A different spin on fitness

Winnipeg instructor's unique class incorporates Ukrainian dance into high-energy workout


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Kazka is the Ukrainian word for “fairy tale.” For dance instructor Kristina Frykas, Kazka Dance Collective is her fairy tale come true.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/10/2021 (490 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kazka is the Ukrainian word for “fairy tale.” For dance instructor Kristina Frykas, Kazka Dance Collective is her fairy tale come true.

She opened her boutique studio in Winnipeg two years ago and Hopakercise — her exercise class that blends Ukrainian dance and fitness — has become a hit. Frykas created and even trademarked the name.

Hopakercise originates from “hopak,” a Ukrainian folk dance that’s often referred to as the “national dance of Ukraine.”

photos by MIKE SUDOMA / Winnipeg Free Press Dance instructor Kristina Frykas shows off a few moves from her new program, Hopakercise, a workout with a mix of Ukrainian dance and fitness she’s trademarked.

“Hopakercise is a dance-based fitness class that combines the principles of Pilates, ballet and Ukrainian folk dance to create a high-energy workout,” Frykas says. “Hopak is the most well-known Ukrainian dance. It’s high energy and usually shows off everyone’s special skills.”

Frykas also teaches ballet classes for both children and adults in addition to jazz and Pilates.

As director of the Sopilka Ukrainian Dance School, Frykas spent years struggling to find rental space in Winnipeg that was suitable for her students — that means mirrors, ballet barres and a sprung floor. In 2019, with the support of the Women’s Enterprise Centre, she opened her own studio and was able to ensure all her dance needs were met. At Kazka, she’s able to teach dance and fitness classes while also using the space to house Sopilka dance students.

“For Sopilka, I was tired of renting (dance space) in other places. I built the studio for them,” she says. “Kazka is also a place for me to teach my own classes with a different spin. A non-competitive, community-first, joy-of-movement alternative from the everyday.”

Frykas is a professional ballet teacher who spent nearly two decades in the studios of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as both a graduate of the school’s teacher training program and alumni of the RWB School Recreational Division.

She’s been a Ukrainian dance instructor for just as long, has studied and taught dance in both Toronto and Italy, and was awarded the Ukrainian Dance World Instructor of the Year Award in 2019.

Not only does Frykas teach several classes each week, as a collective, the space is also rented by other dance ensembles. At Kazka, her Ukrainian roots and connection to culture, dance and community have played an integral part in the creation of her studio.

“I did my Pilates certification years ago so I always had an interest in fitness. Physiotherapy was something I considered doing as a career,” she says. “But when the teaching-dance bug bites you, you can’t let it go. I’m going to be the 80-year-old still teaching because I feel it really is a calling.”

When Kazka opened its doors in the fall of 2019, Frykas was teaching several in-person classes each week. That lasted just a few months due to the pandemic.

After about two weeks, Frykas says she was so bored that she started making dance and fitness videos for both her youth and senior dancers.

“I sent the videos to everybody. I even sent them to my aunt in Toronto and she was sending them all over the place. I sent them everywhere,” she says.

After the success of her videos, she decided to take it one step further. That May she began teaching virtual ballet, Pilates and Hopakercise classes.

“I started teaching classes over Zoom from my living room because I didn’t have the internet at the studio,” she says. “(My virtual classes) took off like gangbusters.”

By the summer, she was able to teach virtually from her studio. Her Hopakercise class had become so popular that she invested in new equipment.

“At the height of the pandemic, I had over 30 people on the screen,” she says. “I had been using my computer but had to get a TV because I couldn’t see everybody.”

Now, more than a year later, people from all over Canada and beyond take Frykas’s virtual class. Some of her previous dance students — now adults living in Toronto — sign on each week, as well as a former Manitoban (hailing from Dauphin) who now lives in the Cayman Islands.

Frykas has Facebook to thank for helping spread the word.

“A friend of mine facilitates dance tours for teachers and companies. He started an online resource called Ukrainian Dance World. It has a huge following on Facebook,” Frykas says.

Dr. Karen Klym, 57, a Winnipeg family physician who works in private practice, has been a member at Kazka since it first opened and began virtual Hopakercise classes during the lockdown last year.

“The virtual option is super-convenient for me because it means I can attend the class,” she says. “Part of the reason I haven’t been going to the (dance) studio in-person is because I have trouble getting myself anywhere on time from my office.”

Klym does not have a dance background; however, her four adult children all have extensive training and experience in Ukrainian dance. During lockdown, her three daughters joined in on the fun.

“At the time (of lockdown), three of our kids were living with us and two of them danced with Kristina previously, and they joined me for Hopakercise class,” she says. “So, the three of us were dancing together in the living room and our other daughter that lives in Toronto joined online as well. It was so fun and a big thrill for me to be dancing with my adult kids.”

Klym says it was a way to connect with her children, although she admits the class takes a bit of persistence… and a good sense of humour.

“My kids laugh at me and correct me. It’s very funny,” she says. “They roll their eyes and say I should point my foot more. They’re usually very gracious about it.”

For Klym, the advancement in technology is one of the few benefits of the pandemic.

“With the lockdown, my lack of (dance) experience no longer mattered because I was dancing in the living room. I thought, this is another thing I could do. Besides, we couldn’t do anything else,” she says. “Both working from home and exercising at home are causing people to rethink their schedules. It will be a lasting positive.”

Frykas says a lot of her virtual Hopakercise clients are mothers choosing to do something for themselves.

“Sometimes for moms, your life becomes all about your children and you put yourself last,” she says. “When everyone was at home, moms didn’t have to drive their kids to eight million activities in a day. So, at 7:15 p.m., these moms could go to their basement or living room and have one hour to do something for themselves.”

Having a virtual option allows people to try the class who may not feel totally comfortable doing it in-person.

“Some of these moms maybe wouldn’t have ever felt confident enough to step into the studio or had the opportunity because of all of their other commitments,” Frykas says.

Today, Frykas is back in the studio teaching several classes each week. In addition to her in-studio classes, Frykas will continue to offer virtual dance options. And that means a new and improved setup.

“We’re putting in a whole new system. New TV on the wall, webcam and I’m changing the setup to make it even better than what it is,” she says. “If I didn’t offer Zoom, I’d have a whole handful of clients that wouldn’t do anything anymore. If this is what it takes to keep them doing what they fell in love with, that’s what I’m going to do for them.”

Like many other businesses, it was never the plan to teach online dance classes. But Frykas is embracing this new way of connecting with her clients — and she has her Hopakercise class to thank for that.

“The pandemic was a way for all of us to stop, think and re-evaluate. Leading up to this, never in a million years did I ever think that I would be doing dance virtually,” she says. “But with the Hopakercise ladies, they fed me through the pandemic. I think that’s part of the reason why I’m so passionate about it — because that’s what got me through it.”







Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.

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