Top Ukrainian dance clubs prepare to take over E.A. Rawlinson stage

Andie Hidlebaugh, Brooklyn Diamond, Nicole Rowlett and Olivia Panell of the Nipawin Veselii Dancers perform during the opening day of the 2019 Prince Albert Ukrainian Dance Festival. The event continues with performances from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Dorothy Kawula and her army of volunteers are getting tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.

Kawula and Terry Oleksyn are co-chairs of the 2019 Prince Albert Ukrainian Dance Festival, which kicked off Friday at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. The past few weeks have been hectic and demanding for festival organizers, but it’s all going to be worth it in the end.

“There’s such a joy infused in Ukrainian dance,” Kawula said during an interview on Thursday. “I think a lot of people might think of Ukrainian dance as something that is … traditional, and yes, that’s the case. But, it’s also infused with that joy of life. That hopefulness. That enthusiasm.”

Prince Albert’s annual dance festival has been bringing that joy and enthusiasm to the stage for more than three decades. This year marks 32 since the show first kicked off at the Carlton Comprehensive High School auditorium.

Since then, dancers from more than 70 different clubs across Canada have made the trip to Prince Albert. The list includes regular local attendees, like clubs from Meath Park or Wakaw, along with dancers from Alberta and Manitoba.

Kawula credits the great facilities at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for continually drawing those clubs back to P.A., and volunteers, service clubs and local businesses for giving them something to come back to.

“The community is very, very supportive, and then having the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, the quality of that facility really makes a huge difference,” she said. “They’re great to work with. They’re able to accommodate most if not all of our needs.”

Performers from the Prince Albert Barveenok Ukrainian Dancers will be among the more than 300 dancers taking part in this year’s event. While clubs from across the country have dancers as old as 60, Barveenok focuses on youth dancing, with roughly 50 dancers between the ages of three and 18.

Club president Lori Chenier said students always look forward to the festival, partly for the camaraderie, and partly to see what their counterparts from across the country are up to.

“It’s great to see what other dance clubs are doing and what they’re working on,” Chenier explained. “It gives the (local) dancers an opportunity to actually meet some of these other dancers from these other groups, and they keep in contact throughout the year.”

“It’s just an awesome opportunity,” Kawula added. “It’s all about the dancers and they are just exceptional. They’re exceptional people, but also exceptional dancers.”

This year’s adjudicator is Murray Howell, the co-creator and facilitator of the Ukrainian Dance Instructor Conference. Howell has taught Ukrainian dance for 18 years, and toured internationally during his 15 years with Edmonton’s Ukrainian Shumka Dancers.

The 2019 Prince Albert Ukrainian Dance Festival runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. All performances are at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. A canteen featuring traditional Ukrainian food will also be on site.