Folklorama in the family Spirit of Ukraine traces arc from nagging and worry to glowing pride for longtime volunteers Doug and Deanna Tkach and children Ivan and Isabel
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IVAN Tkach and his sister Isabel are in warm-up clothes, rehearsing to an empty hall with their ensemble, Zoloto Ukrainian Dance. In a little over two hours, they will be resplendent in their dance costumes — Ivan in sharovary, those voluminous pants; Isabel with a vinok, the ribboned flower crown, perched on her head — performing to a full house at the Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion at Folklorama. They will dance in three shows tonight, and are half-way through a weeklong, 23-show run.
Folklorama families can be found in each of the annual cultural festival’s pavilions, and the Tkach family is one of them. Ivan and Isabel’s parents, Doug and Deanna Tkach, are longtime volunteers with the Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion (Doug is one of this year’s adult ambassadors) and are veteran Ukrainian dance parents. Ivan, now 18, has been dancing since he was three years old.
“I do remember all the times where we get them in the car, and it’s, ‘Do I have to go to dance? Do I have to go to dance?’” Doug says. “And then we’d pick them up at the end of rehearsal, and it would be, ‘That was amazing.’ They were so full of enthusiasm and energy afterwards.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Isabel says with a wry smile.
Isabel also began her Ukrainian dance journey at three, following in her big brother’s footsteps — though the path she took to get there looked a bit different.
Isabel has cerebral palsy “or spastic diplegia — I know, I sound so smart, there,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a specific form of it. Essentially, I have super tight muscles in my legs. It affects a tiny bit of my arms, but not to the point where I can’t use them. I get tired really easily.” Her balance is also affected, too.
Through the rigours of dance, which is an hours-long commitment every week, Isabel was able to strengthen and connect with her body. “I complain about going to dance a lot less because I see the health benefits,” she says. “I don’t know how my legs or balance would be without it.”
It was Keris Matskiw, the founding artistic director of Zoloto Ukrainian Dance, who suggested to Doug and Deanna that Ukrainian dance would be good for Isabel. “Keris is a big supporter of Isabel,” Deanna says. “And Isabel’s physiotherapist definitely notices a difference in her because of dance. The things she’s able to do, the strength she has, better balance.”
Isabel says dance is an encouraging, supportive environment. She’s made lifelong friends being involved with Zoloto, which is what makes her want to stick with it. “And, as vain as this sounds, the costumes,” she says.
Ivan, too, loves the social aspect. “I think a massive part of it is the people,” he says. “I’ve known some of these people for 14, 15 years already, so it felt right to keep going with it. And it’s the only source of exercise I get, so.”
Before showtime, dancers are excitedly peeking through the curtains, locating family members in the audience. The littlest kids, the same age Ivan and Isabel were when they started dancing, are proudly showing off their costumes to their babas.
When Zoloto finally takes the flower-wreathed stage, they are sensational. Ivan performs a crowd-pleasing duet with his longtime dance partner, Emma, and later takes a few athletic solo turns in the famed Hopak, which closes the show. Isabel, meanwhile, is as effervescent on stage as she is in conversation, light and quick on her feet.
For Deanna and Doug, seeing their kids dance is a source of pride and joy.
“They give me goosebumps every time I see them on the stage,” Deanna says before the show. “I see confidence in them when they’re on the stage, the smiles. They work hard. I couldn’t be more thrilled with them being involved in this.”
Doug says it’s different for each of his kids. “Ivan, in your case, you and Emma, three and four, dancing together, and now you’re 18 and 19 doing your duet together. When I see the two of you doing that duet, it just blows my mind to think that these are the same little three and four year olds who used to do this.
“And for Isabel, I think back to when she was little and we used to put the leg braces on every night for her to go to bed because of her cerebral palsy, and I see her now dancing on stage, and I think, ‘How did we ever get here?’”
“Oh, dad,” Isabel says, demure but beaming.
“It’s true,” he says. “Like how did we get from there to here? Now you’re this amazing dancer. You each just make me so happy. I could watch and watch and watch.”
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.