Dancing Through this Together

A grant from ECF helps the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers zoom into modernity with the use of online teaching for all ages

We’ve been pretty proactive at Shumka since the beginning of COVID,” says Ukrainian Shumka Dancers (USD) Creative Director Tasha Orysiuk. “Soon after the shutdown in the spring, we organized rehearsals for the company online. We kept researching ways to improve the Zoom experience for our dancers to make it the best we could within the present situation.

”We found out that our Seniors were really missing their classes as well, so we offered them classes online and they were also successful. All during the summer, plans were made for Shumka School for the year, that included plans for Zoom classes, in case there was another closure for dance schools. With all that said, we were prepared and experienced to continue classes online with all our students and the company and so the transition went well.”

Recognizing that this was important to a vast and far-reaching community, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) decided to lend a hand.

On October 13, ECF donated $14,400 to the USD as part of the Government of Canada’s $350-million Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt and increase frontline services to vulnerable people during COVID-19.

“We’ve had to adapt to life during the pandemic,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy says. “And this grant is helping Shumka continue serving its community.”

The funding is enabling USD to run dance classes for all ages and levels simultaneously online and in person.

“I feel that we are all in this together and we all have our good and bad days,” Orysiuk says. “When I go into a Zoom class, I see a mixture of contented and deflated dancers. My goal is always to bring some happiness into their lives. Besides getting exercise from dance (which is a great way to help release dopamine into your body!), I try to get them involved in the class. We do breakout rooms, have different people teach different sections and so on.  If I can leave them at the end of the class with more of a smile on their face, than when they started, I feel successful.”

Through the ups and downs, Orysiuk still sees the positive. Through community, dedication and perseverance, Orysiuk is inspired by those who come to her for inspiration as well.

“My seniors (65+ year old dancers) have been great at joining me for Zoom classes.  And as one of them said, she loves her dance class because ‘It’s cheaper than therapy!’,” she says. “When I’m teaching younger students, I will often see younger siblings joining in the class or watching their older brothers or sisters dance.  What a wonderful inspiration the siblings can be towards each other.”

Oh yeah, and it isn’t just humans who love to dance.

“In every class I teach, there is always one pet that likes to join into the class,” Orysiuk adds. “One female was doing a forward bend and her dog wanted her to “shake a paw” as she reached to the ground.

“The most important highlight for me over the last few months, is how proud I am of the commitment of our dancers. Everyone from the Shumka School, Seniors Classes and the Shumka company shows up to participate in the best way they can, whether it be in person with a mask or over Zoom.  This commitment makes me feel that the arts will survive, and in the end thrive after the pandemic”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.