POLISH DANCE
Groups in Southern California

POLSKIE ISKRY

Essay by Maja Trochimczyk

History People Repertoire

HISTORY

The Polish folk dance group Polskie Iskry (in the past billed also as Polski Iskry, Polski Iskrie [sic], and initially, Gwiazdy) was active in the Orange County area of Southern California from the late 1960s to 1996. The creation and disbanding of the group resulted from the activities of one man, Eugeniusz (Eugene, or preferably, Gene) Ciejka whose enthusiasm and knowledge of folk dancing brought the group into existence and whose disability (serious back problems) resulted in its demise.


Children at Dom Polski, L.A., 1965.
    Ciejka, a Polish-American from New Jersey, moved to California in 1960 and began teaching children at the Dom Polski (on 1342 West 3rd St.) in Los Angeles; these classes were presented under the aegis of the Polish Women Alliance (ZPA). The children's group (depicted here) consisted of around 10-12 children who came to the classes from L.A. and its vicinity, including Culver City, Eagle Rock, and Arcadia. They met on Sundays after attending the Mass in Polish held at the Roman Catholic Church on Adams St. (the parish of Our Lady of the Bright Mount).

The children's group did not have an "official" name. Their resources were also rather limited: they initially had just one costume for the krakowiak and their repertoire was small. These classes ended in 1966 when the ZPA sold the Dom Polski; at that time Ciejka moved to the Orange County area where he has remained ever since, working for the California Gas Co. and continuing his dance activities. Initially he taught a similar children's group for the Polish National Alliance (Richard Kobzi, the director of the Górale Dancers in Orange County, was one of the children in this group in the late 1960s).


International dancers in Santa Barbara, 1966.
    In 1965-66, Mr. Ciejka was invited to teach courses on Polish dances for the International Folk Dance Federation of California (South) during a one-week summer courses in Santa Barbara. His curriculum for these courses included 5 or 6 dances for which he had to prepare explanatory notes and a description of the steps. The students were all members of the Dance Federation which consisted of over 300 different dance groups, dedicated to the ethnic heritage of a variety of nations from Europe, America, Africa and Asia.

These enthusiastic dancers wanted to continue learning Polish dances and decided to focus on this repertoire in a more serious fashion; therefore, in 1967 the Orange County Folk Dance Workshop was established with Gene Ciejka as its director. The rehearsals of the first four couples of this group initially took place in a garage; soon all the group members began paying a weekly fee to rent a hall for the rehearsals (5$ per week per person). Interestingly, the dancers were all amateurs and none, except Ciejka himself, were of Polish or Polish-American background. Moreover, only Ciejka had some background as a professional dancer: he had performed for the New York City Ballet in 1950s (see his biography below).


'Gwiazdy' in the early 1970s.
    From 1967 to 1970 the group was known as the Orange County Folk Dance Workshop; since 1970 to 1972 they used the name Gwiazdy (stars). At that time the group grew to 12 couples; according to its founder and director, the new name was an ironic response to Mrs. Ciejka (his mother) who teased the dancers "oh, you are all such stars!" However, the name was too difficult for Americans to pronounce and remember. Hence the change to Polskie Iskry which took place in 1972.

    Note that the new name of the group was initially spelled on the posters with a grammatical mistake, as Polski Iskry. "Polski" is a singular masculine form while "polskie" is a plural feminine form and should accompany "iskry" because this noun (meaning "sparks") is a plural feminine form of the noun "iskra." Another erroneous, and altogether fantastic (as well as short-lived) version spelled the name of the group as Polski Iskrie. Needless to say, none of the group members knew Polish very well (Mr. Ciejka uses English in his daily life and does not speak Polish).

Whatever the spelling, it is important to note that the name of the group honored Mr. Ciejka's maternal grandmother whose last name was Bosinska-Iskra, and who had introduced him to the joy of dancing when he was a small child in New Jersey.

For a short period Polskie Iskry was loosely associated with the fraternal organization Polish National Alliance in Orange County. However, the PNA sponsored another group in the same area, Gorale; this may be one of the reasons why the relationship with Iskrywas discontinued.


Program of an IDF event, Sacramento, 1972.
    Instead of forging many links to Polonian social and political organizations, Iskry maintained a strong presence in the world of recreational dancing represented by the International Folk Dance Federation (California South). The ensemble performed at colleges, country fairs and folk dance festivals, but primarily at the yearly meetings of the Folk Dance Federation.

    The program of a 1972 presentation in Sacramento, entitled World Dance Cavalcade (26-28 May 1972) reveals the multicultural context of Iskry performances at such "Statewide" meetings of the Federation. During this event, the group - listed as Polski Iskrie - performed an oberek (called "Swider") and a suite of Kashubian Dances. At the meetings of the International Dance Federation the dance groups were obliged to present new dances every year; the audience was almost the same as it mostly consisted of members of other dance groups who wanted to see new presentations during the meetings.

This need for variety resulted in the relatively large repertoire of dances that Polskie Iskry was able to perform. Ciejka's list included 60 dances in 1986 and it grew to 66 dances in 1996 (the list's content is further discussed in the Repertoire section below). Many of these dances, of course, were variants of the same type set to different music, e.g. various krakowiaks, obereks, or polkas. Such variety mirrored the extensive scope of the repertoire of Polish folk dances collected in the villages of Poland in the mid-19th century by Oskar Kolberg: there were thousands of obereks or mazurs in his volumes of Polish folklore. In contrast, larger folk dance groups tended to have a more limited range of dance repertoire; these groups tended to repeatedly perform the same extended suite of dances to the same recorded music.

Because all the participants were amateurs who earned their living by working at their trades and professions, and who treated dancing as a hobby, the group did not give more than 8 performances in a year; there was one three-hour rehearsal every week. Under these circumstances, it was difficult to focus and develop new dances. In a May 1999 interview, Ciejka explained that "often we would forget half of the dance from week to week and would have to do it all over again. It was difficult, but we succeeded. We received many invitations and we were selective where we would dance; we mostly danced for free. Nobody had a salary in the group, we ourselves paid for the hall, for the fabric and costumes."


Iskry tapestry, 1996.

    Thus, the dancing continued. In 1983 the group performed at the Viva Ventura concert organized by the Tchaika Folk Dance Club and co-sponsored by the Folk Dance Federation of California and Ventura College. The program featured the Dunaj Folklore Ensemble with Romanian folklore and the USC Magnet School in a Tunisian suite, as well as sets of dances from Croatia, Dalmatia, Hungary, Scotland, and Spain (flamenco). During this event Iskry performed a Polish suite, but the program does not provide any details.

    Interestingly, only the flamenco dances were accompanied by live music - a guitarist who arranged and performed them. The remaining groups, including Iskry, danced to LPs or tapes.

While from the audience's vantage point there is no proper substitute for the use of live music on the stage, the dancers felt much more comfortable with recordings. Ciejka recalled an anecdote about Iskry's one-time collaboration with a group of musicians (The Villagers based in the Garden Grove/Whittier area). The musicians received written music for the dance (krakowiak) scheduled for performance at the Polish Catholic Church in L.A.; they learned the music, but did not have time to attend the rehearsals and in the heat of the moment they forgot to repeat one section of the dance. Ciejka commented dryly: "Eight measures of the music was missing. The whole dance was ruined. After that I returned to recordings. It would have been impossible to rehearse with live musicians."

A choreographed dance which consists of a series of steps, positions, and gestures, needs to have the same music in every rendition; this "fixed" form differs considerably from the original practice of folk dancing in Polish villages, where both the musicians and dancers spontaneously improvised while the dance was in progress.


Iskry at Westminster, California, 1985.
    In 1985 the group danced during a Country Fair in Westminster: this performance took place outdoors. One dance from the suite presented there, called Bialy mazur, is illustrated in the photograph; note that each couple has a different regional costume, originating from Silesia, Krakow, and Mazovia (they performed a suite of dances and did not have time for a costume change). In California weather such performances were rather exhausting for the dancers: Polish costumes - made of many layers and thick wool fabric - did not adapt themselves easily to heavy use under the scorching sun.

This was one of the reasons the group discontinued its appearances at Polish community events at the Polish Center in Yorba Linda where all the dances took place on a stage outdoors. The Polish community in Orange County had another group to perform for them (Gorale) sponsored by the Polish National Alliance. Moreover, Krakusy from Los Angeles and Polonez from San Diego also competed for the attention of the small number of Polonian organizations active in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. However, there was one more reason for the absence of Polskie Iskry from Polish-American celebrations: the group was not Polish enough to some members of Polonia. Ciejka stated: "This was not a traditional Polish group, a part of the traditional Polish culture. All their events were conducted in Polish. I was not accepted by the Polish American organizations because I did not speak Polish. I did take Polish classes for a while, but then I could not continue. I'm just an American, I don't have a Polish passport" (Ciejka, May 1999).

Moreover, the group's membership was a problem for some biased Poles, because of the mixed ethnic background of the Iskry dancers, which included Asian- and African-Americans. In the words of the group's director:

We were open to all participants. For years we had a black man in the group and he was a very enthusiastic and capable dancer. But we had problems with Poles about him. Once I was sitting opposite a Pole who berated me: "How could you have a colored man in your group?" I said jokingly that he came from Southern Poland... But we also did run into trouble with some Polish organizations who would never invite us to dance for them because they wanted all the people in the group to look Polish. I did not like that attitude. I was not raised that way; it saddened me. What do I care what color a dancer is if he is willing to dance? I had dancers who were black, Chinese and Japanese; I taught three times in Taiwan where they wanted to start a Polish dance group (in 1993-95). These people were all excited about Polish folk dancing and they were not even Polish.

Here the issue of the function of the dance arises: do the Polish folk dance groups engage in dancing because they love to dance or because they want to affirm their national/ethnic heritage? In the case of Iskry, the answer is clearly: "love to dance."


Iskry, Culver City, 1990.
    The international context of recreational dance groups provided by the Folk Dance Federation further emphasizes this aspect of Polish folk dancing practiced by Ciejka's ensemble. This international character of the IFDF meetings may be gauged from the variety of colorful flags decorating the auditorium for another meeting held in 1990 in Culver City; here Iskry danced a polonaise in costumes from the Kraków region.

This costume was used by Iskry very frequently; variants appear in most group photos and promotional material since the group's inception to the summit of their performance activities in mid-1990s. In fact, the Kraków costume is usually described as the national costume of the American Polonia (see the entry on krakowiak for more information)

Dancers from Polskie Iskry wore different variants of this costume during full-evening spectacles held at Cypress College in the 1980s and at Pierce College in 1994. During these impressive performances the group (consisting of 12 couples), did not have much time for costume changes. In order to fill in these awkward moments and enrich the program, they invited musicians to perform short pieces throughout each evening, for instance a singer with a medley of songs, or a pianist with pieces by Chopin (a similar strategy was employed by the Krakusy, a much larger ensemble from Los Angeles during the past 30 years; these performances were thus transformed into folk dance variety shows).


Krakowiak at Pierce College, 1994.
    In the illustration on the left, the African-American member of the group (Marvin Smith) leads the dancers in the krakowiak. It is important to note that the presence of "non-ethnic-Polish" dancers in Polish-American dance groups is not unique to the Iskry; the Chicago-based Lira Dancers (affiliated with the Lira Singers, a group directed by Lucyna Migala) proudly presented African- and Asian-American singers and dancers in their midst (during the Polish Music Festival, Evanston, November 1998). However, other dance groups in Southern California have been much more ethnically insular.


PEOPLE

Iskry was a labour of love primarily of one man - Eugene Ciejka, the group's founder, leader, choreographer and main dancer. Mr. Ciejka's biography is included below.


Eugene Ciejka with two members of Iskry;1980s.
    Besides him, the group included between 7 and 24 dancers at different times of its existence, with an average of eight couples and a peak of twelve couples during the 1970s. The dancers were notably international without a single Pole or Polish-American among the first eight members (not counting Mr. Ciejka). The founders included: Mikki Reveneugh (Ukrainian woman), Emery Sopko (Hungarian man) with Donna Cloudt (German woman), Mary and Ed Kobetisk (Serbian couple), and Patricia Robinson (American woman) with her partner. The presence of Asian-Americans and African-Americans may be seen in several photographs taken in the 1970s and 1980s.

EUGENE CIEJKA

Eugeniusz (also known as Eugene or Gene) Ciejka was born on 27 December 1930 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He has been dancing with various groups since he was five years old. His interest in dance was inspired by his grandmother Anna Bosinska-Iskra (b. 25 April 1877, d. 21 November 1951) who loved to dance and had attended many Polish functions as a dancer. She persuaded the young Eugene to join the dance group organized by the Zwiazek Polek w Ameryce (Polish Women Alliance of America). Eugene was 14 at the time. The ZPA had an older dance group of 8-9 couples and a junior group of 300 children who practiced on Saturday mornings. The groups were directed by Franciszka (Frances) Wesołowska who choreographed dances for their repertoire (mostly krakowiak, kujawiak, oberek, polka, and Kashubian dances).


ZPA group in a N.Y. TV studio, late 1950s.
    Ciejka's appearances with the older group included performances broadcast on New York TV, as well as scheduled for various Polish American functions, especially the yearly meetings at Canora Lake in New Jersey. The Live music was frequently provided by Ted Maksymowicz's band who performed a sizeable selection of polkas; this ensemble of musicians issued recordings on the ABC Paramount label (e.g. Polka Dance Melodies, Ted Maksymowicz and his Orchestra. ABC-Paramount, ABCS-289).

In the 1950s Ciejka studied ballet and folk dance techniques with Frances Poplaska, Jan Matuszcz Lazowski, and Jan Ciepliński who had been the director of the Polish National Ballet Company before World War II. Ciejka has danced as a part of the Polish American Folk Dance Group, and the New York City Ballet (now known as the American Ballet Company). He competed and won medals at the "Harvest Moon Ball" held at Madison Square Garden in New York. Ciejka competed in the polka category of the dance competition (which included also the tango, rumba, waltz, and jitterbug) and won in 1958 (bronze) and in 1959 (silver). On both occasions he danced to Ms. Wesołowska`s choreography.


1971 performance with Ciejka's dances.
    Ciejka's dance background does not include traveling to Poland, nor an extensive artistic family background. He was actually discouraged from following his dance interests professionally. Despite the fact that he received classical ballet training and for two years appeared with the corps-de-ballet of the New York City Ballet (performances at Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Opera in late 1950s), his family persuaded him to find a vocation in order to earn a living. Ciejka's mother (quoted in an interview with the choreographer, May 1999) claimed that "dance is not where one looks for a job;" her son, however, continued to dance and to teach it - later on, he returned to the stage to choreograph the "Dance to Life" for a 1971 performance of the Fiddler on the Roof held at Orange Coast College in California.

The family moved to California in 1960; Mrs. Ciejka (Eugene's mother) was involved in the Polish Women Alliance and through this organization Mr. Ciejka began his involvement with Polish folk dance in Los Angeles. The origins of Polskie Iskry ,which preoccupied him from 1966 to 1996 ,are described in the History section above.Family background and immigration history casts a light on Ciejka's open-minded attitude and the international character of his group:

My father came to the U.S. because he had to leave Poland. He shot a deer on a nobleman's land; grandpa was a magistrar and worked out a deal with the local police - as long as my father left he would not be punished. Born in 1891, he was 16 when he came to America. In the U.S. my parents spoke Polish at home until I was 5; when I want to school I thought all the children were crazy because I did not understand what language they were speaking. But they spoke English: they were not wrong, I was. Since then my parents insisted on always speaking English. My home traditions focused on Polish dance; of course there also were some Polish dishes in the cuisine, as well as the holiday customs.


Ciejka in the krakowiak, 1950s.

    As a folk dancer, Ciejka benefited from his classical ballet training and solid Polish-American background from the East Coast. Interestingly, he kept in his repertoire many dances choreographed by Franciszka Wesołowska in the 1940s; he taught them in 1968 and again as late as 1995. The Syllabus of Folk Dance Camp (4-7 May 1995) lists six dances by Ciejka, with only one dance recognized as a "kujawiak" in the title (there were two polkas, a krakowiak and another kujawiak in this group); three of these dances are from the mid-1940s, as taught by Ms. Wesołowska.

The dances are further discussed in the Repertoire section below. This continuity of tradition preserves a distinct Polish-American variety of Polish folk dancing which developed from the living tradition brought to the U.S. by the rural immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ciejka's family background places him firmly in this immigrant tradition.

A selection of Iskry's performances choreographed and directed by Ciejka is discussed in the History section of this entry; his aesthetic views and connections to the Polish folk dance world are the subject of the Repertoire section. In all his activities, Ciejka emphasized the "altruistic" character of folk dance, its beauty and the joy that it brought.

Through out his career he acquired an expertise that he has been willing to share with dance enthusiasts in the U.S. and abroad. His personal library included the Complete Works of Oskar Kolberg and numerous studies of folk dancing and folklore in general, as well as recordings of Polish and Polish-American music. The enthusiasm for dance did not extend to politics: "I must say that I grew up dancing and I am not interested in political stuff, but in dancing."


REPERTOIRE

The Polskie Iskry's dance repertoire stemmed from three sources: (1) the Polonian tradition of folk dancing and folk dance ensembles, primarily from the Polish American folk dance ensemble directed by Franciszka Wesołowska and organized by the Polish Women Alliance of America (ZPA)on the East Coast in the 1940s and 1950s, (2) the repertoire of State Folk Song and Dance Companies from Poland, primarily Slask (visited by the group's director, Eugene Ciejka in 1972 and 1977), but also Mazowsze (Ciejka videotaped and photographed their performances in order to learn the steps in 1970s), and (3) Ciejka's own choreography based on his creative interpretation of Polish dances (particularly in 1980s).


Iskry, Polish Day in Torrance, 1989.
    Obtaining the proper costumes was rather difficult. Initially they were made by the dancers themselves on the basis of iconographic documentation available to them (pictures, books, costumes worn by other dance groups). Women active as dancers would also sew and embroider costumes for themselves and their partners; the patterns were prepared by Eugene Ciejka and Nikki Reveneugh from whatever models they could find in California.

Sometimes it was very difficult to find appropriate fabric. For instance, in order to make the costumes from the Łowicz area, they spent a long time trying to match the colors and the patterns with those seen on pictures and postcards. The Guatemalan or Mexican brightly-colored striped cloth was skillfully trimmed to fit the Polish patterns. In addition, when making their own costumes they would try to match both the look and the feel of the fabric in movement: wool is heavy, and the substitute fabric had to behave like wool. Some of the substitute fabrics were more comfortable than the authentic ones. The original costumes, made of several layers of linen and wool fabric, were not easy to wear in the hot California sun.


The krakowiak at Pierce College, 1994.
    Each dance had a different costume, including traditional costumes of the Polish nobility used for the Mazur from Moniuszko's opera, Straszny Dwór [The Haunted Manor]. The strój krakowski was a favourite; in time the women's skirts lengthened (from the short 1960s knee-length fashions) and the fabrics became more authentic. At the beginning women wore white skirts with sewn-on colorful ribbons of various widths (see the photo of Gwiazdy above); these costumes faithfully reflected Polish American versions of the stroj krakowski from the East Coast, but were quite distant from Polish originals.

Ciejka's travels to Poland in 1972-3 and 1977 resulted in a significant enlargement of the authentic Polish costume collection. Finally in the late 1980s, Edmund Sentowski donated 12 male and 12 female costumes for the krakowiak. In their last decade, the group had costumes "made in Poland" - the authenticity of the design, fabric, or style was beyond reproach.

Polish American Folk Dance Tradition
Ciejka, the director of Polskie Iskry started his performing career in New York as a member of the Polish Folk Dance Company directed by Franciszka Wesołowska. He brought his basic repertoire of Polish dances choreographed by Ms. Wesołowska to California. These dances include the Kujawiak Sztajerek, and the Krakowiak (both depicted in black and white photos from 1950s above; notice the presence of live musicians, Ted Maksymowicz and his Orchestra accompanying the dance). In 1968 Ciejka taught a Kashubian dance (from the Kaszuby area of northern Poland) called Raz Dwa [One Two] at the Santa Barbara Folk Dance Conference.


Ciejka and his partner in the polka, Yorba Linda, 1980s.
    He attributed this dance (it is actually a fast-paced polka in a duple meter) to Wesołowska's repertoire of the mid-1940s. In 1995 Ciejka again included this dance in the Syllabus of the Folk Dance Camp, along with Wietrojnik [Windmill], a different Kashubian dance taught by Wesołowska. For accompaniment both dances used the music from Polish Country Dance Party LP, Bruno 50137. Another 1995 dance, Łączka, Łączka [Meadow, Meadow] (with music from an LP of Polish American dances issued by Time Records no. 52125, A/4), actually was a krakowiak initially taught by Franciszka Wesołowska in the mid-1940s and rearranged by Ciejka.

Polskie Iskry also learned dances choreographed and taught by Ada Dziewanowska, foremost Polish-American expert on Polish folk dancing and the author of a recent monograph on the subject (Polish Folk Dances and Songs, New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999). Interestingly, their attitude to her purist views of folk dancing was quite ambivalent. The group's director explained their feelings in the following words:

Simply I do not like traditional folk dances, they are not exciting enough. Ada Dziewanowska, who is a traditionalist, taught Polish dance in a "purist" fashion; she would allow only Polish steps, not elements from Russian dances, for instance. But I believe that the choreography should be lively, full of variety, not repetitive. Older people wanted to see little village dances they remembered from their youth. But it is not possible to stop time and go back to that village! If dance does not change, it will die. All life changes and the dance has to change with it. There are no traditional village dances in Poland now - young people dance the rock'nd'roll or disco dances when they go out to have fun. It is a loss, of course. But it is a result of change. If you study the history of dances, you will notice that dances in the 14th century were different than later ones. Or if you compare dancing with ice-skating - now the skaters have to do far more complicated turns, jumps, figures than ever before. So the discipline has to grow. However, there are limits to change, you have to find a middle ground: you are on a tightrope, as it were, one wrong step and you fall off. You have to keep in touch with the tradition, but you have to remember that you work on these dances to entertain.

Dziewanowska's admiration for the State Folk Song and Dance ensembles and her use of their dances in her teaching does not qualify her as a true, die-hard "purist" of either an exclusively Polish or a Polish-American orientation.

Polish State Folk Dance Ensembles

The ambivalence of Dziewanowska's position is mirrored and magnified by the location of such dancers as Stanislaw Danko, another source of choreography for Iskry: originally from Podhale, he danced as a soloist with the State Folk Ensembles Śląsk and Mazowsze before settling in the U.S. and joining the Krakusy Polish Folk Dance Ensemble in Los Angeles in 1966.


Iskry in zbójnicki, 1973.
    Ciejka learnt some Podhalean dances from Danko, including the zbójnicki and the góralski. These dances, though learnt in California, originated from the second source of the Polskie Iskry repertoire, i.e. large folk dance groups supported by the Polish People's Republic and frequently sent on tours to the U.S.

The professional State Folk Song and Dance Ensembles were founded at the height of the Stalinist era (Mazowsze in 1948 and Śląsk in 1952). They toured the U.S. with their highly stylized and polished repertoire; American Polonia greeted them enthusiastically and embraced their vision of stylized folklore as the best representation of Polish tradition and the source of ethnic pride. Many dancers from the State Ensembles remained in the West instead of returning home and were actively involved in the development and professionalization of dance groups.


Slask in rehearsal, Katowice, 1972.
    Polish-American choreographers, including Ciejka, were invited to attend workshops and classes organized by both Mazowsze and Śląsk. Ciejka travelled to Poland twice, in 1972 and 1977, attending the Śląsk rehearsals in Katowice and learning their dances. In 1977 he also looked for new costumes for the góralski dances. On both occasions he brought back the choreography for some dances, for instance Graj Kujawiaka [Play the kujawiak], from the Opole region (Lower Silesia).

Ciejka described it later as "fluid and danced in a light manner and style. All movements are drawn out as long as possible. Eye contact with one's partner is of primary importance (Ciejka, Syllabus p. 5). For this dance he used music from a Polskie Nagrania LP, Na krakowskim rynku [In a Kraków market square], MUZA SXL 0408, side A, track 5. Ciejka taught Graj kujawiaka at the 1995 Folk Dance Camp, along with Skoczek, a dance from the Rzeszów area in south-eastern Poland, also adapted by him from the Śląsk repertoire. The director of Polskie Iskry stated: "I was very inspired by Śląsk and Mazowsze - it was a fantasy what they did. In 1972 I filmed the Cieszyn Oberek from Mazowsze's repertoire and recreated it by myself. We had to get the same music, of course."

Eugene Ciejka's Choreography

The third source of the repertoire of Polskie Iskry was Ciejka's original choreography. He explained his freely creative approach in the following manner:

I made my own choreography on the basis of Polish steps. I would listen to the music and it would tell me the something that needs to be done while dancing. I dived into the world of my fantasy and imagination. Then, of course, I knew the basic elements, the steps themselves, but I used them in a free manner. Who would want to watch a real dance in a village? It is not interesting for a dancer to do.

Judging by this description, Ciejka's attitude towards Polish dance was not rigorous. He made continuous efforts to learn the patterns at the sources, in Poland, from Polish books and scholarly studies, from Polish and Polish-American choreographers, etc. However, he felt free to interpret this tradition in his own fashion, drawing from his ballet background and from an intuitive creativity.

The group had the five national dances in their repertoire, as well as a variety of other regional dances. Since most of their activities were in the context of the Folk Dance Federation, they were always dancing for the same people, their colleagues from other dance groups; therefore they had to bring new dances to these festivals.


Ciejka with Reveneugh, 1980s.
    They knew 4 different krakowiaks and a larger number of polkas. In 1986 they knew 60 dances, in the 1990s, their repertoire peaked at 66 different dances. For each dance, Ciejka had to provide a typed description (without labanotation); the process of describing gestures and steps was very involved: a dancer would make a gesture, they will stop, describe what happened, repeat the gesture, improve the details of the description, etc. In the photograph, Ciejka demonstrates a figure from his version of the kujawiak.

How did the repertoire change and evolve? When returning to a dance known from the past the dancers often did not do the same gestures; it was hard to recreate the dance without seeing it, even with the written description and notes. Therefore, the dance would be changed, according to the abilities of the dancers; the choreographer would make it easier or more difficult, depending on the skill of the performers.

Repertoire of Polskie Iskry in 1986

A typewritten list of dances (PMC Archives) presents the list of dances in the repertoire of Polskie Iskry in February 1986. The following rearrangement of this list enumerates the dances by type with additional annotations about parallels and potential sources from the repertoire of the State Folk Dance Ensembles, Mazowsze and Slask. The 1986 list contains the following dances of Polskie Iskry:

    Polonaises:
  1. Polonez and National Anthem
  2. Polonez Warszawski

    Krakowiaks:

  3. Krakowiak 1939
  4. Do Wawelu - Krakowiak
  5. Hej tam, od Krakowa - Krakowiak
  6. Znad Wisły - Krakowiak
  7. Krakowiak od Tsar

    Dances to Classical and non-Folk National Music:

  8. Mazur from Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor, Moniuszko's opera)
  9. Kujawiak from Straszny Dwór
  10. Hej, hej ułani - men's dance (to song from the Cavalry division)

    Kujawiaks:

  11. Już nie będziesz moja [You won't be mine] - Kujawiak
  12. Pod Kujawską strzechą [under Kujawy thatched roof] - Kujawiak
  13. Do Białego Ranka [Till white morning] - Kujawiak
  14. Złociste lany [Golden fields] - Women's Kujawiak
  15. Nieboraczek [Poor chap] - Sleeping Kujawiak
  16. Kujawiak - Stajerek
  17. Przepioreczka [Quail] - Kujawiak
  18. Spod Włocławka [From Włocławek]
  19. Kukułeczka [Cuckoo]
  20. Łowiczanka [Girl from Łowicz]
  21. Kujawiaka graj [Play kujawiak]

    Mazurs:

  22. Biały Mazur [White Mazur]
  23. Mazurka
  24. Kuba, Jurek - Mazur
  25. Swir, świr - Mazur
  26. Nad czystą wodą [Over clear waters] - Mazur
  27. Tego mi grajta [Play this for me] - Mazur

    Obereks:

  28. Na lewo [To the left] - Oberek
  29. Oberek Opoczyński [From Opoczno]
  30. Gdzie idziesz Wojtuś [Where are you going, Wojtus] - Cieszyn oberek
  31. Kasia - Oberek
  32. Plotka - Oberek
  33. Świder Oberek
  34. Końdziołeczka - Oberek
  35. Gościnny Oberek [Welcoming or Hospitable oberek]
  36. Oberek Zagłębiowski [From Silesian mines]
  37. Jajka na patelni [Eggs in the pan]- oberek
  38. Na Pastwisku [In the pasture] - Oberek
  39. W Karczmie [In the Inn] - Oberek
  40. Poznań Oberek

    Polkas:

  41. Polka i Oberek z Kujaw [Polka and oberek from Kujawy]
  42. Beek Polka
  43. Karolina Polka
  44. W Kółko Macieju [Round and round again] - Polka
  45. Skoczek [Jumpy] - Polka
  46. Słodki Cukier [Sweet Sugar] Polka
  47. Poznań Polka

    Various melodies, medleys:

  48. Jeszcze tego samego [One more time]
  49. Hej góralu od Żywca
  50. Zbójnicki - Brigand's dance
  51. Sarenki [Deer]
  52. Czarna kura pieje [Black hen crows]
  53. Wszystko stare [All is old]
  54. Tańce Kaszubskie [Kashubian dances]
  55. Cim cilimcim
  56. Dziwożona [Weird witch]
  57. Rają mi chłopaka [They match me with a boy]
  58. Olaboga
  59. Skowroneczek [Skylark]
  60. Co ja myślę to do czarta [What I think is to the devil]

Later additions to this repertoire included a dance that Ciejka called "Galacia" which he choreographed in December 1995. He described this dance as a type of polka from the borderlands of south-eastern Poland, north-western Ukraine, and north-eastern Slovakia, "a poor area which had a large Jewish population. The music from this area reflected Jewish influences as well as Ukrainian and Polish styles." The music used for the dance, though, was decidedly of Polish American origin, as it came from the Lil' Wally LP Krol Polki [The King of Polka], SALP 8098, A/1.


Iskry dancers, Los Angeles, 1996.
    Polskie Iskry, an American group of Polish dancers, belonged to the recreation dance movement represented by the International Folk Dance Federation of California. Its efforts to obtain proper costumes from Poland and to learn the steps and positions from a variety of "authentic" sources are perhaps even more laudable if one were to consider that for the majority of the group's members the issue of using dance as a personal nationality symbol of did not exist, since they did not belong to the Polish-American community.

For them, Polish dance did not have a political dimension; instead, it was an engaging - even beloved - activity and a thoroughly admirable type of folk art that could be appreciated by all.


Bibliography PMC Main Dance Page Other Dance Links
Polish Music Center Flora L. Thornton School of Music
University of Southern California Southern California Studies Center


Copyright 2000 by the Polish Music Center. Send your comments and inquiries to: polmusic@email.usc.edu
This page is a part of "Polish Dance in Southern California" project funded by Southern California Studies Center
at USC and the PMC; created by Maja Trochimczyk with the assistance of Michał Jankowski.
Updated on 10 August 2001. Illustrations from PMC Collection and the archives of Eugene Ciejka.