Photo: Kasia Goździewska
One of the delightful gems that I have discovered since moving to Europe is the dance known as Balfolk. I find that most people have never heard of it, so I’m shining a little light on this vibrant and growing dance community. I spoke with Agnieszka Dworzańska, Kraków’s resident expert on Balfolk. Let’s listen in…
Greg Austin We are here in Kraków, I am sitting with Agnieszka Dworzańska. How are you today?
Agnieszka Dworzańska Sleepy. Really sleepy.
Greg Sleepy? Why is that?
Agnieszka Because of our wonderful autumn sleepy weather outside. Typical for Kraków.
Greg It definitely is autumn, isn’t it? Nothing like an autumn day interview with coffee in hand. As we begin, if you could tell us a little bit about who you are, and why do you dance?
Photo: Ben Hejkal
In an earlier interview, I spoke with Krystal Wilkerson about how a legacy is passed down from generation to generation in a dance community. In this interview, I speak with her husband, Adam Wilkerson about returning to the roots of where Blues music was born.
Greg Austin So even though we’re here in Zürich, Switzerland, Adam Wilkenson and I are going to talk about a really fantastic research project that he’s working on back America, in the Mississippi Delta specifically. Tell us about it.
Adam Wilkerson Sure thing.
In the Delta of Mississippi, there’s this town called Clarksdale, which is where the Blues was supposedly born. There’s legends around the place. It’s really cool. I’m originally from Tupelo, which is about 2 hours east of there. I’m very proud of the fact that Blues comes from my home state of Mississippi, and I decided to use the fact that I’m from Mississippi to be able to dive into Clarksdale and talk with the people there. Definitely ends up being advantageous when I talk to folks, that I go there and I have a bit of a Mississippi accent and I can chat with the people there about, you know, local stuff that’s happened.
So Clarksdale, being the heart of where Blues was born, people go there to make music, and they’re a lot of locals at juke joints there that will actually dance to music.
I should explain a little about our dance scene. Our dance scene was born in the 2000’s, kind of a subset of the Lindy Hop scene, maybe at the beginning, but the point is that for a long time there were debates in our scene as to what is or is not “Blues” music? What is and what is not “Blues” dancing? And as we have uncovered more historical references to what Blues dancing is, and as we have come to a better understanding of what Blues music is, we feel that we’re trying to do a better job of honoring the Blues at this point, even if we still have a ways to go.
Christine & The Blue Drags is a band that was formed out of the Blues dancing community in Warsaw. In addition to playing for “listeners” at normal gigs, they love playing for “dancers,” and the creativity that comes with having a dance floor full of muses to be inspired by. They are self-producing their first album this summer and I very much enjoyed talking with them about it.
Greg Austin So to introduce everyone I wanted to ask a question. It is a trope in Jazz music that a song will have the lyrics talking about food, but it’s really about sex. My question for each of y’all is what Polish food would you love to write a song about and why?
Christine the Singer What Polish food I would like to write a song about?
Greg … that’s really about sex.
Christine Oh shit, Polish food. Ugh, actually I’m a vegetarian so I have a small area to choose, but maybe… yeah, apples. Because I like them very much.
Witek the Pianist Are you talking about apples or sex?
Christine Apples! They are colorful and tasty. And very juicy.
Witek I’d probably go sausage and mashed potatoes. I don’t think I need to explain.
Janek the Drummer I am also vegetarian and I would say carrots. They’re similar to something… wink, wink.
Sławek the Harmonicist Stuffed cabbage. In Polish, gołąbki. It sounds sexy, and you can remove the cabbage to get to the meat.
Laughs all around.
Greg So that was the fun question. Now I want talk about how playing for the dancing community has affected your development as musicians. Has it done so?
Photo: From Top Left: Kelsey Stone, Damon Stone, Mike Legenthal, Dan Legenthal, Adam Wilkerson, Krystal Wilkerson, Dominic Hanna - Photo by Ben Hejkal
I first met Krystal at the Blues Experiment in America, way back in 2014. My first impression was that she had the biggest smile in the world. Just a couple of weeks ago, I managed to catch up with her at a dance weekend in Zürich. Since we first met, she and her husband Adam have dove deep into organizing, teaching, and sharing their passion for the Blues. In this conversation, she takes us through the people who have impacted her Blues life… her “Blues Family.” And yes, she still has a huge smile.
Greg Austin Hello!
Krystal Wilkerson Hello!
Greg I always like to start with the origin story, like how you came into the dancing world. So what were you doing before you were a dancer?
Krystal Ok, so like in terms of my hobbies before dancing? Or where I was in my life before I started dancing?
Greg If someone is a non-dancer reading this, often times they want to know, “What do you do in life?” So for non-dancers I think it is interesting for them to hear how you came to dancing.
Krystal So before I started partner dancing, I was in grad school. Under-grad, grad school, that was pretty much my life. Laughs. In terms of things I did for fun, in grad school, I used to be really big into Metal and Rock, going to Metal and Rock concerts.
At some point, I decided to go to a Ballroom dance class, at Mississippi State University. From there, I started doing Ballroom partner dancing, and I had a friend from South Korea that was into Lindy Hop. He started showing me how to do Lindy Hop. From Lindy Hop I got into Blues. And now we Blues dance and we rock climb, and we hike, and we have greyhounds.
Greg Let’s talk about who this “we” is. You just posted a great picture that you referred to as your “Blues family.” Take us through all the faces in that picture.
Photo: Nacho Carrascosa
I stopped through Wrocław, Poland the other day and was able to meet a most interesting fellow. Chris Williams is a Welshman who has reinvented his life, using dance in general and Zouk in particular as his center. As someone who has also moved to Poland from a foreign land, I was very curious as to his experience.
Greg Austin Hi Chris, how’s it going?
Chris Williams Yeah, good. You?
Greg I’m doing fantastic. We’re in Wrocław, getting caught up in the Zouk scene in Poland. As we begin, you recently moved to Poland from the UK, from Wales. When you meet someone who is not a dancer and they ask you why are you in Poland, what do you tell them?
Chris Because of dance. They usually don’t quite believe it and if they really dig into the story, I basically tell them the same story I tell dancers. That in Zouk I found a way of expressing myself and of personal development and of connecting to other people and of seeing such amazing beauty in the world that it is the primary thing I spend my energy on in life.
Greg And what were you spending your energy on before?
Chris I got into dance as a result of a divorce.