Manchester Polish dance group Polonez seeks new members to keep folk traditions alive after 70 years

Dancers have been showcasing traditional Polish culture in the city for more than seven decades - but the group is worried for the future amid fears folk arts are dwindling in popularity among 21st century Mancunians.
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Dancers from the Polonez Manchester group have been performing and celebrating traditional Polish folk arts in the city for more than seven decades.

But now the group, which was founded way back in 1949, is urgently seeking new members to help keep Polish culture alive locally.

Numbers have been dropping and the organisation is concerned that arts such as folk dancing are dwindling in popularity among newer, younger generations of Mancunians.

Polonez Manchester has issued its rallying cry for new members ahead of Góbéfest, a major celebration of Eastern European culture in Manchester.

How was Polonez founded and how have numbers taking part changed over the years?

Polonez Manchester is one of the longest-standing traditional Polish dance groups in the UK, taking its first steps just a few years after the end of the Second World War.

The group was founded by Polish expats, including Waclaw Kolekowski, who were unable to return to Poland after the war due to the communist government which had taken power there.

They were keen to keep alive the culture and traditions of their homeland through sharing song and dance with fellow Poles and the wider Greater Manchester communities.

Polonez Manchester has a long history in the city dating back to the 1940sPolonez Manchester has a long history in the city dating back to the 1940s
Polonez Manchester has a long history in the city dating back to the 1940s

In 1953, Polonez performed at a series of events to mark the Queen’s coronation, including at the Free Trade Hall and in Alexander Park in Whalley Range.

In the same decade, the group appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Based in Moss Side, the troupe performs at events all over the country and around the world. The group’s extensive wardrobe features over 400 brightly-coloured traditional costumes from different regions of Poland.

However, its membership has reduced. In the 1950s, it boasted around 40 members but now only has around 25 dancers at its weekly sessions, almost a 40 percent drop in numbers.

What has Polonez said about the drop in numbers?

Asia Cullinan, who runs Polonez Manchester, puts the decline in participation down to the fact that folklore is not seen as fashionable and traditional dancing is perceived to be outdated.

Even though Manchester’s Polish population has grown in size since the country joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, Polonez Manchester says recruiting members in the 2020s is much harder than in previous years.

Asia says: “It does seem like it was easier to recruit people in the 20th century rather than the 21st.

“I feel like people do not perceive folklore as a fashionable hobby, thus the number of members is a little bit lower nowadays.

“The age range is from around 24 to 50+ and we currently have two generations of the same family dancing with us, which is beautiful to see.

Polonez Manchester has been performing traditional Polish dance and music in the city for more than seven decadesPolonez Manchester has been performing traditional Polish dance and music in the city for more than seven decades
Polonez Manchester has been performing traditional Polish dance and music in the city for more than seven decades

“Our members are a mix of Polish expats, children and grandchildren of Polish nationals, people of Polish heritage who were born in the UK, and those who have married into Polish families.

“Polish folklore and culture are so vibrant, colourful and welcoming so we’d invite anyone who is interested in joining, to come and see us at Góbéfest and speak to us afterwards.

“You don’t need to be from a Polish background, and you don’t need any dance training. All our dancers are very supportive and will have you spinning, kicking and dancing to traditional Polish music in no time!”

The group is keen to stress they think Polish traditional music and dance can still appeal to people from Greater Manchester if they get the chance to experience it.

And, in a health-conscious age, they also suggest that being put through your folk dance paces could be something of a good work out.

Polonez ManchesterPolonez Manchester
Polonez Manchester

Committee member Kasia Jasicka said: “We know there are people out there who are interested in Polish traditions and folk dance because they want to cultivate the beautiful traditions Poland has to showcase to the world.

“Polish folk dances are great fun to learn and even better exercise! They really get your heart rate going, use all of your muscle groups, and give you a real buzz as the music is so uplifting.

“From the elegant Polonaise to the energetic Krakowiak, there’s something for everyone, and once you hear the music and see the colourful costumes, all you want to do is dance!”

Góbéfest is a chance to meet potential new members and showcase their dancing

Polonez is currently rehearsing for performances and workshops at Góbéfest, the UK’s only free weekend-long festival to celebrate 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 Cathedral Gardens and Exchange Square between 24 and 26 June.

Ottilia Ordog, founder of Góbéfest, invited Polonez Manchester to perform at the family-friendly event and hopes giving them a platform will enable more people to see what the group’s dancing is about and help it to thrive for decades to come.

Dancers from Polonez Manchester in traditional outfitsDancers from Polonez Manchester in traditional outfits
Dancers from Polonez Manchester in traditional outfits

She said: “Festival Sunday is dance day and I am so excited to be able to showcase folk dancing from all around the Carpathian Basin region of Eastern Europe.

“Polonez’s long standing history in Manchester is impressive and I hope performing at Góbéfest brings them new audiences and even new members so the group can continue to meet, rehearse and perform for another 73 years.”

How do I join Polonez Manchester?

Polonez meets on Wednesdays at 7.30pm at the Polish RC Church of Divine Mercy on Lloyd Street North in Moss Side, Manchester. The group can be contacted by anyone interested in joining at [email protected]

For anyone looking to dip a toe in the water the group is running a Polish dance class at Góbéfest from noon until 1pm on Sunday 26 June and also is performing on the main stage at 2.30pm in Cathedral Gardens.