighted to see that their children are maintaining the tradition of dance," says Burton.

"The Russian children learn English quickly, and are happy to express themselves in Russian as well. They are able to understand and appreciate their Russian culture," says Burton, whose students have won more than 30 gold medals and 25 silver medals.

"The Russian and American students forge instant friendships, meeting and sharing both cultures in the dance classes," she says.

Gady, 58, created a children's dance school in St. Petersburg. As the school grew, the students — one of whom was her daughter, Burton — participated in important cultural events at the Kremlin Palace and Bolshoi Theatre, and traveled throughout Europe and Asia.

Burton decided to leave Russia in 1989, when she saw that arts funding was being cut drastically. She came to the Bay Area and worked as a dance instructor, sending for her mother in 199l.

Soon after, they opened the Lysaya Dance School at the ALSJCC.

"From the beginning," Burton says, "the center was very supportive of the program. We were given space with minimum rent. The center informed the community about the school." The school has grown from four students to more than 100. Burton's daughter, Alisa, was one of the first students.

Classes are also held at the San Francisco Russian Center and the Studio of Peninsula Ballet School Theatre in San Mateo.

"Our major goal is for the students to be happy through their dancing, their communication among themselves and with their teachers," says Burton.

Olga Tarasou, the mother of four students who are attending the Yalta festival, feels the dance school has helped her family maintain its Russian culture. Her youngsters "have made many friends and are very excited about the trip," she says.

Laurie Maiman says, "The school has given my daughter the opportunity to express herself physically and socially with students of many cultures."