Skip to main content

Traditional dance in Poland

Traditional dance in Poland

Maison de la Danse de Lyon 2018 - Director : Plasson, Fabien

Author : Tomasz Nowak

de en fr


The social changes that took place in Poland in the second half of the 20th century led to the disappearance of many traditional dance forms with their original functions. Traditional dances, if modified under the influence of changing trends and fashions, survived as social or ceremonial dances, up to the 1950s-1980s. Later, new dance phenomena gained popularity thanks to audio recordings, film, the television and the radio, pushing traditional dance to the margins of popular culture. Yet they proved important enough to give them new – often symbolic – significance and function, and continue to practice them today.



The mazurka is a ballroom dance originating in Poland, very rhythmic, in 3/4 times, with a lively tempo and in which the accents are placed on the weak beats. This video is an amateur recording made in 1986 documenting people dancing the mazurka (3/8 meters) in a traditional home in central Poland to the accompaniment of the violin and a frame drum. The dance has specific elements (steps, stamps, leanings, changes of the direction of rotation, small jumps), but has never been danced to a pre-arranged choreography: the selection is up to the dancer's creativity. This was characteristic for the majority of Polish traditional dances.

Harnasie dance spectacle

Peasant ballets or operettas with ballet interludes featuring local dances appeared in Poland only in the second half of the 18th century Widowisko taneczne Harnasie choreographed by Kaya Kołodziejczyk is a contemporary example of this genre. Apart from the original Harnasie, the choreographer has drawn on Krzesany, yet making her work a contemporary dance piece. The show brings together representatives of Poland's leading contemporary dance circles, highlanders of the Podhale area, and… parkour artists, who embody the qualities of robust, free and easy highland bandits.

Slask song and Dance Ensemble

The style of dance performed by “Śląsk” (Silesia), founded in 1953, was set by its choreographer Elwira Kamińska. Her choreographies, set against a symphony-like musical background, used big groups of dancers, exaggerated characteristic elements of traditional dance (especially decorative steps and gestures), and included acrobatic elements and other movements created by the choreographer to surprise the audience.

La polonaise

Today’s student balls reference a tradition which goes back to the 18th century, and follows up on the practice of opening balls with the polonaise popular on Polish courts. What is interesting is that the choreography of the prom polonaise is increasingly often shaped by the students themselves, who perceive participating in the dance as a sign of reaching maturity, or even an honour.

Championnat de danses polonaises

At the beginning of the 20th century, popular dances perceived as national ones, started to become obsolete. In the 1960s Jadwiga Hryniewiecka came up with the interesting idea of performing them as ballroom dances. Today Poland may boast a few thousand registered dancers who compete as part of more than a dozen of tournaments. The programme includes four national dances: the krakowiak, kujawiak, mazur, and oberek. The style of the dances draws on models from the late 19th century, although differences in costume and the competitive formula prompt participants to look for new solutions within codified steps and approaches.

Tradition vivante

The latest development are "dance houses", inspired by the Hungarian táncház movement started in the early 1970s, when the Hungarian youth and intelligentsia would travel to Transylvania to take lessons in dance, music-making, and singing from local residents. In Poland the same formula was launched in 1994 by a group of folk aficionados from Warsaw and the neighbouring area. The idea behind it is to learn directly from local dance and music masters by participating in dance parties and social gatherings. A new trend is emerging now in this context, with attempts at formulating a methodology of teaching traditional dances in the unmodified form.


Tomasz Nowak studied musicology at the University of Warsaw (1993-1997), where he later completed his doctoral studies (1997-2002). He also studied dance theory at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw (2003-2005) and the management of culture (2005-2006) at the University of Warsaw. Assistant Professor at the Institute of Musicology of the University of Warsaw, he lectures at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music. He has published four books and more than 40 scientific articles, mainly on the traditions of Polish minorities along the eastern borders, musical traditions in the Polish Tatra mountains, contemporary Balinese and Upper Lusatian musical culture, historical sources Polish folk music and dance. Tomasz Nowak is a member of the International Council for Traditional Music, the Polish Seminar in Ethnomusicology (Vice-President), the Musicologists Section of the Union of Polish Composers (General Secretary), the Polish Forum for Choreography (Chair) and of the Polish section of the International Council of Folklore and Traditional Art Festivals Organizations (expert).


Excerpts selection

Tomasz Nowak, PhD


Tomasz Nowak, PhD


IMit (Institute of Music and Dance)

The " Traditional dance in Poland " Course was launched and translated thanks to the European Video Dance Heritage project, supported by European Union’s Culture programme.

Your opinion interests us
By accessing the website, you acknowledge and accept the use of cookies to assist you in your browsing.
You can block these cookies by modifying the security parameters of your browser or by clicking onthis link.
I accept Learn more