Stepping into the world of dance

For the past 20 years, Tanya Hyshka’s passion for Ukrainian Dancing has taken her across the world.

She’s taught workshops in Quebec, studied under dance instructors in Ukraine, toured with Edmonton’s prestigious Shumka Dancers and choreographed two major tours for a group travelling through Brazil and Costa Rica. Despite all that travel, Hyshka remains impressed by what happens back in her old stomping grounds of Western Canada.

“In the Montreal area, where I’ve been living now for the last few years, the dance base is not as strong,” Hyshka said during a stop at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Friday. “The Ukrainian language is very strong there, but in Western Canada, dance is super strong. It’s nice to be able to see how groups maintain that and keep it going from generation to generation.”

Hyshka is no stranger to the world of dance, having started at the age of four in her hometown of Edmonton. At 15 she was training with the Shumka School of Dance and eventually rose to the lead role in the club’s production of Cinderella from 1999 to 2003.

The experience was unforgettable, and it made her want to give back to the younger dancers following in her footsteps. From April 6-8 she’ll be doing just that, when she steps into the role of workshop leader and adjudicator at Prince Albert’s 31st annual Barveenok Ukrainian Dance Festival.

“I’m excited to be able to share that knowledge with the younger dancers who are here … and also the older dancers who may pursue a future career in professional dance,” she said. “Maybe it’s just … more of a recreational part of their life, but it’s something that I know will be with them for the rest of their lives.”

On Friday, Hyshka and students from across the prairies dove into the world dance technique, stage presence, confidence, musicality and a variety of other areas critical for a strong performance. But as much as she wants her charges to succeed, Hyshka is quick to admit that festivals like this one aren’t just about the training, the teaching, or even the competing. It’s also about keeping in touch with your heritage, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

“It really, really pushes you to get those butterflies out of the stomach when you’re in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people,” she chuckled. “That’s the beauty of dance and being able to be a part of these festivals and these adjudications.”

Last year, the Barveenok Festival drew more than a dozen clubs with dancers ranging from under the age of five to 18 and older. They learned alongside dancers from Prince Albert’s own Barveenok Ukrainian Dance Club, with everyone competing in dance categories inspired by the different Ukrainian regions.

Club president Lori Chernier said Saskatchewan has a vibrant Ukrainian dancing scene, and getting all those competitors together at one time makes for a hectic, but exciting, occasion.

“The kids practice and work so hard to show off their talents,” Chernier said. “It’s just wonderful to be able to see the culture coming through and everybody celebrating together.”

Festivals don’t last 31 years unless something keeps drawing people back, and for Chernier, that something is camaraderie. Although the dancers at the festival might only see each other once or twice a year, the experience, like the training and the dancing, is unforgettable.

“It’s great to be active and to get out there, but it’s (also) great for them to be able to meet each other and to get know each other,” she said. “Even though they’re from different cities and they may be competing against each other, but they can still be friends.”

The Prince Albert Barveenok Ukrainian Dance Festival continues on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. Traditional Ukrainian Food will also be available.

@kerr_jas •