Lilia Kibarska dances from circus to CSUN

Professor Lilia Kibarska; started in the Bulgarian National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team in her early teens to traveling with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus later to earn a B.F.A. in Dance from California Institute of the Arts; and a M.S. in Kinesiology at CSUN; teaches her Modern Dance Class in Redwood Hall; Feb. 24; 2015 (Matthew Delgado / Staff Photographer)

CSUN students may know Lilia Kibarska as a dance instructor for beginning jazz and modern dance classes, but what they may not know is that her life before teaching at CSUN is far more complex than they realized.

Kibarska, who is from Bulgaria, began dancing at an early age. At just 5 years old, she began doing rhythmic gymnastics, which is a sport that requires incredible flexibility.

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Professor Lilia Kibarska; started in the Bulgarian National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team in her early teens to traveling with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus later to earn a B.F.A. in Dance from California Institute of the Arts; and a M.S. in Kinesiology at CSUN; teaches her Morden Dance Class in Redwood Hall; Feb. 24; 2015 (Matthew Delgado / Staff Photographer)

“It’s not very popular in the U.S., but in Bulgaria, that is the sport for girls,” Kibarska said.

At the age 13, Kibarska moved two hours away from her home to the capitol of Bulgaria, where she joined the national team and trained at the national training center.

“We did everything there,” Kibarska said. “We ate, slept and even studied there. Teachers would come in and teach us.”

Kibarska was on the national team for five years, during which she competed at World Championships, winning fourth place in the team competition.

Kibarska retired from gymnastics at the age of 18 when she was offered the opportunity to move to the U.S., and work as a dancer and gymnast for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

About a year before Kibarska was offered the job, Ringling Bros. recruited 11 girls from Bulgaria to join their show.

“They want dancers who are thin, and one of the girls gained weight,” Kirbarska said. They fired that girl and hired Kibarska as a replacement.

“I cried from happiness,” Kibarska said. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for young people in Bulgaria.”

Kibarska spent two years traveling the country on a train, where she lived with the rest of the dancers.

“We were in a different city every week,” Kibarska said. She even got to ride elephants for the show. “It was scary the first time, but not after that,” she said.

While she enjoyed the whirlwind experience, Kibarska was happy to settle down and find herself as a person.

While in the circus, Kibarska married a clown and after quitting, moved with him to California, where his parents lived.

She enrolled at Antelope Valley College, where she took several dance courses and became friends with instructors and percussionists.

“I enjoyed the dance classes, but I was planning on being a dentist,” Kibarska said, laughing. “It was practical and I would make good money from it.”

Kibarska’s classmates all thought she was crazy. Dance was clearly her passion.

Kibarska ended up splitting from her husband, and began to consider pursuing a career in what she was good at – dancing.

Kibarska applied to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), and auditioned for the highly esteemed school. “I didn’t even consider what I would do if I didn’t get in,” she said. That was her one and only plan.

According to Kibarska, CalArts auditions people from all over, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and she was one of the 24 selected.

“I got in!” she said, smiling.

Kibarska was on her way to pursuing her dream.

“It was very expensive, but so worth it,” Kibarska said. “I am who I am as a person because of it.” She also credits the experience for the job she has now as a professor at CSUN. She is still paying off her student loans.

After finishing her bachelor’s of fine arts at CalArts, Kibarska wanted to work on her master’s degree, which lead her to CSUN.

According to Kibarska, the master’s program at CSUN was “completely different” than the one offered at CalArts, at the time. The program at CSUN included more research and was more science based.

Kibarska “started teaching right away” as a teacher’s assistant in the dance department while working on her M.A. in Kinesiology.

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Professor Lilia Kibarska; started in the Bulgarian National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team in her early teens to traveling with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus later to earn a B.F.A. in Dance from California Institute of the Arts; and a M.S. in Kinesiology at CSUN; teaches her Morden Dance Class in Redwood Hall; Feb. 24; 2015 (Matthew Delgado / Staff Photographer)

Kibarska credits CSUN dance professor Paula S. Thomson, for teaching her a lot. “I want to live in her brain,” Kibarska said. “She is super intelligent and creative.”

Kibarska also spends her days teaching dance and yoga at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth. She teaches the kids ballet, modern, contemporary and jazz, and also choreographs the school’s musical productions.

Kibarska works over full-time at the high school and teaches two dance classes at CSUN every week.

While she maintains a very busy schedule, Kibarska wouldn’t trade it for anything else. “I love it, and I’m so glad I decided not to be a dentist,” she said.