Dec 312013
Nicholas and Julian MacKay outside the Bolshoi Theatre June 2013 500x375 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Nich­olas and Julian MacKay out­side the Bolshoi Theatre June 2013

Dan­cing, like act­ing and singing, often runs in the fam­ily. There are count­less dan­cers whose par­ents danced: (), Yury Yanowsky (Boston Bal­let) and Nadia Yanowsky (Het Nationale Bal­let) are the chil­dren of Rus­sian bal­let dan­cer Anatol Yanowsky and Span­ish bal­let dan­cer Car­men Robles. Ballet’s in their blood.

What makes the Khan-MacKay fam­ily spe­cial is that the four sib­lings - Maria Sascha, Nadia, Julian and Nich­olas — are not the chil­dren of dan­cers, nor do they come from Lon­don, Paris or New York, where trips to the bal­let can be reg­u­lar events, but are from Montana, the home of cow­boys and cattle, the Rock­ies and the Yel­low­stone National Park. Yet the fam­ily is now dis­persed around the globe train­ing and dan­cing, with Maria Sascha Khan at the Bay­erisches Staats­bal­lett in Munich, Nadia Khan with the Com­pañía Nacional de Danza in Spain, and the boys Julian MacKay and Nich­olas MacKay both train­ing at the Academy. As elder sis­ter, Maria Sascha, asks, “I was born on the porch of the midwife’s log cabin, in Montana, USA. How do you get from there to an inter­na­tional career in ballet?”

The Khan MacKay family by Anna Middleton 331x500 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

The Khan-MacKay fam­ily by Anna Middleton

Grow­ing up in Montana

The four chil­dren grew up in a home where cul­ture  sur­roun­ded them, “My hus­band is trained as a clas­sical pian­ist, and I as a cloth­ing designer,” explains their mother, Teresa. “Both my hus­band and I believe that you come into the world with a spe­cific mis­sion to ful­fil before you are done. We raised all our chil­dren in a Montessori learn­ing envir­on­ment which encour­aged them to try many dif­fer­ent things, and explore many areas of life, to build your­self from the inside out. “Help me to do it myself” is Montessori wis­dom at its best!” Both par­ents had seen Nutcrack­ers at Christ­mas, “but had no desire to dance ourselves,” says Teresa.

The two girls, now in their early twen­ties, danced whenever they could, “Liv­ing room, kit­chen, back­yard… I even got in trouble for doing it at school one time,” remem­bers Nadia, “My Mom had to come pick me up from kinder­garten because I was being Cinder­ella, com­plete with broom, singing, and cho­reo­graphy, dur­ing quiet time.”

A group of little girls used to gather in the back of a res­taur­ant to dance. “We were taught by a beau­ti­ful lady named Judith Younger Hertzens, who encour­aged our love of dance,” says Maria Sascha. “By ‘our’ I mean my sis­ter, my best friend, some of our other class­mates and I. She gave us a dose of beauty and art, amid the cow­boys and bison we were all used to. I took it very ser­i­ously, but back then it was all scarves, prin­cesses, and my début as the ‘Rose Fairy’. It wasn’t until later on, at the age of 10, that I star­ted to take some bal­let classes.”

And Nadia, three years younger than Maria Sascha, fol­lowed in her sister’s foot­steps. “I have always, and still do, look up to her. She is very inspir­ing not just as a dan­cer but also as a person.”

Although dan­cing was just a pas­time for the young girls, they both felt the need to dance; as Nadia says, “I star­ted dan­cing because I am a dan­cer. It’s that simple. I love it with all my heart and it’s part of my soul. When I dance I feel like my soul is free, able to speak and con­nect with some­thing higher, some­thing… more… Why wouldn’t I dance!”

Maria Sascha Khan 500x281 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Maria Sascha Khan

How­ever, when Maria Sascha was 10-years-old, some­thing happened that would change her life, and even­tu­ally the lives of all her fam­ily mem­bers. “Grow­ing up in rural Montana, I was never exposed to pro­fes­sional bal­let. I had no idea that the pos­sib­il­ity of doing this beau­ti­ful thing, as a job, even exis­ted. For­tu­nately, one sum­mer some former Bolshoi dan­cers, in need of a gig, showed up in Montana. One of these dan­cers, Misha Tchoupakov, asked me if I wanted to be a pro­fes­sional baller­ina one day. In aston­ish­ment, I asked him, “You mean I can do this for a liv­ing?” What a shock that was. Well, after that day, my mind was made up. I was going to be a pro­fes­sional ballerina.”

Branch­ing out

Now things got more ser­i­ous, and she atten­ded sum­mer ses­sions at San Fran­cisco Bal­let, , and School. Then, when she was four­teen, her par­ents were in agree­ment that she would leave Montana for Wash­ing­ton D.C. to attend the Kirov Academy of Bal­let, under the dir­ec­tion of Oleg Vino­gradov. How­ever, 11-year-old Nadia wanted to go along as well. “It was kind of a funny story because ori­gin­ally only Maria had applied and was accep­ted. But I decided, if she’s going then I am going too!

 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Nadia Khan by Annett Poppe

“My mom gently tried explain­ing, you have to first apply to the school to be accep­ted, but I was determ­ined. So we took a video of me dan­cing with us and gave it to the dir­ect­ress. Well, as I was wait­ing for the taxi to the air­port her assist­ant came out to tell me I had been accep­ted. I only real­ize now how abnor­mal it is for an 11-year-old to make a decision like that, because at the time it was so clear in my mind.”

Mean­while, 4-year-old Julian, who had star­ted “dan­cing on the drive­way in tap shoes” when he was 2, was get­ting not only the bal­let bug, but was devel­op­ing a pas­sion for clas­sical music too. “I was drawn to bal­let at first because of the music­al­ity. I have always loved clas­sical music and begged to play the cello at 2½ like my sis­ter, Maria. I was inspired to start dan­cing by my sis­ters and I still get inspir­a­tion from watch­ing them rehearse and per­form. They are smart, funny and beau­ti­ful dan­cers, they are the best! Since I was born I was always watch­ing bal­let, see­ing my sis­ters in five Nutcrack­ers before I was even two months old!”

After two years in Wash­ing­ton, Maria Sascha moved to Europe where Marika Beso­bra­sova,  a former dan­cer with the Bal­let Russe de Monte Carlo, who ran the Academie de Danse Classique de Prin­cesse Grace in Monte Carlo, took her under her wing, award­ing her a full schol­ar­ship, includ­ing room and board, “and invalu­able les­sons for life as well as bal­let.” The train­ing was hard, but she loved her time in Monte Carlo. “Some days I felt as if I had stepped right out of a fairy tale.” At 18 she accep­ted her first pro­fes­sional con­tract from Vladi­mir Malak­hov at the Staats­bal­lett Berlin.

Julian MacKay 500x375 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Julian MacKay

Julian had star­ted train­ing, back in Montana. “I remem­ber see­ing Brook­lyn Mack at the Kirov Bal­let Academy in Le Cor­saire. I had never seen any­thing so power­ful! His jumps were so crazy, he seemed to fly, and that inspired me. So for the next year I con­tinu­ously asked my mom to put me in bal­let classes, which she was reluct­ant to do. Finally she gave in and I switched from ask­ing if I could go to bal­let class to ask­ing “When is my bal­let class?” My favor­ite teacher was Christine Aus­tin in Boze­man, Montana.

“My first per­form­ance was in Montana at 6 when I was Fritz in The Nutcracker. I also per­formed a lot for The Fairy Tea for the Arts, to help raise funds for other young artists from Montana. I was James in La Sylphide, and other parts like a fen­cing Elf!”

Little Nich­olas could not be left out. “I star­ted dan­cing at 4-years-old in a little bal­let stu­dio with one of my favour­ite teach­ers, Christine Aus­tin. I was really excited to jump over the stuffed purple rhino and I was also the only boy. When I star­ted dan­cing I went twice a week; in the begin­ning I didn’t want to go, and when I got there I didn’t want to leave!

Nicholas MacKay in La Fille Mal Garde at the Bolshoi You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Nich­olas MacKay in La Fille Mal Garde at the Bolshoi

“I star­ted dan­cing because I didn’t want to be left out — being the young­est — and once I star­ted dan­cing, I liked it. When I became ser­i­ous about it, at about 8, I couldn’t stop dancing!”

Now Nadia, too, left Wash­ing­ton, but this time she didn’t fol­low her big sis­ter. “I moved to New York City to train with Prima Baller­ina Assol­uta, Eva Evdokimova. Eva really taught me her great atten­tion to detail and con­cen­trated a lot on artistry. She had such a leg­acy to pass on and it was an hon­our to train with her. Then my final year of train­ing was spent in Athens, Greece, where I was coached by Masha Mukhamedov for one year. She was the most incred­ible coach I ever worked with. Some­times you meet people and it just clicks. That’s what it was like for me with Masha. Finally everything just worked and made sense. She taught me a new way of think­ing with my body and everything just fell into place.”

The boys star­ted to up the pace, as Julian recounts: “In the sum­mers I went on schol­ar­ship to many bal­let sum­mer pro­grams includ­ing the Royal Bal­let sum­mer school and Amer­ican Bal­let Theatre’s sum­mer pro­gram for young dan­cers. Franco de Vita [Artistic Dir­ector, Jac­queline Kennedy Onas­sis School at Amer­ican Bal­let Theatre] gave me full schol­ar­ships. I was only 8 but he let me come because he thought is was so great that some one so young had such a love for bal­let. It was the first time I had a class with only boys. In Montana it was pretty much just my brother Nich­olas and I. I loved all the classes and how chal­len­ging it was to be there in NYC!

“The Royal Bal­let sum­mer pro­gram in Rich­mond park was a really cool exper­i­ence for me because it feels like Sher­wood Forest from Robin Hood, and when you get to the school it is so his­tor­ic­ally focused around bal­let. It was so awe inspir­ing to train in a place where Roy­alty used to call home!”

In the autumn of 2010 Nadia entered her first com­pany. “I got my first job in the Bay­erisches Staats­bal­lett II. It was their first year mak­ing a junior com­pany, so we were the ori­gin­als and the guinea pigs. It was a great exper­i­ence for me and I learned a lot in those two years and was given oppor­tun­it­ies that most dan­cers wouldn’t be offered their first years in a com­pany.” In the same year, her sis­ter left Ber­lin, and arrived in Munich too, to be part of the Bay­erisches Staats­bal­lett, where she still dances.

Yuri Smekalov and Nicholas Bolshoi 375x500 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Yuri Smekalov, cho­reo­grapher of Moidodyr, with Nich­olas MacKay at the Bolshoi

Fam­ily ping pong con­tin­ued when Nich­olas left his first teacher, Christine Aus­tin, and went to a teacher “who didn’t want to teach little kids so she didn’t help me at all. Time to leave Montana!”

“When I was 8 years old I went with my older brother to San Diego, Cali­for­nia, to study with Max Cher­nychev, a former Bolshoi dan­cer. The coolest exper­i­ence I had there was dan­cing The Nutcracker with Gen­nadi Savil­iev and Hee So from ABT.”

Mov­ing to Moscow

At the same time, two import­ant events happened in Julian’s life. “At 11, I went to Youth Amer­ica Grand Prix and won a bronze medal. Rus­sian teach­ers saw me in New York and invited me to train at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow.” And that’s where he’s been for the last five years.

Mom Teresa accom­pan­ied him with the younger Nich­olas: “I audi­tioned in Rus­sia with about 500 Rus­sian kids. My brother was already train­ing here at the Moscow State Bal­let Academy of Cho­reo­graphy.” He was accep­ted. “I am now in class IVA.” For Nich­olas, there is nowhere bet­ter to be: “When I was 7, I saw the do Sparta­cus. After the first night, I begged my sis­ter Maria Sascha to take me again! See­ing this made me respect and admire Rus­sian male dan­cers, all of them.”

But the sis­ters weren’t together in Munich for long. After her max­imum of two years with the Bay­erisches Staats­bal­lett II, Nadia left for a sea­son with the Leipzi­ger Bal­lett, and at the begin­ning of the 2013 sea­son joined the Com­pañía Nacional de Danza in Mad­rid under the dir­ec­tion of José Car­los Martínez. “Out of all the places I have worked this is by far my favour­ite,” she says, “I abso­lutely love it and am so happy and thank­ful every­day to have the oppor­tun­ity to be here.”


And this is where we find them today. As Teresa says, “It is very chal­len­ging to get every­one on the same con­tin­ent! Hol­i­days spent apart are nor­mal now. One train­ing on a Rus­sian Ortho­dox New Year hol­i­day sched­ule, (not free until Decem­ber 31) another per­form­ing with the Bolshoi com­pany , one tour­ing Spain, another dan­cing in Munich…” But even if fam­ily reunions are tricky, the fam­ily bond is fun­da­mental to each of them. As Nadia says, “When my par­ents real­ized they had 4 tal­en­ted kids in bal­let, they star­ted to edu­cate them­selves about it. Star­ted to learn what you need to be a dan­cer. What it takes, where to go, what to do. They never said no to an oppor­tun­ity for us. And more than that, they have sac­ri­ficed a lot to get their chil­dren where they need to be.”

For her two boys, Teresa changed con­tin­ent. “My mom moved to Rus­sia just for me when I was 11,” says Julian. “My dad tire­lessly works to sup­port me and my sib­lings. My sis­ter Maria helps me nav­ig­ate the dra­mas of bal­let school, my sis­ter Nadia shows me that no mat­ter how much stress you’re under laughter is the best medi­cine of all! My brother Nic is great, he is always there with me at the Bolshoi!

“My fam­ily is a gigantic part of my life,” enthuses Nich­olas. “They are the only reason that I have had so many exper­i­ences and oppor­tun­it­ies. They sup­port me so much and I am awe­somely grate­ful for everything!”

Maria Sascha Khan and Nicholas MacKay with Alicia Alonso in Cuba 500x332 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

Maria Sascha Khan and Nich­olas MacKay with in Cuba

The boys are grate­ful to their spon­sor who sup­ports their time in Moscow, and the fam­ily are already giv­ing back with their arts non­profit, Youth Arts in Action, to bring Mas­ter teach­ers and world class dan­cers to Montana. “For over seven years the chil­dren have worked to help oth­ers gain the know­ledge and train­ing about Clas­sical Bal­let. We have helped hun­dreds of dan­cers, clas­sical musi­cians, and a few Opera sing­ers!” says Teresa. “Our mis­sion is to Inspire, Edu­cate, and Spon­sor Out­stand­ing Young Artists.” Maria Sascha also works as the dir­ector of their annual gala Les Danses de L’Amour, and has an inter­view series, together with Nadia, on You­Tube, Inspir­ing Artists. She’s not afraid of hard work, and doesn’t believe in overnight suc­cess; “For most that’s not the case. I mean how bor­ing would that be! It is the jour­ney that takes you there that is the far more inter­est­ing part. It is what forms and devel­ops you. I am lov­ing my jour­ney so far. I am excited to see what will hap­pen, not just for me but for all of my sib­lings! It is so fant­astic to be able to work all together in the arts, in pur­suit of our passions.”

Nadia echoes her sen­ti­ments. “It hasn’t been a com­pletely easy road for any of us, but def­in­itely reward­ing. Hav­ing a big sis­ter who dances and two little broth­ers who train in Moscow at the Bolshoi Bal­let Academy, we all under­stand each other. Even if we each have very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­it­ies. We can cel­eb­rate each oth­ers vic­tor­ies as well as under­stand the chal­lenges each one has to over­come. They will also let you know if you’re doing some­thing wrong. It’s kind of like a little sup­port group of your biggest fans. Doesn’t get bet­ter than that!”

The fam­ily atti­tude to edu­ca­tion and cul­ture has cer­tainly paid off. 16-year-old Julian maturely says, “My fam­ily is extremely import­ant to me . They encour­aged my love of the clas­sical arts and showed me how import­ant they are in soci­ety. Since I was born my fam­ily has always showed me that there are lim­it­less pos­sib­il­it­ies of what you can do with your life. It is import­ant to chose some­thing that helps others.”

​Bolshoi rising star Artem Belyakov with Julian MacKay Sergei Filin in back right​ 500x500 You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan MacKay family

​Bolshoi rising star Artemy Belyakov with Julian MacKay; is back right

Learn­ing and growing

Their mother is justly proud. “Each of our chil­dren is find­ing what they have to give to life that is unique to them. I live in Moscow so see my sons on a daily basis grow­ing bey­ond where they were a week or month before. This is our greatest hope already ful­filled, that they con­tinue hav­ing joy in learning!”

So they keep learn­ing and grow­ing. Julian is already appear­ing with the Bolshoi, and was chosen recently to go on tour to Rome as one of the cava­liers in . “I am grate­ful to the Dir­ector Mar­ina Leonova for the many oppor­tun­it­ies I have had to per­form both with the Academy and the Bolshoi Com­pany. I love it here and will gradu­ate in 2015 as the first Amer­ican to attend both the upper and lower schools train­ing on a full Rus­sian con­tract. I do all my aca­dem­ics in Rus­sian.” Maria Sascha has just become a Gaynor Minden Artist and will be fea­tured in their upcom­ing ad cam­paign. Nich­olas, who has just entered his teens, has big aspir­a­tions, “I dream of dan­cing the roles of Sparta­cus, in , and many other bal­lets. I would like to dance all over the world.” He’s already been involved in excit­ing pro­jects: “I admire Yuri Smekalov who cre­ated the bal­let Moidodyr (Wash ‘em Clean), where I had the part of a dan­cing tooth and a school­boy. We worked with Yuri a lot and it was nice to be part of a World Première in the Bolshoi Theatre.” And Nadia now embarks on her first sea­son as a mem­ber of Spain’s première troupe, “I just star­ted and I love it. So I am excited to see what devel­ops and what kind of oppor­tun­it­ies present themselves.”

The four sib­lings form a tight knit group, with an infec­tious pas­sion not only for dan­cing, but for dance and the cul­ture that envel­opes it. “The bal­let world is a fam­ily in itself,” says their mother, “mov­ing and magical. It is a priv­ilege to be a part of such ded­ic­a­tion and beauty. Bal­let is a beau­ti­ful but dif­fi­cult career with brief rewards! You choose it out of Love!”

A Fam­ily Album


  7 Responses to “You choose it out of Love! Dancing with the Khan-MacKay family”

  1. What a beau­ti­ful fam­ily, and a great story. It’s espe­cially nice that the two boys as well as the girls got all the encour­age­ment they needed.

    • Thank you! My brother and I have always thought it was a great thing to do, and now we can’t ima­gine doing any­thing else but dance. My sis­ters are the ones who con­vinced my par­ents to let me go to Moscow to try it for a short time. Now five years later we are both really grate­ful to be still here!

  2. I have had the pleas­ure of meet­ing the boys who are charm­ing, sweet and fun! Their mother is without a doubt, the epi­tome of ded­ic­a­tion and love. Hap­pi­ness always to you all!

  3. Theresa MacKay is a one woman mir­acle. She was very kind to my own son when Maria Sascha atten­ded the Royal Bal­let Sum­mer school a long time ago. She and her hus­band ought to be proud and the entire clan are a credit to them as well as to this art form of ours. It is nice to hear a story that is so com­pletely pos­it­ive. Thank you!

  4. Many Thanks Cyn­thia for your kind words! It was a priv­ilege to meet you at the Royal Ballet,and spend some time with your sweet son. Bal­let takes everything at such a young age, dan­cers must have the sup­port of fam­ily to do well! We have had noth­ing but great joy in shar­ing this beau­ti­ful art form with our chil­dren.
    Hope we meet again soon,
    Teresa & family

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