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Polonaise Story of Dance
Graj, Panu, Graj!

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Polonaise Dance Resources
Courtesy of R. Cwieka
Polonaise Dance Resources:

The following is an exerpt from R. Cwieka's
Polonaise Story of Dance

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"The Polonaise is the Queen of Dances or the Dance of Queens."

This restatement of what was originally said of the Minuet may be true or it may be false or it may be both. In any case, the reference to Royalty was stated in order to express something Noble or Spiritual about this Dance, the Polonaise—one of the world’s most Beautiful Social Ballroom Dances.  We shall explore the living story of this Dance.

This walking-type dance  is perhaps the best known by the World as having some connection with Poland and or Polish Culture. There are a number of variants that will be distinguished by us. Its most permanent features have been (and still are), a walking done by any number of couples of men and women. As a walking dance, it is usually done at a slow tempo. The attitude of the dancers is one of mutual respect for each other, with the men exhibiting aspects of positive gallantry.
About the origin of this dance, it is difficult to speak with absolute certainty. Searching for the early history of this dance two aspects must be considered—records of its music and its choreographic structure. A number of theories or ideas which have been put forth concerning the origin of this dance are listed below:

a) That the dance was first done as a parade in cadence before the newly elected King of Poland, Henry III of Anjou, in 1574.

b) That it was French in origin, since the name Polonaise is French.

c) That it is of Spanish-Arabian in origin.

d) That it is not a native Polish dance.

e) That it was a native dance of the Poznań region.

The five above possible origins are contained in the English language works of one, Mr. Schimmerling.  There are two main questions here that are raised and repeated by many researchers. The issue is simple to ask. Was the Polish Walking Dance native to Poland, or is it a foreign borrowing?  The first four represent the side of foreigners—the last (stated negatively), that of a Polish origin.  Being explicit, most modern Polish researchers hold that the dance is:

native in origin and identify it with a still existing dance called the Chodzony.

We will present the evidence for these viewpoints. Both have their adherents:there is some truth on both sides. Our problem is to determine as best we can whether the truths contradict one another. We shall use both a chronological and subject scheme of presentation. We shall cover the period from the 16th century up to our time. The subjects shall include an analysis of music (for listening and dancing), and choreography as contained first in foreign sources, then in Polish sources....continued

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The following is an exerpt from R. Cwieka's

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The following citation comes utimately, we believe, from, The London Court  Journal of the 1820s. Originally it appeared in, The London Court Journal, exact date unknown. The London Court Journal was much more than a record of the activities of Royalty and the Aristocracy. It really was a weekly newspaper which covered politics, fashions, culture, foreign news, stage, opera and book reviews. Our complete citation below is from a book published in Philadelphia in 1830. So, it is a re-print of the original.


“The Polonaise was for the first time familiarly introduced into London society during the visit of the Allied Sovereigns; when every public ball was opened by this species of procession. It had been previously danced in many private mansions of the nobility; among others, at the Priory, the seat of Lord Abercorn, which was at that period particularly distinguished by its splendid hospitality. His late Majesty, then Regent, was frequently known to join in the Polonaise—a dance of such graceful eased, that persons of every age and figure may follow with perfect propriety in its train. Napoleon himself—albeit unused to the dancing mood—has repeatedly headed the brilliant throng, both in the private balls at Malmaison, and in honour of the festivities of foreign courts.
The national airs to which the Polonaise is danced, or rather walked, are of a very peculiar and pleasing description. The most celebrated one among them is one which bears the name of Count Oginski, and is said to have been composed by that nobleman for the lady of his love.—Chancing to enter a ball room where his fickle fair-one was leading the Polonaise with a successful rival, Count Oginski is related to have retired from the scene, and to have ended his woes with a pistol. A lithographic picture of this sentimental catastrophe, embellished the German editions of “Oginski’s Polonaise;” the music of which is characterized by the most melancholy tenderness. It was at one time so great a favorite with the late King, that he would order it to be performed by his private band at the Pavillion balls, again an again, in the course of the evening. Count Oginski, however, in defiance of the lithograph and the Polonaise, was still living, a few years ago, at St. Petersburg.
We may add, that the most singular specimen of the Polonaise ever exhibited in London was at a very crowed charity ball at Almacks, some ten years ago. Her Royal Highness the late Duchess of York, who was one of the patronesses on this occasion, having issued orders for a Polonaise, the consternation of Colinet and Co. may easily be conjectured when they beheld the stocks and stones to which their Orphean music was addressed commence a quadrille to the measure! Two of the more enlightened of the community were at length requested by her Royal Highness to head the procession; and nothing could be more ludicrously diverting than the astonished stare and awkward gesture of the uninitiated, when they found themselves enveloped by the tortuous movements of the train, and finally compelled to follow in its wake. A far more picturesque display occurred a few years ago at a dejeuner on the banks of the Thames, where, upon a level lawn, interspersed with flowery parterres, the train of the Polonaise was led by a gentleman who had been some time resident in Russia: winding and doubling like the course of a hunted hare, among the numerous flower-plots of the garden. But the most brilliant exhibition of this national dance occurred at the celebrated costumed ball at Holdernesse House, where the procession was headed by Lady Londonderry, in the character of Queen Elizabeth, a character fully maintained by her Ladyship’s magnificent costume, although rejected by her personal loveliness.
The Polonaise is, perhaps, of all dances, the one most calculated to grace a court, from the dignity of its movements, as well as from the facility it affords to the exhibition of a long suite of state apartments. There are very few private mansions in London whose dimensions would not render its introduction ridiculous; and very few, among those whose limits will admit of such an exhibition, in which it has not been danced with the happiest effect during the last fifteen years. We may add, that with the noble proprietor of Devonshire House, in particular, the Polonaise is an especial favorite.” 

Let us see what we can glean from this.

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