Dancing is an important part of the Ukrainian culture, and it varies in different parts of the Ukraine.
The Capital News spoke with treasurer Peter Bihun of the Dolyna Ukrainian Cultural Society after the dancers’ performance as part of the Lake Country Indoor Children’s Festival held March 3.
Q: Tell me about the Ukrainian dancers in Kelowna.
A: There has been Ukrainian dancing in the Okanagan for many, many, many years. We are based in Kelowna. The present group started in 2009 with about 15 dancers and right now we’re up to 52 dancers.
Q: Why do you think so many people have an interest in this style of dance?
A: They want to get in touch with their culture, their traditions, their past. A lot of them have grandmas and grandpas that are Ukrainian that came to this area quite awhile ago and there’s a renewed interest in that. We don’t just teach dance, every Tuesday and Thursday we have our practice nights, so the kids go for an hour of dance and an hour of culture. In our culture classes, we teach them crafts, cooking, they make all sorts of cabbage rolls, perogees, Easter eggs and all sorts of things like that.
Q: Why did Ukrainians decide to live in the Okanagan?
A: For Ukrainians, it was 125 years since they arrived in Canada. One of the original people that came to this area was my grandma and grandpa and they settled in Vernon. Most of the Ukrainians settled on the prairies, they wanted the free land, the homesteads and so on. But, when we went back to Ukraine and looked at their village it was fruit growing area. They were involved in growing fruit and processing it and I thought wow, this is pretty much like home for them.
I would say since the early 1900s there have been Ukrainians here. There have been churches started that are still rolling.
Q: What’s a traditional style of dance in Ukraine?
A: The dances that we do are from central Ukraine, which is very much like Saskatchewan. It’s flat and long and the steps reflect that. The steps are long, with long leaping moves and lots of room. They wear lots of flowers in their hair. Guys have embroidered flowers on their shirts. A lot of it is based on the Ukrainian Cossacks of the 16th century.
The other part of Ukraine is very much like the Okanagan. In the Carpathian Mountains, they are low mountains, you can’t do these big leaping steps or you’ll go right over the edge of a cliff. So the steps there tend to be faster, sort of up and down steps and they have their own particular music and costumes. Their costumes tend to be wool, leather, warmer materials and their shoes are turned up at the tips for going down mountains.
Each region has its own flavour of dance, it’s own costume.
Q: What type of dance did the Doylan dancers perform during the Children’s Festival?
The type of dance done at the Children’s Festival was mainly from the plains. The boys wear the big baggy pants which are designed for riding on horseback. So they have the freedom of movement, red boots, riding boots. They were based on warriors.
These steps of what the boys do come from a Ukraine martial art. The girl’s steps tend to be more dainty, feminine and to bring forth a beauty of the female.
Q: How many Ukrainians are in the Central Okanagan?
A: The last census said we have more than 1.5 million Ukrainians in Canada and the Okanagan has about 10 percent of that Ukrainian history in the Kelowna area.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to continue passing the culture along?
A: It gives you a sense of identity, where you’re from and your past. If you know your history, you’re not going to repeat your mistakes and if you know your history you can appreciate the arts and crafts. That’s what we do in our group, encourage knowing the past and have a connection with Ukraine.
Q: Where can people find out more about the Ukrainian society?
A: Our website, www.dolynadancers.com, has all sorts of recipes, coming events and photos of past events. Our year-end performance is coming up in May at the Rotary Theatre of the Arts. This year’s show will be focusing on fairy tales. Ukrainians love fairy tales.
Every two weeks, the Capital News will feature a different culture as part of the video segment for Carli’s Cultural Connections. To get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.