By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
AMORY – The United States of America shines brightly for people around the world.
Anastasiya “Nastya” Alekseyenko, a 15-year-old from Zaporozhye, Ukraine, said her heart was first pulled toward the U.S. a few years ago.
“I got fascinated with Michael Jackson’s music,” she said. “I knew I wanted to see America.”
She comes from a town of about 800,000 people, so her odds of winning an exchange student scholarship were long.
“Why not me?” she recalled thinking after her father told her not to get her hopes up.
Her dream came true, and now her visit is coming to an end. It’s been an eventful school year.
Since last August, she has:
• Grappled with Southern English – “I asked about something and my host mother said, ‘It’s in yonder.’ I had no idea,” Nastya said.
• Discovered a native delicacy – “I love having peach cobbler,” she said. “That thing is so good.”
• Expanded her tastes beyond Michael Jackson – “Luke Bryan,” she said. “Oh, yes.”
A 10th-grade student at Nettleton High School, Nastya spent the school year with her host family, Gary and Pam Monaghan in Nettleton.
She’s also gotten to know her host sister, Dana Langley, who opened Country Cloggers studio in Amory the same month Nastya arrived in Mississippi.
“I didn’t start clogging when I first got here,” Nastya said. “I would come here and watch her dance. Dana said, ‘Don’t you want to try it? I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I didn’t think I would be good.”
Back home, Nastya was fond of hip-hop dancing and had hoped to find a studio in the U.S. Instead, as the song goes, she learned to love the one she was with.
“The first time I clogged with Dana, I was so sore,” she said. “I didn’t really do anything. We just did the basics, but I was so sore the next day.”
She progressed thanks to regular classes and Langley’s private tutoring, but there were growing pains.
“I remember for the first three or four months, I hated the way my shoes sounded when I danced,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t right. The hardest thing was to make it sound right, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Anyone who caught the Country Cloggers at the 2013 Amory Railroad Festival could attest that Nastya has left those awkward months behind her.
“Clogging isn’t easy to learn,” Langley said, “and she did it in seven months. That amazes me.”
When Nastya leaves America at the end of May, she will carry pieces of Mississippi home with her. Maybe she’ll say “Y’all” once or twice, or introduce her friends to Luke Bryan. She might even attempt baking peach cobbler.
One thing she knows for sure is she wants to keep clogging.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it. No one in Ukraine knows about country clogging,” she said, “but I love it. I know I’m not going to quit.”