• Renee Wertz

Biography of a Dancer: Chapter One

Iana Komarnytska: The Hardest Working Dancer In the World

For me, dance is more about self exploration and how it makes me feel.

Once a sickly, solitary child, now one of the most sought after Master Instructors in Raks Sharki, Iana Komarnytska, is quite possibly the hardest working Belly Dancer in the world. Not only is she a graceful and gifted performer, she is also a content creator, a world traveler, and a prolific visionary who is unifying Oriental Dance. From edifying listeners with her critically acclaimed podcast series, to stirring up a dance frenzy in one of her Instagram Dance Challenges, Ms. Komarnytska is taking the Belly Dance world by storm. What lifetime experiences have motivated and inspired this determined young artist to continually create and passionately pursue her innovative projects?


Iana was born on October 10th, 1989 in the Ukrainian Capital of Kiev, to a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father. Political unrest was at a high as the countries in the once Communist USSR separated and began to demand autonomy. Iana was young when these historic events took place so she does not have distinct memories of this time period, although she does recall overhearing her parents conversations about the economic hardships that the Ukraine was experiencing. These lean times may have helped to shape the zealous work ethic Eastern Europeans are admired for.


A young Iana working on one of her hand crafts.

Iana was an only child who enjoyed spending time by herself. She delighted in arraying all of her toys in front of her so that she could play imaginary games. A couple of weeks each summer were spent vacationing with her Russian grandparents. This afforded her extra time to engage in her favorite past times: creating beaded jewelry, drawing, and making up stories. Even at a young age, it was evident that Iana was destined to create magic in her undertakings. If investigating, a keen detective might also point out that the very first clues to Iana's budding leadership skills were becoming evident. When Iana played with the neighborhood children, she tended to be quite bossy. She created all of the games and boldly declared the rules. There was no arguing with her as she prescribed detailed roles to her reluctant peers.

Arts and Crafts with Iana.

Expectations for Ukrainian children in the 1990s were rigorous. Not only were they to focus on their education, they were also strongly encouraged to pursue one of the Arts or a sport. At the tender age of four, Iana's parents dropped her off at her first dance class and she began her study of Ukrainian National Dance.


Iana poses between two classmates.

After two years of studying Folkloric dance, Iana shifted her focus to Ballet. Her schedule at the National Ballet School was grueling. After a full day of academics, she would study dance two-three hours a day, six days a week. Compounding the strenuous demands of her young life, she battled chronic respiratory infections. In kindergarten, when the other students were learning to read, she was missing school every few days due to illness. Making matters worse, when she was in sixth grade, she contracted Pertussis, an infectious disease that caused her to have an exhausting dry cough whenever she exerted herself. She suspects her illness was misdiagnosed by health officials because acknowledging her true diagnosis would have shut down city schools affecting between 2,000 and 3,000 students. She struggled to find the strength to pursue her ballet. Dance in the Ukraine involves a tremendous amount of discipline and psychology, and even children and amatuers are pushed to extremes, often overdoing it. Her illness made dancing feel impossible.


Iana, the Beautiful Ballerina.

Before becoming ill, Iana was considered one of the best students in her dance school. Teachers often asked her to demonstrate technique, and they show-cased her body lines as the example for the rest of the class to emulate. When attempting to return from her illness she struggled. She could not feel her body and she often felt ashamed. Her parents encouraged her to take time off of her sport to rest and recuperate.


Although keeping up with her school work had also became difficult, her resilient personality would not allow her to give up. She studied at home and met with her teachers monthly. Despite the difficult hand she was dealt, she managed to successfully complete her state exams. After completing the ninth grade, Iana transferred to a specialized college and continued her education at the Ukrainian National School, Taras Shevchenko, where she eventually pursued her Masters Degree in Finance.

My favorite moments are when I feel like I challenge myself and I manage to do it. My favorite part is how I feel. Dancing is a challenge for me, but if I push enough, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

After a few year's hiatus from dance, an insecure teenage Iana, attended a Belly Dance class with Olga Grechanyuk. She was mesmerized by Olga's powerful presence. Over 50 women formed a circle on soft mats in the middle of a martial arts studio and explored the feminine movements. Although the dance style did not appeal to her at first, Iana decided that she wanted to return to class if only to behold the magnificent Olga. A few costumes and performances later, Iana realized she was hooked. Seven years into Belly Dance equated with her final year of college and the realization that Finance no longer fed her soul; she needed to pursue her dance dreams.


Master Instructors Iana and Julia Farid at their first Belly Dance recital with Olga.

Iana applied to graduate programs around the world and was accepted into the International Dance Program at York University in Toronto, Canada. Over the next three years, she devoted herself to her studies. She would leave her campus apartment extra early so that by 8:00 each morning she was warming up for her 8:30 class. Along with approximately 25 classmates in her program, she spent the next four hours physically training for Ballet, Modern Dance, and dance conditioning. Afternoons were spent studying subjects such as dance history, dance theory, choreography, theater production, and music. Occasionally Iana was able to participate in a semester long class on a cultural dance form. She was also given the opportunity to complete an independent study course under the curation of a professor. She spent two semesters researching and writing about her area of interest, the connections between Belly Dance, Ballet, and Modern Dance. Because Iana had already earned two degrees in the Ukraine, she was exempted from some of the general education requirements. This allowed her to earn her Bachelor's Degree in Dance one year early. By 2014, the time was ripe for Iana’s dance dreams to come to fruition.

Iana in her dance class.

Immigrants from all over the world call Toronto "home" making it an exciting melting pot and a treasure trove for Middle Eastern dancers. The Canadian city was good to Iana. She was experiencing success with her education, her professional dance career, and her love life. In 2014 she won the Star Belly Dancer Canada Competition where she received trophies in the Cabaret, Folkloric, and Fusion categories.

2014- Winning the Prestigious Honor, The Star Dancer of Canada

During this time she also performed with Arabesque, a Middle Eastern performance group. Here she met the Brazillian Musician/Photographer, Pedro Bonatto. Although originally just friends, eventually a romance blossomed between the two of them. They married in 2015 and have been partners in their numerous dance projects ever since.


Pedros's photo of Iana graces the front cover of The Belly Dance Reader 2nd Edition (Gilded Serpent.com)
The chemistry between Pedro and Iana.

Over the next few years Iana accomplished something astonishing. Acting as her own agent, she performed over 200 shows a year in a Non-Arabic country. In addition to Belly Dancing, she was a highly sought after Persian Dancer. Finding information about Persian Dance was difficult. She learned the dance form from immigrants and was even offered a role in a Persian Dance movie. Producers were hesitant to use an actress from Iran since Iranian women could still be jailed for dancing in public. Although exciting, her arduous performance schedule was causing her to feel a bit burned out. She realized she needed to find some new inspiration.


Iana in Persian Dance attire.
Iana performing a Folkloric Indian Dance.
I started noticing that more and more I had to drag myself…. Out of my little frustrations the podcast was born. I wanted the space for myself... to talk to other dancers and ask about their experiences. If I am going through something, if I have questions, maybe someone else is going through it too.
Performing her awe-inspiring Triple Wings Routine.

One of her paramount ideas came from her own cathartic need to connect with other dancers. In 2018 Iana created the Belly Dance Life Podcast Series so that she could ask other dancers what drove and inspired them. Each interview she did gave her a jolt of creative energy that invigorated her. She felt nurtured and as if she was,“unblocking her blocks.” She had given life to something accessible and affordable that served dancers. She had created a conduit that was unifying dancers all around the world. Currently Iana has produced 100 free podcast episodes that are shared world-wide. The series was proclaimed one of the top rated dance podcasts in 2018 by Feedspot and is ranked in the official Apple Podcast Charts.

Only through discussions can we create and unify, and if we have a community we can grow and develop.

In the spring of 2019 Iana realized that it was time for another change. Her heavy performance schedule had taken a toll. She often felt overwhelmed and like she wasn't doing enough. She would attempt to dig in and tackle a goal but instead found herself freezing-up and not accomplishing anything. She had achieved so many of her performance goals and she could feel her priorities shifting. She desired to devote herself to her newest passions: her Podcast Series, her On-line Classes, and her On-line Store. Hanging on to her life as a full-time performer felt like it was mentally holding her back. She and Pedro missed traveling and exploring. Once again it was time for her to reassess, refocus, and start fresh. The Promethean couple decided to visit Kiev. Here they were closer to the places in the Middle East and Europe that they longed to explore, and while in Eastern Europe they could collaborate more easily with colleagues that shared their affinity and passions.

Iana working on her newest projects.
The guests are so awesome. They share so much. It really transformed my thinking and understanding of belly dancing. It is one thing to see it through video, workshops or on stage, but once we start talking we discover so much more. There are so many discussions that are judgmental in the Belly Dance world. Without really listening to each other, it is easy to use labels or to judge someone... I’m not there to judge someone and to say it is right or wrong. My job as a host is just to provide the discussion on both sides.

Iana wakes up each day excited about the projects she is presently pouring her heart into. Although her Podcast remains her pride and joy, she also feels quite proud of the quality content and knowledge offered in her Online Dance Classes. On December 26, 2018 Iana launched her on-line store, My Inner Dancer. She has focused on providing unique gifts and accessories for dancers. She devotes herself to providing content through her Instagram Platform and her weekly video post Ask Iana ,where dancers can write in and ask questions. Recently she announced the details of her newest brainchild, The Iana Dance Club. This Innovative Platform will replace her Patreon Page and will offer a sense of community with continuous interactive dance training, and accountability.

I always feel like I am not doing enough. I guess it comes from the challenge I put on myself. I have four different projects and I always feel like there is not enough time for everything.

In Belly Dance where there is typically so much focus on the individual, Ms. Komarnytska's focus on community and unity has been a breath of fresh air. With her desire for self-exploration, and being a natural at self-reflection, it appears as though she will continually seek ways to keep her creative energy flowing. The dance cosmos anxiously awaits to see what amazing contributions are forthcoming from the dynamic duo as Iana and Pedro write the next chapter in their adventures together. Devoted, Ingenious, Determined , and an Innovative Visionary, the Belly Dance world is better for having Iana Komarnytska in it!

Learn more about Iana at https://www.ianadance.com/instagram

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