close

"If I were asked to choose one Polish dance that could be our showcase, I would go for the Mazur, which used to be called the ‘angry dance’. It symbolises the Polish spirit – full of passion and strength that helped Poles under challenging times, but is also delicate on the inside, classic, one that requires a lot of discipline."
 

 

I was born in Britain, but I hold dual British-Polish citizenship. My parents came from Poland soon after the end of the war and settled in the Midlands, where there already had been whole groups of Poles hoping that Britain would be only a temporary country of refuge and they would soon return to Poland. When the Communists took power, they realised that regaining independence might, unfortunately, take a little longer than anticipated.


Already back then some first folk ensembles danced in parishes, often with the aim of integrating the Polish community. After some time, my parents moved to London, and we settled here permanently.


I have been dancing for as long as I can remember; I must have been about five years old when I started. Together with my brothers, we performed at various cultural or school events in the Polish Hearth Club or the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK). In fact, one of my earliest memories is when I stood on a chair and recited a poem in front of a big Polish audience.


When I was 11, my mother established Karolinka Song and Dance Company. Back then no one wanted to practice with me yet because I was too small, but my first photographs come from that time. When, many years later, I was studying at Roehampton Institute I would still often practice Polish folk dances, and we even dance in Polish folk costumes once or twice.


I remember there was a time when I wanted to become a member of the best Polish folk ensembles such as Śląsk or Mazowsze. That was still in the Communist era, and the idea that someone from Britain wanted to join the group was treated with much suspicion. Many Poles that went to perform in the West never returned to the country, whereas I was dying to go in the reverse direction only to dance with the best dancers out there (laughter).


In London, I started working as an instructor in the best drama schools of the capital such as Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art or Central School of Speech and Drama. In theory, these were social dance classes, but I would always do my best to sneakily smuggle some Polish accents: Polonaise, Walczyk, Polka...


I took over Karolinka from my mum in 1996 and have been managing it ever since. We have over 100 people, aged from 5 to whatever you fancy. The best thing about it is that they do not just dance and sing together, but there is so much more to it. The relationships and friendships formed there continue for the rest of their lives - just like mine with my husband, Patrick.


Once in a while we do a major performance, and they always attract a pretty broad audience, British people as well. They are often stunned to see how energetic, cheerful and exciting it is. Quite often they would even join the group afterwards because they liked it so much.


If I were asked to choose one Polish dance that could be our showcase, I would go for the Mazur, which used to be called the ‘angry dance’. To me, it encapsulates the Polish spirit – it is full of passion and strength that helped Poles under challenging times, but it is also a dance that is delicate on the inside, classic, one that requires dancing discipline.


To a similar degree as with Karolinka, I have also been involved in our Saturday school in South Norwood. On my initiative we created the Friday schedule, offering classes for young people who stopped taking part in regular activities but still want to be in touch with Polishness and the language.


Why? It is now the fourth generation of Poles that is learning in that school. The essential thing is that they know the basics so that when they are twenty-something and decide to work on the language – they can. As adults, they will be able to choose whether they want to do something about it instead of starting from scratch.


I have always been so proud to be part of Polonia, the Polish diaspora. I call it being a Polonian, that is being educated and living permanently outside Poland but having at last one Polish parent and a strong emotional connection with Poland. To be a Polonian, you need to understand the traditions, know the culture as well as the language and have a desire to travel to your homeland. But one thing is crucial: wherever you are, your heart still beats a little in Polish.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs