The Teacher of the Teachers: LILI BAROKAS

Salom talked with one of the pillars of balet in Turkey, 84 years old LILI BAROKAS

First, please tell us about yourself…

I am the daughter of a Russian mother and a Bulgarian father. I was born in 1933. I went to Italian High School. I lost my husband Dr. Ruben Barokas a few years ago. While I was studying in Italian High School, my teachers discovered my dancing skills. Dance and music became a part of my life at a very young age. 


After you discovered your artistic skills, what did you do? 

When I was a child, whenever we went to a musical, a theater or a movie, I used to come back home dancing. I just loved dancing. My teachers and our acquaintances literally forced  my family to send me to ballet classes after seeing I had a talent. 

My family enrolled me to Krasa Arzumanof’s dance courses. She was one of the most famous dance teachers at the time. When I was 12, I signed up for a ballet competition organized at Eminonu Community Center. I came first among my peers.  

After graduating from High School, I attended Royal Academy London’s exam in Istanbul and received “teaching member” certificate, in other words I my teacher certification. After receiving my certificate, I attended classes at Mimar Sinan Conservatory even though I was not enrolled as a student there. At the age of 16, I started giving ballet lessons. While giving ballet lessons, I was applying the Royal Academy curriculum.

I worked as a ballet teacher for almost 30 years at schools like Sisli Terakki High School. I organized numerous recitals. I have directed and produced numerous performances for Turkish Kidney Foundation at Yunus Emre Cultural Center and for Vienna Opera Ball at Swissotel. Also for a long time, I continued giving private ballet lessons. 


When I was a child, I took ballet lessons from you. I suppose there are quite a few people, both Jewish and non-Jewish who took ballet lesson from you…

Yes, I’ve raised a lot of students. Besides giving ballet lessons, I tried to teach my students discipline and self-confidence, as well. Those girls I’ve taught have become psychologists, stage actresses, executive managers, engineers, realtors, professors and journalists. Some of them became elegant homemakers. People reading this interview who are either grandmothers or young women today, will probably say, “I, too took ballet lessons from her.” 


You do ballet, you play the piano. Also, as far as I know you are supporting various social projects. You are also giving scholarship to children in our school (UOMO). For all your support, our community is grateful to you. You have raised numerous students and you continue to raise new ones. Have you ever considered putting your years of ballet experience in writing? 

Of course, I have. I even wrote a book about this: “Ballet for Children”. I have written the first Turkish book about ballet. 


You are 84 years old and you continue giving ballet lessons…

I continue giving ballet lessons at the ballet class I opened inside Sisli Municipality City Hall. After I turned 65, they told me I could no longer be able to teach, but I opened a ballet class and this way I continue to live with ballet. I am happy to carry on the ballet culture at Sisli, the center of culture and art.


Today, you are considered a retiree.  How are you living your retirement days? 

I look at every day with hope. I plan my day and leave home. Our community takes very good care of retirees, elderlies and sick. We have many organizations such as Golden Age, Young Retirees, ALEF.

When I wake up in the morning, first I express my gratitude for everything I own. Then I think to myself, how I could make good use of my day: reading, taking a walk, watching a movie, calling a friend, helping around. I ride on all sorts of vehicles for transportation: subway, bus, cab...

I recommend this to everyone: do not stay home, go out to the streets. We have lovely parks, movie theaters, cafes. Get together with your friends. Enjoy your day. 

Men or women. It really doesn’t matter. Go shopping. There is always something to buy for the house.

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