Santa Barbara organization brings world together during Sunday sessions
Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final article in a News-Press series on local efforts to help Ukraine.
Every Sunday at 10 a.m. PST, Santa Barbara-based World Dance for Humanity holds “Dance and Dialogue” Zoom calls with Ukraine.
It’s a chance for Americans to comprehend the realities of war, and for Ukrainians to escape from it, even just for an hour. There are tears, laughter and an outpouring of love, support and gratitude.
This past Sunday, 48 people joined the weekly Zoom call from Santa Barbara, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Kherson, Kyiv, Brovary, the Odessa region and Mykolaiv.
“Dancing during a war is a very strange concept,” Janet Reineck, founder and director of World Dance for Humanity, told the News-Press.
But she added, “Through time, we have realized that music is a way that we can connect, by moving together to Ukrainian music of all kinds. There is a phenomenal amount of beautiful Ukrainian music. This is how you get America to ‘feel’ Ukraine.
“On the Zoom call, some move, and some just sit there. It is a very unique and personal experience for everyone,”
Dr. Reineck holds a master’s in dance ethnology from UCLA and a doctorate in anthropology from UC Berkeley. Her goal in creating World Dance in 2010 was to share the joy of international music and dance while serving people in need.
These weekly Zoom calls have been going on for about a month.
Dr. Reineck explained how the special Zoom calls started.
“During COVID, we were having classes on Zoom seven days a week within two weeks. We had classes every day seven days a week for a year and a half without missing a day,” she explained. “We created a space for those who were disoriented and lonely where they could be together.
“Post-pandemic we slowly began resuming in-person classes. One Zoom class has remained on Sundays. So we have always maintained this one Zoom class,” said Dr. Reineck. “We are very involved and talking to local Ukranians in Santa Barbara. We are like family.
“We were Zooming in with the friends of some of our local Ukrainians based in Ukraine. We then invited them to join us for our Sunday Zoom sessions, and a few of the Ukrainians started joining us.”
“There is a phenomenal connection between hearts and minds through music,” Dr. Reineck said. “Some people invite their parents, husbands or kids to the weekly calls. I have never had anything like this ever. I don’t think there is anything like this happening in the world. We are getting together to feel each other’s realities every week. We talk and dance to Ukrainian and American music and then we talk again.”
The News-Press asked Dr. Reineck to describe the atmosphere during these weekly calls.
“It is a real mix with lots of emotion and excitement. It is a charged atmosphere. There is an excitement to meet each other and be together. It is exciting to meet new people in Ukraine. There are happy moments and laughter. We are getting to know people who come regularly. The music evokes tragedy and sorrow, and we go with those emotions.”
These weekly Zoom calls are open to everyone, and there is no charge. “Everyone and anybody can participate including kids, grandparents, dancers and non-dancers. Everyone is welcome. We aren’t there to talk about politics or argue about the war. This is strictly making friends and sharing a common humanity,” said Dr. Reineck.
“It is growing every week, and our dancers bring friends and family members. I feel our job is to keep awareness about Ukraine alive. We do it by getting to know the people in Ukraine.
“It raises awareness by making it real for people,” she continued. “People get tired of hearing about wars, but this isn’t what you hear about on the nightly news. They are friends wondering if they are going to be bombed. These Sunday gatherings are the ultimate human experience connecting with people whose lives are so different and so hard and are suffering every day, but the fact when they get on the call and see that we care about Ukraine.
“They know we really care, and it really makes them hopeful. It is a profound human connection,” said Dr. Reineck. “It is a pure unadulterated connection. The advantage of Zoom is that it is focused. It is an intimate connection. We are in each other’s living rooms. There’s no formality it is as if we have known each other a long time.”
In addition to the Zoom calls, World Dance for Humanity has raised $225,000 to help Ukrainians, and Dr. Reineck explained the money is going in two directions.
“The Ukrainian church in Goleta is supplying food and supplies to refugee shelters,” she said, referring to the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Santa Barbara.
“The other is the Ukrainian Women of Santa Barbara where we send about $1,500 a week,” Dr. Reineck said. “We are connected with friends in Ukraine who are running shelters. They assess what they need versus what they can get. The check is sent to friends after a purchase list is itemized. We see every receipt, and we can account for every dollar donated.”