The Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle is a non-profit, community-based organization created to share our rich, colorful Polish heritage with the next generation. Our mission is to convey to participants an appreciation of our authentic Polish culture and heritage through exploration of dance, music, language study and folk art in a fun and supportive environment. Krakowiaki's youth dancers from 3-18 years and adult choir performs throughout the region at various civic, community and private events.
The group had its first performance at the Canfield Fair on Labor Day 2007 after being silent for more than 16 years. Formerly headquartered at Krakusy Hall on South Avenue, the group was resurrected by former instructors, Aundréa Cika Heschmeyer and Agata Lyda Khoury. The two used to dance as children in this same group and each went on to lead it at different times in their teens. They then went on to pursue careers on the East Coast. Now, each having moved back to the area with families of their own, the women reconnected.
"All it took was one year of watching all the other nationalities highlighting their dance groups at the fair and Poland not being represented," said Cika, a resident of Liberty. "I knew it was time to restart the group by myself."
That's when fate stepped in.
They were hugely assisted in their efforts by another former Polish dance instructor, Cathy Pilat Katrenich. Katrenich grew up participating and later directing Lasowiacy Polish Folk Dancers in Syracuse, NY. She met Heschmeyer while attending the Polish National Alliance (www.pna-znp.org )Youth Instructors Course at the former Alliance College in Cambridge Spring, PA when the women were young teenagers. They stayed friends, attended Alliance College (www.alliancecollege.com) together where they danced in the college dance troupe, the Kujawaiki and traveled to Poland to perform and study there.
Lucky for the women, Katrenich married the Kujawiaki music director and continued to teach folk dance while living in Columbus for many years. When Katrenich's husband had a job relocation to Cleveland, the women knew this was their chance to finally work on a project together.
The women's goal is that the children will not just learn dancing but also the music, history, language and culture along the way.
"Today's American children aren't immersed in the neighborhoods, churches and community that we were growing up," explains Heschmeyer. "If we want them to learn about their Polish heritage, they will have to make a point of sharing it with them. It won't happen by experience like it did with us."
The fledgling group is taking advantage of today's technology to appeal to the dancers and improve their learning speed. Each family receives a CD of music to practice their songs and dances at home. A DVD of the show was provided so dancers could show it to friends, take pride in their performance and learn from their mistakes.
At their show, the dancers now perform a suite of integrated songs and dances from Krakow, in southeastern Poland. The audience is educated on how the rynek (city center) in Krakow's stary miasto (old town) is much like our American county fairs with vendors, animals and exhibitors. They then learn Polish words with the youngest dancers to the tune of Rozmowa. From there it is the Hejnal and versions of the signature dance of Poland, the Krakowiak capped off with a visit from the Lajkonik.
Last summer the group they begin working on new choreography taking audiences to a whole new exciting area of Poland, the acrobatic dances and songs of the mountain people of the Tatry Mountains. However, the costumes of this region are completely different from those of the people in the city. Instead of cotton pants and leather boots, the group needs to purchase embroidered blouses, wool pants, hats, leather slippers and decorative axes for tossing and jumping.