November 15, 2022
Volume 4 Issue 1
By: Alex R Franco
“When most people think of Polish dance, they think polka,” says Maciej Smusz, the director of the Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble, “but in fact, polka is Czech in origin.” Despite its origins, however, Smusz acknowledges that polka is still very popular in Poland. “But there’s so much more than that.”
Born in Poland, Smusz made his way to Georgia by way of Utah, arriving in Atlanta in November 2021. Smusz, a dancer since a young age, led a dance troupe for six years while in Utah, and once in Atlanta, he sought to do the same. Thus, the Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble was born.
“Poland isn’t a big country,” Smusz says. “It’s actually only about the size of New Mexico, so it’s understandable when people think it’s not a very diverse country.” But in fact, there are over one hundred distinct micro-regions, each with their own unique culture and practices.
“So when you look at Polish dance, you have to understand that there are two parts: national dances and regional dances,” says Smusz. National dances are practiced throughout the country, normally on national holidays, and are known for their patriotic themes. They are the Polonez, the Mazur, the Kujawiak, the Oberek and the Krakowiak.
Regional dances, as the name would suggest, differ greatly sometimes even from village to village. The dances, though varied, often share many of the same elements, such as a focus on partnerwork or chasing, frequent heel clicking, an upbeat tempo and of course, vibrant costumes. “Part of why I started the Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble was to try and preserve some of these dances. So much was lost after World War II, but it’s slowly coming back.”
Since its inception in February 2022, the Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble has brought Polish dance to Atlanta and the greater Southeast, even performing for the Polish Embassy in Washington D.C. This amount of success, especially for such a young troupe, was unexpected. “The community here in Atlanta is fantastic,” Smusz says. The Ensemble, which has around eight members, has attracted dance lovers from all backgrounds, not just Polish.
“We have a dancer from Ukraine, from the Czech Republic, two dancers from India,” he says. Smusz attributes this diversity, in part, to Atlanta. “It’s all about community and sharing culture,” says Smusz. “Even though we’re a Polish folk group, which might be a little niche, we’ve partnered with so many amazing organizations, like the Chopin Society of Atlanta.”
The only drawback to Atlanta he says is the weather. “We often perform outside, and when we dance, we dress in traditional Polish clothing, which if you don’t know, normally involves three to four layers of wool. The humidity is killing us, but we manage.”
The other great challenge has been, of course, the pandemic. When it first hit, Smusz was still in Utah, working with his dance troupe there. “Everything stopped, obviously. No performances, no nothing,” says Smusz. “But we did what we could to keep the energy up,” going on to say that he would host weekly Zoom dance rehearsals, as well as fun game nights.
Thankfully, as live performance returned this past year, the Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble had no shortage of bookings. In addition to the performance in Washington D.C., the group also danced last month in Simpsonville, South Carolina.
What’s next for this eclectic, eager group? “We want to keep the energy up,” Smusz says. “We have a big workshop in November, with a choreographer from Poland flying in to teach, and participants from all over the United States and Canada.” He went on to say that the Ensemble is also planning to put on a traditional Lowicz-style wedding, which lasts over an hour, with numerous parts and, of course, elaborate costumes.
“Besides all that, we just want to engage the community and continue to grow,” he says. “We’re looking for a space to build a community center. Somewhere where we can rehearse, offer Polish language classes, someplace that could be a resource for the community.”
Above all, Smusz emphasizes the importance of community. “At the end of the day, I just want to make something relatable,” Smusz says. “Even if we’re wearing silly costumes, there is something in Polish folk dance that, I think, everyone can find to connect with.” And in a world still emerging from isolation, connection is needed now more than ever.
Alex Robert Franco is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He studied literature at Bard College and the Sorbonne, and his work has appeared in over a dozen different publications. He believes art is life. More of his writing can be found at www.alexrobertfranco.com.
Read more from Alex: Erin Burch dances through recovery in Atlanta Arts Scene