Perogies, paska and… Zumba?

Ukrainian, Philippine communities host fundraisers to help those hit by war


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While some might see Sunday as a day of rest, the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba took the day to dance it out for a good cause.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/04/2022 (302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While some might see Sunday as a day of rest, the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba took the day to dance it out for a good cause.

Dancers took to the centre’s stage Sunday afternoon for hours of moving, grooving, Zumba and “retro fitness” — a Philippines-founded dance program based around old-school music. For a month, the Retro Fitness International dance group have been fundraising: for a $10 ticket, you get to dance the afternoon away with certified Zumba instructors to the tunes of yesterday.

At the centre of it all, their intrepid leader, Zumba instructor Rhiz Aco. The 48-year-old businesswoman is a five-foot blur of retro scrunchies, brightly coloured nails and neon-print leggings jumping and gyrating to Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Rhiz Aco leads a Zumba class at the Philippine Canadian Cultural Centre of Manitoba Sunday. The local dance group is hoping to raise $3,000 for Red Cross Ukraine humanitarian aid through ticket sales and an auction. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We’re hearing about this news everywhere about Ukraine, we were actually (inspired) by our students telling us, ‘Why don’t you try to make some fundraising for Ukraine?’” she told the Free Press Sunday.

The local dance group, which was founded by Aco in 2019, is hoping to raise $3,000 for Red Cross Ukraine humanitarian aid through ticket sales and an auction to come after the workout. Aco said she believes they’re the first dance fitness group to hold a fundraiser for Ukraine in the city.

“Filipinos are always willing to help, anywhere they go,” she said. “Any country, wherever they go, they always open (their) arms to help other people. That’s what I was taught.”

The newest member of the group, Leah Andres, said people’s willingness to sign up had given her additional faith in humanity.

“Our passion is dancing, we’re all professionals… it’s just our hobby to dance,” Andres said.

“And that passion, putting it to good use, this is what the cause is all about, this is what the fundraising is all about.”

Aco waves off the idea that it’s new or novel for different cultural groups in Winnipeg to step up when their fellow communities are in need. The idea came naturally to her and other organizers.

“Dancing and music doesn’t know any colour or race,” she said, shrugging. “It’s the love.”

In the North End, an Easter sale promising perogies, paska, borscht and cabbage rolls drew people from all over the neighbourhood and beyond Sunday afternoon.

The parish hall of the Sts. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral was alive with conversations in both English and Ukrainian as dozens piled in to stock up on Ukrainian delicacies, flags and even shirts in support of Ukraine. The sale was entirely supplied by around 100 donors, with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to relief efforts overseas.

Val Peters heads home after purchasing her Ukrainian items for her Easter dinner at the Easter Ukrainian Market at the Sts. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral parish hall Sunday. The sale was supplied by donors and all proceeds are going to relief efforts overseas. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It’s all the Ukrainian organizations working together, and it’s often, ‘I know a person who knows a person who knows a person,’ to find the fastest link from our help to a person,” organizer Iryna Deneka said.

The organization is full of people trying to put in hours to organize these fundraisers outside of their full-time jobs, often gathering after church services or virtually through group chats.

The cause is “about as personal as it gets” for Deneka, who has lived in Winnipeg for 24 years but is from Ukraine, and was last there in December, just before her father passed away.

It’s moving to see Ukrainians coming out in solidarity with those struggling in their home country, she said, but it’s been moving to watch Winnipeggers from all walks of life come together in this time of need.

“It’s unbelievable. You see people who are not from the Ukrainian community, and they’re here to support us,” she said, wiping away tears. “My neighbours have a Ukrainian flag, and my neighbours are not Ukrainian.”

Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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