When I was 4, I remember watching my older brother practising Ukrainian dance with a group of kids, it was then, that I became a Ukrainian dancer. Since that day, I have danced in a few different Ukrainian companies in Geelong and Melbourne and a couple of years of ballet (to improve my Ukrainian dancing of course!). I have also been teaching Ukrainian dance for over 15 years and have worked under the talented Melanie Moravski Dechnicz for 10. I have been a dancer and teacher at Lehenda since its conception and hope to be there for many years.

It’s difficult to explain the thrill of performing to an audience and even during practice, but it’s like an addiction and hard to stop! I love that fact that it’s a way of retaining my heritage, by expressing our stories through dance and learning more about my culture. No doubt it’s hard work with all the rehearsals, late nights and tired bodies, but it’s all worth it; to show the world our colourful, energetic and skill full stories through dance.

Other than dance, I am a mother to a gorgeous 3 year old called Jasmine who is continually asking me to show her Ukrainian dance steps and impersonating the cheeky fox within our production ‘Kazka’.  I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive husband that understands my passion for Ukrainian dance, and who will be looking after our daughter for 3 weeks while I dance and shop my way through Northern America. It will be hard to say goodbye to them at the airport (and I shed a tear while thinking about it!) but I know my fellow dancers will make me laugh as they always do!

I also work as a Project and Events Worker for a community organisation called Diversitat with part of my role is to work on a major multicultural festival. I reside in Geelong, which is a 2 hour round trip from Melbourne, but all worth it when on stage and sharing the experience with my 40 fellow company dancers and many students at the Lehenda School. We are under a week away from leaving our cold homes to a warmer Northern America where we will showcase ‘Kazka’. The production showcases a few Ukrainian fairy tales (kazky) through dance. It’s something that most of us have not experienced before as we are used to regional dances with some stories, not on such a large scale as this! We have been working tirelessly on the production for over a year now and have performed it to our Australian friends and are ready to go overseas! It’s been amazing to see the amount of work that goes into the production. The people involved in writing the story, choreography, music, stage design, props, costumes, logistics, marketing and of course the dancers is endless and all should be proud of themselves for such an amazing production!  It’s been an incredible journey so far and I am extremely excited to perform ‘Kazka’ to our Northern American audiences.

Cathy Harper - Company Dancer

Maria Zhdanko