Łowiczanie Polish Folk Ensemble -- Since 1975 --

Songs and Dances from Spisz

The region of Spisz in Poland covers a rather small area in the borderland of the Carpathian mountains, in the Tatry Range, just north of Slovakia.

The shepherd tradition is very vibrant here, where knowledge of this honorable occupation and its traditions has been passed from generation to generation. As early as the 15th century Wallachian shepherds - a nomadic group of peoples who moved into the Carpathians from the south - arrived in the Carpathians. Their specific culture has been characterized by seasonal migrations of herds to mountain pastures as well as by distinctive customs, costumes and vocabulary, the vestiges of which have survived to our times. The "Bear" dance is taken from these shepherd traditions.

The Spisz region has for many hundreds of years reflected Polish-Hungarian relations. In the early 15th century the Spisz castle at Niedzica, only a few miles from Kacwin, was the designated place where money lent by the Polish king to the Hungarian king Sigismund was returned following an agreement signed in 1412. Once the loan was paid back, the Polish king returned the 16 Spisz towns given to him by Sigismund as collateral. For centuries the castle was a border-post with Hungary. At the time of the Turkish invasion five hundred years ago, a deal was struck at Niedzica to make it a Polish protectorate.

Most of today's settlements in the Spisz territory were founded in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the period 1589-1624 these territories were hotly contested by Hungarian magnates and the landholders of Nowy Targ in Poland. In the latter part of the 17th century the Bialka river, which runs right through the area of Spisz where the village of Jurgów lies, formed the boundary between Hungary and Poland. As a result of territorial division in the early part of the 20th century most of the Spisz towns and villages became (Czecho-) Slovakian, while fourteen villages, including Jurgów and Trybsz, found themselves within Poland's borders. Within these 14 villages there are three separate sub-areas, each with a distinctive dress and its own particular customs. The music, typically expressed in 2/4 time, and traditional lyrics for songs are known throughout this area.

The historically strong Austro-Hungarian influence distinguishes this region in both music and style of dance. Therefore, the dances of this area - and as presented by Łowiczanie - are filled with czardasz melodies directly inherited from the roots of Hungarian national music with Slovak influences. These were adapted by the Spisz peoples of the border areas.

The Polish highland character of the people is seen not only by their language and overall customs and practices, but also in their dances such as the "mazur" for men and boys (as in a man of the "Mazury region - not the Polish national dance of the same name) known also as "niedzwiedz," or the "Bear." This dance, which takes its roots directly from the shepherds, demonstrates virility and agility (the same derivation as the men's dances in Łowiczanie's 2005 EDF entry: "Zywiec"). All of the music and dance from Polish Spisz has been stamped with a specific styling found even on the immediate Slovak side of the border, and distinctive from the other ethnographic and/or geographic close-neighbors: Polish Górale from Podhale, Tatry Slovakians and the trans-Ruthenian Lemko peoples.

The Costume

The region is rich in traditional folklore practices with folklore artists who excel in painting on glass, wood-carving, and fabrication of traditional folklore garments including embroidered woolen pants with elaborate "parzenice" decorations, leather-crafting of boots, decorative belts, and hammered metal shirt pins. All the costumes worn by the Łowiczanie men have been crafted by artisans in Poland, while those worn by the women have been created here to the specifications of Łowiczanie's Master Choreographer from Spisz, Maria Pietraszek-Wnek.

Łowiczanie performs in the authentic costumes from the Spisz territory where regional traditions intersect - in Trybsz. There the women may wear the red dress (it is the ONLY color known for this costume) associated with the villages of Jurgów, Czarny Góry, and Rzepiska but favor a short, puffy-sleeved blouse instead of the long-sleeved version from Jurgów, while the men more often use the costume associated not with Jurgów, but with east-lying Kacwin. In regard to the costume, the noteworthy points of intersection are the typical leather moccasins (Kierpce) which can worn by either or both men and woman, vs. a choice of distinctive black boots decorated with red tops - these derived from the influences of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and associated with a person's greater financial standing in the community.

In the Jurgów district, men wear a costume that closely resembles that of the "Górale" from the close-by Podhale region, including pants of heavy white wool felt, elaborately embroidered (the front designs are called "parzenice") tight pants, and hand-made hard soled moccasins (kierpce) with lacing up the lower leg. A mountaineer hat with flat hard brim and red band trimmed with small shells is worn on the head.

This costume is different outside of the Jurgów area, and the men in Łowiczanie display the version of dress from the Trybsz and Kacwin areas. There the pants are similar but decorated with cording designs for the parzenice, the belt is narrower and black, and black boots are worn. The man's vest is a deep leaf-green color enlivened with embroidery of red and yellow cross-and-chain-stitch, and sports nearly 75 small buttons. The date of the garment's creation (some say of the wearer's birth) is embroidered onto the back. The hat from this part of Spisz has a tall, turned upright brim - almost resembling a crown - with red dangling ribbons at the back. A white linen or cotton shirt, often with a hand-made, incised metal pin at the chest, is worn. The metal pin, originally served as a means of "buttoning" the front of the man's shirt. The incised symbols had an early religious significance; a dangling lower decorative attachment had another use - as a pipe cleaner.

The Łowiczanie Suite - "Songs and Dance from the Spisz Region of Poland"
Opening song: (women) "Duje Wiater"
Girls sing of their sadness that they have almost no expectation of a happy life as their poverty excluded them from hope of being joined to their Beloved. Next songs and dances are "Pogniywol sie Kuba" and "Nie Bedym jo kasy jadla" - girls dances that are upbeat and joyful.

The men join the stage with a "Klaskamy," a traditional form of clapping and body-boot-slapping derived from Austro-Hungarian influences. The Spisz melody used is, "Pod Mostym," a perennial favorite from throughout the region. Men and women join together on a czardasz from the village of Jurgów, and then flow into the circle dance "Tulalo sie Tulalo," moving from that into two czardaszes "Mlody Pon" and "Pracnom chopcy."

Men's dance "The Bear" (from the shepherd tradition) follows; the men show off their prowess, mostly for one another! The final fast and then faster czardasz "Nie daleko mylan" finishes the suite of dances from this dynamic region of southern Poland.
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