It’s been an epic romance: puppy love at 12, years of separation, an unlikely reunion and now, maybe, life happily ever after. It started in 1992, with a children’s Christmastime production of “The Nutcracker” by the Colorado Ballet. A 12-year-old Russian boy, Sasha Kozadayev, slipped into the dressing room of Rebecca King and left her a gift. It was Christmas, after all, and the two had been inseparable since meeting a year earlier.
Following in the footsteps of every adolescent boy who's ever fallen for a girl and bought her a gift that's just slightly more mature than either of them are, he left Rebecca a necklace, a vial of perfume, and a note.
And like every girl, ever, it was the note that held the most significance to Rebecca. It was written in English, not the easiest thing for Sasha; he had only moved to America from St. Petersburg a year or so earlier. The note read:
To: Beccie Love Sasha
Twenty years later, Rebecca still has the necklace and the note, and Sasha and Rebecca have each other. They own a dance studio in downtown Downers Grove inside the . They're house-hunting, talking about marriage. They hope to expand their business. Everything is good, and life has turned out better than either of them ever expected.
It wasn't always like this, though, and their story-book romance has had to overcome some obstacles.
At 14, Rebecca moved away from Denver and Sasha couldn't stay in touch. Rebecca moved a lot. Whenever Sasha would get an address and write Rebecca a letter, it would get bounced back to him because Rebecca had already moved on. And as the years went by, Sasha became hard to contact as well, spending time in Germany, in addition to touring the U.S., performing ballet.
“Through the 90s the email thing wasn't as popular as it is today and there was no such thing as Facebook,” Sasha said.
For 12 years, Sasha and Rebecca had no contact with each other. The only connection to each other were their childhood memories, growing further and further away as time went on. And the necklace. Rebecca would always hold on to the gold ore necklace.
A lot happened during those 12 years, and none of the decisions made did anything to bring the two of them together again. By 17, Rebecca, who had converted to Orthodox Judaism, moved to New York, enrolled in a seminary and was married by 18. She had a son named Ozzy when she was 21. Soon after that, she began to realize her life wasn't what she wanted it to be.
Her marriage, she said, was missing something. She felt she and her husband were closer to being roommates and friends than a married couple. Rebecca also no longer felt connected to the religion that brought her to New York in the first place, and she realized she didn't want the religion for herself or her son anymore. She started the process of getting divorced.
Sasha had also made a big decision, choosing to leave Colorado Ballet with this twin brother and attend school in Germany and further pursue his dance career there. It was a success. Not long after he finished his schooling in the late 90s, Sasha was offered a full-time dance contract in Germany. With a few weeks to kill before his contract started, Sasha came back to the states for a short vacation and helped his parents move from Colorado to Darien.
But when Sasha tried to re-enter Germany a couple of weeks later, the passport and visa that allowed him to enter Germany before were now void. He was denied entry to the country, effectively ending his dance career in Germany. He returned to the United States and the Colorado Ballet, performing with the company—in addition to touring the country with his brother as a guest artist—until a car accident in Denver in 2001 altered his dance career's trajectory once again.
“A really, really nice lady got confused between the gas and brake pedal and hit the gas pedal and hit us speeding at over 70 mph,” Sasha said. The woman rear-ended Sasha and another dancer, and their car smashed into a semi truck. The car accident resulted in a host of back problems for Sasha, and after a year trying to keep up with the rigors of a full-time dance contract—an average day usually included nine hours of hardcore exercise—Sasha gave up his full-time contract with the Colorado Ballet.
“I was still capable of dancing, but I wasn't capable of the rigors of the full-time contract,” Sasha said.
Sasha moved to Illinois and continued to dance as a guest artist in various places, tailoring his schedule to what his body would allow. But the inability to dance full-time required Sasha to re-examine his life. He started a liquor distribution company and began planning his transition out of dance.
Back in New York, Rebecca, separated from her husband though living together out of financial considerations, got a phone call from her brother in Michigan.
“He called me up and said 'I think you have to sit down,'” Rebecca remembers. “And I said 'OK, why? What's going on? Are you engaged or something?'”
Rebecca's brother said he had been talking with his girlfriend—now his wife—and mentioned that he used to dance with the Colorado Ballet with his sister. Her brother’s girlfriend replied that she had an aunt and uncle that taught there as well. Dots were quickly connected, and Rebecca suddenly found herself with a phone number for Sasha in Darien.
“He [her brother] told me this, and I was pretty shocked,” Rebecca said. “It took me a little while to call Sasha because I was nervous and not sure what to say.”
It took Rebecca a week-and-a-half to get the “guts” to call, and when she did, she played an impossible game of “guess who” with Sasha, who hadn't heard her voice in 12 years. Their recollections of that phone call:
“She was just playing around like, 'You'll never guess who this is,'” Sasha said.
“He's getting mean, saying 'I don't have time for this,'” Rebecca said. “I wasn't sure if it was his dad or something when I called and asked for Sasha, and when he said 'This is him,' I started irritating him a bit.”
“I was guessing,” Sasha said. “But I was running out to a performance when the phone rang. We did the whole guessing thing and I was like 'OK, gotta go.'”
“You were nicer than that. You stayed on the phone for a little while.”
“I did, it was kind of interesting.”
Rebecca and Sasha quickly renewed their childhood friendship and would speak to each other all the time on the phone. About a year-and-a-half later, in 2007, Sasha was performing in Washington, D.C.. He invited Rebecca to come and watch him perform. Rebecca traveled down from New York and Sasha picked her up at the train station. It was the first time they had seen each other in nearly 14 years. Rebecca took in Sasha's performance, and then they spent a few hours having dinner and catching up. At the end of the night, they went their separate ways.
Shortly after, Rebecca made the decision to leave New York and move to Michigan to be with her family. She felt she needed a change, and the turmoil of life made her yearn for the support of her family. Sasha was back in Illinois at this point. Although Rebecca knew she wanted to be with him, they were just friends at that point and weren't really talking about dating.
Michigan wasn't a good fit. Opportunities to teach dance and pilates—two things Rebecca wanted to pursue as careers—were few and far between. Rebecca was stuck working a regular job she didn't like. She started looking for jobs elsewhere and eventually landed a job offer at a pilates studio in Wheaton, which she took. Sasha's parents offered her a place to live while she got situated in Illinois, and she took them up on their offer.
Naturally, Rebecca and Sasha hung out together every day, and by June 13, 2008, they were officially dating. Sasha was still performing when he could, which he had to balance with his liquor distribution business—he would eventually sell his share of the business—and the teaching he was doing at another dance studio in the suburbs. In addition to the pilates work, Rebecca started working with Sasha at the studio, both of them teaching part-time.
In 2009, they both left the studio and decided to start their own, opening in downtown Downers Grove in 2010. The dance studio, located in the Masonic Temple on Curtiss, also teaches pilates, works with athletes, and choreographs wedding dances.
“We are a dance studio, first and foremost,” Sasha said. “If a person wants to pursue a career in dance, they come here. It doesn't mater what type of dance they want to do.”
For Rebecca and Sasha, things continue to come together for their business—they're currently looking for more studio space to handle demand. Their relationship has grown as well. Inseparable, the couple is house-hunting and hope to find the time to plan a wedding as soon as their studio finds a stable, reliable rhythm.
Asked about what they attribute their relationship to, they have one answer: fate.
“If you believe in that sort of thing,” Sasha said. Do they?
“Now I do,” Rebecca said.
“Now I do too,” Sasha added.
Athletes of Dance will hold its Spring Recital on Saturday, June 9 at 11:30 a.m. Find the event listing . Also, the studio's .