Vanya Zankina and Aleksandar Zankin

The BMNECC’s Bulgarian School is alive and thriving, 80 years after its inception!  Twenty children are currently enrolled in classes that cover Bulgarian language, dance, history and customs. In recent years the Center has been offering dance and language instruction to adults, as well. We have Bulgarian natives Vanya Zankina and her husband Aleksandar Zankin to thank for the authenticity, popularity and success of these programs.

“Three years ago I was invited by BMNECC board member Polina Hristozova to help revive the Bulgarian school for children,” says Vanya. “I believed my previous experience as a language teacher and language curriculum developer would be very helpful, and I accepted the challenge. Based on the various ages and skill levels of our students, I developed 3 different curriculums in Bulgarian language and one in “Rodolubie” in accordance with the standards issued by Bulgarian State Department of Education and Science.”

The main goal of the Rodolubie curriculum is to introduce students to their country of origin and its cultural and national heritage. Subjects include Bulgarian geography and history, as well as traditions, customs and holiday practices. All of the language and culture classes are packaged into 6-week sessions which are held on Sundays. She also teaches Bulgarian language classes for adults on weeknights. In addition, Vanya creates thematic recitals and plays performed by the children for the annual Christmas party and at the end of the school year.

“I am happy to have the chance to teach children, most of whom are first-generation Americans, and to help them recognize their roots of origin and make them acquainted with Bulgarian history, culture and traditions,” says Vanya. Teaching involves not only skills, but a lot of love. I love my children. They are so curious and eager to study new things, sometimes so unpredictable, but always so natural.”

Meanwhile, Aleksandar is busy teaching Bulgarian folk dances to children of different ages, as well as to adults of various skill levels. Aleksandar’s “Danka” Authentic Folk Dance curriculum is based on his more then 40 years of experience as a dancer and choreographer. His 4-week, 2-hour weeknight classes appeal to people who are interested in authentic Bulgarian folk dances (hora) for their own enjoyment. Says Aleksandar, “I am happy to be able to use my expertise to introduce people to this most unique, dynamic, and challenging dance style.”

Vanya and Aleksandar met as pupils in Sofia’s renowned German language high school. They both went on to study engineering, but that’s where their paths diverged.

Vanya earned a master’s degree in civil engineering and worked in a variety of capacities during her many years in the field — from municipal engineering to marketing management. She went on to earn a second master’s degree in industrial management from a German university, and acquired Russian specialization in information management.

After relocating to Pittsburgh in 2005 she worked for the National Network of Digital schools and developed the online curriculum in German language for several US cyber schools, including the PA Cyber School. She also worked on different Google project using the German language.

While Vanya’s work life revolved around technical and scientific disciplines, Aleksandar’s vocation centered on the arts. He defied his parents, who wanted him to pursue a career in engineering, and followed his dream of working in the world of dance. After auditioning at the State Ensemble of Building Troops in Sofia, he worked as a folk and character dancer, principal dancer and assistant choreographer there. He continued his career as Artistic Director of the Macedonian Folk Ensemble “Gotze Delchev” in Sofia and as Artistic Director of the Ensemble for Authentic Folklore Bistritza. He performed in 35 countries and won several national and international awards. He earned his master’s degree in Bulgarian folk dance and taught at public schools with intensive folk dance programs.

Since immigrating to U.S he has been teaching character dances at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and the Laurel Ballet Company in Greensburg. He’s also conducted workshops in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and throughout the U.S.

The Zankins have one daughter , Emilia, and two grandchildren, Vesela and Aleko. After graduating from the Bulgarian Ballet School in Sofia, Emilia won Duquesne University’s Tamburitzans Ensemble Scholarship, and came to Pittsburgh in 1995 to study and dance. She received a PhD  in political science and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to become Associate Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at Pitt. Emilia is now an Assistant Professor of Political Science and East European Studies at the American University in Bulgaria.

Vanya and Aleksandar are as passionate about their leisure activities as they are about their work. They love the open road and have traveled extensively throughout all 50 states. They have also visited Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, several countries in Africa and Asia, and many countries throughout Europe.

They are culturally astute, and both speak at least half a dozen languages. This exposure to foreign cultures gives them a true sense of the importance of perpetuating ethnic customs and traditions.

“We are very proud to be involved with BMNECC’s educational programs, and to work for the preservation and promotion of Bulgarian heritage and culture,” say Vanya and Aleksandar.

The BMNECC is equally proud to have two such energetic, experienced and dedicated people conducting classes at the Center.


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