As it has for nearly the past 30 years, this year’s Russian Festival will include three performances by the Lyman Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, a 34-year-old traditional dance troupe that carries the flame for Russia’s smaller neighbor to the southeast.
“We’re there as their guests,” said Andy Goolsby, business manager for the Ukrainian dancers.
The Russian Festival, held at the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, 1723 E. Fairmount Ave., this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, includes performances by the dancers at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Expect fast-paced music—accorddians, drums, horns—and energetic leaps, splits, and kicks, largely from the male dancers, who wear baggy trousers tucked into calf-height boots.
“The boys are the featured dancers,” said Goolsby. “They do all the hard work; the girls do the pretty parts.”
The trouser legs are traditionally 60 inches around, but they have been trimmed down to 45 inches so that the athletic moves are less hampered by the weight of the cloth.
Every dance tells a story, Goolsby said.
There’s a sword dance, which symbolizes soldiers returning home.
“They’ve had the battle, won the battle, and have come home, and how they’re having a drink and doing a dance to celebrate,” said Goolsby.
There’s the “Hyrchanyky,” a harvest dance.
“It starts slowly,” Goolsby described. “People are working in the fields all summer, and then they go to the village to celebrate the end of their toil in the fields.”
The dancers are largely in their teens and 20s, though there are some outliers—the youngest is 9 years old, and the oldest is 49. Many of the dancers are third-generation members of the Lyman Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.
Director Orest Lasuk started the troupe in 1978, though Lasuk had been involved in Ukrainian dancing in the U.S. since coming here in 1951.
Nowadays, many of the dancers are not actually Ukrainian, said Goolsby, who is Finnish himself.
“Many people see it, love it, get hooked on it, and want to join us,” he said, adding that in addition to being great fun, the dancing is “better than any aerobics class, as even the girls will admit.”
“We’ve had boys come to us rather plump,” Goolsby noted. “After 6 months, they trim down to, well, where the girls actually want to dance with them.”
There are 34 dancers in the performing ensemble, and about 100 people involved. They practice on Wednesday evenings at the Dnipro Ukrainian Hall, at the corner of O’Donnell and Elwood in Canton.
The Russian Festival, now in its 39th year, runs this weekend, on Friday, 12-9 p.m., Saturday, 12-9 p.m., and Sunday, 12-5 p.m. In addition to cultural activities, there is food—including a wide variety of Russian breads, sweet and savory—and children’s activities. There are also performances by the Washington Balalaika Society—a renowned orchestra—and the Beltway Balalaikas Ensemble, a smaller group. Both are musical groups that play traditional Russian music with Russian instruments.
by Erik Zygmont