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A Ukrainian KID IN THE HALL

The hours I've spent there are distilled into a scent called contentment

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Larissa Peck outside her favourite place, the Ukrainian  National Federation hall at 935 Main St.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Larissa Peck outside her favourite place, the Ukrainian National Federation hall at 935 Main St. Photo Store

You could blindfold me, drive me across town and spin me around 16 times but I’d know at first whiff I was standing inside the Ukrainian National Federation hall.

It's not a traditionally desirable aroma — not like turkey dinner roasting in the oven or popcorn or fresh-baked bread, though sometimes when the breeze is blowing in the right direction you can smell City Bread from the front steps.

It's a smell that's quite hard to describe, but definitely includes hints of dampness, dust, sweaty leather shoes and notes of spilled beer, oldness, and some industrial-strength cleaning product. Maybe it doesn't sound so appealing, but it smells familiar, and it feels good.

I can't say how many hours I've spent under the roof of the Ukrainian National Federation hall at 935 Main St., though generally speaking "lots" would sum it up.

The place was built in 1948, and my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather had a hand in the construction and the funding of the building. The hall would be a cultural haven for the many Ukrainians that populated the Point Douglas area. The building housed a Ukrainian school, a choir, a museum that is now Oseredok on Alexander Avenue, a dance school, numerous organizations including the Ukrainian war veterans and banquets every Saturday night, complete with lights from the disco ball that still hangs from the ceiling.

My great-grandfather spent most of his days at the UNF hall and my grandmother has been involved with organizations at the hall all her life. She sewed costumes for the students of the dance school for years. My mom and aunt danced at the UNF hall and my mom and her friend — who would become my brother's godfather — became the assistant directors of the dance school.

Naturally, I was brought to the UNF hall for Ukrainian dance classes as soon as I could walk. There was a fire evacuation at my first dance concert and I never wanted to go onstage again.

I definitely contracted my first cooties at the UNF hall, when I was forced to hold hands with boys when I was only in Grade 2. My partner was especially repulsive because he licked the bottoms of his slippers.

Some of our group members got a bit too cool for dancing, but most of our parents made us go back every year, until eventually we thought it was fun and later still we realized we were entertaining an audience and expressing our culture. We loved it.

I danced with the UNF School of Dance for 15 years, with the kids whose parents my mom used to dance with. Then I went on to teach the kids of teachers who used to teach me.

Nowadays, the hall is used mostly by the dance school and the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble — one of the most prestigious, colourful and vibrant Ukrainian dance groups in the province.

I auditioned for Rusalka when I was 17 and I was so terrified and nervous, I forgot to wear a bodysuit. I was thrilled to find out I was accepted in spite of that.

I have met, worked with, learned from and become friends with the greatest and most talented people under the roof of the UNF hall. My experiences there have been exciting, nerve-wracking, hilarious, rewarding (like when I turn on the music and my students move and it looks like what I'd envisioned in my head), happy, sad, disgusting (like when I tell a child to keep dancing after he tells me his tummy hurts and I end up cleaning puke off the floor), challenging, frustrating, triumphant (like nailing that solo after months and months of practice) and overall, good.

It might just look like any other old building on a not-so-welcoming stretch of Main Street, the disco ball may not have turned in the last quarter-century, the last time it saw a coat of paint may have been when a scene from Shall We Dance was filmed inside in 2004, it might have a distinct scent but it has provided me, my family and many, many others with experiences and memories that will far outlive the hall itself.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2013 A1

History

Updated on Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 3:18 PM CDT: First paragraph added

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