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The krakowiak is an improvised pair or group dance, characterised by a two-measure metre, syncopated and semiquaver rhythms, and lively tempos. Its trademark features include forward steps with a jump, sideways steps with the joining of legs, frequent clicking of heels, strikes and accentuated steps, as well as the mutual chasing between partners combined with running by other performers. In the traditional krakowiak, dance components are intertwined with singing by subsequent dancers. The national form of the krakowiak was fashioned after the country dances from the area around Cracow, and underwent stylistic changes between the 18th and 20th century, catering to the requirements of ballroom and stage aesthetics, as well as the budding nationalism (which used the krakowiak to foster the sense of community and promote inherent cultural values), arriving at a standardized dance highly popular with all social classes.

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Compared to the polonaise and the mazur, the history of the krakowiak as a national dance is much shorter, although its roots seem to go back deeper than suggested in numerous publications which trace them to the premiere of Wojciech Bogusławski and Jan Stefani’s vaudeville Cud mniemany, czyli Krakowiacy i Górale [The Supposed Miracle, or Cracovians and Highlanders]. While it is indeed difficult to agree with Feliks Starczewski’s unfounded claim that the dance was adopted by Polish knights as early as during the reign of Casimir the Great[1], Adolf Chybiński did indicate the presence of krakowiak rhythms in the tablature of Jan of Lublin (ca. 1540)[2]. Karol Czerniawski[3] and his continuators were likewise inclined to relate such 16th and 17th century terms as “goniony”, “wielki” and “mały”[4] to the krakowiak. Based on Jan Chryzostom Pasek’s diaries[5], which featured descriptions of a dance of two men, suggestions have been made of a martial origin of the krakowiak. Still, the earliest accounts of “goniony” and “mieniony” from the first half of the 17th century are devoid of the syncopated rhythms typical of the krakowiak[6]. At present, they are thought to be other fast dances (e.g. the courante), performed after slow dances. At the same time, though, they could possess the features of local dances which preceded the krakowiak as understood today.

The first unquestionable mentions of the krakowiak came in the second half of the 18th century in Jan Prosnak’s remarks on the arias in the 1st act of Maciej Kamieński’s 1778 opera Nędza uszczęśliwiona [Poverty Made Happy, and Kasia’s aria in the 1790 opera Słowik [The Nightingale][7]. The krakowiak was likely also performed by the dancers of his Majesty the King at the National Theatre around 1788 at the performances of the ballet Królowa Wanda [Queen Wanda], which provisioned the participation of Cracovians[8] and a “wedding ceremony in conformity with the current custom of peasants from the area around Cracow”, concluded by the ballet excerpt from Józef Daniel Kurtz’s Krakowiacy i Kozacy [Cracovians and Cossacks][9]. Krakowiaks were also included in the immensely popular vaudeville Cud mniemany, czyli Krakowiacy i Górale [The Supposed Miracle, or Cracovians and Highlanders] by Wojciech Bogusławski and Jan Stefani (1794). Moreover, Jędrzej Kitowicz listed the krakowiak as a social dance of Polish nobility at the time [10], while Łukasz Gołębiowski claimed that the dance was performed in front of Stanisław August Poniatowski by dancers wearing “costumes of the people”[11]. Michał Mioduszewski[12] listed the krakowiak among the songs of late 18th century students, and Wincenty Lessel’s account from a visit to the Czartoryski family mansion in Puławy in 1804 describes its residents as “devoid of vocal talent, who (...) would sing nothing but the krakowiak”[13]. Krakowiaks were written by a number of composers at the time, including Józef Elsner and Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.

Kazimierz Brodziński’s poem Wiesław (1820) was likely inspired by his impressions of the new versions of Cud Mniemany (i.e. Zabobon, czyli Krakowiacy i Górale [The Superstition, or Cracovians and Highlanders] and Nowe krakowiaki [New Cracovians] by Karol Kurpiński). The poem contained the first literary description of the national krakowiak. Several years later, a more extensive description of the krakowiak was featured in Brodziński’s study on national dances; the formal arrangement of the dance included a circular procession, a song by a dancer in front of an instrumental ensemble, a mutual chase of the male and female dancer, and stationary spins in the closed hold[14].

Particularly important to the national form of the krakowiak was Karol Kurpiński and Józef Damse’s 1823 ballet Wesele krakowskie w Oycowie [The Cracow Wedding in Ojców]. Based on Cud mniemany, the ballet was choreographed by Julia Mierzyńska and Maurice Pion, becoming an instant hit (over 400 performances in Warsaw). The music and dances included in the ballet were popular not only in musical parlors and ballrooms but also at carnival sleigh rides which, starting in the early 1820s, would featured the traditional Cracovian costumes and wedding dances Wesele krakowskie also doubtlessly contributed to the dissemination of the krakowiak throughout nearly all territories of the former Commonwealth[16], including the areas traditionally inhabited by Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians and Latvians, as well as in Western Pomerania. Twenty years later, a similar phenomenon accompanied the ballet Okrężne pod Kielcami [Harvest Festival Near Kielce], composed by Józef Stefani and choreographed by Roman Turczynowicz, who invigorated the krakowiak with an element of the then outdated gallop dance, i.e. the gallop step[17]. At the same time, thanks to the guest appearances of Polish dancers abroad (among them the famous Fanny Elssler), the krakowiak was taken up in other European countries. As recounted by August Bournonville in 1841, Elssler’s performances included the following components: coupé balloné trois fois, 3 coups de talon, repeté 4 fois jusque, sur le coude pied coupé, en tournant, l’autre pied, l’autre, trois coups l’autre jambe, coupé balloné en tournant, assemblé sissonne, 2 fois de l’autre côté, echappé temps levé, coupé foëtté, pas anglaise sur le talon 2 fois, echappé pas couru retournez bas, flic flac talons, précipité 4 fois, en tournant doublé 4 fois, pas de mazurka dos à dos au public de l’autre côté, tour entier, promenade à la cosaque 4 fois, balancé aux epérons sissonneen tournant (encore), coupé balloné trois fois, 3 coups de talon, 2 fois, promenade à la cosaque main sur chapeau un tour 2 fois[18].

Karol Czerniawski’s 1847 and 1860 books were the first to compile all available information on the krakowiak[19]. The first descriptions of country krakowiaks, more literary than documentary in form, were published by Józef Mączyński[20]. More details were added by Oskar Kolberg in the second volume of his Krakowskie, published in 1873. Kolberg pointed out that villagers from the area around Cracow did not practice any unified dance form which we could identify with the krakowiak. Still, various dances similar to each other did exists, assuming such names as goniony, dreptany, suwany, zachodny, z góry, góral, hosiany, liska, cichy, skalmierzak[21]. The dominant form at the time was the one which began with slow, gliding steps and gradually accelerated by means of jump steps, followed by a transition to gallop[22]. The przebiegany krakowiak, chich featured the element of chasing the female partner, was danced mostly during weddings, accompanied by characteristic torso bows, accentuated steps and spectacular knee bends performer by men[23]. These dances laid the foundation for the stage arrangements at the time, since it was precisely that area which Virgilio Calori visited in 1873 while preparing his choreography to Adolf Sonnenfeld’s ballet Pan Twardowski (the work premiered on July 6, 1874)[24]. The stage arrangements subsequently served as a prototype for their ballroom arrangements.

At the same time, the krakowiak began to appear in the handbooks of social dances. Arkadiusz Kleczewski [25] concluded that “the krakowiak bears neither tail coats nor elegant parlour gown”, suggesting that the dance was performed solely during sleigh rides or the so-called “Cracow weddings”, i.e. parties organized to celebrate various occasions such as namesdays, for which dancers would typically wear costumes fashioned after those worn in the region of Cracow. Kleczewski observed that a “Cracow wedding” began with a song sung repeatedly by consecutive couples in turns with a “whirling” (sic!) circular dance. Kleczewski listed a number of complex figures, among them the “zawierucha” (which featured a large circle, small circlets, criss-cross, à gauche, tour de main, and spins), and “toastowa” (which featured a large circle, clicking of heels and spins). Kleczewski also permitted certain mazur figures and the introduction of other dances such as the oberek. Karol Mestenhauser’s[26] description invoked Karol Czerniawski and Kazimierz Brodziński, whose Wiesław became the cornerstone for the complex figure of the sleigh ride version of the “Cracow wedding” with songs. Mestenhauser’s description of the gallop is very detailed and lists such additional components as the pas marché, clicking of heels, clicking of heels with gliding steps, and strikes. Apart from the basic holds, Mestenhauser enumerated the characteristic gestures which undoubtedly commemorated the feats of scythe bearers during the Cracow Uprising (left hands of male dancers are thrust upwards, “as if piercing the air”), or recalled the Cossack dance, by then no longer present in the canon of national dances (“hand resting on the back of the head, on the hat”). Mestenauser also mentioned such “Cracow wedding” figures as “para za parą” [pair after pair], “para na prawo – para na lewo” [pair to the right, pair to the left], “przez środek sali” [through the middle of the room], “zamiana miejsc w liniach” [changing places in lines], “młynek” [spin], “goniona” [the chased lady], “łańcuch” [chain], “liniami do przodu” [forward in lines], “wężyk” [in line], “na odbijanego” [partner switch]. Apart from these, Mestenhauser further described the „zawierucha” figure, chich included the following components:  para za parą [pair afte pair], à gauche, tour de main, spins, circles, little circlets, criss-crossing, and the finale. Mestenhauser’s descriptions were also available in abridged forms in Mieczysław Rościszewski’s handbook[27].

In the interwar period, the krakowiak was no longer a staple in the ballroom repertoire. Instead, it entered school and academic curricula as part of physical education and cultural and aesthetic courses, as propagated by Walerian Sikorski and Zofia Nożyńska[28]. Of most significant in this regard were Józef Waxman’s handbooks published in the second half of the 1930s [29]. Waxman’s description featured the following steps: “zwykły” (regular step), “półobrót w lewo” (halfturn to the left), left and right step with the clicking of heels, “kwadrat hołubcowy” [square with the clicking of heels], jump step, cross-legged step, and the final step. Jan Ostrowski-Naumoff[30] listed the gliding step, swinging step, cross-legged step, mincing step, “hołupiec”, “utykany” [limping step], “stąpany” [treading], and the final step, along with the accompanied figures – gallop (sic!), rotary, swinging, criss-crossed, “hołupcowa”, parting of partners, circlet, and the finale. Ostrowski-Naumoff was also precise in his description of hand positions. Zofia Kwaśnicowa’s minutely methodological publication[31] enumerates the gallop, gallop with jumps, rotary step with jumps, clicking of heels with jumps, as well as preparatory exercises and an exemplary dance arrangement. Kwaśnicowa’s work was fundamental for her continuators, the most prominent of whom was Zofia Majewiczowa[32], who listed variable jumps along with the gallop, basic steps, rotary steps, steps with the clicking of heels (“hołubcowy”/”domachowy”), and strikes, accompanied by such figures as a “kołowrotek” turn, lunge sideways in a pair, forward in a pair, rotation, “haczyk” [hook], spin, male dancer kneel, whirling, and “hołubcowa w kwadracie” [square with the clicking of heels]. Majewiczowa also significantly expanded the number of group figures in the krakowiak, taking into consideration its stage presentations. The list of group figures provided by Majewiczowa includes the circle, concentric circles, circlets, cog Wheel, carousels, changing of places in lines, procession of pairs, female dancers to the left – male dancers to the right, pair to the left – pair to the right, passing of pairs, through the middle in fours, four to the left – four to the right, through the middle in eights, in line, in line underneath gates formed by other dancers, chain, star, cross, labyrinth, “dobierany” and “wybierany”, and the krakowiak with a female dancer on the left hand side. Similar to Kwaśnicowa’s description of the dance, although different in their scope, were the compilations prepared by Franciszek Zozula[33], Irena Ostrowska[34], Bożena Bednarzowa[35] and other authors of repertories which summarised the listed works.

The gradual accumulation of initiatives of choreographers, dance masters, theoreticians, teachers and dance instructors, and ethnochoreologists led to recurring expansions and restrictions in the number of krakowiak components. Contemporary pedagogical, stage and tournament practices tend to adhere to the typology proposed in the 1980s by the Council of Experts on Folklore appointed by the Ministry of Culture and Art and codified by Czesław Sroka[36]. Sroka’s typology indicates that the present form of the krakowiak is a combination of all elements derived from dances performed in the krakowiak rhythms in the region of Małopolska and a range of solutions introduced by theatre choreographers and dance teachers, jointly amounting to:

- 4 types of holds ,

- 8 positions for pairs,

- 5 possible ways of moving (one of which includes 10 subtypes),

- 10 ornamental movement forms (the so-called “hołubce” heel clicks, strikes, and rotating steps),

- 7 types of ornament al leg gestures,

- 17 figures for pairs.


[1] F. Starczewski, Die Polnischen Tänze, “Sammelbände der Internationalen Musik Gesellschaft”, Leipzig 1900-1901, p. 682.

[2] A. Chybiński, Tabulatura Jana z Lublina (1540) [The Tablature of Jan of Lublin (1540)],  in: “Kwartalnik Muzyczny”, vol. 4, Cracow 1911, pp. 297-340.

[3] K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców [A Typology of Dances], Warsaw 1847, pp. 44-45; idem, O Tańcach narodowych naszych z poglądem historycznym i estetycznym [On Our National Dances with Historical and Aesthetic Insight], Warsaw 1860, pp. 69-71.

[4] Postępek prawa czartowskiego przeciw narodowi ludzkiemu [Misdeeds of the Devilish Law Against the Nation of Men], published by A. Benis, in: “Biblioteka pisarzów polskich”, vol. 22, Cracow 1892, p. 91; A. Chybiński, Tabulatura organowa Jana z Lublina (1540) [The Organ Tablature of Jan of Lublin (1540)], “Kwartalnik Muzyczny”, Warsaw 1911, vol. I-IV; 36 tańców z tabulatury organowej Jana z Lublina [36 Dances from the Organ Tablature of Jan of Lublin], ed. A. Chybiński, Cracow 1948; M. Rej, Dzieła wszystkie [Collected Works], Series B, no. 1, vol. 1, Wrocław 1953, p. 66; J. Kochanowski, Dzieła polskie [Polish Works], ed. A. Jelicz, Warsaw 1953, p. 363; M. Bielski, Satyry [Satires], ed. W. Wisłocki, Biblioteka pisarzów polskich [The Library of Polish Writers], vol. 4, Cracow 1889, pp. 45, 62; K. Miaskowski, Mięsopust Polski, Zbiór rytmów Kaspra Miaskowskiego (wedle wydania z r. 1622 w Poznaniu w drukarni Jana Rossowskiego) [The Polish Carnival: A Collection of Rhymes by Kasper Miaskowski (Based on the 1622 Edition, Published by Jan Rossowski’s Printing House in Poznań], published by. J. Turowski, Cracow 1861, p. 295; H. Morsztyn, Światowa rozkosz [Worldly Bliss], in: J.I. Kraszewski, Pomniki do historii obyczajów w Polsce z XVI i XVII w. [Monuments to the History of Polish Customs in the 16th and 17th Century], Warsaw 1843, pp. 155-184; J.Ch. Pasek, Pamiętniki Jana Chryzostoma Paska z czasów panowania Jana Kazimierza, Michała Korybuta i Jana III [Memoirs of Jan Chryzostom Pasek documenting the reigns of the kings John II Casimir Vasa, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki and Jan III], ed. E. Raczyński, Poznań 1836, p. 220; K. Badecki, Polska liryka mieszczańska [The Lyric Poetry of Polish Bourgeoisie], Lviv 1936, p. 65.

[5] J.Ch. Pasek, Pamiętniki Jana Chryzostoma Paska… [Memoirs of Jan Chryzostom Pasek], op. cit., p. 258.

[6] Z. Stęszewska, Cechy muzyczne polskich tańców narodowych [The Musical Features of Polish National Dances], in: Różne formy tańców polskich [Various Forms of Polish Dances], ed. I. Ostrowska, Warsaw 1981, p. 193.

[7] J. Prosnak, Kultura muzyczna Warszawy XVIII wieku [The Musical Culture of the 18th Century Warsaw], Cracow 1955, p. 131.

[8] B. Mamontowicz-Łojek, François Gabriel Le Doux, baletmistrz i choreograf 1755–1823 [François Gabriel Le Doux, Ballet Master and Choreographer 1755-1823], in: Pamiętnik Teatralny: czasopismo kwartalne poświęcone historii i krytyce teatru 1967 vol. 16, no. 2 (62); p. 219.

[9] S. Morozińska, Ze studiów nad kostiumem w polskim teatrze Oświecenia [From the Studies on Polish Costumes in Polish Enlightenment Theatre], “Pamiętnik Teatralny”, Warsaw 1954, no. 3-4, p. 99; K. Wierzbicka-Michalska, Tancerze Jego Królewskiej Mości [Dancers of His Majesty the King], in: K. Wierzbicka-Michalska, Sześć studiów o teatrze stanisławowskim, Wrocław-Warsaw-Cracow 1967 [Studia z dziejów teatru w Polsce (Studies on the History of Polish Theatre), ed. Tadeusza Siverta, vol. V], pp. 187, 217; J. Pudełek, Warszawski balet romantyczny 1802-1866 [Warsaw Romantic Ballet, 1802-1866], Cracow 1967, p. 11; J. Prosnak, Kultura muzyczna Warszawy XVIII wieku [The Musical Culture of the 18th Century Warsaw], Cracow 1955, p. 190.

[10] J. Kitowicz, Opis obyczajów za panowania Augusta III [A Description of Customs during the Reign of Augustus III], Wrocław-Warsaw-Cracow 1970, p. 415.

[11] Ł. Gołębiowski, Gry i zabawy różnych stanów w kraju całym, lub niektórych tylko prowincyach [Games and Plays of Various Social Classes in the Country or its Selected Provinces] , Warsaw 1831, pp. 321-322.

[12] O. Kolberg, Lud. Jego zwyczaje, sposób życia, mowa, podania, przysłowia, obrzędy, gusła, zabawy, pieśni, muzyka i tańce. Serya VI, Krakowskie. Część druga [The people, their customs, way of life, speech, legends, proverbs, rites, pagan ceremonies, games, songs, music and dance. Series VI, The Area of Cracow, vol. II], Cracow 1873, pp. 245-246.

[13] From Wincenty Lessel’s letter to his son, datek February 15, 1804, cf. H. Rudnicka-Kruszewska, Wincenty Lessel. Szkic biograficzny na podstawie listów do syna [Wincenty Lessel: A Biographical Sketch Based on Lessel’s Letters to His Son], Cracow 1968, p. 114.

[14] K. Brodziński, Wyjątek z pisma o tańcach  przez Kazimierza Brodzińskiego, [An Excerpt from Kazimierz Brodziński’s Texts on Dances], in: “Melitele” no. 1, 1829, pp. 96-97.

[15] O. Kolberg, Lud. Jego zwyczaje, sposób życia, mowa, podania, przysłowia, obrzędy, gusła, zabawy, pieśni, muzyka i tańce, Serya V, Krakowskie, Część pierwsza [The people, their customs, way of life, speech, legends, proverbs, rites, pagan ceremonies, games, songs, music and dance. Series V, The Area of Cracow, vol. I], Cracow1871, pp. 252, 253, 255.

[16] K.W. Wójcicki, Ostatni kulig staropolski [The Last Old-Polish Sleigh Ride], in: “Tygodnik Ilustrowany” 1861 III, p. 164; O. Kolberg, Góry i Podgórze, cz. II, Dzieła wszystkie, tom 44 [Mountains and Foothills, vol. II, Collected Works, vol. 44], Wrocław-Poznań, pp. 75, 84.

[17] W. Tomaszewski, Warszawskie edytorstwo muzyczne w latach 1772-1865 [Music Editing in Warsaw in 1172-1865], Warsaw 1992, pp. 167-171.

[18] K.A. Jürgensen, Reconstructing la Cracovienne, “Dance Chronicle” 1983 (vol. 6), no. 3, pp. 250-252.

[19] K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców… [A Typology of Dances...], op. cit., pp. 43-51; idem, O tańcach narodowych… [On Our National Dances...], op. cit., pp. 67-79.

[20] J. Mączyński, Włościanie z okolic Krakowa w zarysie [Peasants from the Area of Cracow], Cracow 1858, pp. 90-95.

[21] O. Kolberg, Pieśni ludu polskiego, Serya I [Songs of the Polish People, Series I], Warsaw 1857, p. VIII.

[22] O. Kolberg, Lud…, Serya VI, Krakowskie, Część druga [The People..., Series VI, The Area of Cracow, vol. II], op. cit., pp. 377-378.

[23] ibid., pp. 59-60.

[24] Wiadomości miejscowe [Local News], in: “Kurier Warszawski” no. 182 (August 26, 1873), p. 1.

[25] A. Kleczewski, Tańce Salonowe [Ballroom Dances], Lviv 1879, pp. 104-109.

[26] K. Mestenhauser, Szkoła tańca Karola Mestenhausera w 3-ch częściach. Cz. 2 Tańce kołowe: galop, polka, polka mazurka z troteską, walce, oberek, tańce figurowe: kontredans, lansier, imperjal, polonez, krakowiak, kotiljon [Karol Mestenhauser’s School in 3 Volumes. Volume 2: Circle Dances: the gallop, the polka, the polka mazurka with trotting, the waltz, the oberek, figurative dances: the contredanse, the lancers, the imperial, the polonaise, the krakowiak, and the cotillon], Warsaw 1888, pp. 197-214.

[27] M. Rościszewski, Tańce salonowe. Praktyczny przewodnik dla tancerzy i wodzirejów uwzględniający tańce najnowsze i najmodniejsze z illustracyami Ballroom Dances: A Practical Guide for Dancers and Dance Leaders, Including the Latest and Most Fashionable Dances, with Illustrations], Warsaw 1904, pp. 98-103.

[28] W. Sikorski, Gimnastyka, [Gymnastics] vol. 2, Lviv 1930; idem, Wychowanie fizyczne w szkole powszechnej (podręcznik dla nauczycieli) [Physical Education in Elementary Schools (Teacher’s Handbook)], Poznań 1934, pp. 133-136.

[29] J. Waxman, Tańce narodowe [National Dances], Poznań 1937, ed. 3, pp. 53-59, 92-101 (ed. 1 -1936, ed. 2 – 1937, ed. 4 – 1946), pp. 45-50, 80-89.

[30] J. Ostrowski-Naumoff, Polskie tańce narodowe [Polish National Dances], “Teatr w Szkole”, 1936/1937, no. 7/8, pp. 203-211.

[31] Z. Kwaśnicowa, Zbiór pląsów II [Caper Collection II], Warsaw 1938, pp. 7-75.

[32] Z. Majewiczowa, Krakowiak [The Krakowiak], Warsaw 1951.

[33] F. Zozula, Tańce ludowe [Folk Dances], Warsaw 1952, pp. 11-61.

[34] Od form regionalnych do tańców towarzyskich [From Regional Forms to Social Dances], ed. I. Ostrowska, in: Różne formy tańców polskich [Various Forms of Polish Dances], Warsaw 1980, pp. 131-138; idem, Krakowiak – układ sceniczny [The Krakowiak: Stage Arrangements], in: Różne formy tańców polskich… [Various Forms of Polish Dances], op. cit., pp. 316-337.

[35] B. Bednarzowa, M. Młodzikowska, Tańce: rytm – ruch – muzyka. Wybór dla potrzeb wychowania fizycznego [Dances: rhythm, movement, music. A Selection for Physical Education Curricula], Warsaw 1983, pp. 69-94.

[36] Cz. Sroka, Polskie tańce narodowe, systematyka [Polish National Dances: A Typology], Warsaw 1990, pp. 13-22.