Learners From Ukraine Offered More Than Language Classes

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You can dance to celebrate, learn an old tradition, or express yourself artistically. You can also dance to heal.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Inna Popova, Director, Professional, and Corporate Education at the McGill School of Continuing Studies (SCS), dance therapy classes were recently offered to forcibly displaced individuals from Ukraine taking free, six-week language courses at SCS.

Inna was born in Mariupol, Ukraine, a city that has suffered greatly in the current war with Russia. She lived there until she was 16 years old and later moved to Canada in her twenties. Her octogenarian father and stepmother managed to escape from the besieged Mariupol, where their house was destroyed. Fortunately, Inna was able to help them get across the war-torn Ukraine to Poland and then to Canada.

Inna discovered dance therapy classes at the National Centre for Dance Therapy (NCDT) at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens this summer. She thought the classes might be beneficial to Ukrainians, to help them heal and cope with the stress of adjusting to life in a new country. She looked through the profiles of instructors at NCDT and came across Tetiana Lazuk, Ph.D, R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is also Ukrainian, from the city of Chernivtsi. Inna reached out to her. She enthusiastically volunteered her time.

“When immigrants first arrive in a new city,” Inna explained, “they face a lot of challenges. They have to navigate bureaucracy, find a job, an apartment, furniture, etc. They need to learn a new language and are often alone, with no relatives. It is very stressful and stress hinders learning.”

Inna wanted to make dance therapy a reality for Ukrainian learners taking languages courses at the School, to enhance their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Meeting Tetiana made it all possible. They worked together, securing a place at McGill Athletics and Recreation complex thanks to Eyal Baruch, Assistant Manager, Facilities, Athletics and Recreation to hold the classes. According to Inna, dance therapy is not well known in Ukraine and people are generally skeptical about any form of psychological therapy. There were only four students in the first session, but the number jumped to 11 for the second class.

“The ones who participated,” explained Inna, “were very grateful. It was eye-opening for them - therapy through motion and dance.”

Marina Bumakh is originally from Kharkiv, Ukraine. She participated in the six-week English class and Tetiana’s dance therapy class.

“McGill is the best thing that has happened to me in Canada,” she said. “In Ukraine, I was a psychologist, working with women and children. I’m planning on doing the same here in Canada. Being in Tetiana’s dance class helped me relax. It was incredible. I felt like I was getting back in touch with myself.”

Sergiy Pryvalov and his wife, Oksana, also enrolled in Tetiana’s dance therapy class.

“It’s not really about dancing,” Sergiy explained, “It’s about working through psychological problems. This is especially important for Ukrainians since we are all going through negative situations related to the war. Many of us are experiencing post-traumatic stress having lost our relatives, friends, and homes.

“Adapting to a new country is stressful,” continued Sergiy. “The dance therapy classes are extremely important. They have brought psychological relief to my wife and me. We are very grateful to the McGill staff, especially Inna Popova for coming up with this idea. The project has been expanded to include the entire Ukrainian community, thanks to The Montreal Chapter of the Ukrainian National Federation, which recently provided the opportunity for Tetiana to continue classes there through the Montreal Ukrainian Wellness Program. Dance therapy can now benefit us all.”

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