polish national dances


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The kujawiak is an improvised dance in a triple meter, performed in pairs, occurring in an array of tempos which ranges from moderate to lively, featuring mazurka rhytmics with a prominent tempo rubato, danced resiliently forward or in whirling circles with richly ornamented holds and accentuated steps. The national form of the kujawiak is a moderate dance modelled after folk dances from the region of Kujavia, adopted by the upper classes in the 19th century as a ballroom and stage dance, ideologized as a vessel of national identity, and popularized and standardized according to the convictions concerning the specificity of the preserved movement- and music-related elements.

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The past of the kujawiak remains largely unknown. As argued by Danuta Idaszak, the dance emerged from the mazur no sooner than between 1750 and 1830[1]. However, no source from before the 19th century mentions its name, even though the country version of the kujawiak may have well be performed in peasant communities. The kujawiak became known to the upper classes as late as in the second quarter of the 19th century. The name “kujawiak” was first mentioned with reference to this dance genre by Feliks Jaskólski in his composition Pasterze na Bachorzy. Sielanki kujawskie [Shepherds in Bachorza: The Kujavian Bucolics], published in 1827[2]. Inspired by Jaskólski’s poem, Łukasz Gołębiowski mentioned the genre in two of his books: Lud polski, jego zwyczaje, zabobony [The People of Poland, their Customs and Superstitions][3] published in 1830, and Gry i zabawy różnych stanów w kraju całym, lub niektórych tylko prowincyach [Games and Plays of Various Classes in the Country or its Selected Provinces][4] released in 1831. Contemporaneous with Jaskólski’s and Gołębiewski’s works were Fryderyk Chopin’s mazurkas, to an extent fashioned after the kujawiak and brilliant in their rendition of the idiom of Kujavian dances[5], observed by the composer in 1824 -1825[6]. The kujawiak character can also be spotted in the song O cóżżeś się zadumała [What have you been thinking about] documented by Kazimierz Wójcicki in his collection Pieśni ludu Białochrobatów, Mazurów i Rusi z nad Bugu [Songs of Białochrobaty, Masuria, and Ruthenia along the Bug], first published in 1836[7]. In his work on the clothing fashion in the pre-partition Poland, published in 1841, Leon Zienkowicz described the kujawiak as a regional variety of the mazurka whose specificity relies on the domination of the minor key in the musical layer of the dance[8]. In the subsequent twenty years the majority of composers (Ignacy Dobrzyński, Edward Łodwigowski, Kazimierz Łada, Ignacy Komorowski, Wojciech Osmański, and Henryk Wieniawski) and publicists (Karol Czerniawski[9] and Oskar Kolberg in his initial research[10]) perceived the kujawiak in a similar fashion, treating the musical features (rhythms and tempos) of the kujawiak and the oberek as a single entity.

The discovery of the core of the kujawiak was possible thanks to the gentry of the Kujavia region. Vital in this respect were the studies of the local folk culture by Count Mieczysław Miączyński, who published the first volume of his analyses in 1845[11]. Charmed by the dances recounted by Miączyński, Oskar Kolberg began to compose his own kujawiaks and took up his research of Kujavian music[12]. Also active in Kujavia was Józef Bliziński[13], whose accounts sparked the interest in Kujavian dances in the founding father of Polish ethnography[14]. Thanks to Oskar Kolberg’s descriptions included in the second volume of his monograph on the Kujavia region (1867), we know that the kujawiak (also referred to as oć, na odsib, na odsibkę, i.e. from oneself, to oneself – 140-160 M.M.) began with a 15-30 minutes long polski dance (also referred to as the polonaise, chodzony, wolny, or okrągły – 100-120 M.M.) or wolny kujawiak (the so-called śpiący or chodzony – 120-140 M.M.). The partners would hold each other by their sides. Following the kujawiak was the oberek, also referred to as the mazur (as well as k'seb, na kseb, na ksóbkę, i.e. from without, to the left – 160-180 M.M.), during which the right hand of the male dancer embraced the female dancer around the waist. In some villages, the two dances were danced the other way round (kujawiak – na kseb, oberek – na odsibkę).

Towards the end of the 1860s, following the downfall of the January Uprising and the ensuing period of national mourning, accompanied by another wave of interest in folk culture, the kujawiak entered the upper class ballrooms. A general description of this dance was included by Arkadiusz Kleczewski, a native of Kujavia, in his handbook Tańce salonowe [Ballroom dances] (1879)[15]. The kujawiak was also featured in Karol Mestenhauser’s handbook[16], although this time in combination with the oberek, according to the manner of its performance at the balls of the era, at which it was danced less frequently than mazurkas or even krakowiaks. Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, the kujawiak began to disappear from the “dancing nights” programmes and publications.

Things took a much different turn in Kujavia, where numerous local gentry invited village musicians to their mansions and came up with showpiece dancing manners (e.g. Jan Kłobókowski and the members of the Biesiekierski family, starting with Adolf Biesiekierski, 1831-1881), going as far as designing the clothes of their servants and carnival costumes fashioned after the celebratory Kujavian clothing[17]. Thus, the kujawiak remained continuously popular even throughout the interwar period, as observed by Irena Zabłocka-Bączkowska[18].

A wider popularisation of the kujawiak as a national dance was connected with the conferral of new meanings and functions on the genre[19], which took place in 1933-34 at schools of physical education, theatre schools and circles, as well as educational and community institutions. In the second half of the 1930s, instructional descriptions of the kujawiak were written by Józef Waxman[20], Jan Ostrowskie-Naumoff[21] and Zofia Kwaśnicowa[22], which mainly covered ballroom practices. In his description of the dance, Józef Waxman proposed solely Polish terminology, listing the following kujawiak steps: zwykły (regular), zwykły akcentowany (regular accentuated), zwykły z ćwierćobrotem (regular with a quarter-turn), półobrót w prawo (right half-turn), wiązany i półobrót w prawo (clasped with a right half-turn), skrzyżny (cross-legged), hołubiec zwykły (regular heel click) and hołubiec z półobrotem (heel click with a half-turn). Based on Edward Kuryła’s studies, Jan Ostrowski-Naumoff proposed another terminology and steps, which included kołysany (swinging), obrotowy (revolving), podbiegany (run-up) and stąpany (trodden). Ostrowski-Naumoff also expanded the set of fundamental figures (śpiąca [sleeping], przekorna [wicked] młynek kujawski [Kujavian spin], stracona [lost], zalotna [coquettish] and zakończenie [finish]), and was the first researcher to provide a detailed description of hand and torso positions. Zofia Kwaśnicowa’s book focuses on the separation of formulas typical of the oberek and kujawiak, since she claimed he latter possessed a distinctly different set of ornamental accentuated steps[23].

The post-war period brought a series of publications by Jadwiga Hryniewiecka (1903-1988)[24], supplemented by a book by Irena Ostrowska[25]. In her 1971 book, Hryniewiecka listed the following steps: basic with a turn, basic forward, swing step – from oneself and to oneself, krzesany with a click of the heels, accentuated steps, steps accentuated on the second beat, and the finishing step. The list of figures provided by Hryniewiecka includes the turn, the carry (interlaced with turns), the swing, as well as ornaments (krzesany with a click of the heels, triple accentuated step, step accentuated on the second beat)[26]. At the same time, Hryniewiecka proved her great inventiveness in the field of stage forms of the kujawiak, introducing, among others, the so-called wavy step with a half-turn for girls, along with the hop with the hand slapping against the thigh, the lifting of female partners[27], the basic backward step, the step accentuated on the third beat, the half-squatted step, half-turns to the right and to the left interchangeably, the step with a double click of the heels, krzesany followed by a double click of the heels, the turn featuring a forward thrust of the bent leg, the turn with a backward thrust of the right and left leg interchangeably[28], the walking step in a half-squat from the heel, the double slap of the left hand against the left leg, and the so-called klaskany [29]. Also worth noticing among the publications from the period is the comparative analysis of the basic steps in the national version of the kujawiak[30] with the transcription of the basic steps as recorded during field research in the Kujavia region[31]. These comparisons may help us learn about the differences in the approach towards the dance and its descriptions by various theoretician of national dances, while also throwing light on the differences in the conventions of dance moves and musical time (both in terms of the rhythm and agogics) between the former rural and urban communities.

A landmark determinant in the establishment of the national form of the kujawiak came with the publication of Czesław Sroka’s Polskie tańce narodowe – systematyka [Polish National Dances: A Typology ][32] with the accompanying VCR tape titled Polskie tańce narodowe [Polish National Dances]. Sroka’s study included the standardized set of kujawiak components as compiled in 1987-1989 during the meetings of the Council of Experts on Folklore appointed by the ministry of Culture and Art. The Council determined the precise number of ten positions for  pairs along with fifteen types of steps, eleven  ornaments and eleven figures. This systematic, along with Sroka’s more extensive publication titled Polskie tańce narodowe we współczesnych zabawach, konkursach i turniejach tanecznych [Polish National Dances in Contemporary Dancing Events, Contests and Tournaments ][33] remains the most widely applied yardstick both among the performers of folk dances and songs and at the popular Polish dance tournaments. It also provided a starting point for a number of publications released in the pedagogical milieu, most of which are secondary in character, as if indicating the decline of theoretical thought in the field of national dances.


[1] D. Idaszak, Mazurek przed Chopinem [The Mazurka before Chopin], in: F.F. Chopin ed. Z. Lissa, Warsaw 1960, p. 246.

[2] F. Jaskólski, Pasterze na Bachorzy. Sielanki kujawskie [Shepherds in Bachorza: The Kujavian Bucolics], Warsaw 1827, p. 65, 94, 99.

[3] Ł. Gołębiowski, Lud polski, jego zwyczaje, zabobony [The People of Poland, their Customs and Superstitions], Warsaw 1830, p. 211.

[4] 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, p. 325.

[5] H. Windakiewiczowa, Wzory ludowej muzyki polskiej w mazurkach Fryd. Chopina. Studium muzykologiczne [The Models of Polish folk Music in Fryderyk Chopin’s Mazurkas: A Musicological Study], Cracow 1926.

[6] Kuryer Szafarski – list do rodziny z 24 sierpnia 1824 roku; List do rodziców z 26 sierpnia 1825 roku; Kuryer Szafarski – list do rodziny z 3 września 1824 roku. [A Letter to Family dated August 24, 1824; A Letter to Parents dated August 26, 1825; A Letter to Family dated September 3, 1824].

[7] K. Wójcicki, Pieśni ludu Białochrobatów Mazurów i Rusi z nad Bugu [Songs of Białochrobaty, Masuria, and Ruthenia along the Bug], in 2 volumes, Warsaw 1836, vol. I, p. 279.

[8] L. Zienkowicz, Les Costumes du Peuple Polonais, Paris 1841, pp. 86-87.

[9] K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców przez Karola Czerniawskiego [A Typology of Dances by Karol Czerniawski], Warsaw 1847, pp. 37, 61; idem, O tańcach narodowych naszych z poglądem historycznym i estetycznym na tańce różnych narodów, a w szczególności na tańce polskie [On Our National Dances with Historical and Aesthetic Insight into Dances of Various Nations, with Particular Emphasis on Polish Dances], Warsaw 1860, p. 57.

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

[11] The following year, the author also published Zbiór tańców pod tytułem «Karnawał na Kujawach» [A Collection of Dances <<The Kujavian Carnival>>] (Warsaw), followed by six subsequent books on the kujawiak dances, published twenty years later in Poznań.

[12] In 1853, Kolberg also composed a pastoral opera Król pasterzy [The Shepherd King], inspired by the aforementioned worky by Feliks Jaskólski.

[13] Bliziński was likely the author of the description published in “Ruch Muzyczny” (no. 40, 1860); O. Kolberg, Mazowsze: obraz etnograficzny. Tom II. Mazowsze polne. Część druga [Mazovia: An Ethnographi Picture. Vol. II: Field Mazovia], Cracow 1886, p. 298. Shortly before his death in 1893, Bliziński also compiled an entry on the kujawiak for Gloger’s encyclopedia; J. Bliziński, Kujawiak, entry in: Z. Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska ilustrowana [Illustrated Old Polish Encyclopedia], vol. 3, Warsaw 1902, [. 115.

[14] O. Kolberg, Lud. Jego zwyczaje, sposób życia, mowa, podania, przysłowia, obrzędy, gusła, zabawy, pieśni, muzyka i tańce, Serya IV, Kujavia, Część druga [The people, their customs, way of life, speech, legends, proverbs, rites, pagan ceremonies, games, songs, music and dance ],Warsaw 1867, p. 199-206.

[15] A. Kleczewski, Tańce salonowe [Ballroom Dances], Lviv 1879, pp. 99, 101-103.

[16] 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. 143-148.

[17] R. Lange, A. Pawlak, B. Krzyżanowska, Folklor Kujaw [Kujavian Folklore], Poznan 2001, p. 32.

[18] I. Zabłocka-Bączkowska, Dwór w Kłosach [The Kłosy Mansion] (first printed in: “Wiadomości”, 1959, no. 686) and Kujawski bal [The Kujavian Ball] (first printed in: “Wiadomości”, 1954, no. 432), in: Irena Zabłocka-Bączkowska, Krajobrazy i ludzie. Opowiadania norfoldzkie [Landscapes and People: The Norfolk Stories], Opole 1995, pp. 98, 106-108; S. S. Nicieja, Między Wschodem a Zachodem. O krajobrazach Ireny Zabłockiej-Bączkowskiej [Between the East and the West: On the Landscapes of Irena Zabłocka-Bączkowska], in: I. Zabłocka-Bączkowska, op. cit., p. 15.

[19] Zob. m.in. Z. Kłośnik, O tańcach narodowych polskich (odczyt wygłoszony staraniem Tow. Zabaw Ruchowych w sali ratuszowej we Lwowie), [On Polish National Dances (presented at the Lviv City Hall with the support of the Association for Games and Physical Activities)], Lviv 1907; K. Derc, Czym jest Stowarzyszenie Miłośników Tańców Polskich i do czego dąży [About the Association of Polish Dance Lovers and its Goals], Warsaw 1931 et al..

[20] J. Waxman, Tańce narodowe [National Dances], Poznań 1936, pp. 53-59, 92-101 (edition 2 – 1937, edition 3 - 1937, edition 4 - 1946).

[21] J. Ostrowski-Naumoff, Polskie tańce narodowe [Polish National Dances], “Teatr w Szkole”, 1936/1937, no. 4/5, pp. 87-96.

[22] Z. Kwaśnicowa, Zbiór pląsów II [Caper Collection II], Warsaw 1938, pp. 168-180.

[23] Zob. 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. 116-125.

[24] J. Hryniewiecka, Sześć scenicznych układów polskich tańców ludowych [Six Stage Arrangements of Polish Folk Dances], Warsaw 1961 (edition 2 -1962); idem, Tańce Harnama: polonez, mazur, oberek, kujawiak [Harnam’s Dances: the polonaise, the mazurka, the oberek, the kujawiak], Warsaw 1961; tejże, Polskie tańce narodowe w formie towarzyskiej [Polish National Dances as Social Dances], Warsaw 1967 (edition 2 – 1971; edition 3 – 1973), idem, Pięć tańców polskich [Five Polish Dances], Warsaw 1970; idem, 5 tańców polskich [5 Polish Dances], Warsaw 1990.

[25] Różne formy tańców polskich [Various Forms of Polish Dances], ed. I. Ostrowska, Warsaw 1980.

[26] J. Hryniewiecka, Polskie tańce narodowe… [Polish National Dances...], op. cit., pp. 85-99.

[27] Composition Na melodię kujawiaka [To the Melody of the Kujawiak], J. Hryniewiecka, Tańce Harnama… [Harnam’s Dances...], op. cit., pp. 131-160.

[28] J. Hryniewiecka, Sześć scenicznych… [Six Stage Arrangements...], Zeszyt II, 1962, pp. 35-56.

[29] Kompozycja Kujawiak, J. Hryniewiecka, Pięć tańców polskich… [Five Polish Dances...], op. cit., pp. 62-92.

[30] Z. Kwaśnicowa, op. cit., pp. 168-180; C. Sroka, Metrum muzyczne jako czynnik normujący różnie krok taneczny kujawiaka i tanga [Musical Metre as Normative Factor in Kujawiak and Tango Steps] “Kultura Fizyczna”, 1962, no. 5, pp. 399-404.

[31] R. Lange, Tańce kujawskie [Kujavian Dances], “Literatura Ludowa”, 1963, no. 4; R. Lange, A. Pawlak, B. Krzyżanowska, op. Cit.

[32] C. Sroka, Polskie tańce narodowe – systematyka [Polish National Dances: A Typology], Warsaw 1990.

[33] C. Sroka, Polskie tańce narodowe we współczesnych zabawach, konkursach i turniejach tanecznych [Polish National Dances in Contemporary Dancing Events, Contests and Tournaments], Warsaw 2003.