Essay by Maja Trochimczyk
The history of the Polish folk dance group now known as “Górale Dancers” dates back to 1953. At that time the Commissioner of the 16th District of the fraternal organization, Polish National Alliance (PNA), Bronisława (“Bertha”) Czarnecka organized the first Polish folk dance group in Southern California. This group, called The Polonia Folk Dancers was initially directed by Jadwiga Wielkoszewska. It served as a means of preserving Polish dance and folklore traditions in the living cultural practice of Polish Americans based in Southern California (the Orange County area). The preparation of the group’s colorful and elaborate costumes required much time and effort. Janina Malins assisted in this work. In 1973, Joanna Giedzińska became the director of the group; she was replaced in this function by Richard P. (“Rick”) Kobzi in 1976. Mr. Kobzi, who is an active member of the Górale since 1970 (other sources list the date as 1969 for his joining and 1973 for assuming a leadership role), has devoted much time and effort to its development.
The Górale Dancers continue to be financially supported by the Polish National Alliance, Orange County Centennial Lodge no. 3193. The PNA has sponsored annual choreographer’s dance seminars to enrich the repertoire of this group and its counterparts associated with other districts of the Alliance. The ensemble participates in PNA events, including the well-attended PNA Youth Jamborees. It has attracted youth by providing them with camaraderie and an opportunity to learn the Polish heritage and to promote the values of Polish traditions. The members of the group include second and third generation Polish Americans, as well as Poles who arrived in the U.S. in the past 20 years; i.e. the so-called “ethnic” Americans, and the new “immigrants.”
The term “górale” appearing in the current name of the group (since 1986) literally means “the highlanders” – the name of the inhabitants of the Tatra Mountains in Southern Poland. However, the ensemble does not place any limitations to its repertoire, including dances from various areas of Poland. In fact during the 1970s and well into the 1980s, the ensemble used the name Mazur – Polish Folk Dancers, thus referring to Central Poland of the Mazovia area as the main point of reference for its “ethnic/cultural” identity. Please note that the term “mazur” means both the most popular dance form of this central area, and the male inhabitant of Mazovia.
It is under the name of “Mazur” that this group had its greatest popular successes. It performed for Polish and American audiences in Southern California, appearing at events celebrating Polish national anniversaries, religious holidays, and various special occasions of the Polish American community. The group contribution to “multiculturalism” may be exemplified by its continuing participation in the Los Angeles County Fair – this performance tradition has lasted for more than forty years!
In 1997 and 1998 Górale performed at holiday festivities at the Ronal Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. The 1998 program (5 December) included: “Mazur, Boli Mie Noga (My Leg Hurts), Kujawiak, Trojak, and Polka.” (according to the information on the Górale web site.
Through the years, many Polish Americans based in Orange County, have been involved in the activities of this group. In addition to the founders mentioned in the group’s history (e.g. Bronisława Czarnecka, Janina Wielkoszewska) the list includes choreographers: Jan Dziewanowski, Jan Nachrzter, Kasia Wrobel, Ronald Wilga, Jan Sejda, and Jaroslaw Wojciechowski. Edward Kaminski was the announcer for several decades; his wife, Eugenia Kaminski served as a costume coordinator – a difficult and daunting task. Since 1976 Rick Kobzi has served as the ensemble’s director.
The focus of the ensemble rests on preparing dances for public performances, for various audiences. Many performances adorn social and patriotic events of the Polish American community. Here, the dancers present their skill to spectators who know the Polish dance traditions and Polish costumes, but are very positively inclined towards displays of color, music and movement, that fill them with a national pride.
In contrast, American audiences without Polish background are often not aware of the scope of Polish dance traditions. In order to educate the public, the Górale include in their repertoire the traditional dances of the old Polish nobility (the polonaise), along with regional folk dances (góralski, zbójnicki from the Tatra mountains; mazur, oberek, kujawiak from the Mazovian plains, and other dances). An essential part of the repertoire is, of course, the polka – the symbol of national identity for Polish Americans.
The group performed during many notable events. An important appearance of the ensemble, still known as Mazur Dancers, was its performance for the Los Angeles Celebration of the American Bi-Centennial in 1976. At that time the Górale appeared in front of a live TV audience with The Lawrence Welk Orchestra; this performance was, of course, one of the many manifestations of multi-ethnicity of the American nation. The Górale also performed for the San Pedro Fisherman’s Festival of Lights, at the Pomona Fair, at the L.A. County Fair (as mentioned above) and in numerous other locations.