Svetlana Baklanova Has Found A Way To Connect Mind, Body And Soul BY JUDY COLE
Svetlana Baklanova is talking a mile a minute. Her brown eyes convey a sense of magnetic energy and enthusiasm that is contagious. A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, by the time she was 19, Baklanova had three separate business enterprises under her belt. A major accomplishment for one so young, but not surprising when you get to know her. Baklanova is a painter, a fashion designer, a poet, a singer, a mother, a wife and a practitioner of HoraNova, a discipline akin to yoga, that she has brought to America from her native Russia.
As a child, Baklanova showed early signs of things to come. “I had different talents. The first one my family noted was my singing, but because my mom was raising me on her own, she really couldn’t do anything to help me pursue it. Then I started drawing pencil portraits when I was 6 or 7. I wasn’t a very good-looking child, so I was trying to get attention,” she says with a laugh. While Baklanova soon graduated to painting — a passion she pursues to this day — her next venture was sewing. At the age of 12, she began to make her own clothes. “I didn’t use patterns or books,” she explains. “I believed that by thinking about it on my own, I could figure it out. I started doing leather, suede and fur — because it’s cold in Russia.” Eventually, Baklanova parlayed her talents into a fledgling fashion career, although in Russia, that was easier said than done. “It was a tricky thing,” Baklanova recalls. “I made friends with the managers of some secondhand stores, and I would ask them to hold some of the leather pieces until the prices came down as low as possible. Then I’d buy them, cut them up, and put them back together.” When Baklanova’s mother realized the budding designer had such potential, she arranged for her daughter to study fashion design. Baklanova attended technical school in St. Petersburg for three years, then started working in a fashion house there. “I loved it, but the salary was so low, I needed to find a way to earn more money to keep making leather clothes,” she says. “It had become like a company.
People were coming to me with ideas. I would sketch them, take all the measurements and sew the garments.” Then Baklanova hit a wall. “At the time I was trying to expand the business and have a collection made, there was a putsch (revolution),” she says. And that was that. When the political climate settled, Baklanova launched her second business, a tourist service for foreign students and their families who wanted to study Russian culture. “I organized everything. I had people who were working with me, and it was very successful — until the next putsch,” she says. Chapters Two And Three With her mother and sister to support, Baklanova next joined friends who traveled to and from Finland importing cars to Russia.
“Russian-made cars just weren’t that good. Anything from Europe or Japan — even used — was in high demand,” she says. While in Finland, Baklanova made valuable contacts, and, at 19, embarked on her third enterprise. “I’d met people at a Finnish company who asked if I would like to try my hand at interior design. They couldn’t afford someone expensive, and they thought I had a good vision. The project went very well. I was in and out of Finland for a yearand-a-half.” Then the Russian government put on the brakes. “They stopped the flow of foreign cars because no one was buying Russian cars,” Baklanova says. Back in Russia, Baklanova set about reinventing herself once again. “With all the putsches and business crashes, I desperately needed to move on,” she says, “but there were not many things I could do in Russia — especially as a woman. Men do not take women seriously. If you don’t have someone powerful — a father or a husband — to back you, you can pretty much forget it.”
A New Beginning
For the first time, Baklanova found herself spinning her wheels. “All of my friends were telling me I would have to leave Russia to move on,” she says. Although she hadn’t planned to come to the United States — much less stay — Baklanova arranged to spend time with an aunt and uncle in Texas. “My uncle had a company in Houston,” she recalls. “He and my aunt had a big house to take care of and a young child. We made an agreement that I would stay with them, go back to school, and help around the house.” The fact that she spoke no English did not deter Baklanova. With nothing more than a backpack and a Russian/English dictionary, she set off to seek her fortune. “My mother told me to pay attention to words that were big and red because they were probably important,” she says with a laugh.“
The first word I looked up when I got to America was ‘EXIT.’” Baklanova was soon fluent enough to enroll at Houston Community College as a student of fashion design. At the same time, in an effort to further improve her language skills, she took a job at Houston’s Galleria Mall. “I’d been advised that to learn the language, I’d have to meet people here and work with them,” Baklanova recalls. “I got a job at a clothing shop as a salesperson. When I walked into the store my first day of work, there was a guy standing at the counter. He asked me, ‘Are you Russian?’
When he found out I was, he said, ‘How come I don’t know you?’ So I asked him, ‘Do you know every Russian in the Houston area?’ We went out for coffee and have been together ever since.” The Cookie Crumbles After completing her courses at HCC, Baklanova launched a small manufacturing firm, producing everything from interior design items and lingerie to evening clothes and wedding dresses. Eventually, she started her own line. “I went to the Dallas market and had my own collection,” she says. “Then I decided to expand to Russia. I wanted to bring the work home. I had lots of shows there, and a lot of media attention.” Baklanova and her beau were riding high. “He got a job with Enron right out of college,” she says wryly. “Then he proposed, and I got pregnant. Seven months later, we lost everything. Thank God his parents were in town and we were able to stay with them.” Baklanova’s husband spent the next 12 months looking for a job. “He got an offer here, so we came to Charlotte,” she says. Unable to reconcile long-distance commerce with new motherhood, Baklanova closed her Texas concern.
For a while, she concentrated mainly on her painting, but another door soon opened where the last one had closed. A trip home to Russia provided an opportunity to complete a circle in Baklanova’s life begun years earlier. Full Circle “When I was growing up, my good friend’s mother had breast cancer,” Baklanova says. “She went through chemotherapy, but eventually, the doctors told her that she would not survive more than another month or two, and that she might as well look for alternative treatments because that was really all that was left. We were all trying to find something to help her, but she just got worse and worse. By happenstance, she heard of HoraNova. She started going to classes, and she began to get better. It was a long process, but she survived.” During their trip, Baklanova and her husband were visiting the sister of the cancer survivor. This woman was now leading the Practice HORA. While in her home, the couple happened to see a video of the master Hora performing what looked like martial arts.
Baklanova’s husband was mesmerized. “My father-in-law was a karate instructor,” she says. “My husband was just amazed. He thought it was trick photography, but the woman told us the video had been taken with a hidden camera. I had no reason not to believe her because I had known her all my life.” Baklanova’s husband had to return to America, but he urged her to attend a HoraNova class to find out if what he’d seen could be real. Baklanova agreed. While intrigued, Baklanova had no immediate epiphany. “I didn’t understand much of what the instructor was saying,” she recalls. “It was interesting, but I didn’t really get it.” After returning several times, however, she started to notice things. “We all have thinking processes that run in our heads over and over, and wear us out,” Baklanova says. “There’s something you must deal with, but you can’t come to a conclusion. You want to get to the answer faster, but you don’t know how. I realized that if I came to class needing to make a decision, by the time class was over, I had made one — and every decision I made seemed to be correct. Then I noticed I started to have more energy. Nothing seems to wear me out anymore.”
From Student To Teacher
For Baklanova, the next step was organic. She began bringing people from the United States to Russia to experience what she was experiencing. “It wasn’t something you could find anywhere else,” she says. “I’d always exercised, but nothing else in my life had ever given me such a full understanding.” Eventually, Baklanova became so deeply involved in the program that the master Hora invited her to train as a teacher.