Photo: Justyna Lorenc

A Marriage Made of Jazz and Folk, with Maria and Rafał Ślęczka

One of the joys of running this website is that I get the chance to do long-form interviews. It may take a little longer to read, but without this format it would be much more difficult to see the bigger pictures of why people dance. For this interview, I sat down with Maria and Rafał Ślęczka, who are an organizing and teaching couple in Kraków. Just as a marriage is a fusion of two individuals, a dance school is the mixing of many dance backgrounds. Let’s listen in to their story…

Greg Austin We’re here with Maria and Rafał. Y’all were just up on the Polish coast for your May holidays with your children. How was it?

Rafał Ślęczka It was quite difficult because of the behavior of our children.

Laughs

That was the main challenge. It was fine for 3 nights, the weather didn’t help us, it was quite cold and sometimes raining, but the children were the biggest challenge. For us, it was a test. In a month, we plan to go to Greece by car for the Swing & Swim festival. We decided to make a test and go by car. We wanted to know how it would work.

Greg And how old are your children?

Rafał Weronika is five and a half, and Karol is eight months.

Greg Eight months? Congrats.

Maria Ślęczka In Gdańsk, we had a very nice evening on Saturday, with Professor Cunningham and His Old School. The music on this event was really great.

It’s funny because many people told us, “Wow, your children are so great, they just sleep at the party.” We were so tired and still everyone was amazed with Karol’s sleeping during the party. A different perspective, I guess.

Greg The challenges of kids. Ok, let’s start talking about your origin stories, how did you come to dancing? Maria, let’s start with you.

Maria Ok, so I started dance when I was 7 years old. It was the beginning of my school. I come from Tarnów, 70 kilometers from Kraków. There was a culture center, with a group for children, and my parents wanted me to sing, not dance. In this group there was a class where it was maybe 1 hour of singing and 1 hour of dancing, but no one liked this singing. So after a couple of months, they cut the singing group and it became only dancing.

It really cut me here, I really loved this group. After two years there remained only one group for teenagers, 15 to 18 years old. I was then 9 and I really cried. I was crying and crying and crying, and my parents called to the center and they asked if I could stay in this group for teenagers. And they agreed.

So, next the couple of years I danced together with people much older than me. For me, it was very exciting. But difficult as well because in the beginning no one treated me seriously. So I needed to work twice as hard as the rest. We danced Hip-hop dancing, a bit of funky even, because my instructor, Teresa Lamot she traveled to New York and she brought us a bit of funky dancing. Some Jazz, Ballroom dancing, it was a mix of everything, but with Jazz and Classical backgrounds.

Greg But a Modern dance background?

Maria Yes. I was there for 12 years, and then I moved to Kraków. I was looking for a Jazz group, not open classes, to be in a community, but I didn’t find anything satisfying enough, so I used to go to these open classes, just to be still in the dance. But it wasn’t I guess what I was really looking for.

Greg Gotcha, and Rafał?

Rafał I come from a really small town, in Bieszczady. It’s only around 10,000 citizens. I was 7 or 6 years old and there was only one group that was dancing. Today I find it funny, because it was Country dancing and we danced like cowboys to Country Folk music.

I did that for 5 years, and then my parents decided to move to Kraków. We moved with the whole family. We didn’t know anyone here. My cousin used to go to a Folk group and I went with him, along with my brother. After several years, my brother stopped doing it, and I continued. I really liked it. There was a point when I had to decide what I wanted to do with that and I decided to go deeper into it.

At that time, the only way to be better in Polish Folk dancing, and to know more in that matter, was participation in an instructor course. So I participated in such a course. It was a 2 years long, organized by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. My specialization was Folk dancing. Basically in Poland, there are a lot of Folk companies, Folk groups, and most of them are based on Ballet. So, we were trained with a Ballet warm up, Ballet exercises, and a lot of Jazz techniques. The technique was really important. It was half of the class, and then the second half was the proper Folk dancing.

So it was really beneficial for me, now I see it. I’ve learned a lot about techniques, I learned a basic understanding of how the body moves, how it works. It wasn’t only about Polka or Waltz. It was about dancing in general.

Greg And today, you both dance and teach mostly Lindy Hop?

Photo: Nacho Carrascosa

But why Poland? with Chris Williams

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.

Photo: Mirosław Jąkała

A Little Lindy Talk, with Tomasz Przytycki – Part 2

We continue our conversation with Tomasz from Part 1. In this part, we move on to what Tomasz is doing these days, including how he likes to approach learning and teacher dance.

Greg Austin Ha! I see what you did there. Laughs. Let’s continue on with that theme. How do you like learning today? And how does that impact your teaching?

Tomasz Przytycki I like that question. I feel like there’s quite a few tools that I use to improve myself as a dancer and I feel like, in terms of teaching, I always like to be teaching in the same way that I’m learning. I do feel that developing as a dancer is kind of challenging because it’s not like there are clear steps, clear things which you go to and eventually you’re the best dancer in the world. There’s no “finish line.” It’s not a race, where you just have to find ways to be faster. There’s no clear end point. What I find is that you have to keep changing, you have to keep adapting, and you have to keep finding creative outlets.

In that end, I’ve been developing a few tools for building my teaching. I find that collaboration is an incredibly strong tool.

So my main tool for working with people, is I’ve been running this series which I call “Little Lindy.” The way it works is that I connect a week or more of practice together with a dance partner, with a weekend workshop. The idea behind the workshop is that we take what we have worked on for ourselves and use this as inspiration for our classes.

Photo: David Poul

A Little Lindy Talk, with Tomasz Przytycki – Part 1

I have recently been wanting to learn more about Lindy Hop in Europe. Fortunately, I was able to sit down with someone who has been a big part of that story, not only in Europe but in America as well. Tomasz Przytycki has been involved in the Polish Swing community for over a decade, he teaches both locally and internationally, and is a driving force behind Dragon Swing, one of the crown jewels in Kraków’s Swing festival calendar.

In this two-part conversation, we dive deeply into how his upbringing shaped his views on life and dancing, as well as what we can learn from different teaching styles. It was a joy to open up Tomasz’s thoughts on everything.

Greg Austin We’re here in Kraków, it’s a beautiful spring day, and you just got back from several months in America. Welcome back to Europe! How are you doing?

Tomasz Przytycki Yeah, I’m doing good, a little frazzled by the transition, it’s been two weeks, but I’m still jet lagged, or maybe I just haven’t entered the flow of things here yet. But in general I’m good. It’s a really nice day and I’ve already managed to have a dance partner from Ukraine come and we’ve done some work.

Greg In the States, where are you from?

Tomasz My family is in the DC area, Bethesda, Maryland. That’s where I actually lived most of my life. It’s not where I spent most of my time these past three months, but I at least went there to my family for Christmas.

Greg But your family is Polish, right? That’s how you ended up in Poland?

Tomasz Yeah, basically. Yes, and then, basically. My parents are Polish. I was born in Canada when my mother was studying at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver. I was born there and my brother was also born there, in between her PhD thesis defenses. And soon thereafter we moved around a bit, first to Riverside, California, then to Odense, Denmark, and then when I was about 7 years old we moved to the East Coast, to the DC area, fairly permanently.

Greg And you’ve been living in Poland for about a decade, but before we get there –

Tomasz Can I clarify? I’ve been involved in Poland for about a decade, but I’ve lived here for about 3 years.

Greg Ah, great. But first, you mentioned your mother’s thesis, your parents are both mathematicians, right?

The Cost of Convenience, with Bartosz Przybylski

Bartosz is a well respected member of the Swing community in Poland and I was fortunate enough to grab a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk DJ’ing. Out of his many years of experience, he has formed strongly held beliefs on the importance of making good decisions, not easy ones. I hope our conversation encourages both dancers and non-dancers alike to re-examine how they look at convenience in their lives. And better appreciate the art form that is DJ’ing! 

Greg Austin Hi Bartosz, how’s it going?

Bartosz Przybylski It’s good, thanks for asking.

Greg Excellent, as we begin, if you could give us some background information… how you got into dancing.

Bartosz How I got into dancing? Let’s start with that I never liked dancing. I never liked Swing music and I didn’t even listen to it. I probably didn’t even know that it existed and didn’t pay much attention to Jazz either. Then, at some point in life while doing my Culture Studies: Comparative Studies of Civilizations in Kraków, and working with many different cultural festivals, I found out some people were looking for volunteers for a Dragon Swing Festival. It was about some Lindy Hop dance, and because I liked Hop Hop culture, I thought it was probably something similar. I checked the videos on YouTube and what I found was a completely different dance than I was expecting. Different music, different energy and the spirit of the dance. I got interested and I signed up. I became a volunteer and started working with my present school, Kmita Swing, long before we had regular classes. I was not a dancer yet when I made this decision and tied my life with Swing. I liked the atmosphere, openness, energy, people. This dance and it’s community was perfect for me.

Greg Is there one way to sum up the atmosphere and energy of Lindy Hop?