There has been a Polish folk dancing group in existence in Manchester since 1949.
It is one of the oldest established groups in Great Britain. It was started by expatriates, who were unable to return to Poland after the Second World War, due to the communist regime. They wanted to keep alive the culture and traditions of their homeland, through song and dance, and taking part in operettas and dramatic productions.
In the fifties, the group regularly represented Manchester in competitions and festivals, appearing in the Free Trade Hall Manchester, at Belle Vue, and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
In 1953, the group had the honour of taking part in events to celebrate the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
By 1954 there were 40 members in the group.
In May 1957, the highlight of the year was a trip to Ireland to perform in Dublin and Cork.
In the 60s and 70s the group grew from strength to strength with many 1st generation Poles born here joining the group. During this time the group changed its name to “Młody Polonez” or “Young Polonaise”.
The inspiration behind arousing a love for Polish folklore and a pride in possessing a Polish heritage was Stanisław Garbiak who ran the group from the late fifties to the sixties.
Wenek Starczewski took over the leadership, followed by Roman Andrejczuk and Ric Gwizdek.
During this time and throughout the early years the group’s main mentor was Jarosław Żaba. Mr. Żaba was very active in the social and cultural life of the Polish community in Manchester. He was very supportive of the group, organising shows, both in Great Britain and abroad. He was instrumental in inviting choreographer Janina Śliwińska to work with the group and expand its repertoire.
J. Śliwińska, left Lublin and her work with folklore groups to care for her disabled brother in Manchester.
Several of the current members joined at this time and continue to dance today, some with their own children.
The 1980s brought a change with the introduction of our Polish choreographer Miss Zenia Stepowicz, a friend of J. Śliwińska.
Miss Zenia first came to Manchester in 1979. Since then, she has been coming to Manchester to choreograph and teach new dances, raising standards and levels of authenticity. Sometimes staying for six months at a time, she has regularly renewed and refreshed the group’s repertoire.
During the 80s Ellen Brzęczek, Romek Bzdęga and Elżunia Gwiazdowska led the group.
Polonez continued to thrive in the 1990s with successive generations of Poles joining the group, as older members left to take up university studies away from Manchester or to start families.
During this time the group was led by Ellen Brzęczek, followed by Ewa Licata.
In 1993 Polonez took part in the 1st Festival of Polish Folklore in Great Britain, where for the first time Polish folklore groups from around the country came together in the same spectacle. It was a chance to meet members from other groups and forge firm friendships.
Polonez has taken part in every successive festival, sees it as a highlight and something that all members look forward to very much.
In 1999 Polonez celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary with a Grand Ball and by participation in the International Polish Folklore Festival which is held every three years in Rzeszów, Poland.
This was followed by a trip to Warsaw with the London group Karolinka, to perform at the main square and in Łazienki gardens in the “Theatre on the Lake”.
It was a great privilege to be there and to be greeted very warmly by the WW2 Veterans, their children and grandchildren.