One of the oldest Polish folk dance groups in the UK is looking for new members. And he hopes to attract new dancers when he performs at Góbéfest later this month.
Asia Cullinan leads Polonez Manchester with the help of Alex Gaffey, Marylka Steadman and Kasia Jasicka, which has been active since 1949. Based in Moss Side, the troupe performs at events across the country and around the world, and counts around 40 members in the 1950s, but now has only around 25 dancers at its weekly sessions – a drop of nearly 40% in numbers.
Kasia attributes this drop in membership to the fact that folklore is not considered fashionable and traditional dancing is seen as outdated. And although Manchester’s Polish population has grown since the country joined the EU in 2004, Kasia says recruiting members in the 2020s is much more difficult than in previous years.
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She says the majority of members are from Greater Manchester, but a few dedicated dancers travel from the south to attend weekend workshops as well as festivals and shows. Kasia says, “It seems like it was easier to recruit people in the 20th century than in the 21st.
“I feel like people don’t see folklore as a trendy pastime, so the number of members is a bit lower these days. The age range is around 24 to 50 years and we currently have two generations of the same family dancing with us, which is beautiful to see,” she said.
“Our members are a mix of Polish expatriates, children and grandchildren of Polish natives, people of Polish descent who were born in the UK and people who married into Polish families.
“Polish folklore and culture is so vibrant, colorful and welcoming that we invite anyone who wants to join us to come see us at Góbéfest and talk to us afterwards. You don’t have to be of Polish descent, and you don’t need any dance training, all of our dancers are very supportive and will have you spinning, kicking and dancing to traditional Polish music in no time.”
Polonez, under the artistic direction of Asia Cullinan, is currently rehearsing for performances and workshops at Góbéfest, the UK’s only free weekend festival celebrating the legendary region of Transylvania and the Carpathian Basin. The free festival, which also features music, dance and food from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Croatia, takes place in the Cathedral Gardens and on the Stock Exchange Square of the June 24 to 26.
Asia says, “We know that there are people who are interested in Polish traditions and folk dance because they want to cultivate the beautiful traditions that Poland has to show to the world.
“Polish folk dances are great fun to learn and even more fun to exercise in. They really get your heart rate up, use all of your muscle groups and give you a real buzz because the music is so uplifting. From the elegant Polonaise at the energetic Krakowiak, there’s something for everyone, and once you hear the music and see the colorful costumes, all you want to do is dance.”
Ottilia Ordog, founder of Góbéfest, invited the group to perform at this free family event, alongside folk dance groups from Transylvania, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Ukraine. She said: “Sunday of the festival is dance day and I am delighted to be able to showcase folk dances from across the Carpathian Basin region in Eastern Europe.
“Polonez’s long history in Manchester is impressive and I hope playing Góbéfest will bring them new audiences and even new members so the band can continue to meet, rehearse and perform for another 73 years.”
Polonez Manchester was founded by a group of Polish expatriates, including Waclaw Kolekowski, who were unable to return to Poland after World War II due to the communist regime.
The group’s founders were keen to keep the culture and traditions of their homeland alive by sharing song and dance with other Poles and the communities of Greater Manchester at large. The group’s extensive wardrobe includes more than 400 brightly colored traditional costumes from different regions of Poland.
In 1953 Polonez performed at a series of events to mark the Queen’s coronation, including at the Free Trade Hall and Alexander Park in Whalley Range. During the same decade, the group performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, at the Rzeszow Festival, at various events during Polish holidays such as Dożynki.
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