Museum Encourages Romance

Museum Encourages Romance

Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)

for spt

Surrounded by modern art, visitors to Erarta embark on a series of three-minute ‘dates’ with other participants.

It is 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening inside the Erarta museum of contemporary art, and the air is heavy with expectation. Smartly dressed young men and women mill around nervously, as though waiting for something to happen. But these visitors to St. Petersburg’s biggest contemporary art center are not waiting for a celebrated artist to turn up, or for a brand new exhibition to open. They are here to take part in a speed dating event.

Every Thursday, starting from last week, Erarta is giving Petersburgers a chance to find a romantic interest, a new friend, a soul mate or simply to have fun during the chilly autumn evenings.

Speed dating, in which participants are given several minutes to talk to each participant before moving on the next, originated in Los Angeles in the late ‘90s as a way to help Jewish singles to meet each other, and has flourished in both Jewish and secular communities throughout the world.

During the last few years, speed dating parties have become a regular part of St. Petersburg’s social scene, having become a new and popular way to meet people and have fun.

Most of the participants who came to the first event of Erarta’s new autumn series of speed dating Thursday were in their mid 20s and 30s and seemed quite curious about the event, talking about it more as a “way to have fun” rather than looking for destiny.

“I read about it yesterday on my social network page where I subscribe to news from Erarta,” says Svetlana, a sales manager in her mid 20s. “I called my friend and now we are here together. It should be great fun — better than just going to a bar, for sure!”

Her friend, a young legal aide with model good looks, joins in: “However, besides being a good opportunity to meet new and interesting people, I guess that every one of us here tonight hopes to meet their second half, or at least have some kind of romantic continuation to the story.”

Her words are backed up by the fact that although everybody is smiling and trying to act relaxed, the atmosphere in the room is electric with hope and expectation. This feeling was perhaps even more palpable among the female participants: In keeping with a commonly held belief in Russia that there are more women than men, there were 25 women and 20 men at Thursday’s event, so the dating took place in two rounds, with the men remaining seated and some girls participating only once.

Among the participants were a pair of young managers of so-called pick-up workshops in St. Petersburg who specialize in coaching men to pick up women. They attended the event at Erarta to do some research.

“We have just come back from New York and it’s very interesting for us from a theoretical point of view to experience and compare the way it is done here to the way it is over there,” they said.

At last comes the moment that everyone has been waiting for: The organizer invites everybody to the “games room,” the participants are given numbers and a bell is rung to signal the start of the game. Armed with a nametag, a scorecard and, hopefully, a sparkling personality, couples are paired up to begin their first date.

They are allowed to discuss anything except their careers or where they live.

Following three minutes of conversation (compared to seven in the original U.S. version), the bell is rung and the men move on to meet their next date. The process resembles a flirty version of musical chairs.

Following each date, participants mark on their card whether they would be interested in meeting that date again. If a mutual interest is noted, the organizers of the event will give each party the other’s phone number.

Although the participants at times seem nervous, searching for a place to put their hands, the most comfortable way to sit or for a relaxed but beguiling pose to attract the attention of their new date, everyone seems happy by the end of the evening. While they might not have met their soul mate that evening, most have at least been on the receiving end of some smiles and compliments. Regardless of their expectations of the evening, the pleasure of simply holding someone’s full attention — even for three minutes — should not be underestimated.

“There have already been six events held at Erarta gallery, and they have been a great success: Dozens of couples received the contact details of each other and continued to communicate on a regular basis,” said Ivan Danyushkin, the event’s organizer. “And although the first speed dating party took place just six months ago, one couple who met during a speed dating evening at Erarta are busy preparing for their wedding,” he added.

Speed dating events are held at 7 p.m. on Thursday evenings at Erarta museum and gallery of contemporary art, 2 29th Line of Vasilyevsky Island. M. Vasileostrovskaya. There is an entrance fee of 200 rubles. To register, call: 324 0809.

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