Written by Miss Anna Lawrence.
The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ – Home to NHL's New Jersey Devils, the Seton Hall Pirates and, for one night only, Assumption Catholic School's Ukrainian Dance Group, Reechka.
Under the direction of their instructor Yarko Dobriansky, the oldest dancers, from grades 3 through 7, had been hard at work perfecting a new hutsul dance and Saturday, December 6, as part of Ukrainian Heritage Night at the Devils' game versus the Washington Capitals was their time to shine.
Some of our students have been dancing with this group for as long as they've been old enough to. Some of them only started dancing this year. However, all the students gave a performance to be proud of with their bright smiles and fast and fancy footwork. The boys wore the brightly colored vests of the hutsul region of western Ukraine. The girls wore braided head pieces with poppies and sequins. The dance, choreographed by Pan Yarko, featured circle and partner moves, typical of the hutsul style, and a new and daring combination where the boys jump over one another.
This was the second annual Ukrainian Heritage Night held at the Prudential Center. The evening featured other dancers in addition to our own, older students and professionals from Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensemble in Whippany, NJ. Pre-game entertainment included strolling accordion players, face painting (Ukrainian flags or tryzubs), and a face in the hole. For the students, pre-game entertainment also included the rush and excitement of being "backstage" at the Prudential Center. The students and their parents arrived at the Center by 4:30 – over an hour before the doors officially opened to the public – and were led to their dressing room down a long hall somewhere underneath the stadium. Later, they were led up to the performance area, and were allowed a run through of the dance to feel out the size of the "stage," a roped off area of the main promenade. This was where they were to perform in just a few short moments, as thousands of Devils fans and Ukrainians streamed through the area on the way to their seats.
During this time, the students were able to relax a little bit. There was a paparazzi moment with the students, Pan Yarko and Miss Lawrence (who has been assisting with the dance group), a Ukrainian flag and a beautiful Christmas tree. Then Pan Yarko led the students over on "official business" to the far side of the promenade. The official business? Taking pictures with the "face in the hole" – a large stand up picture of a boy and girl in traditional Ukrainian folk costumes where their faces are actually holes for you to stick your own head in. The children had a lot of fun taking turns. Even Pan Yarko and Miss Lawrence posed for a quick picture!
Finally, it was time to perform. The students waited patiently for their turn and were dazzled to watch the professional dancers as they jumped impossibly high or spun around at dizzying speeds. It was truly inspiring to watch. When it was their turn to perform, they ran to their spots and waited nervously for the music to start. As the familiar tune started to play, they jumped into their dance, skipping and spinning around the stage. They were a real hit with the audience! When they finished, there was much applause. It was almost time for the game but they actually had to perform again! The program was designed to be repeated. As Andrij Cybyk, the director and choreographer of Iskra explained to all the dancers before the show, the point wasn't just to perform for our moms and dads and friends, it was to help spread the beauty of Ukrainian dance to some unsuspecting Devils fans, too! Performing twice before the game would expose the lively music and beautiful moves to more of the public.
Funnily enough, the game was not nearly as exciting as the dancing. The Devils actually lost, despite the cheers coming from the dancers section of the arena (If magnitude of cheering really did affect the outcome of a game, it is this writer's opinion that the third grade dancers alone could have inspired the Devils on to victory, but alas, this is not how hockey works). The game aside, the students still had one more chance to perform, inbetween the second and third period. As the second period drew to a close, the dancers made their way back to the stage area for one last hutsul dance. As expected, they performed flawlessly.
Now that they were finally finished, the students returned to the dressing room to change out of their costumes. The last ten minutes of the game were relatively uneventful, but that's only because the main event happened not on the ice, but on the promenade, with Reechka Dance Ensemble's stellar debut! Thanks to the students for all their hard work, and thanks to Yarko Dobriansky for his guidance and faith in the students' abilities.