2015 - Ongoing
"How to Dance the Waltz" / Michal Chelbin
"How to Dance the Waltz" is a portrait series in progress, taken in military boarding schools in Ukraine and Russia, where boys and girls are taught heightened and traditional gender roles in the service of forming new governing military elite.
The status of Military boarding schools in Eastern Europe has gone through different phases. While many years ago it was considered the habitat of future aristocrats and society elite, these institutions suffered a decline in their status over the second half of the 20th century. Many of the military boarding schools became an asylum for boys and girls of dysfunctional families, orphans or children with learning disabilities. Loss of budgets and the decline in military importance in cultural hierarchy due to social and political changes, especially after the fall of communist regimes, resulted in the deterioration of the prestige of many of these institutions.
In the past few years this tendency has reversed. In Russia, under Putin's centralized regime, a new society's elite is being created. As Putin regards himself as a modern tsar, he surrounds himself with elite typical of a tsar's regime.
In Ukraine, military boarding schools are also seeing a new better phase as part of a national effort to form a new, proud and independent Ukrainian identity.
I am working on a new series of portraits, which will be taken in military boarding schools in Russia and Ukraine.
Some of the images I submitted were recently taken in a military boarding school in a suburb of Ukraine's capital, Kiev. Students start at the age of 6 and finish school when they are 17. The differences between girls and boys are heightened in many ways - they study in separate classes for boys only or girls only. While the boys wear different types of uniforms (camouflage for everyday use and black for ceremonies or on duty), the girls wear a traditional long sarafan dress with white lace for everyday use, and a white traditional pram dress for ceremonies. The students attend dancing class for a ballroom dance they have at the end of the school year.
The dichotomy between boys and girls in appearances and roles, where boys act as "warriors" and girls as "decor" is very much in the tradition of 19th and early 20th century military boarding schools, and it is aimed to create a new governing military elite. In such dogmatic and cultural structure, boys and girls actually play a role in political ambitions of leaders.
This process is very much evident in the yearly ballroom dance the school holds. I believe that this setup will enhance the traditional roles that boys and girls take in this school.
In a postmodern world, this shift back to traditional values interests me very much, especially the roles of girls in such a social structure.