It is a fast dance that dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The dance comes from the region of Krakow, Kraków was the old capital of Poland, and Little Poland. It is still regarded together with mazurka and polonaise as ” a national dance” of Poland.
The popular ballroom dance once (even in Vienna and Paris) is set for several couples.
The leading male dancer, from the first pair, sings and indicates the steps. He usually improvised words addressed to his partner. The band followed the melody, and the couples moved off in file and form a circle.
If it is performed on the stage it includes not only turns but also jumps, running and stamping steps.
Before the dance you can actually listen to the bugler of Cracow.
In tourist guides one can find the story of this bugle call. Here is one example:
From the tower of the Church, for centuries past, the Hejnal, or Hymn to our Lady (whose Church it is), was played by a trumpeter. He played it four times to the four winds, and he played it every hour.
One day, many, many years ago, as he played, the trumpeter saw in the distance a cloud of dust which grew bigger with every passing moment. It was a large army of Tatars galloping towards the city. These cruel invaders from the east had more than once advanced to Krakow, nay, even farther, and they had pillaged and burned, looted and murdered and carried off the young people to be slaves in their camps. The trumpeter was horror stricken. How could he warn the city, how could he convey to the people the approach of danger and give them time to prepare their defense? There was only one thing he could do. To go down into the town and spread the alarm would be foolish, for it would waste precious minutes. He must play the Hejnal, over and over. That would surely arouse the citizens, they would certainly be aware of approaching danger. So he played, again and again. At first the people of Krakow were puzzled.
Why was the trumpeter playing over and over? and with such loud urgency? But they quickly realised that it was a warning and that from his lofty tower ha had seen danger approach. The soldiers sprang to arms and took up their stations on the walls of the city. The burgesses ran to secure their houses and place their wives and children behind locked doors. The apprentices seized their arrows and their cross-bows, the artisans seizes what tools they could lay their hands on, and they all marched to the defense of their city. Suddenly, the sound of the Hejnal ceased abrubtly.The notes had reached the ears of the Tatars as they approached, and their keen eyes had espied the figure of the trumpeter. As soon as they came within bow-shot, their leader, the surest marksman of them all, loosed his bow, and the deadly projectile logged in the trumpeter’s throat.
But his task was accomplished, and Krakow was saved. Thanks to his warning, the people were able to defend their city, and they inflicted a crushing defeat on the Tatars, killing one of their princes.
And since that day, the Hejnal has been broken off at the same note on which it was broken off by the Tatar arrow in honour of the trumpeter who gave his life for the city.
The bugle from Cracow ( the Hejnal Mariacki) traditionally announces the hour on the national radio.
Below there is a video of Cracow with its bugle being played:
Gimnazjum nr18, Gdańsk, Poland