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.
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?