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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Profile: Russian student breakdances the American dream

“I think America is spoiled. They don’t appreciate what they have,” said Gev Manukyan, 18, a Russian immigrant who moved here nearly two years ago.

Manukyan, a freshman majoring in business, has a deep appreciation for the opportunities America has afforded him.

“Growing up, we didn’t always have running hot water. We had to buy gas to heat our home, and use buckets to fetch water. In my home country of Kazakhstan, a lot of people go hungry. You always see beggars,” Manukyan said.

Difficult childhood circumstances taught him valuable life lessons, such as realizing how bad life can truly get and the value of working hard.

“Americans don’t seem to see what is going on in the world. They think that everywhere is like here. But it’s not,” Manukyan said, who does not plan to return to live in his native country, although he has hopes for its future.

“We have a lot of natural resources that the government has previously kept us from using. I want to see my home country grow and get better. It has a lot of potential. They’re slowly working toward democracy. But I’m staying in the U.S.”

The lure of democratic freedom called Manukyan’s father, Akop Manukyan, to the United States 14 years ago, when Manukyan was just 4 years old.

“I never knew my father until I moved here in 2003.”

Getting to know his father was just one of Manukyan’s reasons for moving to the United States.

“In my life I’ve had three big dreams. First, since I was a little child, I’ve always wanted to move to America, as many Russians do. Second, I wanted to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger. Third, I wanted to become an actor or performer,” Manukyan said.

Performing runs in his blood. Both of his parents were professional figure skaters, and his father’s acrobatic figure skating has landed him performing jobs across the world, from Australia to China to Stars and Disney On Ice. But Manukyan’s talents are expressed in a less-traditional way: breakdancing.

“When I was a kid I would watch groups like Run DMC on television and I’d think ‘I wish I could dance like that.’ Later I went to clubs in Russia and saw the real thing. Then I formed a dance group with some friends, and after a while we got really good,” Manukyan said.

Dancing didn’t always bring happy times. Manukyan says he was kicked in the clubs while dancing and ridiculed by “jealous” people who didn’t approve of Manukyan’s talents. In spite of the setbacks, he kept practicing his craft.

In his early teens, dancing became a way of life for Manukyan. His various dancing skills-from traditional Russian dance to hip-hop and breakdancing-landed him performing jobs in Russian private parties, restaurants and clubs. He was even offered the opportunity to tour China.

But China will have to wait.

Manukyan’s passion for dance is keeping him in Utah, where he’s been dancing since he arrived. He started out by joining the Full Force Dance Team, a team noted for its experienced dancers who have been featured on MTV.

“I got to perform at a lot of big events in Utah, including events held at the Delta Center. But Full Force came to an end, and now I’m working with my own group through the Jazz Dance Studio in North Salt Lake,” Manukyan said.

He has paired up with a fellow breakdancer, a 16-year-old from South Africa. The duo has big plans.

“We’d like to get into some music videos, and get paid for our choreography,” said Dean Van Sthalkwyk, Manukyan’s breakdance partner, who is a firm believer in Manukyan’s abilities.

“He teaches well. He’s fun to dance with and he’s very good,” said Van Sthalkwyk.

Manukyan’s father is also impressed by his son’s talents.

“Gev dances from his heart and you can see that when he’s dancing. His mother, like Gev, was very athletic. It’s something in the genes I guess,” he said.

Gev Manukyan considers his mother, who still lives in Russia, to be an important part of his life.

“I really miss my mom. I haven’t seen her since I moved to the United States. She’s a really big support to me,” Manukyan said. “And I plan on bringing her to America. She wants to come here, too.”

Culture shock was a big factor for Manukyan when he arrived in the United States, and he anticipates that his mother will face similar challenges. Manukyan says that American culture is very different from the culture of his native country.

“Americans smile too much. Even when they’re mad, Americans smile. In my home country, if someone is angry, they will let you know. They won’t just keep smiling,” Manukyan said.

Fake smiles aside, he appreciates American friendliness.

“People here are always friendly. On the streets, if you say hello, they say it back. In Russia, if you say hello, sometimes people will get offended,” Manukyan said, “But they are only like that until you get to know them. Then they’re real friends.”

Manukyan says that a big difference between Russians and Americans is their attitude toward friendship. In America, he says, people are superficially friendly, and quick to form friendships, but Russia paints a different picture.

“In Russia, friendships are not as easily formed, but when they are, they tend to be deeper and longer-lasting,” Manukyan said, “And you won’t hear Russians saying things like ‘Since you’re paying this time I’ll pay next time.’ You just pay. You don’t have to buy friends.”

In addition to differences in how people make friends, Manukyan found the American school system to be somewhat startling.

“In Russia, the students stand when a teacher enters the classroom, and they don’t sit until the teacher says to do so. And they don’t leave until the teacher indicates that it’s time to go. American school is so easy,” Manukyan said, who says that his senior year of high school at West High in Salt Lake City was a breeze.

“Students here have so much more freedom when it comes to their education. They can choose their classes. In Russia, I had no choice of what I wanted to study,” Manukyan said.

Freedom to choose his classes was one of many freedoms Manukyan enjoyed for the first time when he arrived in the United States.

“People here have more freedom to express themselves. They dress so differently than people in Russia. In Russia, you get judged a lot more by what you wear,” Manukyan said.

Thanks to life in the United States, Manukyan’s three life dreams are coming true-he even met Arnold, another immigrant who dreamed the American dream from across the world.

“My Dad actually taught Arnold how to skate, so I got to meet him. It was great-I like him because he sets a goal and really goes for it.”

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