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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Grand Rapids Celebrates Polish Culture With Dance

Girls from the Malbork dance group
Jen Macek

Grand Rapids will celebrate Polish heritage at Pulaski Days, October 6th through October 8th. It’s a series of events named after General Casimir Pulaski - a Polish immigrant who fought and died in the American Revolutionary War. 

Credit Jen Macek

Michelle Kershner is the chairwoman of Pulaski Days. She says Pulaski served alongside George Washington and was later appointed chief of the cavalry.

“When he came forward and won the war for George Washington, he really became the hero for George Washington," says Kershner.

"So General Casimir Pulaski was the Polish Brigadier general that was named to all of his greatness from George Washington."

During Pulaski Days, the Polish halls open their doors to the public with Polish food and Polish dances. Jen Macek of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America started a dance group for kids just this year.

It’s called the Malbork dance group - named after a castle in Poland considered to be one of the largest in the world.

Macek isn’t Polish herself, but wanted to teach her kids about their Polish roots:

“My sister in law has been a director of a dance school over in Canton, Michigan for about 17 years. And since we moved to Grand Rapids seven years ago, we noticed how much the Polish heritage was alive here still and how we didn’t have any dance schools or anything to really kind of teach the kids what their heritage is and keep that going.”

The main dances the Malbork group does are polkas. Macek says the Americanized polkas we know today are much different from the folk dances of Poland. She says Polish polkas tell more of a story. Take the Grozik, for example.

“Which is from the Polish language ‘Grozik Palcem’ - to where you wag your finger scoldingly at someone," says Macek. "So there’s a point in that dance that all the kids will wag their fingers at each other and then they kind of dance around as if teasing each other."

Then there's the Boskany - a slower dance in a circle where dancers pass a handkerchief. 

“So you have one dancer in the middle kind of swinging the handkerchief and then they throw it to their next partner who then does a dance,” says Macek.

Macek says the group does dances from many different regions of Poland, but the costumes originate in Krakow - one of Poland’s largest cities. The girls wear cotton, flowered skirts with a ruffled blouse and an ornate beaded vest. The outfit is complete with a flower crown and three strings of red beads. The boys have long black vests with billowing red-striped pants.

Macek says sometimes the dancers’ shoes will emphasize the steps.

“There are some dance schools that will have them wear tap shoes so that you can hear the clicking,” she says.

Macek says Malbork is just for kids - ages three to 18 - but the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America has more than 20 other Polish dance groups nationwide.

Macek says in addition to dance, the kids in Malbork also make Polish food and learn about their heritage together. Three of Macek’s four children are in the group:

“We had at first our 10 and 6-year-old in dance and our 8-year-old wasn’t able to do dance because he had hockey on the nights of dance practice. And when came to our recital and just saw the camaraderie of the team and how much had really been taught, he pulled me aside and said mom I want to be a part of this. So it’s more than just learning the dances. It is finding a common ground with these other friends and kids.”

You can see the Malbork dance group at Pulaski Days next weekend in Grand Rapids. For more information visit the links on our website.

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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