Polish folk dancing delivers friends as well as fun

by Len Lear
Posted 1/25/24

The award-winning dance troupe will hold a recruiting event on Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Polish folk dancing delivers friends as well as fun


Longtime Mt. Airy resident Geoffrey Selling's ethnic heritage is Ukrainian, German and Austrian – not Polish. But that’s not stopping him from being president of the Janosik Polish Dancers, a local folk dance performance ensemble with many members living in Northwest Philadelphia.

The group was founded in 1971 by the late Dr. Morley Leyton, a biometrics and dance professor at Temple University, to spread Polish culture “as a means of promoting cultural understanding among various ethnic groups.”

The dance troupe, which has made six trips to Poland and won countless medals, prizes and honors, will be conducting an open house on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2 to 5 p.m., in the first floor chapel of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave.

"The open house is a recruiting event, but we don't want to sound too desperate," said Selling. He has been a Mt. Airy resident for 39 years and was a science teacher at Germantown Friends School for 35 years.

“In the 1970s folk dancing was seen as cool. These were the counter-culture years when new cultural activities were becoming popular, but folk dancing became less popular starting in the Reagan years. Now almost no colleges have folk dancing groups. Those who do it tend to be older. Younger people might come once and then not come back. At Swarthmore College there was just one girl who came. She said the other kids were all on their cell phones.”

Almost all Polish dance groups are affiliated with Polish churches, but the Janosik members come from the dance world. 

“Only two of our 16 dancers are Polish,” said Selling, who also teaches Scottish dance at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. 

"We just love the dancing," Selling explained. "One member drives to and from Lancaster to rehearse. I'm the only one left who was there on the first night in 1971, when I was a student at Swarthmore."

Selling's wife, Cecily, formerly taught at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr and Stratford Friends School in Newtown Square. She is an English and Scottish country folk dancer. The couple has two daughters, both of whom are medical doctors.

The Janosik troupe would do six to eight live performances a year pre-pandemic and are now doing half of that but are gradually getting more requests.

"Our members are in their 40s to 80s," Selling said. "My partner last night attends four to five ballet classes weekly, and she is 85 years old.

In addition to performing, the group fosters a strong, tight-knit community. 

“We enjoy each other's company, sending flowers to those who are sick and baking cakes for birthdays, among other things,” Selling said. Even when we couldn't meet in person for two years, we continued our rehearsals on Zoom every week."

The troupe owns more than 500 costumes and thousands of accessories, representing the 24 ethnic regions in Poland, each with different dances. "I have learned eight different ways to put my hands on my hips," Selling said. "You have to be mindful of your hands, knees, and elbows. It's all very intentional. Like any athletic activity, continuous training is key. The benefits include exercise, social interaction, and self-esteem. But primarily, the dancing is fun!"

Nina Edelman of Erdenheim, a member of the group, remarked, "This group keeps me moving and active. I have made lifelong friends here. Everyone was welcoming the first time I came. I love the dancing and the costumes."

The Janosik group's expertise has been acknowledged from the start. They performed at President Richard Nixon's inaugural ball in 1972 and have also graced the stage at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Monique Legare of Willow Grove stated, "My late husband, Dr. Morley Leyton, founded the group over 50 years ago, and we are still going strong. He passed away in 2007, and I have taken on the directorship since then. When you love something so much and excel at it, you feel a responsibility to give back to the community."

Christine Weisel McNaull, currently residing in Lansdale and formerly of Germantown, added, "Perhaps it's the artist in me, but I've always appreciated the ability to get a workout while expressing something beautiful, uncommon in our society, and timeless. One of my favorite experiences with the group was our trip to Poland. We participated in an exchange with a Polish group and formed friendships with them."

The group has high expectations for the Jan. 28 open house, featuring live music by accordionist John Matulis, because, as Selling notes, "Mt. Airy has more folk dancers than any other part of the city."

For more information, call 215-295-9330 or email janosikdancers@gmail.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.