The dances are classified as circular and topical, the latter including dances that reflect folkways, occupational and humorous dances, and others. The majority of Ukrainian folk dances closely resemble the circular dance types but are enriched by figurative intricacies; the pair and solo dances evolved from this type. The circular dances are accompanied by a song.
The hopak, which features physical strength and almost acrobatic agility, is the most popular dance. Its theme is a youth’s wooing of a girl. The youth executes the dance in order to gain the girl’s favor.
The hopak is an original Ukrainian folk dance of’ an improvised nature. Its name is derived from hopaty: ‘ to leap and stamp one’s feet.’ It arose as a male dance at the Zaporozhian Sich in the 16th century and gradually spread throughout Ukraine, particularly through the Kyiv region. As it spread it became transformed into a group dance performed by couples with males retaining the lead role. It has several variants: a solo dance, a group and couple dance, and in Western Ukraine a circular danсe (hopak-kolo). Its charm and attractiveness lie in the hopak’s freedom of improvisation, which allows individual dancers to display their talents-within a larger dance group. The basic male movements are leaps, squats, stretches on the ground and in the air, and various turns; the female movements are quick steps, bends, and turns. Solo performances in the hopak often involve a competition in virtuosity. Complex acrobatic movements are common in stage arrangements of the dance. The
hopak is the culminating dance in the repertoire of almost all Ukrainian dance ensembles. Hopak melodies often appear in classical music.
Ukrainian folk dances, unlike those of other peoples, were not affected strongly by court dances. Therefore they preserved their virtuosity and originality for a longer period of time. It should be emphasized that the female in Ukrainian folk dances has a dignified role; she dances gracefully and behaves modestly; she may at times act flirtatiously, but she always expresses her feelings in a restrained manner. The esthetic beauty and originality of the Ukrainian folk dances are augmented by the colorful folk costumes of the dancers and the melodic musical accompaniment.