Guests take to the dance floor to the Polka tunes by SLOOHAI, during the Reechka Dancers’ 30th annual Malanka at the Arborg-Bifrost Community Hall Jan. 14. (Tammy Karatchuk, For Interlake Publishing, Postmedia Network)
It’s a tradition passed down to the next generation. At the Arborg Bifrost Community Centre Jan. 14, the Reechka Ukrainian Dance Club celebrated Malanka and their 30th anniversary.
“I’m not even Ukrainian,” Raelene Blandford said. “We’re Icelandic. Everyone around us was Ukrainian. We kind of inherited the Ukrainian culture.”
When the Arborg Reechka Ukrainian Dance Club opened in 1986, Blandford’s parents signed up their two daughters for lessons.
“My parents wanted us to be a part of something,” Blandford said. “It was accessible.”
Now, Blandford’s two children, 14-year-old Savannah and 10-year-old Diego, dance with the Reechka dance troupe.
“I love it,” Diego said. “Just having fun, and jumping and stuff.”
Blandford wanted her children to experience the high-flying, intense activity.
“It’s the best way to stay in shape without going to the gym … I loved it so much,” Blandford said and who danced as an adult for five years. “I wanted it to be a part of their lives as well. Once they started, they both loved it. They’ve never wanted to stop.”
Blandford has participated in 20 of 30 Malankas as a dancer.
Reechka faced adversity in 2003, when the Arborg Community Hall burned. For two years, they relocated their Malanka, once to Fraserwood and the next year to Poplarfield. However, the club lost more than a rehearsal and performance space.
“All the costumes were burned,” Blandford said, who remembers her mom cross stitching intricate designs for hours during rehearsals. “We didn’t have insurance either.”
Now the dancers rent their bold and colourful costumers, and everything’s insured.
While Diego participated in Malanka, her older sister Savannah was unable to.
“She hurt her wrist because she had broken a bone,” Blandford said. “But the doctor cleared her to start again next week. So she’s excited.”
There’s a misconception that Ukrainian dancing is inexpensive and less intense than other sports. Blandford said there’s costumes, competition fees and instructor fees. Time and fundraising are other investments. The dancers compete in Dauphin, Manitoba and sometimes in Vegreville, Alta.
“It’s not cheap,” Blandford said. “It’s comparable to figure skating. People have no idea.”
Expense aside, Blandford said her sister still dances in Winnipeg with a live band. And Blandford couldn’t imagine life without Ukrainian dancing.
“It’s just part of what they (her children) love. It’s part of all of us.”