Edward Rajtar (Edziu) has been the Artistic Director and choreographer of the Dolina Polish Folk Dancers for the past 22 years. He began his folk dancing career by joining Dolina as a dancer in 1976.
In 1977, Edward first ventured to Opole, Poland, for a four-week folk dance workshop sponsored by the Kosciuszko Foundation. This trip became the impetus for his passion and dedication to Polish folk dancing.
Edward studied both the language and culture of the Polish people at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland on a scholarship from the Kosciuszko Foundation in 1979-80. During that time, he became a member of Zespół Pieśni i Tanca “Krakus.” This folk dance troupe based in the city of Kraków was affiliated with the University of Mines and Metallurgy (AGH).
Edward then continued his studies in Polish folk dance and ethnography by attending a course for directors of Polonian folk ensembles in Lublin, Poland. There, his studies consisted of individual classes covering Poland’s various regions and their folk history, dance, song, dialects and costumes. Edward graduated from this course in 1985 with high honors.
Aside from a formal course of study, Edward also conducted independent research projects in the cities of Zakopane, Tarnów and Warsaw in the years following his graduation.
In addition to dancing with Dolina, Edward was a member of the Izvorasul Romanian Dancers of the Twin Cities for several years and danced with the University of Minnesota International Folk Dancers.
Edward has given lectures at various schools in the Twin Cities on the subject of Poland’s cultural heritage and diversity and how it is demonstrated in the traditions, foods, costumes and customs of the Polish people. He is also an occasional freelance writer for the Pol Am, a local monthly Polish newsletter in the Twin Cities. Most recently, Edward has served as the Chair and now Co-Chair of the Twin Cities Polish Festival, of which he is a founding member.
In 2004, Edward returned to Rzeszów, Poland, to complete post-graduate studies in Polish folk dancing. There, he had the opportunity to learn and research regions of Poland that he was unfamiliar with.
Edward has been a guest instructor for the International Folk Dancers of the University of Kansas, the International Folk Dancers at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., the Tapestry Folk Dance Center in Minneapolis and the Ethnic Dance Theatre. He was also invited to teach and choreograph several suites of dances in Thunder Bay, Ontario, for a new ensemble.
Edward’s work with Dolina has included repertoire development, dancer training, costume purchase and authentic replication, musical arrangement and choreography. Under his direction, the group presents suites of dances and song from 15 Polish regions in addition to all of its national dances.
The Dolina Polish Folk Dancers have been charter members of the Polish Folk Dance Association of the Americas (PFDAA) since its inception in 1983. Edward has served on this organization’s Board of Directors and has previously served as the organization’s president. He chaired the PFDAA Festival and workshops that were held in the Twin Cities in 1988.
Kaja Rajtar, Edward’s daughter, began dancing when she was four years old. She spent much of her childhood attending Dolina rehearsals with her father and aspired at an early age to follow in his footsteps.
Kaja began the 4-Letnie Polonijne Studium Choreograficzne, a 4-year choreography course in Rzeszów, Poland, after shadowing Edward at a post-graduate session in the summer of 2004. She completed her studies in 2010.
Kaja has been the director of the Słoneczniki children’s group – the group with which she began her folk dancing career 17 years ago – for one year. Before that, she co-directed the Chabry teen group with Tori Piorek. Kaja also assists in directing Dolina. She has participated in two Rzeszów Festivals with the group.
In addition to dancing with Dolina, Kaja has been a member of Ethnic Dance Theatre since 2006. Through EDT, Kaja has had the opportunity to perform folk dances from a number of countries, including: Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Germany, Austria, Poland, Romania, Turkey, India, Croatia, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovenia, Iran and Macedonia.
Victoria Piorek (Tori) took a few years of tap and jazz classes as a child, but folk dancing was in her blood. Tori is a third-generation dancer with Dolina, and she grew up dancing with the group.
In addition to dancing with Dolina, Tori directs the Chabry teen group and helps teach steps and demonstrate sequences at Dolina rehearsals. She has participated in three Rzeszów Festivals with the group.
Aside from dancing with Dolina, Tori is in her eighth season with Ethnic Dance Theatre. Through EDT, Tori has had the opportunity to perform folk dances from a number of countries, including: Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Germany, Austria, Poland, Romania, Turkey, India, Croatia, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovenia, Iran, Costa Rica and Macedonia. She played the role of Clara in EDT’s The Nutcracker twice.