KYIV, Ukraine — On a recent Wednesday evening, in a third-floor dance studio, half a dozen 20-somethings spun and stomped to the cheery tunes of a Spotify playlist. These weren’t the latest pop hits or TikTok trends, however; the dancers were practicing kozachky, polkas, waltzes and other traditional styles of Ukrainian dancing, set to instrumental tunes played on the violin and bubon, a sort of Ukrainian tambourine.
“Even 10 years ago, this culture was something very old-fashioned and not interesting, something you can see in a museum, but now it’s totally changed,” said Artem Tselikov, a 21-year-old who was taking the class.
Traditional dancing was becoming popular again, but Russia’s full-scale invasion “just accelerated it,” Mr. Tselikov said. “People started to ask themselves the existential questions of their identity,” he said. “When we eliminated Russian pop culture, our traditional things got an opportunity.”
The songs and dances have had a resurgence in part because of the work of Andriy Levchenko, 31, and Kateryna Kapra, 28, co-founders of the cultural organization Rys. For nearly a decade, inspired in part by their experiences during the pro-Europe Maidan protests, they have been undertaking expeditions to record and preserve traditional songs, especially from villages in central and eastern Ukraine. For the past several years, they have been organizing classes teaching traditional songs, dances and musical instruments.
“In Ukrainian music, there is a lot about what people are living through right now,” Ms. Kapra said. “In Ukrainian history, there were a lot of wars, and this music helped people to live and go on.”
There was little sign of the emotional turmoil of wartime Ukraine as dozens of people gathered in the open air of a cafe rooftop a few days later in the city center. Preparations for the evening’s event — setting up seating for musicians and collecting tickets from the patrons — continued even as the air raid siren wailed and a boom momentarily turned heads, likely the sound of Kyiv’s air defenses. The warning was soon lifted, and live traditional Ukrainian music began as scheduled.
Iryna Boyko, 18, a history student, was there to enjoy herself.
“When the full-scale war started, I decided we needed to live here and now, and I went to the first lesson,” she said. “You understand that it’s a part of our culture that was suppressed under the Soviet Union, and now we want to bring back our tradition. I just didn’t know that it was that fun.”
Yaryna Dron, 30, who works with Rys to organize dance classes, was first out on the dance floor. Later, she picked up a violin.
“The most beautiful thing about traditional dances is that people dance them for themselves, only for themselves,” she said. “It’s not a performance. It’s not a show. It’s just to have fun, to dance to the music you hear.”