TODAY   |  January 31, 2014

In Russia, ballet is key for Olympic figure skaters

Olympic correspondent Mary Carillo looks into the deep connection Russia has with ballet and how figure skaters with Olympic dreams utilize the discipline for their training.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> been training in ways you might not expect. look who's here? nbc olympic correspondent mary carillo . you always have the best stories.

>> i've spent a lot of of time in russia in the last year and i've gotten to see a lot of things. what you come to see early is that from poets to painters, novelists to composers, the russian people have a deep abiding love of the arts. and russian ba lay is considered to be most beautiful and most rigorous corps in the world. what we learned on a recent trip is that another national treasure has long borrowed from the bolshoi.

>> the skating is the art on the ice, art of music, art of movement, art of performing.

>> reporter: well, just under 5'0" tall, tamara is a giant of russian figure skating. her team's four olympic gold medals are part of a dynasty spanning 50 years. and while her current skaters can look back to decades of success on the ice for inspiration, she draws her own from centuries of another russian legacy.

>> we just use what we have in russia in ba lallet, music, performing art and introduce that to skating.

>> reporter: the training of russia 's skaters often relied on the study of dance. the fundamentals of pure movement to music on ice. liberally pulled from lessons taught in exclusive ballet academies.

>> translator: i can always tell a graduate of the bolshoi academy by the precise movement.

>> reporter: marina lenova, the dean of the world famous bolshoi academy .

>> translator: in order to be admitted to our academy, you must have special talent and ability. if you don't, you shouldn't come here. or else you'll ruin your life.

>> reporter: while invented in the stately courts of italy, here ballet 's performers are the royalty of russia . the elite students at its academies send years here working towards their dream of a debut in the footlights of the ballet apalacios ballet 's palacious theaters. when the curtains were first rais raised at this theater in 1860 it revealed the largest stage in the world. with famed debut's like tchaikovsky's "nutcracker" and " sleeping beauty ," a love for the art swept the empire. ballet 's so appeal is so broad, it's outlasted the czars who produced it and the soviets who cherished it. for over 300 years ballet has been preserved and nurtured here in russia .

>> ballet here is part of their culture. in the united states we can't say the same thing. we have dance, we have other with music, but here ballet , this is like their pride and joy.

>> reporter: in 154 years, kenan is the only american to ever be invited into the marisnki ballet . while she's been dancing since she was 4, it is here in a russian company that she realized the commitment to the craft this country demanded.

>> they balance the athleticism with the beauty. i think. i always sable lay is the hardest sport because -- even though it is not a sport, it is because you have to do everything that's physically exhausting, but you have to look good while doing it.

>> stay in your point.

>> reporter: russia 's teens prepare with this basic mantra in mind, and are required to practice at the bar, as well as on the rink.

>> do you ever have your figure skating students say, why am i studying ballet ?

>> if you ask me why do you drink water? i don't know what to answer you. because it's natural and this is part of our preparation.

>> reporter: what once was a secret passion of its dominant skaters is today a commonplace tool. russia 's ballet has now founded the core of the routines of skaters far beyond these borders.

>> the beauty of movement, the beauty of gliding, it's so rewarding and catching. so look at me how i skate. you see all this hard work and it makes you realize we're so used to excellen excellence, but to make something so hard look so easy is the coolest thing in the world. whether it is a musician or ballerina or figure skater. right?

>> reporter: that was like watching a movie.

>> who shot that, mary?

>> that's a terrific shooter named samson chan.

>> do the americans have a chance after watching that? i feel like it is russia 's sport.

>> it's very international now. the americans have -- there are some places where they can medal but --

>> do the russians actually have a skater with the last name gold?

>> we got that. we got gold.

>> mary, we'll see you in sochi.

>> looking forward to it.

>> save a vodka for us.

>> reminder, the action begins next thursday with the opening ceremony one week from tonight. hosted