Cultural dances and Community

Submitted by Paul Born on December 30, 2014 - 11:02am

My good friend Mark Cabaj, with whom I started Tamarack, Opportunities 2000, and Vibrant Communities, was reflecting on Ukrainian culture and in particular the sense of community found in a dance performed at weddings. These dances are legendary - or at least Mark has made them sound that way over the many years I have heard him speak of them and then watched he and his siblings dance together. Here is his note to me and of course a great youtube clip:

Hi Paul,

I am late working on a family history project and had an idea related to your work on community. I hope you will indulge me.

The following youtube video (start watching at 3:00 if you want to miss some bad camera work) is taken from a wedding here in Edmonton. The song is a Kolomeyka, a dance circle performed at parties, particularly weddings, usually at the end of the evening. Everyone is invited to show off in the circle, and impress the bride and groom if they can. It’s all improvised and the song can go on for an hour – if the band can hack it.

This is a special kolomeyka. The bride and groom are from two of three semi-professional dance troupes in Edmonton (Shumka, Cheremosh and Volya). The people in these troupes are recruited from the dozens of small Ukrainian dance clubs all around Alberta, train extensively, tour, and do it all for free. Oddly, there are increasingly more non-Ukrainians dancing in these troupes: for example, one of the best dancers in the city right now is from the Phillipines.

What I like about this video most is that it reminds me of a dimension of community that we often miss because we are so (understandably) pre-occupied with trying to tackle issues related to vulnerability and exclusion: that is, building community for community’s sake, I had never articulated for myself before you asked me to write something for your book on the topic. These young folks are together, dancing, and celebrating a common story – nearly 100 years since their ancestors arrived to hack out a living on the prairies - not because it is a better than the story of their neighbors, but simply because it’s part of their story and they want to express it.

In a world where people are so focused on being independent, it’s important to be reminded just how joyful different versions of interdependence can be as well. Anyways, Ukrainian is not your culture (Mennonite), nor mine (Polish), but grab some tea, a good screen, and experience a little bit of the community magic these kids are creating.

Warmest Regards,

Mark Cabaj