Stage fright gripped 10-year-old Susan Ghetti as he watched several dozen brightly costumed children from the Soviet Union whirl and prance in the school auditorium.
"I've never danced with Russian people before," she gulped. "I feel like I have elephants in my stomach."
Susan's fears were put to rest when children at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village discovered that "Russian kids are just like us," after spending a Cultural Exchange Day with 43 children from the Soviet Embassy grade school.
East met West last week in celebration of World Peace Day, a little-known holiday that Stedwick teacher Fran Brenneman became aware of several months ago. She organized the children's cultural exchange festival with Dina Solton, a dance teacher at the Soviet school.
"We wanted children on the elementary level to get an idea of what they can do for peace on earth," Brenneman explained. "Often people think peace can only be achieved on an adult level, but we wanted the children to get to know from other cultures."
The day began with songs and dances by the 43-member Soviet children's performing ensemble. A polished and talented group, which has performed at the Kennedy Center and at schools and universities in the area, the Soviet students demonstrated dances from around the world.
Eight-year-old soloist Katya Dobrynin, granddaughter of Soviet ambassador Antoly F. Dobrynin was the star of the show, performing several traditional Ukrainian and other Soviet dances.
The Americans reciprocated by playing U.S. and European melodies on a variety of instruments, including recorders and xylophones. Both groups joined in the finale, singing "It's a Small World After All," with Soviet children waving tiny Soviet and American flags.
But the highlight of the morning was a spirited Virginia Reel, danced by a group of 12 Soviet and 12 American children. The Soviet children led off by dancing one reel, then broke ranks to welcome the American children onto the stage.
"Smile," Stedwick teacher Jacquta Swanby called out to the American youngsters as they shyly approached the gaily costumed foreign students. "Ulipka (smile)," Russian teacher Solton echoed to her performers.
At first each group remained apart, then an American boy grabbed a pretty Soviet partner and the other children followed suit. When the familar music began, the children started do-si-doeing and swinging their partners with seemingly effortless ease.
American parents and Soviet teachers rushed forward to take pictures, while squirming youngsters in the audience clapped in time with the music.
After the final reel, both groups bowed to thunderous applause. Flushed and proud, they scampered back to their seats, chattering together now that the ice was broken.
"I thought they'd speak Russian and we wouldn't be able to talk to them, but they know English," said 11-year-old Stephen Lunenfeld. "They were more like American kids than I thought."
"They dance very beautifully, and I really like their songs," said Olga Barmyantsen, 12."The smiles are the nicest."
"The American boys take it easy when they dance," said Natasha Yereskovsky. "We were a little bit nervous with the American boys because we thought they might be better dancers since it is a dance of their country. It was a lot of fun.
"They make more of a big deal about everything, and they've really practiced a lot," noted Eric McDonald, who said he's accustomed to "just boogieing."
"They knew the dance just like we did," said Stephanie Raboy, who admitted she was nervous at first because she thought the Soviet children would "do everything different."
"And they have such pretty costumes," added Angela Liu.
"And the boys were so big and tall," sighed Angela Romero, who said the Soviet boys "put their hands different, on our backs.The American boys just put their hands down at their sides." She said she liked the Russian style better.
"I like the girls," volunteered 11-year-old Mark Imig. "Here we say, 'Ooh, a girl, we won't touch their hands,' but they put their arms around each other. It was neat."
"It was very, very good the way they danced," noted 11-year-old Gregury Gurov, who added that he liked the lunch of hamburgers, french fries and chocolate milk, too.
"Most of all it makes us happy to talk-to the children," said Natasha Yereskovsky. "It is just great the hospitality that the American children show."