About Łowiczanie Folk Dance Ensemble
Inspiring Passion for Folk Dance
Here at Łowiczanie Folk Dance Ensemble, we see the value in traditional dance and folk culture. We want to be a catalyst for promoting diversity and celebrating your heritage. Since our beginnings in 1975, we’ve been active in the Polish community of the Bay Area, but also actively supporting our fellow folk dance groups and the greater Bay Area community by participating in and producing events that spotlight folk culture.
Anyone can join our group, there are no auditions, only an interest in folk dance is required. Practices are held every Tuesday evening at the Polish Club of San Francisco. We teach dances
from different regions of Poland and also dances of the minority groups of Poland, such as the Łemko and Roma peoples. We also assemble a chorus each year in the fall for a Slavic holiday concert. If you are more of a singer than a dancer, consider contacting us to be a part of this wonderful event.
Our children's group, Sokoly, is a wonderful way for young people, ages four and up to experience Polish dance and culture. Sokoly meets every Saturday morning in Redwood City. The kids learn songs and dances from Poland and end the practice with an art project or craft.
Łowiczanie is available to hire for events such as weddings, school events, concerts, and festivals.
History of Łowiczanie
Krystyna Chciuk, who had served as director from the group's founding until 2016, organized Łowiczanie Polish Folk Dance Ensemble in 1975. "Pani Krysia" (as she is affectionately known) together with several young dancers, including Mrs. Chciuk's three daughters, chose the name "Łowiczanie," after the Łowicz region in the heart of Poland, which boasts one of the most beautiful costumes in Poland.
In 1978 ensemble members traveled to Michigan for their first national festival where they had the good fortune to work with Jan Sejda, an ethnographer and former original dancer with the famed "Mazowsze" dance ensemble of Poland. Mr. Sejda soon moved to California joining Łowiczanie as Master Choreographer. He worked with the ensemble until his untimely death in 1982, creating many beautiful dances and developing the skills of the ensemble members. During his tenure with the company, Sejda choreographed a half-dozen full regional suites and many individual national dances.
By 1979 the ensemble had grown to approximately 15 members who attended weekly rehearsals at the Polish Club in San Francisco, the gathering place for Łowiczanie and Polonia. That year, under the direction of board member Frania Strychaz, Łowiczanie incorporated and obtained state and federal non-profit status. Dancer Mary Kay Stuvland, was elected the group's first President, a post she held for five consecutive additional terms in the early '80s. Past Board Presidents have all contributed time and spirit for Łowiczanie's benefit: Marek Mongird; Bob Dettmer; Jean Nowak; Kazik Kozłowski; Yolanda Drozdowicz; Jana Kurka; Parrish Spisz; Marcy Holeton, and Ray Baxter. With non-profit 501(c)(3) status in hand in 1980, the group began an ambitious fundraising plan that included Casino night dinner-dances and construction projects completed by ensemble members, augmenting the performance fees!
Łowiczanie made its first trip to Poland in August 1980 to attend intensive workshops in Biala Podlaska and the world festival of Polish dance in Rzeszów, and traveled again to Rzeszów in 1983, and to Iwonicz Zdrój in 2006 for a children's festival. In interim years the group participated in national Polish folk dance festivals, hosted in early years by the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs and in later years by the Polish Folk Dance Association of the Americas (PFDAA) of which Łowiczanie is one of the six founding members.
Following the loss of Jan Sejda, several dance directors stepped forward to lead the group artistically through the mid-1980s. Daniel Ducoff, Joe Miller, and Halina Blońska all brought their unique visions and choreographic contributions to Łowiczanie.
In 1985 Łowiczanie hosted the PFDAA's seminal event in San Francisco, bringing nine master teachers to the San Francisco State University campus for one week of intensive training in traditional Polish music, song, and dance for 300 participants. The 1985 festival was capped by a sold-out concert extravaganza featuring nearly 250 stage performers at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts. Nearly all of the music for the two and a half hour program was performed live by a folk kapela of 10 musicians hailing from throughout the USA and Canada; the kapela performed under the expert direction of Piotr Mrzyglocki, together with Henri Ducharme. The concert, "Dance Poland," marked the first-ever sold-out folk performance at the Palace of Fine Arts, today home each June to the SF Ethnic Dance Festival. The 1985 festival's activities concluded in the fall with a costume exhibition curated by Martin Pak and Mary Kay Stuvland at Santa Clara's Triton Museum of Art.
Beginning in 1986, and for the next three years, Łowiczanie partnered with Neva Russian Dance Ensemble and Westwind International Folk Ensemble to create a highly-successful collaboration model for major productions with their "World Dance" series. The concerts were staged 4 to 5 times each year to sold-out audiences, first at the Russian Center and later at San Francisco State University's McKenna Theater. In 1987, Łowiczanie was provided the unique opportunity to dance for Pope John Paul II during his ecumenical visit to northern California. Additional honors included several appearances in the prestigious San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival - whose participants are selected by a panel of expert judges during a competitive annual audition process - and the ensemble's receipt of the highest honor from Poland's Cultural Ministry - the Oskar Kolberg Award, for nurturing Polish Culture Folk Arts outside Poland.
Under the artistic directorship of Anna-Maria Słonina-Oczoś, the late 1980s and 1990s saw Łowiczanie upholding its fine, established traditions. The group has continued to attract and teach new dancers of all ages, and to acquire vibrant choreographies from acclaimed master teachers trained in Poland. In 1994 the group hosted a PFDAA regional concert that featured six Polish ensembles from throughout California, and in 1996 the group again joined Neva as guest artists in a seven-concert series at the San Francisco Russian Center. Łowiczanie produced its concert "Nasze Strony: Fire & Grace" at Berkeley's Julia Morgan Theater in 1998, sharing the stage with invited guest artist, Westwind International Folk Ensemble as well as the children of the John Paul II Polish Language School.
Łowiczanie members have long enjoyed touring: in 1996 the Ensemble joined forces with Podhale dancers of Los Angeles, traveling to Oregon and Washington for festivals and performances. Łowiczanie since has performed concerts throughout northern California, Las Vegas, Los Angeles with both Podhale and Krakusy ensembles, and Colorado. Members have attended intensive PFDAA workshops in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Montreal Canada, Chicago and Orchard Lake, MI.
In the year 2000 the Ensemble celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala event in San Francisco. This year also saw a change of leadership as Mary Kay Stuvland, long-time dancer and Board member, accepted the duties of Artistic Director. The group fulfilled a long-held dream in late 2001 when a young choreographer from Tarnow, Piotr Lacki, became the group's second-ever (after Jan Sejda) Resident Choreographer. Under Mary Kay and Piotr's direction the group presented a stunning home season in the spring of 2002, added numerous dance suites and costumes to the repertoire, traveled to Oregon, Las Vegas, and southern California and Colorado for performance tours, were invited to participate in the 25th anniversary concert of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (EDF: 2003), and presented Piotr's "Songs and Dances from Żywiec" for EDF in 2006.
Also in 2003, the Ensemble, as a founding member of the "Splendor of Poland" Cultural Committee, created supportive programs in conjunction with the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor's special painting exhibition of the same name, performed a full concert in the museum's Florence Gould Theater and created special programs for children and for selected audiences.
It was for the "Splendor" performance series that Łowiczanie first formed its Men's Chorus, initially under the direction of Agnieszka Hajdukiewicz. Agnieszka continued to work with the men the following fall, and the Łowiczanie Men's Chorus presented its first Holiday Choral Concert in December, highlighting Christmas music from Poland together with invited guest artists who represented the traditions of Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia. The lovely setting of the historic Hillside Club in Berkeley is the perfect setting for this now-annual event that each year charms audiences of diverse backgrounds.
In the spring of 2005, members of the Company participated in the professional educational stage program, "People Like Me," representing traditional Polish highland culture (Żywiec) in over 28 performances on four Bay Area proscenium stages for school children and their families. The edited composite DVD of the series concludes with the featured traditional Żywiec highland tune, "Hajduk," scored for the performances by Music Director Susan Worland and performed by her and Danny Cantrell.
Łowiczanie now has over 20 national and regional suites, and features approximately 10 pieces in its active repertoire in any given season. The Ensemble often works with live musicians, produces concerts and special events, tours throughout the western United States, and creates unique educational and entertainment programs for presenters as varied as the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (1983, 1987, 1989, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2005), Polish community-based festival organizers, public and private school teachers, wedding planners, and individuals.
The Ensemble continues to put a high value on authenticity - in its renditions of folk dances, traditional customs, and costuming. During the past eight years, Łowiczanie has acquired complete sets of handmade costumes from six regions, and has augmented holdings of other costumes.
Finally, a history of Łowiczanie would not be complete without a listing of the incredible Master Choreographers who have traveled from as far away as the most remote towns and villages of Poland to work with Łowiczanie.