Walking by Vault Dance Studio on the corner of 17th and Oak, you may look through the spotless floor-to-ceiling windows and see a couple training for ballroom competition on the world stage. In their rehearsal gear of sleek shoes and casually elegant attire, the couple pose, twirl and move with powerful emotion, telling a story of romance against a background of clean acoustic guitar in a song special to their home country.
Even with Ukraine ravaged by war, refugees Hanna Lytvynovych and Anton Ivanyshyn have not slowed down their ambitions as professional ballroom dancers. Their goals have just shifted direction.
“We need to continue our life because if all Ukrainians stop, it’s not good for Ukraine,” Lytvynovych says of the couple’s decision to participate in a ballroom competition in England last May.
They had spent a year training for the competition and did not want the painful emotions and situation the war created to put a halt to their dreams of success in professional dance. Continuing careers and dreams was also the advice Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave to his people, and the couple wants to follow that advice.
For the couple, continuing their career means continuing to train for professional competitions. But now having started a new life in Eugene working at Vault Dance Studio, they have another ambition as well: making Oregon a center for ballroom dance in the U.S. Currently, the ballroom dance scenes in the U.S. are in Southern California and on the East Coast, Lytvynovych and Ivanyshyn say.
“We want to see a full studio with kid students and adult students,” Lytvynovych says. “It’s very good for our soul.”
As of its soft opening Sept. 12, the Lytvynovych and Ivanyshyn are the main operators and instructors at the studio, which is no new experience for them. They have run and taught at several dance studios in Ukraine.
Debbie Wright, also a ballroom dancer and owner of Vault, heard about the couple through a mutual friend in the dance world. By a stroke of luck, Lytvynovych and Ivanyshyn , who lived in the nation’s capital of Kyiv, were in Poland for a dance competition when Russia invaded Ukraine. After spending a few months in Poland grieving the start of war, then traveling to and back from England for their competition, the couple was looking for teaching gigs. At that time, Wright also happened to be looking for professional ballroom dance teachers for Vault Dance Studio.
Wright was able to sponsor the couple through United for Ukraine, a program allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor Ukrainian refugees and bring them to the U.S. While there is no work requirement, the couple are able to continue their passion at Wright’s studio — which has a story of its own.
Vault Dance Studio, so named for the vault door remaining from the building’s previous life as a branch of U.S. Bank, was created out of a love Wright gained from a dance competition fundraiser for Angel Hair Foundation. Wright created the organization to help find hair for kids who lost their own to a medical condition, like her daughter did in eighth grade. The competition was similar to Dancing with the Stars, and gave Wright the passion for ballroom dance that led to her buying the space for Vault Dance Studio in 2019. The studio could not open until recently due to setbacks from the pandemic.
Although it’s only been open a short time, Lytvynovych, Ivanyshyn and Wright are optimistic about the studio. Wright says the studio is heading in a good direction by generating curiosity among those coming by, and the couple has noticed a sense of friendly openness among those who have stopped by the studio so far. People here are open to trying something new, Lytvynovych says.
“I think America can go to a higher level in ballroom dance on the world stage,” Lytvynovych says. “And I want to start from Oregon.”
Vault Dance Studio is at 99 E. 17th Avenue. For more information, visit VaultDance.com or call 541-844-4212.