In the village of Nowy Sącz near the foot of the Tatra mountains, the men and women dance a unique blend of vigorous dances. The men, clad in their richly ornamented wool coats, dance the spirited “Krakowiaki” showing-off their skill and strength. The women join in to add color and excitement to a series of traditional polka and regional folk melodies.
History of Nowosądecki Costume
The area around the southern Polish town of Nowy Sącz has an ancient history. Neolithic settlements from 4000 B.C. have been found there as have settlements of Lusatian people from 1700 B.C. Historical information begins in the ninth century A.D. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the town of Nowy Sacz itself was established as trade between this area and Czech and Hungarian regions to the south grew. At that time German settlers from the west settled here. In the fifteenth century, Ruthenians from Volhinya also came. They settled in more than thirty villages.
The Sadecki people incorporated elements of Ruthenian folklore and costume into their own. Although they borrowed the wide leather belts and embroidered parzenice from the trousers of the mountaineers (gorale) they did not include other elements of their folklore because they were farmers and artisans and not shepherds like the gorale.
The Nowosadecki costumes are very elaborate. The men wear brown or navy-blue coats and trousers which are heavily embroidered with red, yellow and green floral and geometrical motifs. On the front of the trousers are the large, multi-hued parzenice. Their white linen shirts are also embroidered in red and are tucked into wide, elaborately tooled leather belts with many brass buckles. Their dark brown hats are decorated with flowers or ribbons. Even their black boots sometimes have decorations!
The women wear navy-blue jackets embroidered in the same colors and with the same motifs as the men’s. Their skirts are a deep red color with a few black lines near the bottom. Over these, aprons, either red or black with needlework at the bottom, are worn. Their white blouses are also embroidered in red and they sometimes wear red coral necklaces. On their heads are scarves trimmed with red silk thread.
Songs and Dances from the Sącz Lachy Region
The ethnographic region of Sącz, the so called Ziemia Sądecka (the Sącz Land), lies in southern Poland. Its landscape consists of mountains, valleys and gorges, as well as fields, orchards and forests. These forests are populated by many species of birds, and wild animals such as boars, reindeer, lynx, wildcats, and badgers. Crops are grown in the fields, while cattle and sheep graze in the meadows. Apples, berries, and forest spices flourish in the orchards. Sącz, the ethnographic region, does not cover the same territory as the administrative unit, the so called Wojewodztwo Nowosadeckie, named so after the main city of Nowy Sacz, an old town founded in 1290.
Ziemia Sądecka contains two different ethnographic groups: the Sacz Lachy (an old name for the inhabitants of forests), with the village of Podegrodzie as its main center, and the Laccy górale (the mountaineers from Lacko). Their customs, dress, music and dances differ from Sacz Lachy. The Lachy’s folk culture originated in the heart of Poland, while the culture of the mountaineers was influenced by the nomadic Wallachian shepherds from the Balkans. In the 15th century, these shepherds wandered throughout the Carpathian Mountains.
Neighboring Ziemia Sądecka is the Kraków region to the northwest, the Rzeszów region to the east, and the region of Podhale to the south west. The Sacz folklore reflects the various influences of these neighbors. For example, the folk songs of the Sącz Lachy and Rzeszów regions contain similar lyrics and melodies, in addition, their dances share some of the same characteristic steps.
The men’s Sącz Lachy outfits combine the characteristic colors of the fabrics and of the embroidery of the Kraków region with the distinctive embroidery patterns of the mountainous Podhale region. Likewise, one of the Sącz Lachy men’s dances (the Krakowiak) contains the unique Podhale mountaineers’ squatting steps. Ziemia Sądecka’s rich folklore can be further explained by its geographic proximity. For centuries, the two main rivers, the Poprad and the Dunajec, served as a means of communication between the northern and the southern part of Europe, exposing the people of Sącz to German, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Hungarian influences.
The dances of the Sącz Lachy region consist primarily of turning, 2/4 meter polkas, done in a variety of ways with various additional embellishing movements, such as stamping, bending knees, shuffling, lifting one leg, etc. There are a few dances in the familiar 3/4 meter, like the Sztajerek and some slow and fast waltzes. All the dances are done with an erect posture where, much of the time, the soles of the feet are in complete contact with the floor. Done with dignity, pride, and precision, they display both vivacity and restraint at the same time. Each male dancer wants to be the best. He dances with confidence, adding, at will, an extra stamp, shout, boisterous glance, gesture of his head, or a whistle (done by placing his bent thumb between his teeth.)
Often one dancer is the leading man. He is in charge of orderly and dignified dancing and has the authority to stop the music and expel an undisciplined couple who cannot dance well or creates collisions. The couple who bumps into another pair may have to treat others to a round of vodka as a penalty. It is an honor for a girl to be the leading man’s partner. Older people also like to join the dance, and usually dance smoothly and well. As musical accompaniment, a typical Sacz Lachy orchestra consists of two violins, a clarinet, a trumpet or a cornet, and a three string bass.
Syrena’s suite of Sącz Lachy dances has been choreographed by Konrad Więcek, our Dance Master from Chicago. In a clever fashion, he has mixed the two versions of the women’s folkwear (those of the maidens and those the married women), as well as the two versions of the men’s attire (vests versus coats). Out of a wide range of dances and songs, he chose an interesting mixture of some of the quick and some of the slow tempos. Our suite starts with Tupana (stamping) polka and is followed by Krzyzak (a cross dance), which includes Surok (the shuffling dance), Szarpak, (an amusing jerking dance), and ends with the dignified Parada (parade). Next, the men show off in the spectacular dance, called the Sacz Krakowiak (not to be confused with the national dance of the same name). The women return in a special arrangement of Polka scypana (“pinching” polka, named after the way it is played by plucking the strings of a fiddle.) Then everyone dances the Wolny Walc (slow waltz) accompanied by lovely lyrics sung by the women. Suddenly, the dance changes into Szewc (shoemaker), an amusing dance in which the dancers imitate the pounding and the sewing movements of a shoemaker. Then, all the couples twirl vigorously in the Polka z nogi (“from the foot”), reversing their own turning direction and that of the entire circle of dancers. The suite ends with the spectacular Cieta polka (snappy polka), which strangely enough is not done with any kind of a polka step!