polish national dances


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The mazur is a dance in the 3/8 metre, characterised by a mazurka rhythmic and accents on the second or third beat of the bar, performed in a lively tempo. It features three steps in the course of a dynamic, fast walking with a flat leap between the third and first beat of the bar, as well as gliding steps forward, backward, sideways, or with a turn. These steps are frequently supplemented with ornamental elements and dynamic accents (hołubiec [clicking of heels], strikes, take-offs, and stomps). Typical of the mazur are uninhibited hand and head gestures, improvisational composition in terms of figures introduced by the dance leader and in terms of steps, holds, and gestures of individual dancers. The name of the dance derives from the Old-Polish designation of the inhabitants of Mazovia (the Masurians), which surfaced upon the popularisation of the dance among Polish nobility.

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The mazur is commonly thought to have a peasant origin and to have functioned in the country under the name of “mazurek” (mazurka). However, as early as with the first descriptions of the Mazur, villagers in the Mazovia region were using merely some waning components of the gentrified mazur, which were described as drobny, while outside of nobility the very denotation of mazurka was used almost solely with forms closely associated with the oberek, and outside of the historical Mazovia region. The origin of the dance thus remains somewhat disputable.

Researchers argue that the earliest manifestations of the mazur came with the 16th century lively “po-tańce” (afterdances), which were danced after slower, walking dances. Beginning with Romanticism, scholars of the subject have tended to identify the mazur with the baroque dances wyrwany and wielki[1]. Compositions from the 1st half of the 17th century did include rhythms typical of the mazur, although no descriptions of moves exist which would help us associate them with those dances. The term “mazur” first denoted a dance in two 1738 sources, an intermezzo on a Masurian noble staged at the Jesuit college in Grudziądz, and a report from a ball at the court of princess Maria Amalia in Naples, which was attended by her brother prince Friedrich Christian (children of Augustus III of Poland) and a number of Polish high officials[2]. At the time, numerous songs were sung in Poland which featured the mazurka rhythmic, and such components also ran through the compositions of outstanding European composers, including Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Händel). Descriptions of the mazur as a musical genre were also provided by eminent German theoreticians[3].

When it comes to the descriptions of choreograpy and technique in the mazur, some researchers argue Johann Gottfried Taubert’s 1717 text to be the first to document the dance as a ¾ measure bar with two demi-coupé steps preceded by a leg bend, and one rigid simple step. Recounting the reign of Augustus III, Hugo Kołłątaj pointed out that mazurkas used to be stylised by professionally hired French (sometimes also German, and then Polish) dance masters hired by colleges and boarding schools[4]. It was only in 1793 that the first, rather unspecific albeit vivid description of the mazur was published, written by Friedrich Schulz. The author described the basic step as a light and dynamic run with expressive head gestures. The course of the dance, wrote Schulz, featured a range of figures and partner changes along diverse lines, concluded by a return to the original partners. The dance would often end with multiple spins of the dancing pairs[5]. At the time of Schultz’s visit to Warsaw, mazurs were becoming part and parcel of ballets.

The dance enjoyed its greatest popularity in the period of the Congress Kingdom of Poland, superseding the polonaise as the primary ballroom dance. Along with the waltz, the mazur became the most popular social dance before the outbreak of the November Uprising, successfully competing with the gallopade. It was then, throughout over 400 performances of Wesele krakowskiego w Oycowie [The Cracovian Wedding in Ojców] staged in 1823, that the public became enamoured with the famous solo-mazur [6], and swept Warsaw confectionaries clean of sweet “mazurek” cakes (which have since then made their way to the Easter Sunday breakfast table).

In the late 1830s, the mazur was gradually supplanted by the waltz, the contredanse (which, by the way, significantly influence its form[7]), and the polka. Still, the mazur remained quite fashionable until the turn of the centuries, a phenomenon vividly denoted by Józef Sikorski as “mazuromania”[8]. The fashion was condemned by poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid, who wrote that “all things found lyrical in Poland inevitably lead to the mazurka. (...) They would [even] gladly dance Ezekiel’s rhymes to the tune of the Third of May mazurka, wearing smoked boots, ram-tam-tam, ram-tam-tam!”[9].

The mazur was widely covered at the time, both by theoreticians and dance pedagogues. The list of major works featuring descriptions of the dance include texts by Kazimierz Brodziński[10], Mieczysław Hłaski[11], Jan and Ignacy Staczyński[12], Karol Czerniawski[13], Marian Gorzkowski[14], Arkadiusz Kleczewski[15], Karol Mestenhauser[16] and Mieczysław Rościszewski[17]. All of them demonstrate the ongoing changes in the genre. For example, while Czerniawski described more than a dozen figures in the mazur (koło ogólne, kółka and kółka domowe, koszyk i koszyczki, wielki łańcuch, z chustką, ósemka pojedyncza, młynki krzyżowe and krzyże - including wielki, zwodzona, odbijana, krakowska, goniona, wielkie koło), Kleczewski listed nearly fifty, and the subsequent editions of Mestenhauser’s handbook included respectively 100 figures in 1879, 125 in 1888, and as many as 150 complex figures inspired chiefly by quadrilles. Changes to the mazur also included its steps: while J. and I. Staczyńscy proposed to use such steps as chassé, pas flore, pas simple, échappé, glissé, jeté assemblé, jeté, pas de basque do mazura, sté do mazura and assamblé do mazura, Mestenhauser limited himself to pas glissé, pas sisol, pas chassé (pas marché), pas sauté, pas marché and hołubiec zwyczajny.

In the early 20th century, the popularity of the dance rapidly declined, until its complete marginalisation towards the 1930s. It was only upon introduction of the mazur to middle school curricula at the turn of 1933/34 that its performances became more abundant. This was accompanied by the publication of a number of works describing national dances, including the most important ones by Józef Waxman[18], Jan Ostrowski-Naumoff[19], and the second volume of Zofia Kwaśnicowa’s study[20]. Kwaśnicowa also published the most complete monograph on the mazur in 1953[21], approaching the dance as both a social dance and a stage performance. Similar publications wer written by Lidia Nartowska[22] and Jadwiga Hryniewiecka[23]. Hryniewiecka’s texts initiated the tendency to highlight the original elements of respective national dances and rid them of foreign influences.

Hryniewiecka also promoted national dances as social dances[24], laying foundations for the work of Irena Ostrowska[25]. It was these experiments that had a significant impact in the 1987-1989 sessions of the Council of Experts on Folklore appointed by the ministry of Culture and Art, which resulted in the production of the VCR tape titled Polskie tańce narodowe [Polish National Dances], released in 1990 along with Czesław Sroka’s book Polskie tańce narodowe – systematyka [Polish National Dances: A Typology][26].  Sroka (1933-2000) determined six types of mazur steps with numerous variants: krok podstawowy (basic step, with possible accents on the 2nd beat, 3rd beat, or on 2nd and 3rd beat); krok posuwisty (gliding step forward, cross-legged, accentuated on the 3rd beat, with a strike on the 3rd beat, and a variant with a right and left turn), krok hołubcowy (step with a clicking of heels: basic, cross-legged, accentuated on the 2nd beat, accentuated on the 3rd beat, with a strike on the 3rd beat), krok bezzmienny (invariable step, forward with an accent on the 2nd beat, forward with an accent on the 2nd and 3rd beat, backward, backward with a bow on the 2nd beat, and a variant with a left turn), and krok wahadłowy (swinging step). The dancing pair may perform the following figures:  po kole (along a circle), kółeczko (little circle), młynek (spin), błyskawiczka (little thunder), care, tancerz na kolano (male dancer kneels down), wachlarz (fan) and obrotowa (revolving figure). Sroka’s typology was later supplemented with his own Polskie tańce narodowe we współczesnych zabawach i turniejach tanecznych [Polish National Dances in Contemporary Games and Dancing Tournaments][27] and Jan Łosakiewicz and Jarosław  Wojciechowski’s two-volume Mazur. Kroki i figury [The Mazur: Steps and Figures][28], which together provide the necessary fundamentals for dancers and choreographers in their presentations of this vigorous dance.


[1] K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców przez Karola Czerniawskiego [A Typology of Dances by Karol Czerniawski], Warsaw 1847, pp. 51, 52; idem, O tańcach narodowych naszych z poglądem historycznym i estetycznym na tańce różnych narodów, a w szczególności na tańce polskie [On Our National Dances as Compared Historically and Aesthetically with Dances of Various Nations, Particularly Polish Dances], Warsaw 1860, p. 82.

[2] A. Żórawska-Witkowska, Muzyka na dworze Augusta II w Warszawie [Music at the Court of Augustus II in Warsaw], Warsaw 1997, p. 336. cf. A. Żórawska-Witkowska, Muzyczne podróże królewiczów polskich. Cztery studia z dziejów kultury muzycznej XVII i XVIII wieku [The Musical Travels of Polish Princes. Four Studies in the Musical Culture of the 17th and 18th century], Warsaw 1992: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, p. 47.

[3] M.in. J. Riepel, Anfangsgrūnde zur musicalischen Setzkunst: nach alt-mathematischer Einbildungs-Art der Zirkel-Harmonisten, Sondern durchgehends mit sichtbaren Exemplen abgefasset, Augsburg 1752; F.W. Marpurg, Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst, mit kleinen Clavierstücken und Singoden begleitet von einer musikalischen Gesellschaft in Berlin, Berlin 1759.

[4] H. Kołłątaj, Stan oświecenia w Polsce w ostatnich latach panowania Augusta III (1750-1764) [The State of Education in Poland in the Final Years of the Reign of Augustus III (1750-1764)], Warsaw 1905, sp. 54.

[5] F. Schulz, Podróże Inflantczyka z Rygi do Warszawy i po Polsce w latach 1791-1793 (original title: Reise eines Liefländers von Riga nacht Warschau, durch Südpreussen, über Breslau, Dresden, Karlsbad, Bayreuth, Nürnberg, Regensburg, München, Salzburg, Linz, Wien und Klagenfurt, nacht Botzen in Tyrol, Berlin: 1795-1796), translated by J.I. Kraszewski, in: Polska Stanisławowska w oczach cudzoziemców [Poland During the Reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski in the Eyes of Foreigners], vol. II, ed. W. Zawadzki, Warszawa: PIW, 1963, pp. 509-510.

[6] Music by K. Kurpiński, J. Damse, J. Stefani, choreographed by J. Mierzyńska, M. Pion. The Warsaw choreography no doubt influenced Maria Taglioni’s La Mazurka and 57 bars of Fanny Elssler’s mazur in her La Cracovienne. According to August Bournonville (1841)[6], the latter fragment of Jules Mazilier’s choreography featured: echappé à la 4 me, trois pas faillis, 4 fois, oup de talon, 2 fui, passez la jambe, 3 coup d’épérons, 2 fois de chapue côté, tournier, 2 fois, sissonne pas marchant e arrière 3 fois, tournier, retournez bas, bras croisé.

[7] K. Brodziński, Wyjątek z pisma o tańcach przez Kazimierza Brodzińskiego [An Excerpt from Kazimierz Brodziński’s Texts on Dances], in: “Melitele” no. 1, 1829, p. 98; K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców… [A Typology of Dances...], op. cit., p. 52; idem, O tańcach narodowych naszych… [On Our National Dances], op. cit., p. 82.

[8] “Ruch Muzyczny” 1858, no. 38 (October 10). cf. M. Tomaszewski, Chopin w oczach naśladowców, następców i kontynuatorów [Chopin in the Eyes of His Imitators, Successors and Continuators], in: idem, Kompozytorzy polscy o Fryderyku Chopinie. Antologia [Polish Composers on Fryderyk Chopin: An Antology], Cracow 1980, pp. 19-25.

[9] C.K. Norwid, in a letter to W. Bentkowski, November 1867. As cited in: C.K. Norwid, “Gorzki to chleb jest polskość…”. Wybór myśli politycznych i społecznych [Bitter Bread is Polishness...: Selected Political and Social Writings], ed. J.R. Nowak, Kraków 1984, p. 40.

[10] K. Brodziński, Wyjątek z pisma o tańcach  przez Kazimierza Brodzińskiego, [An Excerpt from Kazimierz Brodziński’s Texts on Dances], in: “Melitele” no. 1, 1829, pp. 98-100.

[11] M. Hłaski, Die Mazur: (Polnischer Nationaltanz); gründlich und für Jedermann leicht faßlich beschrieben, mit Abbildung der Figuren und einer Nationalmusik versehen, Vienna 1846 (II ed. – Vienna 1857).

[12] J. and I. Staczyński, Zasady Tańców Salonowych [Principles of Ballroom Dances], Warsaw 1846.

[13] K. Czerniawski, Charakterystyka tańców… [A Typology of Dances...], op. cit., pp. 51-59; idem, O tańcach narodowych naszych… [On Our National Dances...], op. cit., pp. 80-92.

[14] M. Gorzkowski, Xopoimania. Historyczne poszukiwania o tańcach, tak starożytnych pogańskich jak również społecznych i obyczajowych we względzie symbolicznego znaczenia. Napisał Marian Gorzkowski [Xopoimania. Historical survey of dances, from ancient pagan to social and customary, in terms of their symbolic meaning], Warsaw 1869, pp. 73-81.

[15] A. Kleczewski, Tańce Salonowe [Ballroom Dances], Lviv 1879.

[16] K. Mestenhauser, Sto figur mazurowych oraz zasady ogólne i szczegółowe mazura [One Hundred Mazur Figures and the General and Detailed Principles of the Mazur], Warsaw 1878, idem, Szkoła tańca Karola Mestenhausera w trzech częściach [Karol Mestenhauser’s School in 3 Volumes], vol. 3 Mazur i jego zasady oraz 125 figur mazurowych [The Mazur and its Principles along with 125 Mazur Figures], Warsaw 1887, Mazur i jego zasady oraz 150 figur mazurowych [The Mazur and its Principles along with 150 Mazur Figures], Warsaw 1901.

[17] M. Rościszewski, Tańce salonowe. Praktyczny przewodnik dla tancerzy i wodzirejów uwzględniający tańce najnowsze i najmodniejsze z illustracyami [Ballroom Dances: A Practical Guide for Dancers and Dance Leaders, Including the Latest and Most Fashionable Dances, with Illustrations], Warsaw 1904, pp. 83-98.

[18] J. Waxman, Tańce narodowe [National Dances], Poznań 1936 (II ed. – 1936, III ed. – 1937, IV ed. – 1946), pp. 24-42, 64-73.

[19] J. Ostrowski-Naumoff, Polskie tańce narodowe [Polish National Dances], “Teatr w Szkole” 1936/1937, no. 9, pp. 245-261.

[20] Z. Kwaśnicowa, Zbiór pląsów II [Caper Collection II], Warsaw 1938, pp. 76-167.

[21] Z. Kwaśnicowa, Polskie tańce ludowe. Mazur. Podręcznik tańca ludowego [Polish National Dances. The Mazur. A Handbook of Folk Dances], Warsaw 1953.

[22] L. Nartowska, Trzy układy sceniczne mazura [Three Stage Arrangements of the Mazur], Warsaw 1961.

[23] J. Hryniewiecka, Sześć scenicznych układów polskich tańców ludowych [Six Stage Arrangements of Polish Folk Dances], Warsaw 1961; idem, Tańce Harnama: polonez, mazur, oberek, kujawiak [Harnam’s Dances: the polonaise, the mazurka, the oberek, the kujawiak], Warsaw 1961; idem, Sześć scenicznych układów polskich tańców ludowych, Warsaw 1962; idem, Pięć tańców polskich [Five Polish Dances], Warsaw 1970.

[24] J. Hryniewiecka, Polskie tańce narodowe w formie towarzyskiej [Polish National Dances as Social Dances], Warsaw 1967; idem, Polskie tańce narodowe w formie towarzyskiej, Warsaw 1971; idem, Polskie tańce narodowe w formie towarzyskiej [Polish National Dances as Social Dances], Warsaw 1973; idem, 5 tańców polskich [Five Polish Dances], Warsaw 1990.

[25] Różne formy tańców polskich [Various Forms of Polish Dances], ed. I. Ostrowska, Warsaw 1980.

[26] Cz. Sroka, Polskie tańce narodowe – systematyka [Polish National Dances: A Typology], Warsaw 1990.

[27] C. Sroka, Polskie tańce narodowe we współczesnych zabawach i turniejach tanecznych [Polish National Dances in Contemporary Games and Dancing Tournaments], Warsaw 2003.

[28] J. Łosakiewicz, J. Wojciechowski, Mazur. Kroki i figury [The Mazur: Steps and Figures], vol. I and II, Warsaw 1998, 1999.