SHARE
Prince with her lin­guistics stu­dents in Ostroh, Ukraine. |
Facebook

Colleen Prince was 11 years old when she attended her first Ukrainian dance camp at a diaspora com­munity in Lehighton, Penn­syl­vania. Today, she’s teaching and learning folk dance in Ukraine with her Ful­bright schol­arship.

Prince, who grad­uated from Hillsdale in May 2019, moved to Ostroh in west Ukraine in Sep­tember to teach English lan­guage at the national uni­versity there. In addition to assisting as many as four lin­guistics classes a day, Prince is pur­suing her passion for Ukrainian folk dance — by taking an hour-long bus each week to the nearest big city to join an ensemble.

“The last bus back departs at 8 p.m., and some­times it doesn’t depart at all,” Prince said. “Out of safety, I just stay at a hostel in the town, and then the next morning I get up early, hop on a 6 a.m. bus and get back in time to teach a 9 a.m. class.” 

In November, Prince will begin dancing with another small ensemble in the next town over.

Prince studied Ukrainian folk dance for 11 years before moving to Ostroh, mostly by dancing at camps and fes­tivals at home in Penn­syl­vania during the summer. Joining these dance com­mu­nities at home in Penn­syl­vania was a natural fit for Prince, who grew up near two diaspora. Prince’s great-grand­parents were Russian-Ukrainian, and her grand­mother grew up in France, a refugee from the Russian rev­o­lution. 

“It’s been a struggle because there’s a dif­ference between the diaspora community’s rela­tionship with folk dance and the everyday Ukra­nians’ rela­tionship with folk dance,” Prince explained. “Folk dance is actually not as popular here as you’d think, espe­cially in the smaller cities.”

Though her Ful­bright sponsors her to teach English lin­guistics, Prince said she chose to apply for Ukraine because of her long love of their folk dances. 

“I realized that I orig­i­nally came here with a bit of a self-cen­tered per­spective, wanting to improve myself as a folk dancer,” Prince said. “I didn’t fully realize what coming here as a cul­tural Ukrainian diaspora ambas­sador from the United States really was until I arrived. Ethnic art in the country itself is very dif­ferent than in diaspora com­mu­nities ­— which makes a lot of sense, because Penn­syl­vania wasn’t starved out by the Rus­sians. I realized I actually need to sac­rifice and con­tribute and work hard at learning from the amazing artists who are here.”

No two days in Ukraine look the same for Prince, but one thing that is con­sistent in her life in Ukraine: Lots of buses. 

“My life is like a big bus,” she said, laughing. “Ukranian buses are wild. They are a beast. I watched the new Meryl Steep movie, ‘The Laun­dromat,’ and they’re showing these buses in Panama like, ‘Oh, look how ter­rible they are,’ and I thought, ‘Um, that lit­erally looks like my commute.’”

Prince said she’s taking every oppor­tunity she can to dance — including moving to Kyiv for the month of January to study with an ensemble there. Though she described folk dance as “dormant,” Prince said it’s not dying and she hopes to ded­icate her efforts to keep it alive.

“There are some really incredibly advanced dance ensembles here in Ukraine,” she said. “I want to make their names known and support them in anyway that I can. The dream is, of course, to dance in one myself.”

As a phi­losophy and Spanish double major, with minors in dance and French, Prince didn’t have a lot of time to spare for folk dance while at Hillsdale. 

“In the summer it’s really easy. You’re able to practice with your ensembles; you’re going on tour a lot and every­thing,” Prince said. “And then at Hillsdale it was a huge chal­lenge, because folk dance isn’t as popular here. It was dif­ficult to find time to train myself and to teach others.”

Instead, she poured her efforts into learning modern dance with Jillian Hopper, lec­turer in modern dance at Hillsdale, and con­tinuing her ballet training with Assistant Pro­fessor of Dance Holly Hobbs.

Hopper said when she met Prince, Prince already had an extensive dance back­ground.

“She had already gone to Jacob’s Pillow — one of the largest dance fes­tivals in the world, in Mass­a­chu­setts, with this very long history,” Hopper said. “The fes­tival happens every summer, and she had been asked to perform there, and she didn’t really know what it was because she hadn’t done modern dance. To me that was very impressive because it’s very pres­ti­gious; not everyone gets invited that way.” 

Hopper and Hobbs both agreed Prince grew a lot as a dancer at Hillsdale, expanding her lexicon of movement.

“One of the best mem­ories I’ll carry with me was the dance she put together for the American College Dance Asso­ci­ation,” Hopper said. “She chore­o­graphed and got to perform this solo piece that was totally outside of her Ukrainian dance back­ground. It was totally post­modern and the­atrical and it was beau­tiful. I’ll always have this image of her on that stage in that costume under those lights and owning that stage.”

Prince said she’s drawn to folk dance because it cap­tures the human spirit in a dif­ferent way than other dance genres. It was founded in the streets of Ukraine by ordinary people and used throughout history as a political statement or a way for Ukrainian people to reconnect with their her­itage.

“Folk dance is con­nected to a spe­cific culture and a spe­cific his­torical back­ground and a spe­cific people. In many ways it can be used as a political statement, some­times it can be used as a cul­tural statement, things like that,” Prince said. “Folk dance during the Soviet Union served some­times as pro­pa­ganda. It’s very raw and very human in that sense. You can feel that — you can feel that adren­aline rush when you do it.”

Most of the songs are patriotic, or even war songs, which “tug at some­thing inside the human heart,” she said.

“Part of the country I’m cur­rently living in is a war zone,” she said. “Under­standably, folk dance isn’t a number one pri­ority in Ukraine. But I think it should be, actually.”