Krakowiak is a Polish dance from the region of Kraków, the old capital of Poland (used by the Piast and
the Jagiełło dynasties) and the center of southern part of the country, called Małopolska (Little Poland). The common
name used in English is cracovienne (from the French); in German the dance is known as Krakauer Tanz.
Zofia Stryjeńska, 1927.
first time that the name itself appeared in print was in Franciszek Mirecki's 1816 piano album, Krakowiaks
Offered to the Women of Poland (Warsaw, 1816). In the mid-19th century, the krakowiak became a popular ballroom dance in Austria and
France and grew to be regarded as a "national dance" of Poland (it competed with the polonaise). For Poland, this was the time of partitions and the unsuccessful uprisings (1831, 1848) which sought to regain the country's independence. The krakowiak, polonaise, and even mazurka, appeared in
the Parisian salons as symbols of solidarity with the oppressed nation.
At the same time, the krakowiak
became a choice of composers who transformed it into an extensive and even virtuosic form, beginning
from Fryderyk Chopin's Krakowiak (grand rondeau de concert) for piano and orchestra (op. 14, 1828; including
a quotation of the popular "Albośmy to jacy tacy"), and including pieces by Zygmunt Noskowski, Ignacy
Jan Paderewski, and Roman Statkowski. As the result of this increased artistic stature, even the ballroom
form of the dance grew in scope and the dance was transformed into a three-part form, with the music
featuring a contrasting central section, and modulations to other keys.
Podhale, Krakowiak, 1999.
Simultaneously with its shift to the concert hall, the krakowiak lost its popularity
as a functional
dance (of either the peasants, or the gentry). Instead, it became an impressive "exhibition"
dance to be watched
and applauded. The fast tempi and colorful costumes, perhaps the most decorative of all Polish
folk-costumes, have contributed to the appeal of the krakowiak on the stage and its popularity
as the finale in performances by Polish folk dance ensembles in the U.S.
The great popularity of the krakowiak among the American Polonia has antecedents in its widespread presence
in American popular music since mid-19th century. A famous Austrian dancer, Fanny Elssler, presented the Cracovienne for her
debut in New York: dressed in red boots, blue shirt, white jacket and velvet cap, she delighted her audiences and secured the position
of this dance in the American popular repertoire. Aleksander Janta lists 32 Cracoviennes, 4 songs Cracovian Maid, and 5 Krakowiaks in his inventory of
Polish dances composed in the U.S. at that time (A History of Nineteenth Century American-Polish Music, p. 114-124).
In terms of its choreography, the krakowiak is set for several couples, among whom the leading male dancer sings and indicates the steps. According
to the description in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the krakowiak is directed
by the leading man from the first pair. As they approach the band, "the man, tapping his heels or
dancing a few steps, sings a melody from an established
repertory with newly improvised words addressed to his partner. The band follows the melody, and the couples
move off in file and form a circle (with the leading couple back at the band). Thereafter verses are sung and played
in alternation, the couples circulating during the played verses."
Mazowsze, hołubiec figure, 1973.
There are several figures which appear in the different stages of the dance: the invitation phase, the running, the shuffling,
the passing, etc. The three most characteristic steps are: the galop (fast running forward),
the hołubiec (jump with clicking the heels and stamping; pl. hołubce), and the krzesany (this term
is used as a name of a separate dance in the Podhale area, but here refers to a sliding motion of the feet
The krakowiak is the exhibition dance of choice of the Polish-American dance ensembles. When performed on the stage,
it includes a variety of group figures, in addition to the turns, jumps, running and stamping steps. A photo of the figure of
the Star (or the Cross; the dancers hook their arms and rotate around a central point in tightly-held rows of alternating men and women) as performed by the Podhale Polish Folk Dance Company in 1999 is included below, in the section about the music.
A regional variant from the Nowy Sącz area in south-eastern Poland, called Krakowiaki Sądeckie (in the plural form of the noun), is a dance for men only. It consists of a series of krakowiak tunes and is a display dance performed in a line, or semi-circle. Its choreorhythmic and musical features place it in-between the dances of the lowlands (Kraków itself) and the mountains (Podhale area). More information about this dance is provided by Ada Dziewanowska in Polish Folk Dances and Songs.
The strój krakowski (Kraków costume) is the favourite among the various regional costumes of Poland and
has come to symbolize the traditional costume of Poland in general, especially abroad.
Krakusy in Kraków, 1996.
wear white shirts with broad sleeves and collars decorated with lace, colorful vests with
sequins and rich embroidery, strings of coral beads, flowery skirts in bold patterns, partly covered with white
lace aprons (plus multiple petticoats underneath), and wreaths of flowers with multi-colored ribbons in their braided hair (girls) or
colorful, flowery kerchiefs (mature women). The high-laced red boots
have heels with metal tips, to emphasize each stamp, click, or jump.
The men wear long, dark and embroidered
coats over white shirts, striped pants (red-white; the pants are tucked into the high red boots),
and embroidered vests.
Their characteristic accessories include a special belt with decorative strings of small, jingling metal plates, as well as
a square hat, topped with peacock feathers.
The costumes are lavishly ornamented, one could almost say that the effect of multicolored skirts, vests and embroidery
is somewhat similar to the extravagant colorfulness of the peacock.
The krakowiak is a fast dance in duple meter; it uses a characteristic syncopated pattern of
short-long-short (or eight-note - quarter-note - eight-note) which
allows one to recognize the dance form quite easily. Another variant is an eighth-note followed by an accented dotted quarter-note; both are illustrated below:
This pattern alternates with the simpler rhythm of
two eighth-notes, plus one quarter-note (or: short-short-long). The phrases are symmetrically arranged in pairs of four measures each, though
the texts of songs used in the krakowiak are grouped in four lines of six-syllables each.
The melodies feature a great variety of patterns, with added extra notes, dotted rhythms, and passages
based on triads.
Podhale, Krakowiak, 1999.
In its more complex, stylized form, developed under the influence of art music composers and the requirements
of the theatrical stage (krakowiak was a popular exhibition dance), krakowiak became
a three-part form, using repetition and modulation to extend the outer sections,
and containing a contrasting middle section, as well as modulating links in between. The krakowiaks danced
by State Folk Song and Dance Ensembles, Mazowsze and Śląsk belong to the latter category.
SOURCES OF MATERIAL
Dziewanowska, Ada. Polish Folk Dances & Songs: A Step by Step Guide. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999.
- Cooley, Timothy. Notes for Fire in the Mountains CD of Polish Highland Bands (1927-50), Yazoo 7013; 1997.
- Harley, Maria Anna. "Dance as a National Symbol: Polish Dance in Southern California." Project for Southern California Studies Center at USC, August 2000.
- Janta, Aleksander. A History of Nineteenth Century American-Polish Music New York: The Kosciuszko Foundation, 1982.
- "Krakowiak," entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 10.
Stanley Sadie, ed. London: McMillan, 1980.
- Illustrations from Polish folk art (straw cutouts); Zofia Stryjeńska's 1927 "Krakowiak" image; photographs from PMRC Collection and from archival material gathered for M.A. Harley's Polish Dance in Southern California project.
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Text and design: Maja Trochimczyk.
Editorial assistance: Michał Jankowski,
Ewa Grzegrzułka, Błażej Wajszczuk.
Updated in August 2000.
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and Southern California Studies Center at USC.