On a windy afternoon in Thornhill, I sat down with Anastasia Loskutov at a cozy café to talk about dance, as it pertains to her life and career, and the Toronto dance scene.

Anastasia was born in Shostka, Ukraine, but her family immigrated to Canada when she was only four and a half. Although her birth country has a strong legacy of ballet theatres, schools, and world-famous ballet dancers, Anastasia’s journey in the world of ballet began entirely by chance.

Her next-door neighbour in Canada was a girl her age, who soon became her friend, and whose mother was a ballerina (and would become Anastasia’s first ballet teacher). Anastasia (Nastia) received her classical ballet training in Thornhill, Ontario at the Victoria International Ballet Academy, until she received a traineeship from the Boston Ballet in Massachusetts at sixteen. Then at seventeen she was accepted for a traineeship at the world-famous Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg.

We pause here in recounting her journey and I ask, what does the Vaganova Ballet Academy mean to you?

“It was a dream come true. I grew up seeing it as a Holy thing, as the birthplace of ballet. Receiving instruction first-hand from the Vaganova Ballet Academy was surreal, as they passed down the knowledge of a school that is nearly 300 years old, as well as the purest form of the Vaganova method… It was also extremely intense.”

She notes before pausing that saying no to the Vaganova Ballet Academy the following year was one of the hardest decisions she had ever made. Nastia Loskutov was offered a full-time contract from Columbia Classical Ballet in Columbia, South Carolina where she would work for three consecutive seasons.

I ask her: what were the main differences she felt between ballet in Russia and ballet in the United States?

Slouching slightly back from her normal strikingly straight and elegant posture as she sips tea, she considers this and tells me:

“Russia was difficult and intense. But it was familiar.”

Nastia explains then that growing up training in the Vaganova method here in Thornhill as well as watching videos of the Vaganova Ballet Academy on YouTube throughout her childhood to supplement her training made the Vaganova feel more like home when she moved to St.Petersburg. She also credits her time there for truly nurturing her artistry and developing her porte de bras – the coordination and expressive use of arms and upper body that the Russian ballet school is most famous for.

“I knew of other methods, but had no experience,” Anastasia says and concludes that it was no wonder the Balanchine method taught at the Boston Ballet School took some adjusting to. “The combinations were different; and, the emphasis was different between the two schools,” Nastia continues. The Boston Ballet School pushed her to improve technique and really emphasized turns. While the adjustment was difficult and there were elements in the training that were contrary to the Vaganova method, she reflects positively on both and says she focused on trying to gain something from both experiences that she could not gain from the other.

She continues to freelance today throughout the Greater Toronto Area as a ballet teacher and performing dancer, while pursuing a Bachelor with Honours in Environmental Studies   at York University.

This prompts the question: what is it like combining environmental science with working in dance and performing?

Anastasia responds that splitting the time between them does not change her love for ballet. It changes her approach.

“Before, ballet was the only thing I breathed. Now, I don’t feel scared that ballet is the only thing I have. I don’t have to worry: if I break my leg, what else would I be capable of doing?” And overall, Nastia gives me the profound reflection that knowing that she can do something else gives her a more fulfilling experience dancing.

“I miss dance more. And therefore, I appreciate each ballet class that I take more,” she adds.

Anastasia also emphasizes that the discipline and work ethic instilled in her through her professional ballet training helped her immensely in other spheres and allowed her to realize that she “[isn’t] just a bunhead incapable of other things!”

She reflects that when she danced full-time and focused only on ballet it could turn into somewhat of a chore or routine: “I used to psych myself out,” Anastasia remembers. Stepping outside of dance and doing other things helped her gain more confidence and a healthier mindset.

“When you come back to dance, this new confidence shows in your dancing.”

This helps to explain why Anastasia says her pillars of teaching are an emphasis on a good attitude towards dance. She aims to always create an encouraging and supportive environment for developing creativity, work ethic, and the ability to see results. She sees ballet training as a huge opportunity for students to learn important life lessons like the tried and tested “hard work pays off” and does not subscribe to the ideology of teaching children through the fear of messing up.

“I don’t want to raise humans with fear.”

I think this is an extension of the way Anastasia Loskutov embodies dance. When asked about what inspires her to dance, she concludes that it is the will to create and contribute to the beauty in the world that makes her want to dance.

At the end of her performances, she does not want audiences to feel indifferent, she wants people to relate and enjoy themselves; and to see beauty unexpectedly.

I ask her to reflect on the current environment in which she finds herself: the Toronto dance scene. Nastia responds that there are lots and lots of dance schools in the Greater Toronto Area, but not nearly as many companies. She wishes to see more professional companies emerge to respond to these dance schools and also to the enthusiasm for culture in our, relatively young, city. She is quick to add that when she says professional companies she means professional companies not based on volunteer work.

And what are Anastasia Loskutov’s own next steps in the city? Are they ballet-centred or will her passion for Environmental Studies take over?

Nastia says she has not fully decided yet and that nothing is out of the question.

“I will give my energy to things that I think matter. I want to preserve and add more beauty into the world. This could be through future performances or by stopping animal agriculture and global warming.”

Or maybe both.

You can find Anastasia Loskutov on Instagram by searching her handle @nastialosk where she enjoys documenting her ballet journey and many life ponderings.