Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review of Dom Polski: Dance Hall Days of Detroit's Polonia

Dom Polski: Dance Hall Days of Detroit's Polonia is a documentary written and produced by Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo with Susan F. Tyszka as Chief Editorial Advisor and Researcher. I ordered the 2-hour DVD directly from Laurie because I wasn't able to attend one of the sell-out premiere showings this film has had recently in the metro Detroit area. I'm very interested in the history of the Dom Polski halls as my grandparents first met at the east side hall back in 1914 and in later years attended many functions at the west side hall.

The first half hour of the documentary tells the story of why so many Poles left their homeland (roughly 1880-1920) in the hopes of a better life in America and what they found when they got to Detroit. The narration was very well done and the subject well researched. The visuals consisted of old photos, map images and some short video clips. Also in this part of the film the tie-in was made to the founding of the Dom Polski halls (Dom Polski translates to "Polish Home").

The remainder of the documentary was about the history of Polka music and the significant role that Detroit's Polish musicians played in writing and playing Polonia's ethnic music. The key musicians mentioned repeatedly were Staƛ Wisniach and Ted Gomulka though a myriad of other local Polonia musicians were also featured including Johnny Sadrack, Stanley Adamus, and Ted Lach. The images included many, many playbills advertising the musicians' appearances at local dance halls, old photos of the musicians and dancers enjoying their lively music, some film clips of the Big Band days of the 1940s and a precious film clip of a traditional Polish wedding from the 1950s-60s era. All the while Polka music played in the background, well mixed so as not to interfere with the narration.

On the one hand I was disappointed that there wasn't more information about the Dom Polski Halls themselves... given the title of the documentary I expected them to be featured more. There wasn't much information about events held at the halls other than dancing. My grandparents weren't dancers and I've always wondered what else might have enticed them to go there and eventually meet each other. In later years I'm told they attended political fund raising dinners at the hall and I would have liked to have known what politicians they might have seen there. I didn't get much to go on from this film.

On the other hand, my mother's passion was dancing. She went to grade school with Johnny Sadrack (not his real surname but a stage name he adopted) and in her post-high school, pre-married years she lived to visit Detroit's dance halls. She was a great dancer too. Friends and relatives would stand in line to dance with her she was so light on her feet. And her feet couldn't be still if a Polka was playing! But I digress... I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the music that my mom danced to and seeing the faces of the band leaders and members she would have known from her neighborhood. I loved seeing the old photos of the various dance halls she went to and I reflected back on the Polish weddings I attended in my youth when I saw the wedding film clip.

All in all the documentary was well worth the $20 I paid for it. It's really very well done. If you have Polish immigrant roots in Detroit you will appreciate this film. If you are a second generation Polish American who grew up in the Polish neighborhoods of Detroit you will love this film. I only wish my mother could have seen this documentary. She would have truly loved it.

Related Posts:
Documentary of Detroit Dom Polski Dance Halls
Dom Polski Documentary Premiere a Sellout