Seven of us, six from Canada and one from the United states, have taken the plunge, moved across an ocean to immerse ourselves in the country our families travelled from many years ago. Our history and culture begins here. Cobblestone Freeway Tours has organzied this year for us and it’s been incredible.

Our first city, Kyiv, a city so alive and beautiful, is where we begin our adventure. The energy of this city, the people, history and internationalism is rich and incredible. Living here, spending our days in the studio as dancers. Everyday we are taking in the city as tourists, but welcomed as a locals.

Ukrainian dance.
We have all grown up dancing and our love of the dance has brought us here, to the place it all began. In Canada, Ukrainian culture has thrived and Ukrainian dancing is well known for its costumes, thrilling energy of dance expression, and authenticity. Costuming and traditions have continued to stay alive and grown to what it is now. Our dance journey begins with P. Virsky Ukrainian National Folk Dance Ensemble. Virsky is a world renowned group, with an energy, technique and dedication that inspires Ukrainian dancers around the world.

The beginning of September brought us our first day. Walking up the steps of Virsky studios we felt excitement and yet I think we all felt a little bit nervous too. We had grown up hearing of Virsky and were familiar with the dances. How thrilling to actually be here. We then began our schedule of attending dance six evenings a week. Daily we had classical ballet, rotating classes of technique, choreography and character. As we settled into our routine, it began to feel like home after just a few short weeks. We were fighting sore muscles, fatigue and sometimes feeling a little out of step. The excitement of being here however, far outweighed our protesting muscles. We forged ahead, taking it all in and learning all we could.

Virsky has three tiers. The school of dance, which teaches dance from ages six and up. They attend the school for up to eight years, then have the option to audition for the studio. The studio consists of a two year program that dancers from all over Ukraine come to audition for a spot in. They can then upon completion of the two years, audition for a place in the company. We are currently dancing with the studio dancers. At first they were confused as to who we were and why we had come to Ukraine. Soon though, across all the miles we came and even with a language barrier, they have become a second dance family to all of us.

Dance is a large, vibrant part of Ukrainian culture, but Cobblestone Freeway Tours also believe the language is an important aspect to round out our experience. We attend language classes twice a week. We began with the very basics of “привіт, мене звати, which means, hello my name is, to learning verbs and conjugation ie: танцювати to dance, to then ми танцюємо, meaning, we are dancing. It’s been said that “learning a second language is very difficult, but you can never understand one language until you understand at least two”.

Dance and language are a large part of our time and growth, but we are embracing our inner tourist all the time too. Exploring churches such as St. Sophia’s cathedral, attending the 150TH season opener of the Kyiv Opera, and a day trip to Chernobyl. There is so much to see and do in this city and we have walked many steps to see as much as can. Two months seemed like a lifetime in each city. Now as we near the end of our time in Kyiv it’s not nearly enough. We have experienced so much in a short time. An incredible amount in two months. We will impress our бабусі when we return home!

Living in Ukraine, walking the paths of the many before us, the history and culture are all around us. Learning and understanding the importance of Ukraine’s history has added greatly to our experience. To be able to learn a language that was banned and oppressed for many years throughout history brings an emotional connection to our ancestors. To understand the hardship, strength and resilience of Ukraine, as well as the joy, richness and preservation of culture is humbling. We are changed as people and will carry it with us always.

Kyiv we will miss you… but this is not goodbye, this is farewell until next time.

Next Stop, Lviv!

written by – Kaitlyn Darlene