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Amid Putin's crackdown, Sochi gay scene thrives

BY LAURA MILLS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

SOCHI, Russia -- A man named Ravil catapults onto the dance floor and starts stomping out the lezginka, the arrogant rooster strut of the Chechen national dance.

Ravil's spontaneous performance is made even more unusual by the fact he's in one of the two gay clubs in Sochi, the southern Russian town that will host the Winter Olympics amid Vladimir Putin's harsh crackdown on gays. The morality campaign — centered on a law banning homosexual "propaganda" — has threatened to overshadow the games as it provokes an international outcry.

Paradoxically, Sochi is a far cry from the conservative lifestyle that the president is trying to promote.

At club Mayak, for example, the dancers are as diverse as the city itself: a Muslim who is a former market butcher, an Armenian who owns a strip club in a nearby town, a Ukrainian who loves to sing like Whitney Houston and dress like Adele.

And the men behind Mayak are hopeful that Sochi can remain the exception to the rule as its entrepreneurial, anything-goes crowd prepares to welcome the world. "This is a resort town," says Andrei Tenichev, the owner. "We have a saying: Money doesn't smell of anything."

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