Kyiv’s tango partners refuse to let war slow passion for dance | Ukraine

Air raid sirens were almost constant and Russian troops were on the outskirts of town, but that didn’t stop some people in kyiv from dancing.

A group of Ukrainian tango dancers bundled up against the freezing cold to meet in the Botanical Gardens: they circled each other until an Argentinian milongashugging each other and laughing in relief that those around them were still alive.

A video of the event posted on social media thrilled people across the country grappling with their dark new reality. “We didn’t plan to dance, it happened,” said Valentina Belyaeva, 43, an active member of kyiv’s Latin dance scene. “The soldiers around were a little wary at first but they let us continue. We were so happy to see everyone alive and healthy.

Ukrainians dance tango in the streets of kyiv – video

A fierce war is still raging. As Kremlin ground forces have withdrawn from towns and villages surrounding the capital to refocus on the east of the country, horrific evidence of war crimes against civilians is being revealed.

Still, signs of life were returning to the capital this week: each day brought more people to the streets, more cars to the roads and more businesses and cafes opening their doors.

On Saturday, Belyaeva is delighted to welcome the first milongas since the conflict broke out at Art Prychal, a dance hall on the banks of the Dneiper, the vast river that runs through the heart of kyiv.

“In the summer, we dance here until 5 am. It’s a beautiful place,” Belyaeva said. “But we will dance regardless, war or no war.”

While Paris and Istanbul are known as the tango capitals of Europe, Kyiv has a surprisingly large and vibrant Latin dance community for a city that is home to 3 million people. In more normal times, around 400 regulars show up for different milongas evenings each week.

Kyiv hosted its first international match milongas festival last October, which attracted visitors from all over the world, and Belyaeva and her husband Oleksiy are still planning to hold another event scheduled for May.

milonga is a faster, more relaxed and more social form of traditional tango, in which the dancers change partners after each mow, or turn. It involves a tighter embrace of the partners and faster dance steps, echoing the more jerky rhythms of the upbeat, almost waltz music.

Belyaeva fell in love with it 15 years ago, when she was looking to try new things after a divorce. She met Oleksiy, her second husband, through dancing.

“There is a saying in the tango,” she said, as she walked arm in arm with him along the Dniper. “The tango brings the children.”

For Sergio Omelyanenko, tango has been his whole life. Before the pandemic and before the war, he danced professionally and gave two or three lessons a day either in a dance school or privately. To his surprise, many customers got in touch even after the invasion of Russia in February, always eager to learn.

“I guess people need to do something with their bodies and occupy their brains, instead of reading the news 24/7 and worrying,” he said in an interview at his studio. education in Pechersk, in the center of kyiv.

“The studio is a basement studio and it has two entrances…So I thought, why not?”

Valentina Belyaeva and her husband Oleksiy met through dance.

Dance is an opportunity for people to connect and explore their emotions, the 23-year-old said. “I think the stereotype is that tango is just about romantic love, but really it’s about having a conversation with your partner. It’s very social,” he says. what you feel Hunger, pain, suffering, you find them in the tango.

Omelyanenko estimates that around half of his friends and clients have left town, but what remains of kyiv’s tango community are eagerly awaiting Saturday night’s event. For many who have decided not to flee the Russian advance, staying and living their lives to the full are acts of resistance in themselves.

“I have friends in Russia, my wife is from Belarus. In these places, you cannot speak freely, you will go to prison. Ukraine fought for freedom in 2014,” he said, referring to the popular uprising that toppled the country’s pro-Russian government.

“Ukrainians know that freedom is the most important feeling. To stay, to dance, to enjoy life is to protect that.