Originated in 1965 by the late Wiktoria Janiak as the “Polish Dancing Youth Group”, the ensemble soon adopted the name of one of the most picturesque regions of Poland, Podhale. This decision had undoubtedly been influenced by the charm of the folklore from the Polish mountains. The beginnings of the group were not easy. Along with costume problems there was a number of administrative difficulties. Nonetheless, this did not prevent Podhale from receiving the award for its numerous performances at Montreal’s World Fair Expo’67, as well as placing second during the Festival of Ethnic Groups held in Montreal that same year – all this during only the second year of the group’s existence.
At the beginning of the 1970s Podhale added to its 40-person dance group a small orchestra and a 20-person choir. The latter was led by professor Irena Avila-Bierzunska, a Polish pianist and graduate of the Warsaw Conservatory of Music. The ensemble was at first under the artistic direction of Mrs. Zofia Boniecka, an instructor of dance from Wroclaw, Poland. She was followed by Mr. Jerzy Rózycki, a former soloist with both Mazowsze and Slask Polish State Folk Ensembles. He helped develop the group’s repertoire which was presented during various Polish and Canadian celebrations and festivals.
Zasłużony Kulturze – Gloria Artis
The Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis (Polish: Zasłużony Kulturze – Gloria Artis) or Gloria Artis Medal, is a decoration in Arts awarded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland to persons and organizations for distinguished contributions to, or protection of the Polish culture and national heritage.
This award was instituted on June 17 2005.
The Polish Folk Dance Company Podhale in Montreal, Quebec, Canada was awarded the Bronze Medal for Merit to Culture (Brązowy Medal Zasłużony Kulturze Gloria Artis) on February 9, 2016.
In 1972 Podhale, with 60 dancers, participated in the 2nd World Festival of Polish Folk Ensembles in Rzeszów, Poland. The performances earned them special recognition for composition and a high level of artistic ability. After the festival, the group toured Poland’s region of Warmia and Mazury, giving numerous performances. Podhale’s participation in this festival began a new period in the ensemble’s history. Upon return from Poland, the ensemble was under the auspices of the Polish Patriotic Brotherhood Aid Society (at first the group was affiliated with the Polish War Veterans Association and then the St. Michael’s Parish). In 1973 Mrs. Leokadia Magdziarz took over as artistic director. The group met her while in Rzeszów where she was the choreographer and artistic director of the Folk Dance Ensemble Bandoska at the Provincial Cultural Centre.
Soon, Podhale incorporated into its repertoire new attractive dance arrangements. The results of Mrs. Magdziarz’s work with the group were immediate. During the Polish-Canadian Song and Dance Festival held in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1973 Podhale’s older group was awarded 1st prize, while the younger 2nd, in their respective age categories. A year later, in 1974, the ensemble participated in the 3rd World Festival in Rzeszów where it won one of the three major awards for excellent program presentation. During the 18 years under the leadership of Mrs. Magdziarz the group saw many artistic and administrative changes. One thing, however, remained constant – Podhale always succeeded in preserving a high artistic level of its performances and enjoying high esteem among many Polish folk groups in North America. In 1990 the Artistic Directorship was passed to Mr. Richard Schmidt, the principle male dancer of the group and assistant choreographer for 10 years. Richard has successfully directed all the groups of Podhale for 20 years until April 2010, further developing the dancers’ skills and artistry of their compositions.
Thus, In 1992, during the celebrations of Canada’s 125th anniversary and Montreal’s 350th birthday, Richard took on the role as chairman of the 7th Polish Folk Dance Festival of the Americas, in which Podhale was the host group. The event gathered 250 dancers from 19 groups from USA and Canada. Instructors from Poland taught the seminars and classes. The festival concluded with a Gala Concert at Place des Arts.
The numerous full-length concerts of Podhale, such as “Jada Goscie Jada”, “Albosmy to Jacy Tacy”, “Na Rzeszowska Nute”, “Wrócimy Tu”, “Rozkwitaly Peki Bialych Róz”, “Pory Roku”, “Czerwone Maki”, “Dans Soleil” have enjoyed great acclaim and popularity by the public at large. European tours, daily shows at Disney World, festivals and folk camps in California, Mexico and the Republic of China are but a few of the highlights of the Ensemble’s travels.
For many years Podhale dancers have remained active and participated in many events and organized functions. They have been present at various Polish and Canadian national celebrations, banquets, Christmas and Easter parties, bazaars, etc. The group is also recognized through its appearance on the local TV and radio stations. The ensemble has taken part in several TV telethons for charity, recorded a one-hour TV special “Nos Polonais” for the French TV station Radio-Canada (1984), and played in the 1996 TV mini-series “Le Polock”. Systematic hard work brings Podhale acclaim, numerous awards and prizes. Among the most prestigious are the Oskar Kolberg Award received in 1977 for contribution to folk culture, and the Order of Merit in Polish Culture awarded to Podhale in 1981 by Poland’s Minister of Culture. Regularly purchased authentic costumes from Poland are Podhale’s pride and envy of friends from other folk ensembles. These costumes allow Podhale to develop and expand its repertoire, enhancing at the same time the presentation aspect and leaving spectators with everlasting impressions.
Incorporated as a non-profit company and registered charity in 2004, the majority of Podhale’s funds come from our corporate sponsors, membership fees, charitable donations and fund-raising events. More than one-third of Podhale’s revenue goes back to charity through our volunteers and dancers. The annual fees charged to dancers, artists and musicians to learn the traditions and culture of Poland are purposely kept at a minimum to encourage people from all walks of life to participate. The group also receives grants from various levels of government in our pursuit of promoting and developing Canadian and Polish art. Our document centre and archives are abundantly full of pictures, books, articles, audio and video cassettes, CD’s and DVD’s as well as newspaper clippings of our long and rich history as a group. Students of the group, through regular rehearsals and dedication create the positive atmosphere of the group and assure its continuity. Over the years among the participants were brothers and sisters, couples, parents and children. There were Poles, French-Canadians, Italians, Brits, Germans Egyptians, Haitians, Ukrainians and peoples from various other lands who have contributed to the success of the group.