When I was seven years old I kept bringing home books about ballet from the library, so my parents decided to enrol me in ballet classes. Dancing was a great after school hobby all through school, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was sixteen. I liked classical and contemporary but my passion was in character. Utassy Ballet School is one the last in Melbourne to have a significant character component, and I grew up learning Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Spanish alongside many other styles. The music was always a huge motivator for me as I love world music; there’s nothing that wants to make me move more than a Hopak, Kolo or Sevillanas. The beauty of social media and YouTube is the access we have to videos of dancers from Virsky, Moiseyev and beyond; they give me a massive inspiration kick each time as well. 

 I’ve danced with Kalinka Dance Company for a number of years now, and was a member of Yellow Wheel contemporary company for two years. However I’ve always had an affinity for Ukrainian dance after learning Dubotanets, Hopak and Hutsul at my ballet school, so when a friend suggested I try a class at the newly formed Lehenda in early 2014, I couldn’t say no. 

 A typical Lehenda class usually starts with me doing some yoga to loosen up my joints, a short run, a classical or Ukrainian barre, simple jumps, beats and port de bras before moving to the bigger things; turns from the corner, cabrioles and obertasy (Ukrainian fouettés) for girls while the boys practice for big jumps. I’ve never been a strong jumper so the turns are my favourite part of class. After this initial part of the night we move onto combos and running dances. At the moment we run through our show KAZKA which we’re currently touring. I love expression, so I’m glad to be in some roles where it’s more than just a pretty dance. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be cast as the Bird/Girl in KAZKA, which means I can do some acting and bring my own interpretation to the role and the fairy tale as a whole. 

  Apart from the dance, I also love the people at Lehenda. Given the large amount of dancers in the company, everyone gets along very well. I’m one of just a few people in the company who isn’t Ukrainian, yet I’ve never felt more included and welcomed. I’ve made some lifelong friends and I’m frequently invited to Ukrainian events (polkaing around to live music at Ukrainian New Year is my new favourite way to spend New Year’s Eve. Anglo-Aussies just don’t have little cultural traditions like that). 

  I take health and fitness pretty seriously. I have weak ankles due to a sprain from a few years back, and because I dance five (sometimes six) days a week, my knees suffer from overuse and can get painfully sore. I do some Pilates every day to alleviate the symptoms and prevent more injuries from happening. On top of this I also do some yoga and strength training to keep up with the demands of character dance (I believe no one knows the true meaning of fitness until they’ve danced a Hopak - it’s extremely physically demanding!). My friends at dancing often comment on how healthily I eat, and to some degree that’s true. I don’t eliminate anything from my diet so I get the proper amount of carbs, fats and proteins needed to be able to regularly dance at such an intense level. However I’m also very gifted at polishing off a bowl of ice cream or a block of chocolate. And cheese. Some people want love in their life but all I need is a wheel of brie. 

  Apart from dancing, I also study full time and teach at two different schools. Yet I’ve never been able to get over the euphoria that comes with being on stage and the health benefits that come with dance, so I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. As a young student who was often overshadowed by classmates with more natural talent, I never would have imagined that I would one day dance semi-professionally and be mere days away from touring a show to North America with a massive company.  I think many young dancers don’t realise the opportunities that there are out there after you finish school; you can keep dancing, you just need to know where to look.  

Imogen Agar - Company Dancer


Maria Zhdanko