BY KAYLA LOKEINSKY
The plush red curtain rises as a misty fog creeps from the rafters of the theater. Out of the wings emerge twelve beautiful women, each draped in white, like angels. They begin to twirl, slowly, rhythmically, almost dreamlike. The weary soldiers near the end of the stage awaken and they begin to dance alongside them. The men’s movements are powerful and brutish, yet graceful, and this contrasts the demure, elegant movements of the women. As the music picks up, the women spin faster and faster until they look like snow flurries, while the men grapple for their attention, doing flips and moves that just might get them the slightest bit of notice. The dance tells a story of the soldiers who go off to war and the women they leave behind. Entitled Trilogy, this is just one of the dances preformed by freshman Taisa Lotocky and senior Daria Lotocky in their performances with the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami.
Daria and Taisa Lotocky, sisters and current students at Cooper City High School, are members of the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami, a dance troupe based in South Florida that focuses on preserving the Ukrainian heritage and teaching it to others through song and dance. For these talented sisters, dancing was their destiny.
“We both started dancing when we were two,” Taisa Lotocky said. “My entire family has been dancing with the group for as long as I can remember.”
The Ukrainian Dancers of America was founded in 1949 as a part of the Ukrainian-American Club of Miami by Taisa and Daria’s grandparents, Tarasmaksymowich and Kay Hodivsky. The dance troupe is made up of a group of lively Ukrainian-Americans, ranging in age from 2 to 50+, who learn and perform traditional Ukrainian folk dances. They perform year-round across the state of Florida at festivals, cultural programs, schools, and many other shows.
Daria and Taisa Lotocky’s extended family has been a vital part of the dance group for over half a century. In addition to their grandparents founding the group, their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as their three other sisters and brother, are all members of the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami, as well.
“The club is where our parents met,” Taisa Lotocky said. “Our entire family history is there.”
The dances that Daria and Taisa Lotocky do in the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami are different from the dances that most teenagers do. While other high school students do hip hop or freestyle dancing, the Lotocky’s dance group dances with their souls. Ukrainian dances are all about telling a story, mainly folk stories that have been told in Ukraine for generations. Rather then each action just being a movement, each movement is portraying an action.
“The technique of Ukrainian dancing is all cultural,” Taisa Lotocky said. “Like in hip hop dancing, you thrust with your body, but in Ukrainian dancing all the moves are choreographed to be traditional and to tell a story.”
Daria and Taisa Lotocky have spent the last several months vigorously preparing for their most important dance event of the year, A Ukrainian Montage. Held at the Broward Center of Performing Arts, this performance was the highlight of the dance season for the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami. It showcased the dancers talent and diversity while still keeping true to the Ukrainian culture.
“Montage is the one show where we really show all of our dances,” Taisa Lotocky said. “We change the dances every year, and there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
The Lotocky sisters were featured dancers in many of the performances in this year’s Montage. Daria opened the show alongside her older sister and aunt in an upbeat partner dance called Pryvit, a dance meant to welcome the audience. Both Taisa and Daria were prominent in the dance Mountaineers, where they sit atop the male dancers’ linked arms as they spin them in a circle. Taisa, being both one of the most skilled and one of the thinnest dancers, is in all the lifts that the male dancers perform, either solo or with a partner. The stress and pressure of being a focal point of these dances is not easy for the sisters to bear.
“When you go out on stage in front of a big crowd, all the steps in your head disappear.” Taisa said, “There are so many steps you have to remember, and you have to keep smiling no matter what.”
With all the dances that Daria and Taisa Lotocky perform, from the serious folk tales to the whimsical dance numbers, their most influential is by far is UNICEF. In February of 1992, the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami were honored with an invitation to participate in a show benefitting UNICEF. It starred Liza Minnelli and the late Audrey Hepburn, who were supported in the performance by more than 400 children. This number was created especially for UNICEF, and it is the Dancers’ tribute to the children of the world.
“UNICEF is one of the most meaningful dances in our show,” Daria Lotocky. “The best part of it is the performance experience, and the feeling after you perform it.”
While dancing is time-consuming, Daria and Taisa Lotocky still find time to have a normal adolescence. They are both active in the CCHS community, especially in the school’s marching band and drama department. Yet with all their extracurricular activities and busy schedules, the sisters are still devoted to the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami. As they grow older and branch out into the world outside of dance, Daria and Taisa Lotocky will continue to be a positive influence on the dancers that are following in their footsteps, all while still planning their future.
“Even though I’m going off to college in the fall, I will probably continue to dance after I graduate, just like my mom did.” Daria Lotocky said, “Dancing is a big part of my life that I can’t see myself letting go of.”
As the soothing music ends, and the dance comes to a close, Daria and Taisa Lotocky rush offstage with the other dancers, only to reappear in a vibrant new costume. They break into another dance, Hopak. Daria twirls in the center of stage as her sister Taisa is lifted by the strong male dancers who carry her gracefully across the stage: the roar of the audience’s applause is ear shattering. These two sisters are sure to dance their way into the hearts of every person they meet through their incredible talent and their future performances with the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami.