The dancer is a man wearing leather boots, loose fitting red silk pants, and a white shirt with colored embroidering down the middle. His hair is shaved to the scalp except for a small circle on the top of his head, where the hair is about half a foot long. He squats down low, and kicks his feet out with his body upright and his arms folded. The dance has a historic meaning behind it, dating back to when Russia took over Ukraine.
A group of organized rebels known as the Cossacks, who hoped to end Russian Rule, isolated themselves in a fort in the Carpathian Mountains. The dancer symbolizes a triumphant Cossack warrior. During festivals and other celebrations, the Hopak was a common dance. This dance is still taught to Ukrainian Americans today, starting at age seven.
At Ukrainian debutante balls, the men who know the dance do it during a specific song, which is played at every ball. There are also professional dance groups who perform the Hopak around the United States and Canada. The dancers today still wear the traditional clothing, but the hairstyle has become much less common. Many Ukrainians forget the dance with time, but those who remember it take great pride in their ability and perform the dance at nearly every ball and celebration they attend. This dance exists as a representation of Ukraine’s history, in particular the conflict with Russia.
However, in the past, it served an entirely different function. The Hopak originates from the Kozac, which is an older Ukrainian dance. The Kozac is named after the Cossacks, who performed it, and it’s essentially the workout they performed to “warm up” for battle. “The movements were part of a regime of calisthenics to keep the Cossacks fit for battles.” The refined Hopak is similar, but with more difficult dance maneuvers, such as leaping and twirling. To Ukrainians, the Hopak represents the Cossacks, who gave their lives to protect Ukrainian culture as Russia outlawed the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian books.
The Hopak exists today to remind Ukrainians of their heritage and to serve as a source of nationalism. Ukrainian debutante balls have many similarities to American debutante balls, but the differences are important.