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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.

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