Painting of Ukrainian Dancers

Canadian Artist Brandy Saturley

The Art of Shumka – A Portrait Painting about Ukrainian Dancers

An Edmonton, Alberta collector of my paintings with Ukrainian Canadian roots sends me photos from time to time. Most recently she has been sending me joyful photos of her daughters’ Ukrainian dance group. The group is known as’ ‘Ukrainian Shumka Dancers’ and are the most widely known Ukrainian dance performers in Canada. This is where the story of my most recent painting, a portrait of Ukrainian dancers, begins.

Ukrainian Shumka dance is a traditional Ukrainian folk dance that has been passed down through generations of Ukrainians. The dance is performed by both men and women, and is characterized by its lively and energetic movements, intricate footwork, and colorful costumes. Shumka dance has a rich history that dates back hundreds of years. It was originally performed as a way to celebrate important events in Ukrainian culture, such as weddings, harvest festivals, and religious holidays. Over time, the dance evolved and became more stylized, with various regional variations emerging throughout Ukraine.

Today, shumka dance is still performed at cultural events, festivals, and competitions throughout Ukraine and around the world. It has become an important symbol of Ukrainian identity and heritage, and is cherished by Ukrainians both at home and abroad. One of the defining characteristics of shumka dance is its complex footwork. Dancers wear special shoes with wooden or leather soles that allow them to produce a variety of percussive sounds as they move across the dance floor. The footwork is often fast and intricate, and requires a great deal of skill and practice to master.

In addition to the footwork, shumka dance is also known for its expressive arm and hand movements. Dancers often use their arms and hands to convey emotions and tell stories through their movements, adding an extra layer of meaning and depth to the dance. Finally, the costumes worn by shumka dancers are another important aspect of the dance. Traditional costumes feature bright colors and intricate embroidery, and are often decorated with beads, sequins, and other embellishments. These costumes help to enhance the visual impact of the dance, and also serve as a reminder of Ukraine’s rich cultural heritage.

What I decide to paint in any given time is all about my intuition. Things that are vibrating and drawing my attention, touching something within me, I am a human lighting rod. What influences the work are things seen, heard, touched and tasted. Things that pull at my heart and cause my chest to pound. Perhaps the war in Ukraine and the constant news, but also the voices of my Ukrainian mother and grandmother whispering in my ear. The texts from an art collector who radiates sunshine into the world, who proudly shares photos taken at Shumka Dance performances in Edmonton. The YouTube videos of the dancers and the upbeat polka music. The colours of the costumes and smiling faces, they radiate the essence of Ukrainian culture ad hospitality.  All of these things move me, and then I receive one photo that stops me in my tracks with the note, “they came from Ukraine three weeks ago, they just keep going in Ukraine.” The photo (shown below) was radiating beauty, innocence and joy, and the colours and patterns of their cultural costumes seemed to be creating abstract landscapes of Ukraine.

Portrait of Ukrainian Dancers

Ukrainian Shumka Dancers in Edmonton, Alberta Canada – photo courtesy Crytes family.

Painting of Ukrainian Dancers

I was particularly taken with the face of the boy in the front center of the group and what his face is communicating. I chose to make him the focal point of my final painting. I used fluorescent gouache for underpainting and finishing details, the paint sets the canvas aglow. Below is a photo of the resulting portrait painting.

Portrait of Ukrainian Dancers

Spirit of Ukraine, 36×36, acrylic on canvas, 2023 – Brandy Saturley

Portrait of Ukrainian Dancers

Ukraine Strong, 40×30, acrylic on canvas, 2022 – Brandy Saturley

In my paintings of recent I am exploring the relationships between my Ukrainian family, history and influences and my modern-day artist self.

At this time in my life my parents are aging fast, and things are changing daily. My mother who was my earliest mentor in art and life, is now requiring our care. I am feeling the need to take time and connect more deeply to my cultural roots, which includes Ukrainian. My Ukrainian grandmother and grandfather immigrated to Edmonton from the Ukraine and created a restaurant business in Edmonton in the 1940’s. As I begin inheriting pieces from my Ukrainian great-grandmother and grandmother, I am discovering my Ukrainian heritage, woven with arts, crafts, symbols, and stories. I am also affected by war in Ukraine and moved by the stories of the people and the immigrants to Canada. As my career and work as a Canadian Artist continues to ascend, the depth of my work grows with renewed excitement and explorations of my Ukrainian Canadian heritage. In my paintings of recent I am exploring the relationships between my Ukrainian family, history and influences and my modern-day artist self.

Ukrainian paintings

Paintings about Ukrainian heritage and culture – Canadian artist Brandy Saturley studio

You can watch the behind the scenes process of making the painting on YouTube here:


In conclusion, Ukrainian shumka dance is a vibrant and energetic folk dance that has played an important role in Ukrainian culture for hundreds of years. Its complex footwork, expressive arm movements, and colorful costumes have helped to make it a beloved symbol of Ukrainian identity and heritage, both at home and abroad. I am looking forward to continuing the exploration of my Ukrainian heritage in my paintings.

Canadian Artist Brandy Saturley with her painting about Ukrainian Shumka dancers, 2023