Valentina Pyatchenko, 74, pulled on her dancing shoes — a pair of slippers woven from lime tree bark with several holes in the soles — and prepared to perform.
Pyatchenko is one of the Buranovskiye Babushki (the Buranovo Grannies), a group of elderly village women who were chosen to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest, despite a lack of obvious show business attributes.
Their performance of their song, Party for Everybody, with simple dance moves in the bark slippers, charmed viewers in Russia and is now one of the favorites to win the contest in Baku next month.
“We don’t know how old these shoes are. They’ve been repaired so many times, but I danced in them anyway and they’ve already got holes,” Pyatchenko said as she got ready to go on stage.
Aged from 43 to 76, the women live in a village of wooden houses in the Udmurtia region in the foothills of the Ural mountains. Most worked in farming and still spend their time tending animals and garden plots.
However, the Eurovision sparkle has now reached their village of Buranovo, about 30km from the nearest town, Izhevsk.
In the village hall where they rehearse, their diploma as Eurovision contestants hung proudly next to a notice about a Saturday-night disco.
On stage, the women recorded video messages for television channels in Ukraine, Cyprus and Armenia, singing and waving on cue, even if some gently shook out tired legs.
The next day they were scheduled to get up at 5am to fly to Moscow to perform for a foundation headed by the Russian president-elect’s wife, Lyudmila Putina.
However, they said fame had not changed them.
“We don’t see ourselves as stars. We are just normal grannies from Buranovo. Everyone says ‘stars, stars,’ and we find it funny,” Yekaterina Shklyayeva, 74, said.
Two of the women worked as milk maids, one was a teacher, another worked at a kindergarten, one was a bookkeeper and one did various jobs in construction, farming and at a factory. Now retired, they look after an assortment of goats, chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs, as well as tending vegetable plots.
“They haven’t seen much in this life except work. So it’s great that they are getting such happiness,” said the choir’s leader, Olga Tuktareva, 43.
Pyatchenko stroked her cat Ginger as she pottered about her cosy house after the rehearsal. Geraniums flowered in the windows, and books and souvenirs bore record to her decades as a teacher in Turkmenistan.
She had gas heating installed in September last year, which means she no longer has to chop wood for the stove. However, she has no running water and still draws it from an outside tap.
Living alone, Pyatchenko has a son who helps with chores, which include looking after chickens. She manages with only one hand, having lost the other in an accident.
It is a hard life by any standards, but Pyatchenko was upbeat about the changes and taking part in Eurovision.
A Buranovskiye Babushki T-shirt and stage passes were draped over a chair.
“I’ve seen everything in this life. The only thing I hadn’t seen was Eurovision and now we’re going,” she said.
Nevertheless, one villager, accordion and guitar player Nikolai Zarbatov, who often accompanies the women, said there was tension after they won the Russian heat.
“Some people are suspicious of it because there is always evil alongside good, but the majority of the people are glad. We gave them a very good welcome back, with a brass band,” Zarbatov said.