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Tuesday, March 20 Opinion

Woog's World: 2 daughters of distinction: A dancer, a digger

It's pretty impressive to have a daughter who dances with the American Ballet Theatre. So is having a daughter who in college is selected for an elite archaeology dig through the Museum of Natural History.

It's particularly noteworthy when both girls come from the same family.

Westport's John and Norma Waski are the proud parents of Paulina (the dancer) and Nadia (the digger).

Paulina "hated" ballet, when her mother took her and Nadia to lessons. But then Paulina saw Nadia perform Clara in "The Nutracker." The costumes and en pointe dancing made Paulina want to do the same.

She joined the ABT's Summer Intensive program at age 11, and quickly attracted notice. She began attending the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT at 14, a commitment so demanding that -- after going through Saugatuck Elementary and Bedford Middle schools -- she took her high school courses online.

When Paulina was invited to join the Onassis School by the principal, Franco DeVita, she knew it was an important step toward accomplishing her dreams. Every day, she commuted from Westport to New York. It was an enormous sacrifice -- and very tiring -- but she learned how to do her schoolwork during free time, on weekends, even on the train.

Paulina performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In 2011, at 16, she became an ABT apprentice. Last winter she soloed in "The Nutcracker."

At ABT, Paulina's day starts at 10:15 a.m. Classes and rehearsals go non-stop, until 7 p.m. Dancers learn and rehearse at least three ballets daily.

During her hardest season at the Met, Paulina has only one week to rehearse the three-act "La Bayadere" -- while simultaneously performing eight shows of another ballet.

The troupe has traveled to Japan, China, South Korea, Abu Dhabi and elsewhere around the globe. Dancing and rehearsing like that, Paulina says, demands good nutrition, dedication to fitness, a focused mind -- and, most important, "a love for what I do, every day."

Paulina is in her third year as an ABT Corps de Ballet member. She has danced in nearly every full-length ballet, including "Swan Lake" and "Giselle." She looks forward to being one of the two Big Swans in "Swan Lake," and performing as a solo couple in Twyla Tharp's "Bach Partita." Her goal is to become an ABT principal.

Nadia, meanwhile, left those early ballet lessons behind. Her career path was influenced by living on what was once farmland, with a stone wall in back. She and Paulina played in the yard, digging for artifacts.

Hoping to further her daughter's interest in the history of her house and town, Norma provided books on archaeology (and dinosaurs). Nadia also attended Earthplace's preschool and summer programs. "I was always the little kid wanting to know more about the world," she recalls. "I was excited to grow up and travel to new places."

After entering the University of Massachusetts' anthropology program, Nadia realized she could be part of a new generation of archaeologists, working alongside native populations. She assists them in "taking back their history, essentially decolonizing archaeology." She notes that colonial interactions of the past "still entangle us in the present."

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Nadia says that a new generation of archaeologists is moving away from "the old `black and white' colonial narratives, to a gray area that encompasses both sides of the story. Updating the practices on the way we view the history of the world is extremely important in making sure we progress."

Nadia loves archaeology because "it connects different groups of people through collaborative relationships." It is a very social major, leading to interactions with different cultures as well as colleagues in the field. She also appreciates archaeology's overlap with other areas of study, like history.

Being an archaeologist demands "patience, and the ability to think with an open mind." Nadia has also learned to operate in uncomfortable environments, spending long hours digging, shoveling and sifting.

Staples High School has no archaeology classes, but Nadia landed an internship junior year at the Yale Peabody Museum. She then became the first high school student accepted into the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and met a mentor: Briana Pobiner, of the Smithsonian Institution.

Nadia hopes to attend graduate school in the fall of 2015 to earn a master's, specializing in native archaeology of the east/southeast coast. Her goal is to become an educator in a museum, or work in a lab analyzing artifacts from this part of the country.

"My sister and I are both artistic, but we took different creative paths," Nadia says. "I always loved dancing, but in college I decided this was the right choice for a profession."

She notes that she and her sister are each other's "best supporters and critics. We both found our passion and stuck with it."

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.