Philanthropy beat: Russian Soul carves niche among Minnesota nonprofits

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • Star Tribune
  • November 19, 2013 - 5:25 AM


The house in northeast Minneapolis doesn’t look much different from its neighbors, but the sign in the window announces it’s home to “Russian Soul.”

Russian Soul was founded in 2006, initially to create a presence at the Festival of Nations. But its leaders realized there was an unfilled cultural niche in Minnesota, namely a place to showcase authentic Russian folk art and dance.

Since then, Russian Soul has carved an unusual path. It participates in the popular Art-a-Whirl in northeast Minneapolis, presents Russian folk dance to schools and universities across the metro area, creates original programs based on historic Russian rituals such as weddings and Christmas celebrations, and offers Russian language and dance classes.

“Our focus is Russian folk tradition, which is virtually unknown in Minnesota — and maybe the United States — because what you see is the show-business version of folk dance,” said Elena Kallevig, a faculty assistant at St. Catherine University and a founder of the group.

On Saturday, Russian Soul will present its annual fall program, this time focusing on dance, music and costumes from southern Russia. All costumes are handmade, based on extensive historical research, and no two are alike, Kallevig said. But the costumes are chosen to accommodate their Minnesota mission of entertainment.

“The complete costume of a northern Russian girl [at a festival] might weigh 50 pounds,” said Kallevig. “Can you imagine doing high kicks with that?”

Russian Soul isn’t so much a typical immigrant cultural center as an organization that teaches the public about traditional Russian arts, said Diana Yefanova, development director for the group. It recently received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to create a program of Cossack folk dance and song — another Minnesota first. Meanwhile, it’s preparing for its Saturday performance at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. For details go to


Jean Hopfensperger • 612 673-4511

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