My guest today who was born into a family of dancers in the former Soviet Union. His career path seemed decided when he started his training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. But the world around him changed dramatically and so did his goals for his career path. Find out how he managed to win a full scholarship at The Juilliard School and how he joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York City shortly after. After five years with the ABT, he quit company life to take up studies to become a medical doctor despite the fact that he was missing pretty much every college degree necessary to start with. but that didn’t stop him! Today he has been working as a medical doctor and let us discover together how he managed that. Please welcome our guest Andrei Dokukin!
Please find the transcript of our conversation below:
dance, moscow, Bolshoi academy, american ballet theatre, soviet union, russia, dancers, vcr, united states, new york city, ballet academy, juilliard school, nyu, medical school
Andrei Dokukin, Harald Krytinar
Andrei Dokukin 00:00
I think I applied to probably 30 medical schools or so, because I knew that I stood very little chance and my scores despite the fact that they were good they were. They were at the best borderline to get admitted because of my English section, of the exam, but they managed to get in and you know what, why I managed to get in is because of the dance background.
Harald Krytinar 00:25
Hi, and welcome to the mean 10 years Podcast. I’m Harald and I bring to you stories from dancers and stage artists about their career transition. With the ambition to help you gain clarity and momentum about your own career development as an artist. My guest today was born into a family of dancers in the former Soviet Union, his career, path seemed decided when he started his training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. But the world around him changed dramatically, and so did his goals for his career. Find out how he managed to win a full scholarship at the Juilliard School, and how he joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York City shortly after. Today, he has been working as a medical doctor for the last 10 years. And let us discover together how he managed that. Please welcome our guest, Andrei Dokukin!
Andrei Dokukin 01:15
Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
Harald Krytinar 01:16
Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time. You know, I’ve mentioned it before this program is really to tell the story, how it was for a professional dancer to move into another profession. And I think your example is so amazing. You worked for some amazing companies, and today your medical doctor. And I would just love to find out before we get into all of those details where you are today. Maybe you could just tell me, you know, where did you discover dance? And what’s your connection with dance? How did that happened?
Andrei Dokukin 01:49
So I was born in the Soviet Union back in 1974. And oddly enough, my father was a professional ballet dancer, who worked in a regional company in one of the biggest cities in Russia, not the main ones: Nizhny Novgorod. So my father was a professional dancer himself. And my mother later joined him in her venture into dance as a ballroom dancer, and they went professional eventually. So of course, my parents, they meant well, and they wanted for me to have a decent job and have, you know, decent life in the Soviet Union. And being a ballet dancer back in the Soviet Union was quite actually an amazing experience for 100 rubles a month. It was the salary of a dancer at that time, you know, we traveled entire Russia every summer, we could afford a vacation for a month on the Black Sea. And the job was, you know, very noble and very much fun. And my father was able to support us. And oddly enough, at the age of 40, when you retire from the professional dancer back in the Soviet Union, you would a retirement package, which essentially base same salary to you for the rest of your life. So by the time you’re 40, you’re retired, and you keep your salary, and you just live on and do whatever you want. So my parents said, Well, that sounds like a, you know, a great gig. And since I was always in the theater, I was always with my father at the job, in the theater, traveling, you know, places, going places with a theater with the kids who were also, you know, children of the dancers, we’ve had a fantastic that, you know, we have a lot of fun. So there was nothing more natural than just to transition into the same thing because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. So my parents sent me to Moscow to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, I had to audition for the Academy. And I remember my father bringing some gifts to some, you know, you know, higher people, and Russia, the Soviet Union back then, was just as corrupt as it is now, you know, it’s kind of who you know, it’s not necessarily how good you are. Of course, if you really bad they don’t take you, but if you’re like, mediocre, and somebody got something out of you. Yeah, you have a chance. So I was a I was the latter one that was a mediocre guy who could, you know, clap to the beat, not necessarily had the, you know, all the extensions that they wanted to, but next thing I was in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. And so I went to the boarding school there for eight years, and that’s how I, you know, went into the dance.
Harald Krytinar 04:41
And what age were you when you started boarding school, and by the time we finished?
Andrei Dokukin 04:48
I was 10. So I was 10. I packed my bags. My parents just dropped me off there and there was living in the in a dormitory with a bunch of other kids like myself. Yeah, it was like all inclusive, kind of a place. On the third floor. We had a dorm on the second floor we had ballets to use. And the first floor we had a cafeteria and the administration, that we had a kind of a yard to play. And at night, we were taken care of by citers. And so it was a home away from home. But without parents, it was a lot of fun. Yes, I still remember those days.
Harald Krytinar 05:30
Do I hear correctly? Then you said with all this influence from your parents, and with the experiences you could have, through their work environment. When you were going to Moscow to The Bolshoi Ballet School, was it for you very clear that this was the preparation for your professional career?
Andrei Dokukin 05:49
Oh, yeah, you know, I felt like I had no choice. It was, it was something that I meant to do. I don’t quite remember if my parents ever asked me if I wanted to do it or not. But because again, it was such a great proposition, you know, you retire at 40, you have so much fun, you get very decent salary, you can do a lot of things. So I didn’t even question that. And you know, when you’re nine years old, and you don’t question your parents. So that’s how it worked. I showed up and I said to myself, Okay, this is what I do. Now. This is what I do. Here we go.
Harald Krytinar 06:22
Wow. Okay. So you started with that ambition with that vision, also of where this was gonna take you? Is that how it developed? I mean, when you were eight years later, when you were 18? You you just graduated? And then there was it? Or were the questions at some point,
Andrei Dokukin 06:39
You know, it was what was a straight line, because I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it. And I was there from 10 to 17 years old. And this is the time when you really grow up as a human being, you form into an adult, who can actually think for themselves. And during that time, so many things have happened, you know, you you start as a little boy, just being everything and being in the questioning, and then we started going up. And we started understanding how the world works, and what is expected of you what needs to be done. You know, in Moscow in the Bolshoi Academy, and you had to have connections, and you had to live in Moscow to work in Moscow. And that’s where the jobs were, that’s where the real dance was. And if you were not from Moscow, and you lived in a dorm, and you had no connection to Moscow itself proper back in the Soviet Union, due to some paperwork, issues, you couldn’t really stay. So you’d have to go somewhere else to work. And the government pick places for you where you could work if you’re not from Moscow at the end of the school. So, you know, having that in mind, I was at a disadvantage. To start with, I was not from the sea. So I really didn’t have much connection to the sea. I couldn’t stay in the city. That was a problem number two, but the problem number one, really, that I was not really good. As a kid, I was not. You’re classically, you know, shaped “classically” with, you know, feet flexion and the back extension kind of a guy. I was a little bit on the rough side, you know, I could dance, you know, I could dance well, but it didn’t look like a classical ballet of the Soviet Union, in, you know, in the Bolshoi Ballet on the stage in Swan Lake. So, for those types of people, the Academy had a second track, which they would call a character dance track. There were only two types of dance, which officially were promoted. It was either classical ballet, or it was a character folklore, dancing style. There was really no jazz, no modern, no, anything of that type, nothing in between. You know, if you couldn’t do two pirouettes and finish them perfectly, which could not do. It just didn’t have in me, you have to sort of become in character dance the track. My father joined the academy as a teacher, my last three years in the academy, and actually both of my parents joined the academy as teachers. They did not influence much of my being there, but because my father was teaching a class which was a parallel to my class, which was the character track class. So my father obviously couldn’t teach me as his son in the class. So therefore, I stayed in a classical track. But early on in the game, I realized that you have to either be one of those people who were meant to these jobs, in the Bolshoi Theater and other companies or you, you were essentially left out, you were left out and left to yourself no matter how well you did. And there was an interesting time in the Soviet Union, because 1991, that’s when the Soviet Union really collapsed. And in about 1990, for some reason, I realized that there was just nothing there in Moscow, which can sustain me and hold me as an individual. In terms of what I wanted to do with my life where I wanted to be, you know, I was like 15, or 16. And I looked at my peers who are traveling with the academy, they were going abroad, and they were actually making a little bit of money and bringing back and back. And, you know, back in the Soviet Union was a big deal, because we didn’t have much exposure to the west at all, it was still a very closed society, it was still very, pretty much leaving behind an Iron Curtain, despite the fact that the things have loosened up tremendously. But it was still the old ways. You know, it’s silly to think of it now silly to say these things now. But I ended people who had a VCR in their homes, and you couldn’t really get a VCR machine to watch tapes on your home. Only if he went abroad, you could actually buy a VCR. I mean, it sounds completely ridiculous right now. But that’s the environment we existed. So I said to myself, you know, what? Why am I not good enough to go to let’s say, on a tour to France and get a freaking VCR, I’m going to do it. And not only that, for some reason, I just understand that there is nothing waiting for me in Moscow, I will never be in a theater because I cannot do classical ballet, well, I cannot do them pirouettes, you know, I just can’t do it, despite the fact that I did a few other things in other types of dances. So my choices were to be obedient to the system, and to let the system decide where they’re going to put you. And what are they going to do with you after you’re done with the Academy. And that was probably, you know, the majority of my colleagues who were wearing the same shoes that I was wearing, who were not from Moscow. So I said to myself, You know what, I’m going to do something else. So I went to the program, and I looked at things which were taken abroad for tours, in terms of the dancers in the choreographies, and pieces. And I said to myself, well, the Russian dance always goes abroad, because that’s what people want to see, they want to see some Russian folk dancing. So I showed up at the doors of a teacher who were teaching those things. And I said, Hey, I want to be in your class. And she looked at me, like, wow, nobody has ever said anything like this to me before. Come on in! You know, I started watching first, watching the cast first. So I watched in the corner, you know, after my rehearsals after my regular school days, I spent time with her. And little by little, she started using me in her pieces, and then I drove my friend who you happen to know, with me to come and join me. And we became the first cast for some of these dances. And I sort of put the school in the position that they had no choice but to use me. You know, I went, as far as I’ve learned how to do one of the tricks, which was very hard to do. It’s, it’s called “Posonov” you know, you sit on your knees, and you kick your leg like that, you know, it’s really hard to do the scarf in your body. But I taught myself how to do this in about a week holding on to chairs in a dorm room, you know, I was driven back then. And I, I forced them to take me seriously. You know, not only that, I was lucky enough to get to know the only jazz dance teacher in Moscow who worked with Moiseyev dance company who traveled the world and he spent all his money, not only VCRs, and things like that, but actually studying jazz dance and modern dance. So he came to Moscow and he said, Hey, you know, there is no modern dance in Russia was started. And we want to be the first people who have Russian modern dance. So I want him I adore him. He became a mentor to me, he became a teacher to me. And that’s what I did on my weekends. So that became a love of my dance. And it became a path because now I actually had something that I wanted to accomplish within the world of dance, which I did love. And it gave me an opportunity to express myself without anybody saying that, hey, you know, your foot flexion and your shape of your leg is not good enough for Classical Ballet and therefore you’re not good. So I was able to say you know what, guys, I am good. Just at different things. So that’s how it ended for me in terms of trying to decide what I want to do.
Harald Krytinar 14:52
So you had created those opportunities for yourself. But you were not finished with the school and I think a door to the USA opened up.
Andrei Dokukin 15:01
You know, I went on tour with, with the academy to the United States to Colorado to Vail at the time when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In August, there were tanks in Moscow. We were watching this on TV. We were, I was 16 or so and they looked at this whole thing. And you know, a thought came to my mind, I said, this is the time to actually need to stay in the States because it’s a perfect opportunity to escape. You know, my goal. I only had one goal in mind to get out of Russia that any means possible any means necessary. So I made it my priority. So for a year, I was trying to prepare myself to get out of there. I had plans to go to Chicago, I had plans to go to New York, but nothing really materialized. Until I met this teacher who came from the United States from Juilliard School, and the cultural exchange with Russia. Right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United Information Agency from the United States paid for her visit. So she came to The Bolshoi Ballet Academy. And she started, they gave her class because that’s what they were supposed to do. It wasn’t done at the government level. And you know, of course, local authorities had nothing to do with it. The director of the school just said, Hey, you know, you’re here, you have to be here. I went to her class. I loved it. She was teaching some Paul Taylor technique. I couldn’t speak English. But I there was a translator with her, a Russian gentleman who was translating, and through translator I told her, I said her name was Linda Camp. So Linda, I love what you do. Can I please, you know, come and take your classes again. I was not allowed in those classes, because I was not one of those people who were chosen to take the class. And then little by little, I realized that this teacher was not welcomed in Academy by the artistic staff, because they thought that by teaching modern dance to the Bolshoi pupils would mean that they will destroy somehow, their ballet technique will destroy the training, set the lines and mess up whatever classical training, which is, of course, a ridiculous thought, but back in the days, that’s how people thought. So Linda Camp was kind of shut down from the school in many ways, … it was made clear to her that she was not welcome. She could still do her job. But she was by no means any kind of a priority. I came to her and I said Linda, how about I take you somewhere where you will be actually appreciated. So I took her to my teachers who had a modern dance studio. Nicola Griskov was his name, and we started going there and started hanging out in his studio instead of even Bolshoi Ballet Academy. So you know, I, I heard taxicabs for her. I became like the driver, I became a guide, I became a tour guide. So we had a great time. So it was time for her to leave, and I naturally had this crazy idea again, her I said, Linda, what the hell do I do to learn what you do, and to learn modern dance? And she said, Well, you know, I work in the Juilliard School in New York City. You’re welcome to try and, you know, audition there somehow. So I made a tape of myself. At night. I had to go to one friend get one VCR because they were a tough commodity to get the guts to the other frame to get the second VCR I spent the night recording these videos. I need to pay for her of myself dancing on stage this thing and the other thing and anything I could lay my hands on and a hand delivered it to a to the airport in Moscow on her way out of Russia in the morning ready for flight. I gave her the tape and they said Linda take it with you show it to somebody do something. I need you my ticket out of here…
Harald Krytinar 19:08
No pressure, no pressure at all…
Andrei Dokukin 19:11
All right. So she went to Julliard she showed the tape to Benjamin Harker who was the chair of the dance department, back in the days, and Benjamin said hey, great yeah, we take him we’ll take him on scholarship as a matter of fact. So my next thing became, of course, how the hell do I get the papers? How do I get the visa, Soviet Union and Russia now he’s probably one of the only countries in the world which has two passports. One is for domestic travel. And one is for international travel. To get out of Russia, you have to pass the border. You have to show your passport at the immigration control as you tried to get out of the country which is unheard of in the rest of the world. But that’s how Russia still operates. Right so my international travel passport was held by school authorities because they knew that I was trying to get out of the country. They knew that I was trying to We’ll so they held on to my passport. So I can go anywhere, because that would be similar as a defection. And you know, of course, it was a pupil from Bolshoi Academy. That’s to the west, that doesn’t look good. And the director of the academy was an employee of the Kremlin. So you can only imagine what kind of a political, you know, fallback. Would that be one of her students just kind of stayed in the United States.
Harald Krytinar 20:28
Yeah. May I ask you something, my mind is just like working overtime here, just trying to digest everything you’ve mentioned so far. I mean, you were doing your normal dance training, you were working after hours to go into the character dance section, you were working weekends to go into modern or more contemporary dance, and you were working nights to create tapes of yourself. You didn’t sleep much, you know,
Andrei Dokukin 20:51
We found them for everything, you know. As a matter of fact, I borrowed time for my academic courses. Because in the inner Academy, you know, we had our dance courses, but we also had to study, you know, Russian language and literature, we had to study chemistry, we had to study French, we had to study other things. So unfortunately, what I did and decided to do, you know, I showed up to my chemistry class once, you know, and I said to myself, gee, you know why? I’m going to be dancer? And, you know, I’m not going to stay the chemistry, why am I even here? So I skipped the rest of it, you know, so we didn’t bother. And the teachers, their attitudes toward us, we’re like, oh, you know, they got to be ballet dancers, they really need chemistry. It’s okay. It’s okay, we’re gonna pass the video waves. So that’s, you know, you found your waves. So I skipped a lot of courses.
Harald Krytinar 21:45
And I wonder as well, I mean, there’s so much reflection, and also this political understood that the understanding of the political impact of your actions also, you seem to be so aware of that today. And it seems at the time as well. And also wonderful, your parents working at Palace schooling and everything? I mean, did you feel that there was a conflict there that you had to make a choice? I mean,
Andrei Dokukin 22:10
You know, my parents, I was lucky, because my parents never told me what to do how to do anything, because I didn’t live with them since I was 10 years old. So it was a little bit late. And, you know, after seven years of living with them to tell me what to do. I kind of became an independent then. But they also realized that I did not have any future in Moscow. So they also wanted the best thing for me. We never had this conversation. Really, they did not try to influence me, I think they were they actually welcome the idea of me trying to get out of there. I never realized the extent of my, you know, work in the background that I had to do to try to get out of there. So it was never an issue. They were supportive, if anything, so I’m grateful.
Harald Krytinar 22:57
Wonderful to hear. So how did this you know this tape was sent off? It was appreciated by that the school director of Juilliard? What happened then? I mean, did it work out?
Andrei Dokukin 23:08
Yeah, things kind of fell in place fairly quickly. I interestingly, I knew some people who had access to the government officials, and because again, in our academy, we studied together with people whose parents were either employed by the government or close to the government, you know, again, it’s who you know, in Soviet Union, anyone now in Russia. So when you people who could help me, I made a few phone calls, and I said, I need a second passport. So somehow, miraculously, well, it was not Iraq, it was the obviously, but a Foreign Ministry of Russia, you should need another password. How don’t ask. I don’t ask the people who help you to accomplish that. We don’t know that. But they get a second copy. Okay. The translator who translated for limb to care for the woman who taught in Moscow was actually employed by the United States Embassy in Moscow. He was an employee who gave me access to the embassy, essentially, free access to just about anything. So I would show up at the American Embassy, knock on the door, and I’ll say, Hi, I’m here to speak with Mr. Jusejev. And they’ll check my passport. Yeah, you’re good. And I applied for a visa. I applied for a student visa. You know, miraculously, I was granted one. So I had my passport. They had my student visa. I had the exception to the Juilliard School. I had the scholarship. I had actually a stipend from the United States Information Agency. The next problem was how do I get a ticket? So that the problem I solved in Greece, we were going to Greece for a tour. So after my shows, I went to some districts in Athens, where they sell fur coats. Oddly enough in Greece. They have a bunch of shops which sell nothing but fur coats and greets is pretty warm. So I do not know why they sell them there but they do. So these shops usually close after midnight. And you know Russians, they love their fur coats man, they adore them. So with every penny that I need in Greece with the school I bought by Jennifer coats, I think three or four of them, I brought them back to Moscow or give them to my friends to sell them so they sold them for me in their shops. And they got the money I booked myself a ticket on a Pan Am Flight, remember Pan m – not in business anymore – and yeah, I got a ticket. That’s how many United States experience begun.
Harald Krytinar 25:39
I think what’s so amazing is I mean, this entrepreneurial spirit of you of just being like facing complex situations, complex problems in a way of no problems. But questions challenges.
Andrei Dokukin 25:53
Your health. It’s not entrepreneurial spirit. I hate to say it’s called desperation. It’s called desperation, out of desperation, people do anything and everything. Oh, by the way, of course, after the exam, when I got my assignment, to where I was supposed to work, I got assigned to Russian army quarters somewhere Siberia to perform Russian dances for them. So I looked at that assignment. And I said to myself, wow, you know, this is really, this is the only thing what I’m good for is a Russian chorus and Siberia. So I laughed at it. So those were the choices I got to make. My idea really was to go to the States to learn modern dance, and I wanted to come back to Moscow to Russia and introduce modern dance to Russia. It was right at that time, where there was still none of that. I was probably one of the very few people of Russian descent who were trained in Russia to perform something nonclassical on stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, because that was very, very, almost unheard of. And I really wanted I had it you know, my mind isn’t was very, very quaint. I still love dance, I was still under the influence from my teacher, Nikolai. I wanted to go and do what he did just bring it back and grow it and you know, do something, but they wanted to come back. That was my vision. Of course, that changed. Very quickly.
Harald Krytinar 27:35
So tell me so you arrived in New York City? You are at Julliard’syou are on a scholarship. You started training. I don’t know, how many years, did you stay there?
Andrei Dokukin 27:42
Just a year…
Harald Krytinar 27:43
Just one year, okay. You did one year scholarship. And then what happened?
Andrei Dokukin 27:47
Just the year I came to Juilliard, you know, I, you know, studied, I did everything that I wanted. All the classes that I wanted to take, I learned how to speak English, which I’m still learning, by the way, met plenty of people. And little by little, I started to venture out of the school and, you know, take classes here, take classes there. And I realized that, you know, staying in school for four years is just not something that I want to do. You know, I already trained myself for what, eight years and training for another four years, just not making sense. So I really wanted to get a job. So what I did I, I went to audition for, I got some hearts in a school for the performances. And I invited somebody from American Ballet Theatre to come and watch the show. Well, it wasn’t that I bought it. I showed up at the American Ballet Theatre, and I said, Hi, oh, you know, I really want to audition here. And they looked at me, they said, Fine, you know, go ahead. So I took a class and apparently, you know, he got enough attention for the artistic director to McKinsey back in the days to send his wife to see me dance in the show in the Juilliard them, she thought that they can make a cut in the company. So that which I did, and I had a contract. I had a contract. The problem, of course, was, again, my immigration papers, I have to pull up some strings to get the working visa was, you know, another nightmare. Another story within itself. I’m not sure if that’s important. But you know, after after leaving Moscow and going through all of this ordeal, you know, anything else was just joking. So I had my contract to do people in Juilliard. They said, Look, are you sure you want to leave? Because you know, you’re really dumping this great opportunity for studying in this most wonderful school for free, you know, you’re getting a free degree. And as a college degree, why the hell do I want to college? I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything. And I got the answer. You know, I got a job with ABT. Why do I need you? I don’t. So I left. I left I joined ABT and I spent the next five years there. Yeah.
Harald Krytinar 29:58
So how was that company life for you?
Andrei Dokukin 29:59
It was a blast, but it was just it was fantastic, you know, it was the pinnacle of enjoyment of my dance career, really. We worked hard, we played even harder. We traveled the world, you know, the luxury was that we had enough international travel to keep ourselves entertained, but we had enough domestic shows to stay and live in the city. You know, we live in New York City, it was back in when New York City was very different place from what it is now. It was filled with artists, dancers, musicians. You know, I had a, you know, at Julliard, I meant a lot of my best friends are musicians. Some of them are actors, singers. So the whole art world was right there at my fingertips. And, you know, I was working with ABT, I was making money, I was actually getting paid for what I do. I grew in the company, I did everything I really wanted to do professionally in terms of, you know, the type of dances I wanted to do that, that I wanted to be part of. You know, it was fun. When we were not working, I was traveling, I was just buying tickets to go to this country to go there country. Anything and everything, whatever, whatever I dreamt of I had, you know, professionally personally, you know, I look back at it, then these were fantastic. It’s just filled with professional joy. Fun, you know, a very quiet dramatic, of course, there’s always drama involved, you know, but it’s always fun, you know how the answers are.
Harald Krytinar 31:45
But what I find amazing and what I don’t what, what I’ve really done here, which is wonderful, in a way, for some people that have a big dream, and once that dream actually becomes a reality, it almost feels like a disappointment, or it can feel like, oh, you know, that’s it. I managed, you know, with you, that doesn’t seem at all You seem to really, you realize that is a big dream. And you were really able to make the best of it and just enjoy every second of it. Am I hearing that correctly?
Andrei Dokukin 32:14
Yeah, people say that it’s not the goal that gives us the pleasure. It’s the road to accomplish that goal, which truly gives us the pleasure, but we forget about. Yeah, I truly, truly enjoyed. Or, I don’t remember how I looked at things back then. But now I realize how happy I was how fulfilled I was, how incredibly satisfying everything was, you know, and I was still young, you know, stupid in the waves. very carefree. So, sky was the limit in what we could do. We feel invincible. You know? Tell so good spirits. You know, you don’t have too much money. You live in New York City, but who cares? You know, I live that we live in a little these little boxes. But look, I live you know, five blocks away from the Lincoln Center. I mean, how bad can it get. One evening, you’re in Tokyo next evening, you and Buenos Aires. You know, it’s not a bad life. You know, put it this way.
Harald Krytinar 33:25
So, you said you spent five years with the company and you enjoyed every minute of it. And so what happened after five years? What how did that develop? You said also you felt invincible. But do I hear that maybe you were not invincible? But yeah.
Andrei Dokukin 33:41
So you know, I missed out the whole challenge part of being a dancer. Of course, we all know that we will get injured quite a lot. We all live with chronic injuries. I again, my body was not really designed for dance and human body is not designed for this. It’s an assault on human body. And I’m telling you as a medical doctor, either classical ballet or any ballet or any technique, with some exceptions of some other lives is a truly an assault on the human body. Like you think gymnastics, for instance, as a sport. You take meaning sports, we are not as human beings designed to do such things. We’re not designed to externally rotate our hips and do crazy exercises like this all day long, and then jump in the air and do you know turns in the air and land and jumbled day long and really not designed to do that? So because of challenges of my own body, I always had plenty of chronic injuries to go by, you know, I broke my back performing for Gerald and Betty Ford in Colorado. That’s when the Soviet Union collapsed. I kind of micro fractures in my spine, which left me in a clinic being for about a year and that was The time I went to join the American Ballet Theatre, so I showed up at the key with coin team already in my back. But you know, you, you put those things aside, you don’t really think about them too much. It’s just you know, it comes with the territory, it comes with the profession, it these are just the things that you have to deal with. You heard, you know, I had a chronic Achilles injury, I had a chronic tendinitis in my Achilles – it was killing me. But then you have to manage, I knew how to get up how to get to the class, I knew how to take time off, I knew when I actually needed to do. But the reality was that my body was just not taking the job very, very well. And fortunately, it did not take, you know, too much of a mental toll on because it was to do. But my fascination was always with the fact that how come some people do this and they don’t hurt. And other people try to do this and they hurt so much they can do. So I got fascinated with manual medicine and manual techniques and therapy. Physiotherapy from the time when I was still back in Russia and starting to experience some chronic injuries that I’ve had. With my back injury, I thought it would be a career ending eventually. And, of course, it was I met some practitioners in New York City, a marvellous man by the name of Dr. Small parts who have changed my way of looking at my body will change the way my work, you know, medical professionals, physical therapists, doctors, orthopaedic surgeons, you know, could not help. But I found my way through Girotonic, which I became very acquainted with, through some other exercise techniques to realize that there are ways of dealing with aches and pains, despite all of that stress and assault on the body itself, that you you put it through every single day. So I managed to do this but with yours, I became actually healthier. Because I’ve learned how to work smarter, and my fascination with medical aspect of a body goo. Because, you know, I like I just it was fascinating to me that I went to this surgeon and that surgeon and actually had to have surgery on my Achilles. And that didn’t help but somebody was there hands, in three sessions were able to accomplish something that many practitioners could not accomplish in two years with me, it was just mind-blowing to me. So that was kind of an eye-opener that fascinated me.
Harald Krytinar 38:02
So this sounds like this experience made a very strong impact on your interest in the body and how it functions. Whether other aspects that influenced your professional evolution and the interest to go to venture into new fields.
Andrei Dokukin 38:18
You know, having achieved my professional aspirations in dance, I also realized that perhaps I was not being challenged mentally enough anymore. You know, how many times can you get on stage and do Swanlake. How many times can you go on tour and see, you know, this particular city or that particular city, you have enough of planes…, it becomes repetitive, no matter how fun it is. It becomes very, very repetitive. And we party, the party so much as a matter of fact that, you know, it was just a fun at work, fun after work. It was just all fun. And something was missing. I don’t know what it was. Back in the days, the personal computers just became kind of like a thing. I don’t know. But I remember in 1995, maybe when I was my first PC, and it was able to connect to America Online was small and making a lot of noise when you connect, and you wait for five minutes to upload the page. And man that was like, totally fascinating to me. I fell in love with it. And I realized that I wanted to do a little bit more something on the side to stimulate my intellectual brain. And the dance was just not cutting at that point. I was dating this particular dancer who said something to me, which I never forgot. She said, Look, Andrei you’re going to be 30 years old. at some point, when I was back in my 20s, you’re going to hurt, you will not be able to dance anymore because you’ve hurt everywhere, because that’s what’s going to happen to inevitably, it’s just a matter of time, you will have to quit. And that time you want to have a family, he would want to have a child possibly. And guess what you will have a responsibility of financially contributing to that family and perhaps even maybe supporting the family and where you are, you know, we’ll look what you can do you have nothing sort of looking bright for you in the future when that time comes, and you have to retire. So you’re faced with two choices. You either choreograph or you teach dance. And I told her, Oh, listen, I’m gonna choreograph. I’m an artist. I am. So yeah, listen, look out for me. Oh, don’t worry about, but that seed was planted in my head. And I said to myself, Okay, she’s right. She’s right. Let me I always like to prepare myself for the future a little, you know, I always like to think to help, you know, just the nature of probably all of us. We look, we’re looking to tomorrow. It’s like playing chess, you have to think five steps ahead, to take care of yourself. Now, today. So I said, Okay, let me choreograph. I’ve tried, hell, I suck that it’s so bad. It’s just bad, man. I could not make a dance. For the life of me, it took me hours. I had all these ideas. I had all this music, I had all these visions, but I just I couldn’t produce. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it for myself. I myself, I’ve tried. I’ve tried choreographing for somebody else. It just wasn’t didn’t I couldn’t do. So that was a bummer.
Harald Krytinar 41:59
But did you realize that you realized your limit yourself, you use you saw yourself hitting a wall, you saw that it was
Andrei Dokukin 42:07
It was a complete wall. And by the way, professionally, also, you know, I was a very, very mediocre dancer, but in a very good company. So I was okay to make the cut. But look, I was never anywhere. You know, best the core, the valley, I had some solo roles here and there some cases, but I would never make the car to make that next level. And the next level. I mean, eventually it all boils down to money. If you and you may have a bit of a name because you work with American Ballet Theatre, fine. How much money can you get out of this later question. If you become a soloist, you know, that makes things much much easier for you. When you say, Oh, I’m a soloist with American Ballet Theatre, I can possibly charge more I can make more I can I have a better name. And of course, if you’re a principal that opens kind of all sorts of other doors, I realized that I would never become a soloist, I will never become a principal. And I was not in the mood to join some company somewhere else. I got some offers to go somewhere else and be a principal dancer. But I would have to sort of in my mind to go back to this Russian army chorus and Siberia to be what I really wanted anyway. So I also realized that professionally I hit the ceiling. There was no future in me choreographing. Teaching ballet back in the days you will get me $40 a class teaching New York City. Of course, you could charge more if you had a name. But I couldn’t see myself making a living down the road. So in one matter of months, I’ve decided to quit. I don’t know what was the final drug. I really don’t remember what happened. But they came to the director at the end of the season. And they said I’m not coming back next year. And you know, he said, I’m so sorry, you know, and I walked out. I had nothing. I have no jobs lined up. I have no income lined up. I had, of course, I had a plan. Because my plan was as crazy as escaping from the Soviet Union. It was just as drastic and as crazy as perhaps because I’m crazy. But that’s a conversation. So I came to my kitchen in New York City apartment in this little kitchen. I picked up the phone, you know, I record to myself, Okay, who am I going to call? I know what we call New York University. Sounds like a good name. I knew nothing about education. I knew nothing about the system how it works. You know? I said, Okay, I got to start somewhere.
Harald Krytinar 44:44
So hold on a second. You just thought Who am I gonna call and the New York City University is the first thing that came to mind is that that’s what he just said. Yeah. Okay, fine.
Andrei Dokukin 44:54
Yeah, NYU, famous place. I called him up and I said, Hey, how do I become the doctor. So the person on the other side is very confused. And she says, Well, I’m so sorry. You’re trying to get into admissions departments or speak with admissions departments. I said, Yeah, I don’t care to speak with, I just need to find out how do I become a doctor? So they transferred me to the admissions department through some, you know, some waiting time and this and that. And the person on the other hand, she says, Well, would you like to be a physician? I said, No, I want to be a doctor. Which, of course is the same thing. Right. But I didn’t know back then. So she says, Well, we ask you what kind of education you have. And I said, Oh, you know, I’m a Bolshoi Ballet graduated and I went to the Juilliard School. Oh, you know, and she says, Well, hold on, hold on hold, do have a college degree. I said, No, I don’t. She said more than you to go to college first. I was like, wow, okay. Wow. So I can’t go. I said, so then we have to go to college, right. I think because I was doing some research before that phone call. Or I don’t know why I had a flyer from one of the private universities in New York City. I just looked at it, I called them up. I showed up. And they said, Oh, yeah, we would love to have you. But you will have to take some high school courses because you cannot write an English, you you’re speaking abilities not so good. And then we’ll see what we can do with you. You certainly have your I was able to prove that I have an associate’s degree, which is two years of college by Russian standards. I was able to transfer those credits to the United States. So I showed up at this private place. And I started taking courses there, I wanted to actually go to physical therapy school. That’s what I really decided for myself at that point. And in a private university, I’m very happy that I went there for a year, Marymount Manhattan College, I stayed there because it was a smaller class, people really took care of you. And with me being completely clueless about the system. I had somebody holding my hand through the process, you know, so I was able to get my writing skills, get my basic skills up to snuff. But I also realized that I’m borrowing every single penny to go to school, through scholarships. I had to borrow government for the private sector. And I worked maybe four or five jobs to support myself not full time obviously but I did odd games, whatever I could lay my hands on to to actually pay the rent.
Harald Krytinar 46:27
And how much later was that from? From the day? You said, I’m not coming back next season? And how many weeks…
Andrei Dokukin 47:48
three months time? It was a summer? Okay. Yeah, I walked out. It was a July 4. I remember because it’s independent in the United States. On July 4, and in September, I was in college. Yeah,
Harald Krytinar 47:58
yeah. Okay, then you started and then you with private university, you stayed with them for one year,
Andrei Dokukin 48:04
for one year. So funny enough, you know, I told you, I skipped all my chemistry courses in dental school. So finally, it was as a pre-medical student, I decided to try to go to medical school because to get a physical therapy degree, all of a sudden, it was a college degree for your education and all sudden became a doctor overnight. So I could not finish my classes on time to actually become a physical therapist within the four years. And I had to do extra study. So I said to myself, you know, what the heck, maybe I’ll just go to medical school. So when it was the time, for me to enter a chemistry course, I showed up at the chemistry class. I did not even know what the chemistry study. I did not know what the science was even about. Because I skipped every single chemistry course in ballet school, every single one. So I have a lot of catching up to do. But, you know, I went home I read my books. It’s a grind, grind, grind, you know, get it down. Whatever it is to be done. So yeah, I got it done.
Harald Krytinar 49:12
You got it done. So how many years later you I mean, you’re a medical doctor today. You’ve moved from New York City to the West Coast now. But so it all worked out for you. Was that clear for you? When you started that this is gonna work out you’re gonna manage? Was there any plan B? Was there any doubt that, you know, you might not achieve what you’re trying to do here?
Andrei Dokukin 49:33
You know, I was still so naive how? i There were, I guess there was no plan B. I just had to do it I had to do when you borrow so much money. You know, you cannot turn back. You can but that we’re spending probably $50,000 a year on my living expenses and my tuitions and books. So when you spend this much money, and then you turn around and you have a look, and you say, oh, you know what, now we have to revert to Plan B, there was no way, at least in my mind, it was either forward or that was it. So I put every, you know, drop of my effort, everything that I had in myself everything that I, you know, harden towards the goal.
Harald Krytinar 50:27
So was there any moment that you doubted yourself that he doubted your decision if it had been the right one, or like you said, it was just, there’s only one way which is forward.
Andrei Dokukin 50:36
You know, doubts, of course came because to get to medical school in the United States is a very tough proposition. Now, it’s not so bad because medicine in this country has taken a big dive. And it is not what it used to be back in the days when I entered the school, when I entered the school, it was a very competitive environment to get to the medical school, it was very, very, very hard. You had to have nearly perfect scores, you had to have an excellent admission scores on the test that to take before the medical school that a lot of people who were born in the United States having trouble with, and having trouble in getting into the medical school. So for me, the Africa to double because number one, you know, English, of course, is not my first language. Number two, I had no support from anybody in terms of anything in helping me with the schoolwork helping me with navigating the system helping me with finances. So you know, I managed to graduate in the top of my class with nearly perfect grade point average. I managed to get into medical school, despite the fact that I bombed the English section of the exam. But my science section had to be so much better than everybody else’s, you know, I spent 1000s of dollars in prep courses, I spent 1000s of dollars in applying I think I applied to probably 30 medical schools or so, because I knew that they stood very little chance. And my scores, despite the fact that they were good, they were, they were at the best borderline to get it because of my English section on the exam, but they managed to get in and you know, what, the way I managed to get it is because of the dance background. People do look at your scores, and your application will then in the schools desk to review it if you make the car. So I didn’t make the cut in terms of the numbers. And then of course, you have to write a personal statement. to, for them to understand where you’re coming from, why you’re doing what you’re doing. Because they don’t want the doctors just a bunch of numbers and bunch of leaves, they put a little bit of personal touch to it. So you know, I wrote in my letter of intent, what I went through and why I want to go into medicine, why I chose to get out of dance in my opinion, the science of medicine and the art of dance was just nothing but the two sides of the same coin, really. And somehow that letter I believe, and the fact that I was a dancer, the fact that I did what I did with my life, my previous experiences, I think this is what actually got me and give you the competitive advantage with scores, which were very, very questionable in terms of being able to actually get into school.
Harald Krytinar 53:46
You know, I’m being mindful of the time but I’m just so curious. I mean, this good. I could just sit here listening to you for so much longer. But you know, how did I would like to ask you two questions here. How did it feel for you the day you really graduated when you knew you had it? This is it. You’ve just graduated, you are medical doctor now, how did that feel for you?
Andrei Dokukin 54:06
The first day in American Ballet Theatre. So like, That’s it, man. It’s done. It’s done. It took what it took. It was kind of a second milestone sort of, you know, sort of to say, you know, nothing, of course compares to that feeling. But, you know, I’m not one of those people who said Who, who, who makes big deal out of birthdays who make a big deal out of graduations for me to be below dates or facts. But just the fact that I was done that I did it, it was kind of a reassurance to me that I was able to do it. I had a plan. I executed it, whatever it took. I made it through. You know, I was happy with myself. But I knew that by no means that is the and of what I have to do, you know, it was as a matter of fact, is just the beginning, you know, then years later, I find myself in a place where I’m not necessarily happy what I’m doing now, because of the state of medical affairs in the country, because how the medicine is run, because how the medical doctors are forced to do what we do. Also the, you know, the, the world of corporate medicine and pharmaceutical medicine that we live in the payment systems, the United States, of course, it’s very strange in terms of medical system, because this is the only country in the world where the insurance industry make a profit. And, you know, 10 years after practising by myself, for myself working for myself, I’m actually thinking of doing something else with them. Perhaps I should make a next step. And to put this aside, because I can say, very, very happily that I’ve done everything that I ever wanted to do in medicine, I have, I am board certified in that one specialty, but in three, I can be called over achiever by many, many standards. But despite that, you know, I’m not happy. I became, again, not really happy. So moving forward, I hope that there is still enough, you know, power, not driving to my age, which is ways to do one more crazy thing with my life to maybe maybe get the heck out of this and do something else. Yeah.
Harald Krytinar 56:52
As a very last question, I would, I would just like to ask you, you know, when, when you think back of the time when you were a professional dancer, and you, you know, what do you think would have been the most helpful thing that somebody could have told you at the time, like in retrospective? The most helpful thing? Yeah, or was something that you wish today, you think that would have been really useful? If somebody had just told me that,
Andrei Dokukin 57:21
You know, it didn’t happen with me, Harald. It did happen with me. And I acted on it. And I don’t know why. I did. But I did. You know, we hear all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But for some reason, we ignore it, despite the fact that it’s a great advice. But you know, the desire to do something, and to change something has to come within yourself. that others can advise you on whatever they want, whenever they want. But if you’re not ready to take that advice, no advice is going to be useful. As I said, I was in a relationship with a wonderful person who told me very simple thing, she cared about me and she said, Look, when you’re going to be a certain age, and you cannot dance, what are you going to do? And that stuck with that started because, you know, being the person that I am, you know, I’m obviously a little bit driven by my ego. I could not tolerate the fact that after accomplishing all of this in dance, I would have to take a big nosedive in find myself again, on the bottom of the floor, trying to get up, like so many of us have tried, and I’ve watched many of my friends who had to change career or they were let go from the company, they did not want to join another one. Or they were just their bias would not tolerate this anymore. And they could not like myself go on to satisfying a professional career in the world of dance. Like they couldn’t work choreographers as teachers. They could not do certain things within the, you know, dance world, or even art world. And who found themselves on their knees crawling with no paycheck with no money with no nothing. It was a misery. It was a miserable experience to watch those people and, you know, when you’re buying somebody at dinner, and you know that this person who who was doing these incredible things, who were your idol, and all of a sudden now they they cannot afford their rent anymore, you know, they turned themselves into, you know, substance-abusing person because there was nothing going for them. It was sad, so I couldn’t see myself going there. I want to present that they want us to, you know, look ahead. So I did get that advice, but I wanted advice, I was ready for that advice, I struck a very, very important note with me because I didn’t want to, after what I gone through, you know, leaving Soviet Union, you know, getting myself into states, I couldn’t just find myself all of a sudden finishing my dance career, being sort of not wanted by anybody trying to get a job, where, you know, flipping burgers and McDonald’s. I mean, we’re trying to teach dance class, which I hated, by the way, you know, I couldn’t do that I couldn’t teach ballet all day long, because I could barely tolerate one class, you know, how could they possibly be street? I couldn’t do that. So I knew that I would not be successful. So we had to change. And that device came in exactly the right time. So I was very lucky that at the time that I wanted that it by started by scheme, and after that,
Harald Krytinar 1:01:09
is there anything else that you feel that you would like to share that you haven’t mentioned? Is there anything that you know, that’s on your chest that you would like to give us
Andrei Dokukin 1:01:18
Just to do all those dancers who are listening, you know, we come out of the incredible world, but we’re so sheltered by sort of our own society, our own little circle that we surround ourselves with, we don’t venture to my child side of it, you know, we can Go Go dancers, we spend our time with dancers, we, we live in this world, and various seldomly, we venture out outside and look for other opportunities. And I wish that wasn’t the case. When I was growing up dancing, and when I was working, you know, because now in my, in this career of a medical doctor, I make sure that I spend time with lawyers, they make sure that I spend time with engineers with because that’s, that’s where I get my interests, my next ideas, my next business ventures, my next opportunities. And in dance, I only did this with other dancers. And sure, yes, I got I got plenty of gigs, with this company with that company, because even one person, another person, but I think we, in retrospect, I wish that I would have ventured out and I looked at the world a little bit in the broader picture and realize that there’s more out there. And again, it’s just me, that’s how I was I know, that’s how some of my colleagues are as well. I don’t think it’s everybody but that’s in retrospect, my kind of one of the things I wish I could have done differently.