I lean against the bar, hunched over with my head between my hands struggling to catch my breath. Sweat dripping off my forehead, my body soaking my shirt with perspiration. My muscles burn, my lungs ache and I feel light headed from the heat. It might be a Friday night, but the daytime temperatures mixed with the dozens of bodies in the studio make for a proverbial oven which feels like it’s cooking us alive. The ongoing joke is that Ukrainian dancers are chronically dehydrated, and judging by my constantly empty water bottle, the joke is only half that; a joke. It’s difficult, but like the saying goes, ‘nothing in life worth having is easy.’
This is the life a dedicated Ukrainian dancer who chooses to dance in a performing ensemble at a professional or semi professional level. I think it’s fair to say that most of these groups dance at least two or three times a week, averaging eight or nine hours in total, sometimes more. When there is an important show or tour coming up, you can essentially kiss your social life goodbye as you will be spending all your free time in the dance studio building strength, practicing technique on top of perfecting the choreography for the upcoming show(s). How many times have you had a friend ask you “Do you want to go for lunch?” or “What are you up to this evening?” Only for you have to respond with the all too familiar phrase, “Sorry, I can’t... I have dance.”
There is a type of discipline that is developed when your body and mind is pushed as hard as it can be in Ukrainian dance. When all your friends are out at the lake on the summer weekends, enjoying the relaxing smell of the water with a cold beverage in hand, it takes a strong will to be at festivals or competitions or to push yourself to be at the high pressure dance studio in the ridiculous heat, demanding yourself to jump higher and spin faster, so when it is time to go on stage and perform in front of a crowd, you know you left nothing behind.
I believe this kind of discipline is an important life skill to learn. Willpower is something that has to be trained, just like you would a muscle in the gym. From things like being able to sit down for six hours and hammer out that report for work, all the way to resisting that unnecessary fourth slice of ice cream cake, willpower is a much needed tool in your arsenal to lead a successful and fulfilling life. It is well known through studies done those children who take band in high school have better studying and homework habits as they have to learn to budget out their time better. The same goes for when you have to work fifty hours a week, maintain a social life, volunteer in your community, raise a child or help a family member AND choose to Ukrainian dance for eight or nine hours a week. That doesn’t even calculate trying to find time to sleep. But for many, that time on stage showing off your skills, your art form and cultural pride in front of tens, hundreds or even thousands of people is worth it.
So appreciate your time spent in studio sweating. Enjoy missing out on the occasional weekend barbeque. Enjoy those slight muscle aches and pains. Enjoy having to budget your time so you can get into the studio and practice. You become a better dancer, friend, worker and person in general. You learn to enjoy all the small aspects of life and culture as well as celebrate the small victories and learn from the defeats. The next time someone asks you to “Come watch a movie with us tonight,” find pride in saying, “I can’t, I have dance tonight.” You aren’t alone in your passion of Ukrainian dance, and you have a full, luscious community of vibrant people and traditions to stand shoulder to shoulder beside you.
Ukrainian dance to build willpower. Ukrainian dance to spread culture and customs. Ukrainian dance to become a more resilient person. Ukrainian dance to inspire past, present and future generations. But most importantly, Ukrainian dance because you love it.