Up a few flights of stairs in a building decorated with the word “WARSAW,” dancers rehearse for an upcoming performance at NYU’s Skirball Center. The building is the former Polish National Home on Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it is now in use as a music venue for rock concerts! Have I been living under a rock?
It’s easy to feel that way while watching the dancers of the Polish American Folk Dance Company prepare for their 75th Anniversary Concert. Over fifty members strong, the group performs locally, nationally, and internationally. Established in 1938 by Frances Wesolowska-Poplawska, the group initially received support from the Kościuszko Foundation and the Polish-American Aid Fund, and currently receives support from the New York State Council on the Arts the Materials for the Arts. With a large collection of costumes and props, primarily ordered from Poland, the company presents Polish dance and music with authenticity and flair.
The PAFDC works in tandem with a folk band, Kapela Ludow, formed in 2000 under the direction of Andrzej Buczek. Margaret Pasanowic, treasurer for the company, explained that these are extremely accomplished musicians—one is at least a third generation folk musician, and another has a master’s degree in music and composes, too. Like the dancers, the musicians volunteer their time to do what they love. Only one of the dances for the 75th anniversary concert – Rzeszow, a village dance from the southeastern region of Poland – will be performed to live music due to the amount of rehearsal time required to coordinate the dancing to the live music. As Pasanowic explained, “The musicians and dancers must develop a connection and be able to feel each other to maintain a consistent tempo throughout the dance. It is a much longer process than dancing to recorded music.” It should be quite a treat, though. Additionally, the band will debut their new album at the concert, produced by the PAFDC.
The troupe hosts rehearsals and classes each Friday at their space on 261 Driggs Avenue. All are welcome, even first-timers, and there are different times for youths, beginners, and advanced adults. For these sessions, the rehearsal space is often crammed with dancers.
At a Sunday rehearsal that I observed about twelve individuals gathered and danced in preparation for the anniversary concert. The dancers wore practice clothes, and the atmosphere was casual, friendly, and focused. The modest space is lined with some photos, storage, and has a pillar (padded) in the middle of the wood floor. As I mentioned, all of the performers give their time freely to participate in a community and culture which they cherish. This is why they are considered one of the most accomplished amateur folk dance companies, and this is partly why I find their work so beautiful.
The practice was conducted mostly in Polish by choreographer Tomasz Orzechowski. He has been with the PAFDC for three years, but will move on to other opportunities after the anniversary concert. The company has worked both with local choreographers and choreographers from Poland, and enjoys having guests who have intimate and first-hand knowledge of Poland’s regional dances in residency. Thus, the steps pass from one generation to the next.
The mission of the PAFDC is expressed on their site as such: to stimulate public interest in Polish culture primarily through presentation of authentic Polish songs and dances, to allow participation in Polish cultural activities, to afford the public the opportunity to see and hear performances of the best of Polish culture, to encourage the development of Polish culture, and to educate the public and members of the organization to an intelligent appreciation of Polish culture.
Join them on Saturday evening at 7:00pm to see the live music, intricate costumes, and beautiful steps of Poland. Happy 75th, PAFDC!