Reflecting on her childhood in Winnipeg’s Polish community, Christine Tabbernor, who took her first steps as a Polish folk dancer at the age of eight, recalls the painstaking hours the community’s mothers spent sewing brightly-coloured traditional folk dancing costumes.
"Vests and dresses were embroidered and sequined by hand, some of it on velvet. It could take up to 16 to 20 weeks — it really speaks to the importance our community places on folk dancing," says Tabbernor, who is president of the board of the Ogniwo Polish Museum Society.
It’s folk dancing that will take centre stage in the upcoming exhibit Dance Through Time: A Reflection of Polish Folk Culture in Winnipeg.
The exhibit is part of Culture Days, and is being put on by Ogniwo Polish Museum, located at 1417 Main St., in the North End.
Dancing is more than just part of the Polish-Canadian culture, says Tabbernor.
"The music and energy, it just gets you. At a basic level, for the Polonia (people of Polish descent living outside of Poland), it gets to us. It speaks to the heart of being a Pole."
Winnipeg has had several waves of immigration from Poland, beginning in the early 1900s.
For the first wave of immigrants, who were largely landless and poor, folk dancing was a way of staying connected to a country few people had the resources to visit, at a time when letters could take months to travel back and forth.
The first record of Polish folk dancing in Winnipeg comes from a photograph taken in 1925 of several young adults between the ages of 15 and 18.
In the photograph, participants are wearing costumes of the Polish nobility — something that would have been forbidden to them back home.
It was after the Second World War, with a new generation of displaced Polish immigrants arriving in Winnipeg, that Polish dancing really took off, and schools were built that professionally trained new generations of dancers.
Dancing Through Time will feature exhibits on how Polish dancing has evolved through the years, on different costumes, and an interactive component where people can try dance steps and costumes for themselves.
Tabbernor invites Winnipeggers of all backgrounds and ethnic groups to come out to the exhibit.
"The struggles and challenges other ethnic groups in Winnipeg have faced parallel those of the Polonia," she said.
Polish immigrants faced those challenges through dance, she added, and in this way, "dance ties us all together."
There is no charge for the exhibit, which is open on Fri., Sept. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m., Sat. Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sun., Sept. 29 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.