The Red Boot Boogie

I grew up in the middle of prairie nowhere. My hometown has 1,500 people and no traffic lights. My first Ukrainian dancing classes were held in the elementary school gym and, Ukrainian dance being wildly popular throughout Alberta, our local dance club was enormous. I remember very little about my earliest years of Ukrainian dancing. I asked my mom how old I was when I began.
“Four,” she said. “And they made you audition.”
“They did not!” I exclaimed. Not only did I have no memory of auditions, but it really just didn’t seem possible. My mom explained, “They stuck you in a room, taught you a few steps, and then decided whether to put you in Pre-Beginner or, you know… Idiot.”
“And was I an idiot?” I asked.
“No,” said my Mom. “No, you were not.”

Further discussion revealed that, while I was no slouch in the dance department, my mom felt she could have used some remedial lessons in How to Be a Dancing Mother. Sewing my first costume, she told me, was a challenge. “The club bought the material for your skirts in bulk and then sold it to us to sew ourselves. There was a lady who held meetings to make sure we were doing it right, but I never was. Eventually I wised up and paid someone else to do it for me.” At four years old, I could have cared less about my dance costume and I wailed like an ambulance when it came time for her to French-braid my hair. What I l-o-o-o-o-ved, however, was the makeup. I have no idea where this originated or why, but for the longest time one did not perform Ukrainian dancing on stage without these crazy little wings drawn out of the corners of one’s eyes. We used to call them “fishtails.”

“Of course, I never got that right, either,” said my mom. “I was a failure of a dancing mother. It’s a wonder you turned out to love it as much as you do.” But she wasn’t a failure at all. And I do love it. Today, at 20 years old, I dance with Edmonton’s Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company. In the years between my very first costume and now, I have worn scores of skirts, aprons, blouses, boots, and headpieces, the details of which both amaze and amuse (and sometimes annoy) me.

An embroidered blouse is a staple of any Ukrainian dance wardrobe. I have friends whose blouses were once worn by their mothers and embroidered by their grandmothers, whose costumes have generations of family history sewn within them. I’m not entirely sure where my own dancing blouses came from, though my Baba brought this one back for me when she visited Ukraine. We’re not so good at sewing in my family.

The flowery headpiece is called a Vinok. You might be thinking, “How does that stay on your head?” The answer is pain. And bobby pins. But mostly pain. If you stick in a pin and it doesn’t hurt, stick it in again.

Though I don’t feel very nostalgic about my blouses, these boots own an actual piece of my soul. They fit perfectly. I have boots that are too big. (At our last performance, I attempted to remedy this by sticking the soles of my feet to the insides with carpet tape.) I have boots that are too small, too stiff, and give me blisters – but these I can count on no matter what.

Sometimes we wear twirly skirts. The problem with this is that you have to be careful what you wear underneath them. Usually we wear a short, white slip, but this particular costume comes with bloomers. I love them. Oh, how I love them.

Ukrainian dancing has been a part of my life for so long that I have always accepted most of its details without question. I wear red boots to rehearsal and pin flowers to my hair and it’s as natural as brushing my teeth – and when I consider it, I treat most of my day-to-day fashion the same way. If I don’t feel the need to question it, nobody else will feel the need to question it either. And if they do, I won’t care.

-Hailey Siracky

13 thoughts on “The Red Boot Boogie

  1. aww wow this really is an awesome write up! one of my very best friends in high school was big into ukrainian dancing, and all other things ukranian community. I learned a few things and went to about a half year of her dance classes with her. once at a high school variety show we performed some really beginner stuff.
    i remember the costumes being so elaborate! my friend’s mom used to make them for a few of the girls and wow! that’s talent!

  2. Hee hee – if this were any sweeter my head would explode. That first picture alone was too wonderful.
    The “fishtails” make sense, I think. Those lines, from a distance, would give the impression of a smile – you know, the way people’s eyes crinkle around the edges when they’re happy.
    But dear you – I WANT THOSE BOOTS! I had no idea there were red boots involved in all this. I feel misled… cheated!
    Well done, h. Great post.

  3. Wow, I am in awe of your talent. I know you are not adopted, and I know you were the only baby in the hospital when I delivered you. I think you are amazing, and I am a very proud mother

  4. Thanks, everyone!

    Meaghan – all the embroidery involved in making costumes is insane. There is so much of it, and it’s usually pretty complex (at least it seems that way to me, as my embroidery skills are pretty much nonexistent). We get a lot of our costumes made for us now, but there are a few we still have to do for ourselves, and they are definitely a lot of work.

    g – I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before. They totally would give the illusion of a smile. As for the boots, we wear black ones sometimes, too. We also have a pair that are tighter, and lace about 1/3 of the way up our calves. Those ones hurt a little, but they’re pretty striking. I’ll see if I can round up a picture.

    Also – Hi, mom.

  5. Okay, so remember what I said would happen if this got any sweeter?
    Seriously. Your MOM just commented to say she is proud of you.

    *head explodes*

  6. Thanks for visiting my blog!! (and this story is so sweet!!)

    I finally found the tag that came with my crocheted cuff and it was from It looks like she has an etsy store, but no cuffs…

    Amy :)

  7. Hailey, This was truly a blessing to read. For years many of us have gone through the exact thing! I still have the first tiny blouse my Baba embroidered for me and when it was time for my little girl to start, my Mom did so much to help me make her one. A couple of years later when we decided to start an adult group here, there she was again helping myself and my sister with our new blouses. Keep dancing for as long as you can. I am testament that it never leaves you! I will never give up my first set of boots!

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