From central Poland comes a set of dances from the Łowicz region. The dance begins with an unusual polka performed on the heels of the feet rather than the toes. A kujony follows where the dancers mimic the motions of the peasants harvesting in the fields. The dance breaks into a spirited oberek where the women spin rapidly and the men leap high into the air. The final oberek ends with characteristic swirling dance steps. The costuming of the Łowicz region is some of the most beautiful in all of Poland, rich in colorful woven patterns and ornate embroidery.
History of the Łowicki Costume
The people of the small town of Łowicz live in the very heart of Poland. They are descended from the ancient Lusatians, Wends, and Slavs from whom the Polish people themselves were born. For many centuries Łowicz was part of a separate dukedom governed by the archbishops of the old eighth-century city of Gniezno. The people of Łowicz were known as księża, or people of the priests. Here we can see the origins of some of their folk motifs. For example, the men’s costume bears a close resemblance to uniforms of the Swiss Papal Guard in Rome, after which it was patterned by the archbishops of Gniezno. The costumes of Opoczno, Sieradz, and Kolbiel are also modeled on this style.
The men dress in orange and green striped trousers which are tucked into high black boots. Their black jackets with shiny black buttons are pleated at the back. Their white linen shirts have embroidered collars and cuffs. Hats are made of thick black felt and have colorful bands. The women wear dresses made from thick. heavy wool. The bodices are of black velvet with beautiful beadwork and the skirts have wide vertical stripes. Over the skin an apron of the same color is worn. Three color schemes can be employed in these costumes. The most ancient is red, the intermediate is orange and the most recent is blue and green. The bottom panels are made of black velvet with brilliant beadwork. Ask any girl who has danced in one how heavy they are! The wide open sleeves of the blouses have elaborate embroidery, as do the kerchiefs worn over the hair.
History of the Łowicz Region
The historical Łowicz region is part of Mazowsze, one of the five main ethnographic areas of Poland. The region is situated in the very heart of the country, southwest of Warsaw, in the valley of one of the Vistula’s tributaries, the river Bzura. Once the whole territory was covered with primeval forests. They were owned by the Mazovian princes and were their hunting grounds. Although practically nonexistent today, originally the dark forests provided plenty of shade for the streams, rivers, and lakes where the local inhabitants took advantage of the abundant fish as a food source. Perhaps one of the prince’s hunting manors was the basis for the formation of the present town of Łowicz. The town’s name is derived from the geographical characteristics of the area. Just compare it with the words łowca or its archaic equivalent łowiec – the hunter, łowy – the hunt, łowisko – both the hunting and the fishing ground, or łowic – to fish.
The traditional wear of the Łowicz region is one of the most beautiful in all of Poland, rich in colorful woven patterns and ornate embroidery. The history of the development of Łowicz woolen woven cloth and of the garments made from it is carefully recorded and skillfully presented in the unique ethnographic museum in Łowicz. Because the Łowicz costume is so attractive and unique, many performing groups possess it. They do not necessarily present specific Łowicz dances in it, but often perform some of the national dances, such as the Oberek, Kujawiak, and Mazur.
Music is a very important part of Łowicz folklore. The melodies and songs are very old; nobody knows who composed them. They were passed on to succeeding generations “by word of mouth,” without any written musical notes or words. However, over the course of time, musicians and singers changed them. Sometimes simply their memory played tricks or they added their own embellishments when playing the melodies. The singers either adapted the lyrics to suit different occasions or composed new ones. All this developed and enriched the Łowicz music but also created some confusion, as often several versions of a melody or of a song exist. The songs have various themes: they speak about courtship, love, and mourning; they are shepherd’s songs, ballads, and lullabies, or special ones for the seasonal rites and family celebrations, such as harvest, Easter, funerals, and weddings. The latter ones are the most numerous. It is characteristic that no harmonizing is done while singing or playing the music, i.e., the singers and the musicians all sing and play the same melody, maybe only in a different key or an octave higher or lower.
Łowicz folk music has been an inspiration to many artists. We can hear the motifs of the 0berek and the Kujon in Chopin’s mazurkas, waltzes, and preludes. Tadeusz Sygietyński, the famed Masowsze musical director, used the first musical phrase from the folk melody “Łoiconka” (A Łowicz girl) to compose his song “Łowiczanka” (A Łowicz girl). The Łowicz Kapela (Folk Band) was usually composed of only three instruments. They were the violin, the clarinet. and the drum.
Besides the singing, dancing also plays a very important part in the Łowicz region. As is typical in all central Poland, the dominant rhythm is 3/4 or 3/8 time. The most popular dances are the exuberant 0berek, the nostalgic Kujon characterized by its variable tempo, similar to the Kujawiak, the ceremonial Chodzony (walking dance) and various Walczyks (light waltzes). The 2/4 meter is represented by various polkas and the Klapok (clapping dance). As in other parts of Poland, the dances are often interrupted or accompanied by short songs, often composed on the spot. Łowicz melodies, songs, and dances are sometimes similar to those of the neighboring sub-regions.
Syrena’s Łowicz suite begins with a waltz danced and sung to the melody “Łowiczanka jestem”. Next, the lively Klapok is done, which is followed by a romantic Kujawiak, a firey Mazurka and the unusual Polka Drygana performed on the heels of the feet. A Kujony follows where the dancers mimic the motions of the peasants harvesting in the fields. The dance breaks into a spirited Oberek in which women spin rapidly and the men leap high into the air. The final Oberek ends with characteristic swirling dance steps.