I started Ukrainian dancing, I think, when I was about halfway through primary school. It was something I had been wanting to do for a while. I had a few older cousins who I got to see performing at all these concerts with their colourful costumes to all this beautiful music, I had been nagging my parents for some time to let me start before I actually did.

I started Ukrainian dance with a group called Taisa from Melbourne. I danced there a few years and learnt more than I could have dreamed possible from the brilliant Peggy Kulhawec. Once Taisa broke up, I was left with this gap in my life. I loved making the pilgrimage from Geelong to Melbourne to dance. I would look forward to it all week. Now I didn’t have anything to break up the monotony of school. I couldn’t go back to playing ball sports, I was absolutely hopeless at soccer and volleyball, both of which I played for long enough to accept that such sport were not my true calling. So when the chance came to start a new group in Geelong called Iskra, you can understand my excitement.

It was a relatively small group, but it was teeming with talented dancers who loved dancing and performing. Unfortunately, as time went on, more and more of our dancers either moved away or were too busy with their lives to continue to make a commitment to dancing, so we had to call a somewhat permanent hiatus. By this time however, I had already joined Verchovyna in Melbourne, and that was enough to satisfy my appetite for Ukrainian dance for a time.

When I joined Lehenda it was for a few reasons. Having friends in the community being involved was one reason. The main reason though, was that Lehenda, or rather Lehenda’s artistic director Melanie, had big exciting ideas that I thought were going to put this group on another level to anything I had been part of. What set Lehenda apart, I noticed with its inception, is how easily and quickly I felt at home in this group. I think I speak for all the dancers when I say everyone can feel like they have a place at Lehenda, no matter who they are. I feel very lucky and proud to be part of what I see to be the biggest Ukrainian dance group in Australia.

As a group, we have been working on our first touring show “Kazka” for over a year now. Kazka is such a unique and beautiful interpretation of Ukrainian dance and it is just amazing to be part of it. “Kazka,” translates to fairy tale, and is a three act show incorporating three traditional Ukrainian folk tales. I have never been part of anything so big.

A great thing about Kazka is how much every dancer is involved, in not just the dancing, but in every aspect of the show, from helping with costumes, to painting sets, to assembling props. Everyone is involved and it makes even the little parts of the production special to you. For example, when you’re performing on stage in front of backdrops that you helped paint, cut, glue, etc., you feel that extra bit of pride in the show all together. You’re not just dancing on a stage to an audience, you’re presenting a work of art that you helped create with your own hands. It’s something really special and to me, that’s what kazka is all about.

Dancing, (unfortunately) isn’t the only thing I do with my life. I’m a full time student, I love playing music and I study languages linguistics. Yes, I’m that kind of nerd. My dream job would include anything that involves travel and seeing other cultures. Traveling is my biggest passion. I consider myself a pretty active member of the Ukrainian community in both Geelong and Melbourne, through PLAST especially, which I consider a pretty big part of my life. All of this is on the backburner for now though. In a week I’ll be on a plane the most amazing group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting to do what I love doing.

The opportunity to be part of Kazka and to tour internationally with Lehenda is more than I would have ever dreamed possible. It is definitely somewhere I would never have seen dancing to have taken me. I can’t wait to hit Canada and the States with the best show of its kind to ever come out of Australia.

Yarema Pryslak - Company Dancer

Maria Zhdanko