"We love breakdancing," Nina Ananiashvili of the Bolshoi Ballet was saying. "It's a sort of theatrical performance. It's very popular now among our teen-agers. We have a competition for it in Moscow."
Some things, it seems, are universal.
Ananiashvili made her cultural revelation last night at a Georgetown Inn reception in honor of the Bolshoi, which is in town for two weeks of performances at the Kennedy Center.
She and her colleagues arrived in Washington Sunday after an engagement in New York, and a number of them expressed surprise at how different the two cities are.
"They are like different countries," said Ananiashvili.
Musician Gennadi Butov, standing across the room, felt much the same. "Washington is another country. The architecture is completely different. It is like a big park."
Last night's reception offered the members of the Bolshoi a chance to become better acquainted with the "new country" and some of its inhabitants.
Mayor Marion Barry was on hand to present the troupe with a proclamation declaring today to be Bolshoi Ballet Day in Washington. Galina Ulyanova, a former prima ballerina and now a master pedagogue -- a coach and teacher -- accepted the proclamation for artistic director Yuri Gregorovich. Gregorovich and his wife Natalya Bessmertnova, a dancer in the troupe, were not able to make the reception. Barry also gave Ulyanova a red T-shirt with "Washington is a Capital City" embossed in white letters across the front.
"I hope it's the right size," the mayor said as Ulyanova displayed the shirt to the approving crowd.
Mobashir Ahmed, president of the Potomac Hotel Group, one of whose hotels is housing the dancers during their stay, said Gregorovich missed the reception because he was tied up at the Soviet Embassy. Members of the troupe, however, said he was working on the lighting at the Kennedy Center. There was agreement on the cause of Bessmertnova's absence: a pulled muscle.
Munching on caviar, fruit and fish wrapped in pastry, the dancers eagerly talked about their impressions of America.
"Americans have warm faces," said Ilzya Liepa.
When asked about their favorite American music, most of the dancers said they like jazz and blues, and several mentioned Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as a big favorite.
But Alla Khaniashvili-Artushkina admitted that she also likes Cyndi Lauper.
A meeting yesterday at the White House with Nancy Reagan made a vivid impression.
"Mrs. Reagan was so gracious. She has such form, like a ballerina," said Galina Pritvorova.
"It was an unbelievable meeting. She was so kind to us. I will always remember," Ananiashvili said.
The demands of their performance schedule made it difficult for them to go sightseeing in New York -- a situation that is unlikely to change in Washington. Many dancers regretted that schedule conflicts kept them from seeing any ballets in New York.
Still, it seemed clear that they had enjoyed themselves.
The response of the New York audiences, say the dancers, was tremendous and made their performances there special. "We fell in love with the audiences, and I believe that love was mutual. They received us marvelously," said Ananiashvili.
"They were very friendly and accepted us well," Pritvorova said. And then, showing off the English phrases she has picked up, she said, "American people, I love you. You are welcome in Moscow.