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Eugenuiscz Ciejka, known as "Eugene" or "Gene," was born on December 27, 1930, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Although he spoke Polish until the age of five, he grew up speaking English, and never reacquired the ability to speak his native language fluently. Gene had been dancing with various Polish groups since he was five years old. When he was 14, his grandmother, Anna Bosinska-Iskra, persuaded him to join a dance group organized by the Polish Women Alliance of America ("Zwiazek Polek w Ameryce") and directed by Franciszka Wesołowska.
In the 1950's Gene studied ballet, character, and folk dance techniques under and Jan Cieplinski (who had been director of the Polish National Ballet Company prior to World War II), Jan Matuscz Lazowski, and Frances Poplaska. Gene danced as a part of the Polish American Folk Dance Group of New York, and the New York City Ballet (renamed National Ballet Theatre, then American Ballet Company) directed by Franciszka Wesołowska. He, and his partner in New York, competed and won medals at the Polish "Harvest Moon Ball" competitions in 1958 (bronze) and 1959 (silver). Although discouraged from following his dance interests professionally by his perents, he took two years of classical ballet training and performed with the New York City Ballet.
Upon moving to California in 1960, he taught children for the Polish National Alliance in Culver City. He had brought his basic repertoire of Polish dances, choreographed by Ms. Wesołowska, to California. Gene also studied modern dance under Angiola Sartorio of Corona Del Mar, and received his Bachelor's degree in 1972 from California State University at Fullerton.
In 1967 and 1968, Gene was a featured instructor at the Santa Barbara Folk Dance Conference, a function of the Folk Dance Federation of California (South). In 1971, he choreographed the "Dance to Life" for a performance of the Fiddler on the Roof held at Orange Coast College in California.
Gene became the director of the Orange County Folk Dance Workshop group in 1967 which later was changed to Gwiazdy ("stars"). Because the new name was difficult for Americans to pronounce, in 1972, the name was changed again and finally became Polskie Iskry, or "Polish sparks" (after his grandmother's name). The group performed at most of the Folk Dance Federation of California statewide festivals until its demise in 1996 when Gene's back problems became too burdensome. His partner in Polskie Iskry was Mikki Revenaugh (pictured below).
Gene passed on in 2007. Ann Litvin recalls, "He was all light, dazle, and posessed indefatigable energy for dancing, shmoozing, and yes, lots of socializing. His incredible expertise in Polish Dance form made it fascinating to see what he was up to next, bigger and better than the last time around, in his performing groups. I think many of you 'oldtimers' would agree that the forty to fifty years of Ciejka's presence in the Orange County communities have inexorably changed how we see and regard Polish folkdancing. He will surely be missed by legions of folkdancers but his legacy of Polish dance and choreography will continue to be recognized and to live on brightly in Southern California."
Dances Gene taught include Beginners Polka, Biały Mazur, Furman, Koseder, Kozoirajka, Krakowiak, Kujawiak Sztajerek, Kujawiaka Graj, Oberek, Polonez from Beskid, Poznan Oberek, Polka, Raz Dwa, Skoczek, Swir Swir Mazur, Wetrojnik, and Wrona Gapa.