Meet the young ambitious Russian aristocrats of London
They were all hand picked to dance in the Russian Debutante Ball
The Russian Debutante Ball is one of the weirdest events on the London social scene, with elaborate costumes, traditions and girls dressed up to party like it’s 1899.
But the dancers behind the show are PR girls, analysts and students by day – and one of them even lives in Dalston.
They were chosen from hundreds of applicants to dance in front of 800 exclusive guests of Russian celebrities and royalty.
The strict rules state Debutante dancers must be under 25, and most of the girls have degrees from top universities with the ability to speak several languages.
All must have a good job or be studying, and be able to answer questions on the spot about their country’s history or their favourite authors.
There are PhD students, finance workers and even a Baronesses – and they all have a WhatsApp group called “Russian Ball Gang”.
Mariya balances a PR job for Russian energy company Gazprom alongside a PhD in communications at Westminster.
The 23-year-old from Siberia told The Tab: “I wanted to feel like a princess and from my point of view, the ball is the exact place where your dreams comes true.
“I am not a party animal at all, if I go somewhere with friends, I would probably go to the bar or to some lounge.
“Russian clubs close in the morning while clubs here close around 3am.”
Many of the girls borrowed dresses for the ball, but Mariya chose to buy her own for £450, which included the gloves and tiara.
Speaking on her career ambitions, Mariya said: “I want to end up being a top-manager in international energy companies such as BP, Shell, Total or ExxonMobil.
“I think in order to be successful in your career you definitely should have a solid educational background.
“I did my bachelor’s degree in Management at one of the best universities of Russia – Novosibirsk State University, then I moved to London.”
Mariya said the Debutante ball is a chance to introduce different countries to Russian culture, and has been training for the event since May.
She said: “There are many famous people coming such as Princess Michael of Kent and Kristina Rihanoff from Strictly Come Dancing, but I don’t feel nervous to perform in front of them as it is not a competition and I am well-prepared for the ball.”
18-year-old Katya saw an advert for the ball on Facebook and decided to sign up to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a princess.
She currently studies Art and Design at college in West Sussex, but plans to move to London to become an architect.
Katya said: “We learned the technique of the waltz, secondly making decisions on choosing a dress, shoes and the accessories, and thirdly set yourself on the positive vibes.
“I feel like it’s an honour to be a part of this event, as it is a highly prestige and honorable place to be for any Russian ball, and of course to feel like I’m in a fairytale.”
She added: “I see myself as a creative person, and want to link my life with what I really enjoy to do.
“I want to end up as a successful Architect who can create a great designs of a buildings for feature.
“I’m sure all of the people I have and will meet at the Ball will stay in touch with me for a long time.
“The clubs in Moldova stay open until 6am and sometimes even until the last client, but London has more variety.”
BP analyst Julia Likhatska from Ukraine applied to dance at the ball after being in the audience last year.
Unlike most of the debutants who live in West or Central London, 25-year-old Julia lives in Dalston.
She said: “It’s a hub for creative people and young professionals like us, with millions of coffee and cocktail places, plus it’s close to Shoreditch where we usually go out.”
“As time passes I would eventually want to move to South West again, somewhere like Parsons Green.”
When not dancing at high-class balls, Julia goes kitesurfing, windsurfing, skiing and practises yoga.
Speaking on the Russian Debutante, Julia said: “It’s a quintessential experience, reviving Russian traditions in modern times, a truly beautiful event for anyone to come to.
“I went last year and met many like minded and similar people – young, ambitious London who are curious about traditions and life in general and are exciting to hang around with.
“My mom will be watching, and this is the most important person to me who will be there.”
You can read Julia’s blog here.
Oxford Brookes student Saltana Bekturova usually prefers fashion blogging and Taekwondo than dancing in public.
She said: “I haven’t done any ballroom dancing in a very long time, so for me it was an opportunity to get back in to it again. I’ve been practicing and perfecting my waltzing moves since May.
“The fashion aspect of it is also very appealing – how often do you get to wear a gorgeous ball gown, along with glittering diamonds and dance away the night to the tunes of classical music?”
When she applied for the Debutante Ball, Saltana was quizzed about her favourite authors, Leo Tolstoy and Jack London – but didn’t know any of the dance moves beforehand.
She said: “I have always had a feeling for fashion and cinematography, so this is a direction I am going towards. A few days ago my friends and I celebrated the first anniversary of my blog, The Girl is Fierce.
“People would always compliment my choice of wardrobe, and I love fashion, so it felt natural to go in this direction.
“I don’t really go out clubbing very often, but when I do, it’s usually somewhere in Mayfair. Mahiki is nice.”