Violetta, left, with her mother while on tour with the circus in 1986.
I am very excited to introduce the Traveling Family Series. It’s a project I’ve been contemplating for several years and I finally made connections with a few talented and adventurous people to bring it to life.
For this first feature, Violetta Afanasieva is talking about her childhood experiences touring with her parents while they performed with the Russian Circus as figure skaters. Little Violetta practically entered the world with blades on her feet, destined for theatrical performance on ice.
Her mother was a three time Moscow junior pair champion and her father a graduate of the Russian School of Circus Art. Together, they toured with the Moscow Bolshoy Circus On Ice for 25 years.
Are these photos not gorgeous? What an amazing childhood!
I am fascinated, and this was a nice way to start the series since we’ll be talking with parents who take their kids on the road in the next two features. It’s interesting to see the type of impact travel can have on a child. In this case, it inspired a rewarding career.
Violetta depicts a time and a place that is now only spoken of briefly in history books. It is an honor to host her story here on Mouse In Your House and I’ll outline a brief timeline of her career before we get started. English is Violetta’s second language but I thought she did a wonderful job explaining and sharing her memories.
From birth on, Violetta traveled with her parents for the majority of their tours. When she turned 5, she moved back home to attend school but was also heavily involved with the state-run ice skating program. The Soviet Union had only recently dissipated so the country was very different than it is today and sports was extremely serious business. The children’s schedules were strict and school was scheduled around on-ice classes, ballet, swimming, running and other aerobic sports geared toward preparing skaters for competition. Training was intense and because of this the country produced several of the best figure skaters in the world at the time.
In 2006, with her husband by her side as her partner, the pair won the Extreme Ice Skating World Championships in St. Petersburg.
Violetta competed at the national level successfully for several years. At 14 though, she missed the showmanship aspect of touring professionally and decided to join her first ice show with the Moscow Circus on Ice alongside her parents. Her signature performance was a hula-hoops act, which she eventually perfected to combine adagio and acrobatics with a partner. You can see it here.
She eventually met her husband while on tour and today, the pair performs throughout the world together on TV shows like Battle of the Blades and local performances in the U.S. They are a mesmerizing and extremely talented pair. Learn more about them. Violetta and her husband, Pete Dack, are available for public speaking engagements and you can find their performance schedule as well.
Tell us about your parent’s work structure. How did they make travel possible with a little one?
Both of my parents were working for the division of Big Moscow Circus – “Circus on Ice”. My parents would always go on trips, usually around 3 months at a time. I was born in Moscow and started to travel with my parents at a very early age. To help my parents, my grandmother quit her job to be with my family and help with taking care of me. She would travel with us and raise me while we were following my parents. Usually my grandmother and I would join my parents during the trips across Russia, but we would stay in Moscow when they would travel to different countries. Most people in the circus companies had families and kids, so I always had friends around. It’s was quite exiting for the kids to be exploring new places and we had plenty to see.
Violetta’s mother performs.
A portrait of her father.
A portrait of her mother.
Where did you sleep and how were the performers fed? Were restaurants an option?
I started performing when I was 14. When my parents traveled with the circus, they stayed at hotels, a Russian kind. Every floor had a community kitchen, so they cooked. When they would travel outside of Russia, they would live on the per diem.
Violetta’s family celebrates New Year’s on the road.
When I started touring, I never toured Russia. I did a year or two with the circus and then was hired by a European company, Holiday on Ice. They also hired my mom and my dad. We worked with that company for 6 years. We had a car and caravan, like most of the people in the company. We would stay at the camp sights or right by the building we were performing in. My little brother (4.5 years younger) traveled with us too.
What did your “normal day” as a kid look like?
When I started school, I stopped traveling with my parents and stayed home with my grandma and grandpa. So my childhood was pretty normal. Expect that I was a part of a russian sport program and my schooling and training session was especially designed for my class, there were 15 of us. So I hardly played outside my home, because I would leave around 6am and return 6pm. I would play with my group mates between school, ice sessions and off ice training. I would join my parents on their trips only during school breaks and few weeks in the summer.
Little Violetta poses outside the circus entrance.
Exploring new place was the best. Never boring or repetitive. There were about eight kids of my age in my parent’s circus, so there was plenty of ideas of what to do and to play. I don’t remember playing with toys. We always played active games. It was always exciting to know that you are going to travel. I loved it! Spending a day in the train, while we would be going somewhere in Russia was fantastic. Because the production would occupy a couple of train cars, there was lots of room to roam around. We also would travel long distances in the car, which was definitely a favourite for me and my brother.
Any favorite memories that stand out from your days on the road with your family?
My best memories was to watch the audience reaction to my parent’s performance. No matter where we were people loved them and applauded. That fascination with performance laid the path for my career choice. As for being on the road, I would say it is the feeling of going somewhere was always the best. It’s like going on vacation.
How do you think traveling as a kid influenced your adult life (if at all)?
Because I traveled since I was very little, travel became a very normal thing. I never stressed going somewhere new, never worried that I will get lost or will not understand different languages. I understand people better because I’ve seen different lifestyles and customs.
One of Violetta’s first times on the ice with her mother.
Stopping for a photo break while traveling with her family on tour.
Would you take your own child on the road with you?
One of Violetta’s first performances.
I think my situation would be different, since my family is in Russia and my husband’s family would not be able to travel with us and help us to take care of our kids. Also, my husband and I are self employed. We don’t belong to the company that travels as a team. Sometimes we would go some where for a couple of days, sometime for a couple of months. It would not be possible to travel with our child, I think. When we start our family, we would have to settle and work in one spot. Well, maybe with the exception of a cruse ship show, we might take our kid with us.
Thank you so very much, Violetta!
If you’re interested in learning more about figure skating during the pre and post-Soviet Union era, there is a wonderfully engaging book written by Olympian pair skater Ekaterina Gordeeva that paints a detailed picture of life and sport during that time.
Violetta and her husband, Pete Dack, perform with hula hoops.
Violetta and her husband perform a headbanger or “bounce spin” during a show.
A few more photos from Violetta’s personal collection…
Violetta’s father performs.
Violetta at 5-months-old traveling with the circus troupe.
Hand-in-hand with grandma.
A vacation, posing with mom.
Violetta’s dad at work.
A portrait of her mother.
Baby Violetta, her mother and her grandparents vacationing at the Black Sea.
I hope you enjoyed this start to our Traveling Family Series. I’ll be back next Thursday with our second story. And a huge thank-you goes to Molly Quigley Moenkhoff, another incredibly talented ice skater and a dear friend of mine, for introducing me to Violetta.
P.S. I actually skated competitively for most of my childhood. It’s something I plan to talk about here on this blog. I’ve just never gotten around to figuring out exactly how I want to explain and share those 10 years of my life but we’ll get there eventually. Happy Thursday!
Photo Copyright: All photos are owned by Violetta Afanasieva and may not be used without her permission. Please email her directly or feel free to email me (email@example.com) and I will forward her any requests if you’d like to use them. Thank you!