The Dunai Dance Ensemble is a Ukrainian folk dancing group based in St. Catharines, Ontario. Dunai caters to dancers from all over the Niagara Region – rehearsing throughout the school year and performing across the province in the spring and summer. This year, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the treasured group.
Dunai began in 1967 when the Ukrainian Canadian Committee of St. Catharines was looking for a project that would promote and preserve Ukrainian culture, given the approaching celebrations of Canada’s 100th Birthday. The project was to be something not based on religious or political affiliations. With the establishment of a Youth Ukrainian Canadian Committee, the seeds of the Ukrainian Dunai Folk Ensemble grew from the existing Ukrainian National Youth Federation of Canada (MYHO) performers to include youth from the entire Niagara Region. The aim was to unite the cultural effort of young Ukrainian-Canadians in order to contribute to the culture of Canada.
The Ukrainian youth of St. Catharines and surrounding area came together to preserve their Ukrainian culture, through both song and dance. The Ukrainian Dunai Folk Ensemble was formed and Orest Samitz was asked to take the reins of choreographer, with Nadia Hladysh-Palowich in charge of the choral voices. Mr. Samitz continued as artistic director and choreographer for most of Dunai’s existence. Orest’s daughter Marika (Samitz) Silwedel took over until 2004 and was followed by her brother Andrew Samitz. Since then, the current artistic director is Nadia Klun Stadler and Anastasia Huminilowycz, is the program coordinator for the beginner, junior, and intermediate groups.
Dunai is well known and respected locally, having participated in the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival as well as the Folk Arts Festival for many years. Several Dunai Dance Ensemble performances have taken place in Niagara and the group has received many awards and acknowledgements.
Since 1967, Dunai has appeared at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre, Detroit’s Ford Theatre, Chicago’s Concert Hall and Halifax’s Rebecca Hall. They have performed for Queen Elizabeth II, Canadian Prime Ministers and have appeared on the NBC Today Show. Tours have taken them to Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the Ukrainian National Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. Dunai has performed at Ontario Place in Toronto many times, as well as in Sudbury, Hartford, Philadelphia, Yonkers, New York City, and at Soyuzivka in the Catskills.
In 1988, the group prepared a special program to celebrate the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine taking them to the 5th Congress of the World Federation of Free Ukrainians at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and later to a Canadian celebration in Ottawa.
In 1999, Dunai had the prestigious honour of performing at the 1999 World Rowing Championships in St. Catharines.
Today, Dunai’s program develops dancers ranging from children five years of age to university graduates. Many past dancers continue to take part in Dunai activities including administrative roles, productions and teaching. Children and grandchildren of former members of the group are dancing and teaching today.