The Dolina Polish Folk-Dance Family is proud to be celebrating 70 years of sharing their love of Polish Music, Song and Dance. What started from a small adult group in 1949 has grown to include a children’s group-Sloneczniki, a teen group-Chabry, a choir and band.
In 1948, Lillian and Ray Kurkowski, being active in the folk-dance community in the Twin Cities, decided to take their dream of forming a Polish dance group and make it a reality. Lillian corresponded with some of the Chicago Polish dance groups to research what was necessary to start a Polish group. Ray, being an officer in the Polish National Alliance (PNA) in Minneapolis, approached their social director, Stanley Bandur for sponsorship of the dance group. From these actions, the Polish National Alliance Folk Dancers and Singers was formed. It was a place for Polish immigrants and their children as descendants of earlier immigrants to celebrate their heritage. The first performance was at the International Institute of Minnesota’s Festival of Nations held May 20-23, 1949 performing the Krakowiak.
With support from PNA and the International Institute of Minnesota, the group continued to grow throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. In addition to performing at the Festival of Nations every three years, the group performed for Polish and non-Polish events throughout the Twin Cities such as at the Minnesota State Fair and events across Minnesota and the upper Midwest.
The 1970’s saw a major transformation of the group beginning with two name changes. In the early 70’s, the group became “The Twin Cities Polish Folk Dance Circle” and at the end of the 70’s, a change to the current name, “Dolina Polish Folk Dancers.” One of the members, Ed Rajtar expanded on his love of Polish dance by participating in these dance and choreography workshops and he joined a Polish dance group in Poland during a year abroad study program in Krakow, Poland. Ed graduated from the choreographers’ course, becoming one of only a handful of people with that distinction in the US at that time.
Ed then became Dolina’s artistic director and choreographer. Also in the late 1970’s, the group became international performers with trips to Winnipeg and Toronto, Canada.
With better access to choreographers from Poland and Choreographer courses in Poland, performances moved from being three or four dances with record changes in between each dance to performing full suites of dances from a single region accompanied with live music. With this experience behind him, the directorship, originally an elected position, was changed to a permanent position with the election of Ed to that position in 1982.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 1979, Dolina hosted its first full two-hour concert with singing and dancing. In 1979, the Festival of Nations became a yearly event giving Dolina a great platform to show the Festival attendees the beauty of Polish song and dance. In 1982, Dolina held its second full length concert, this time with live music. 1984 saw the formation of a kapela (band) providing live music for performances.
The highlight of the 80’s was the group’s first of eight trips to Poland to participate in the World Polish Folk Dance Festival in Rzeszow Poland. Dolina attended the festivals in 1983, 1986, 1989, 1992, 1999, 2005, 2011 and most recently, 2017. We are currently preparing for their 9th trip in 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Festival and Dolina’s 70th anniversary.
An invitation to perform at Walt Disney World in 1990 to Orlando, Florida, started the next decade with a bang. The decade ended with two 50th anniversary concerts as a celebration of song and dance with friends from other ethnic groups around the Twin Cities. In conjunction with the groups’ 50th anniversary, the teen group Chabry was formed as the children of the groups’ members grew older and outgrew the local Polish children’s group. The 90’s also saw the formation of a choir to further enhance the performances with the choir doing its own 2-hour concert in early 2000’s.
In 2010, Dolina assumed the leadership of the local children’s group, Sloneczniki. With the addition of Sloneczniki, the whole family now had an opportunity to share their talents with the Polish community and beyond.
Beyond the five national dances of Poland – Krakowiak, Oberek, Mazur, Kujawiak and Polonez, the group has continued to expand its repertoire with suites representing all corners of Poland – Beskidy, Gorale, Hutzul, Kaszuby, Krakow (eastern), Kurpie Lowicz, Lublin, Lubusk, Nowy Sącz, Opoczno, Rzeszów, Śląsk, Spisz, Warszawa, Wielkopolska, Żywiec City and Żywiec Mountain.
As 2019 begins, there is more to come as the group recently learned a suite of dances from Lemko. With the new suites of dances, comes new costumes for the group. Dolina now has a large collection of regional ethnic costumes for each of the suites – some pieces purchased directly from Poland and some made by group members themselves.
As Dolina reflects on their 70th anniversary, the group members wish to thank the Twin Cities Polish community and all patrons for their generous support. But most importantly, they are thankful that Lillian and Ray Kurkowski and Stanley Bandur had the vision to share their love of Polish Folk Culture through song and dance.