Dancing in Echoes

Last weekend we went to the Museum of Science and Industry where my oldest daughter performed with her Ukrainian folk dance group as part of the Christmas Around the World celebration.

If you’ve never seen the exhibit, 50 trees are decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to represent their various cultures and holiday traditions. The Ukrainian Christmas tree was decorated with embroidery-adorned ornaments and sparkling spider webs, inspired by the Ukrainian legend of the spider web.

(Spiders have long been important characters in Ukrainian folklore, but the incorporation of the Christmas Tree into Ukrainian celebrations is a fairly recent one. It’s likely that the tradition came to Ukraine from Germany in the 19th century.)

According to the legend, a poor Ukrainian widow and her children had nothing with which to decorate their Christmas tree. After they went to bed, a spider (a “pavuk” in Ukrainian) took pity on them and spent the night spinning her web all around the tree. When the children awoke, they saw the beautiful web on the tree, and as the first rays of the sun touched the spider’s web, it turned to gold and silver. The family never had to worry about money again.

We sat in the front row, listening first to the Ukrainian Children’s Choir, whose performance was wonderful. Ukrainian music and songs always grab hold of my heart. Traversing time and space, music is so powerful. Along with other types of art, it gives us an experience of tradition, communicating the depths of culture, identity, and memory.

After the choir, my daughter’s group performed “the Hopak,” often referred to as the National Dance of Ukraine. I watched her the entire time, aware of  the moments when her nervous smile dropped for a second as she concentrated. When she dances at home, it’s with such joy and abandon. This was a different experience, careful and almost solemn.

Watching her, I remembered that feeling, being up on stage with my fellow Ukrainian dancers. I loved to dance. I still do, although my dancing is usually relegated to my living room or occasional dance floor. It’s a different thing to dance the choreographed steps, even when they are so familiar that they are almost muscle memory.

Dancing in an ensemble is like reciting a famous poem. There is the knowledge that what you do carries weight, each step like a word in a prayer. You are part of a group, but also part of a tradition. Proud and nostalgic, I watched my daughter dance familiar steps to familiar music. So interesting when time folds up on itself, and our children walk in the echoes of our footsteps.


Published by Valya

Valya Dudycz Lupescu has been making magic with food and words for more than 20 years, incorporating folklore from her Ukrainian heritage with practices that honor the Earth. She’s a writer, content developer, instructor, and mother of three teenagers. Valya is the author of MOTHER CHRISTMAS, THE SILENCE OF TREES, and the founding editor of CONCLAVE: A Journal of Character. Along with Stephen H. Segal, she is the co-author of FORKING GOOD: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of The Good Place and GEEK PARENTING: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family (Quirk Books), and co-founder of the Wyrd Words storytelling laboratory. Valya earned her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her poetry and prose have been published in anthologies and magazines that include, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Kenyon Review, Culture, Gargoyle Magazine, Gone Lawn, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium. You can find her on Twitter @valya and on Mastodon.social @valya

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