A Zoom screenshot for World Dance from Humanity | Credit: Courtesy

People in Ukraine and Santa Barbara joined together last Sunday morning for an hour of “Dance and Dialogue,” an especially poignant edition of the weekly Zoom gathering hosted by Santa Barbara–based nonprofit World Dance for Humanity. 

World Dance founder Janet Reineck smiled as she gave Sunday’s attendees the cue, “Time to dance,” and the soundtrack of Ukrainian and American music began to play. Reineck — dressed in a yellow tank top and blue sweatpants — seemed especially excited to dance to country musician and Santa Barbara resident Brad Paisley’s new song, “Same Here,” which features dialogue between Paisley and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine.

Participants logged in from the Ukrainian regions of Brovary, Kherson, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, and Odesa, and American attendees in Santa Barbara were joined by those in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon. 

Food deliveries from World Dance and their partners have gone towards feeding refugees such as those pictured above in Rivne, Ukraine. | Credit: Courtesy World Dance for Humanity

“It’s a chance for Americans to better understand the realities of the war, and Ukrainians to escape from it, if just for an hour each week,” Reineck said of the weekly event. “The participants talk, then dance to Ukrainian music and other tunes that stir the soul, then talk some more. Some people dance; some just listen to the music. There are tears, laughter, and so much love.”

The international gathering was created last month, when World Dance started inviting Ukrainians in Ukraine to join their Sunday Zoom dance class, “so we could, for an hour, be present in each other’s lives,” Reineck said. What was once a weekly dance class soon evolved into a fellowship connecting Ukrainians and Americans. 

Sunday’s meeting was held only days after the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At a rally for Ukraine on Saturday, local Ukrainian Tatyana Marchenko said that at first, Ukrainians were hesitant to “accept [World Dance] at the very beginning,” because they, understandably, “did not want to dance during the war.” However, she said that World Dance has “supported them from the beginning,” having raised more than $225,000 to date for aid to Ukraine, and dancing became an important part of raising awareness.

Within a week of Russia’s initial attack on February 24, 2022, World Dance partnered with the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Santa Barbara to raise money for humanitarian aid for Ukraine, including helping Ukrainian refugees and wounded soldiers, and paying for food delivered to people at the frontlines of the war. They’ve since partnered with the Ukrainian Women of Santa Barbara to fundraise and help spread awareness for relief efforts, and are donating $1,500 a week directly to their contacts in different parts of Ukraine for essentials such as propane tanks, hygiene kits, and warm quilts.

Donations from World Dance have helped treat injured soldiers at a hospital in Rivne, Ukraine. | Credit: Courtesy World Dance for Humanity

During Sunday’s Zoom gathering, a few women in Ukraine spoke about how the weekly virtual gatherings have uplifted them, and how they have been working in their communities to deliver supplies to those in need. Tatyana Marchenko translated in both Ukrainian and English for the participants. Лариса Шумейко, or Laura, from Brovary, Ukraine, said that “dance treats the soul, body, and mind.”  

“I am rested and inspired sincerely, from the bottom of my heart,” she said after Sunday’s class. “For a moment during the Zoom class, I forgot about the war. I felt grateful before the class. But when I joined the Zoom meeting, I was immediately captured and spun by the energy of love. I was even more surprised when I saw all ages dancing — I’m delighted.”

The gathering presents a unique opportunity for people an ocean apart to come face to face. Longtime World Dancer Jayne Johann in Santa Barbara said, “It is so inspiring and emotional to meet the people who are helping distribute the stoves, sleeping bags, and basic essentials we’ve been able to provide. It is a privilege to hear their stories and dance with them in solidarity.”

Reineck said it’s “incredible to spend time together each Sunday,” and that they would “love more people to have the chance to take part.” 

To join the Sunday zoom class, visit worlddanceforhumanity.org/schedule. Donations can be made at worlddanceforhumanity.org/wish-list


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