Eating and dancing. That is how Urszula Cereki describes Polish culture.
Cereki is the event coordinator at the Polish Community Center in Albany where, on Sunday, people ate traditional Polish food and danced to the tunes of The Maestro’s Men, a Connecticut-based polka band.
PCC President Susan Gorge Matala said the Polish immigrant community in Capital Region has drastically changed in recent years. No longer are people coming in droves to work in the General Electric or Alco factories as they did in the 1950s or 1960s. She said that the few people who do immigrate from Poland are often well-educated professionals. She added that the Polish community in the Capital Region is aging and looking to invoke an appreciation for the culture in younger people.
“We still have a very vibrant community,” she said. “But we have evolved over the years to meet the needs of the new generation.”
On Sunday about 150 people filled the banquet hall in the PCC, and many took to the dance floor to show off some impressive moves.
One couple from Saratoga Springs, Jim and Linda Stefanik, had a hard time catching their breath after stepping off of the dance floor. Like many on the dance floor Sunday, they aren’t kids anymore. Jim Stefanik, who said he is “100 percent” Polish, came to the PCC to listen to good music and grab a few beers. However, to keep the culture alive in the area he thinks the PCC needs to do a better job of including younger people.
“If you look around it is mostly older people,” he said. “They need to encourage people to stay with the tradition.”
Some youngsters are doing that. A group of six children ages 7 to 17 performed a dance routine called the Polanaise while sporting traditional Polish garb.
At 7, Molly Juedes is the youngest girl in the group. She has been dancing for nearly two years, according to her mother, Irene Juedes.
“She really picked up the moves very quickly for her age,” Irene Juedes said. “I am really very proud of my daughter.”
Carl Nicsabic, who was the president of the PCC in the 1970s and 1980s, said nearly 400 people used to pack small rooms to dance and hang out. He said now many of the people that come to the center are older and many are not able to dance.
“There used to be a middle-aged crowd here,” he said. “Now it is more older people.”
The center is trying to appeal to a younger crowd by offering quicker, more exciting dance music. In addition, the PCC will be undergoing renovation in the near future and creating a new atmosphere for people of all cultures to enjoy.