Back in college, the hardest class I ever took was not Econ 110 or Statistics 100 or Russian Literature 440.

No—the hardest class I ever took was an elective gym class: Ukrainian Folk Dancing.

I took the class on a whim—I have no dance experience or talent, nor do I have an ounce of Ukrainian blood coursing through my veins. I just needed the gym credit and the class fit my schedule. I thought it would be an easy A.

Ukrainian folk dance involves some serious acrobatic feats, like this jump by one of the Shumka Dancers. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Ukrainian folk dance involves some serious acrobatic feats, like this jump by one of the Shumka Dancers. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

But now, easy is not a word I would ever associate with Ukrainian folk dancing. Knowing what I know now about Ukrainian dance, I would never have pitted myself in the ranks of those with the strength and agility and sheer energy required to perform the leaps and feats in dances inspired by the antics of competing cossacks. Still, I had fun, which is the whole point of college (isn’t it?) and I learned something new about a culture and a country that I would grow to know quite well over the years.

Ukraine holds a special place in my heart—I ended up living there for several years, and then wrote a guidebook to the country. Traveling in Alberta has landed me in the heart of one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the world, and I was thrilled to discover Edmonton’s homegrown dance company, the Shumka Dancers.

Watching the dancers’ evening rehearsal was a beautiful moment that began with a measured warm-up and then slowly heated up into a well-choreographed frenzy. The women glided through formations and spun around laughing, the men soared into the air with swirls and back flips and physical feats that would rival any of the best acrobatic troupes. And best of all? The dancers were having fun. Though they were definitely working and sweating their way through a demanding routine, I could tell that every single one of them was there because they enjoyed it.

Outside, it was a windy night in northern Alberta, thousands of miles away from Ukraine and its colorful culture, but inside the studio, with its dance barres and stereo music and leather slippers, I witnessed the whirlwind of 21st century Canadian dance—a tableau of poise and motion, like some kind of happy ritual, where every step sounds like a whisper from the old country.

A dancer flies through the air as part of the traditional Ukrainian "Hopak". (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

A dancer flies through the air as part of the traditional Ukrainian “Hopak”. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

 

Comments

  1. Monica Gott
    Missouri
    August 31, 2013, 11:05 am

    Awesome! I’m enjoying your blogs from Canada. Traveling mercies!

  2. Leda Prytuluk-Althoff
    Bochum, Germany
    September 5, 2013, 6:06 am

    Wow! As a former Shumka Dancer in the 90s, it was wonderful to read such an article…once you catch the Spirit of Ukrainian culture, it will never leave you…no matter where your life might take you…thanks so much!

  3. [...] Ukrainian Shumka Dancers [...]

  4. Andrew in Alberta – Digital Nomad
    September 6, 2013, 11:11 am

    [...] Ukrainian Shumka Dancers [...]

  5. Allison
    http://inflatablekayakworld.com
    September 6, 2013, 2:42 pm

    I love to dance but had never even heard of Shumka dancers. Just awesome, I am totally impressed.

  6. Wrabbit007
    http://downthewrabbithole.blogspot.com
    September 8, 2013, 9:24 pm

    I live just an hour south of Edmonton, and I’ve never heard of the Shumka dancers! I’m definitely going to have to check them out! I also write a series of posts on Alberta on my travel blog, but I call the series my “Backyard Bucket List”. So often we become obsessed with traveling the world and forget about the amazing features of our own home territory!

  7. NATHALY SALAZAR ROJAS
    Lima , PERU
    September 13, 2013, 1:26 am

    Ukrainian Folk Dancing is not as easy as i thought . we need more than energy to do it , we need passion to feel it ! … I totally agree with you because to perform it you have to feel Ukrainian blood coursing through your veins.