Richard Stefan Schmidt was introduced to folk dancing at the age of four when his father, a Polish war veteran, enrolled him in a local amateur Polish dance group in Montréal, Québec, Canada, under the auspices of the Polish Veterans Society. His very first teacher (Mrs. Boniecka) came from the theatre in Poland and she quickly taught him the discipline and entertainment value needed to be a performer. His next instructor (Mr. Rożycki), a dancer from the Polish State Ballet Company Mazowsze recognized Richard’s talent, even at that age, took him under his wing, and taught him many tricks of the trade.
In 1966, he joined the children's group of the Podhale Folk Dance Company, in Montréal, Québec, Canada. He soon became the principal dancer and complimented his artistic talents with music lessons enabling him to interpret the measures and rhythms with ease.
In 1973 Mrs. Leokadia Magdziarz became his teacher. She had been Artistic Director of the Bandoska Folk Ensemble in Rzeszów, Poland and was a graduate in Polish Ethnographic Studies. Her knowledge and talent for teaching, quickly became a strong foundation for Richard to base his passion. He also complimented his dance talents with years of music lessons which enabled him to interpret the measures and rhythms of folk and classical music with ease.
In 1980, at the age of seventeen, he took on the role as assistant choreographer and began learning the intricacies of teaching folk dancing, which he has been doing ever since. Mrs. Magdziarz encouraged her young protégée, as did her peers in Poland, who invited him to study under them. As a specialist in national dances and the folklore of Rzeszów she taught him everything she could and he then complimented his studies by traveling regularly to Poland to study under many of that country’s top specialists such as Broda and Budzinski (Mountain regions), Korytek (Kurpie), Kujawski (Kaszuby), Marcinek (Cieszyn and Ślşsk), Marek (Wielkopolska, Lachy Sŕdeckie), Mazurkiewicz (Opoczno and Łowicz), Nachszter (Sieradz), Pogonowski (Podlesie), and Stepowicz and Wachowiak (Lublin). Many of these great Masters have now passed on, but their knowledge and expertise live on with Richard and he is forever grateful for his time with them.
He continued to dance and participate in numerous festivals and competitions in North America and Europe. As his reputation grew, this trilingual speaking (English, French, and Polish) instructor was soon being invited to teach and choreograph for numerous folk ensembles in Canada and the United States, as well as at international dance camps.
His ability to teach the basic steps in detail and his extensive knowledge of Poland's regional and national dances, along with his innate vision for building authentic compositions, led him to take over the reins as Artistic Director of Podhale (1991-2007). During his tenure as director, the company expanded its repertoire and has been seen by millions of people through their performances in full-length concerts across Europe and North America, including Disney World in Florida and International Folk Festivals in Ste-Marie de Beauce, Drummondville, and Zacatecas (Mexico). The company has also made numerous television appearances and performed in made-for-TV mini-series "Le Pollock" (CBC-Radio Canada).
In the autumn of 2000, Richard received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Silver Medal from the Republic of Poland for his outstanding contribution to Poland's heritage.
In 2008, Richard became the founder and director of Akademia Białego Orła (White Eagle" Folk Dance Academy) in Montréal. He is also the artistic director and choreographer of Tatry Polish Folk and Dance Ensemble in Oshawa, Ontario, and the Lechowia Polish Folk Ensemble, a 300-member ensemble in Mississauga, Ontario.
In 2010, Richard began work with the world-renowned Lechowia Polish Dance Company of Mississauga, Ontario. With over 300 dancers, the ensemble is by far one of Canada's largest and strongest representatives of Polish and Canadian culture. He has also found time to work with the ensembles Karolinka in London, England; Łowiczanie in San Francisco; Les Pieds Légers de Laval in Québec; and Pomorze in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Richard conducts occasional tours to Poland, including tours in partnership with Jim Gold.
He has taught at numerous folk dance camps, including Florida Folk Dance Camp, Montréal's International Dance Camp, New Mexico Folk Dance Camp, Stockton Folk Dance Camp, Ontario Folk Dance Camp, and Salt Spring Island Folk Dance Festival.
In addition to maintaining his role as resident choreographer for Podhale, Richard has continued his work with many cultural communities in Ontario and Québec.
Richard lives in Montréal.
Dances Richard has taught include Beskid dances and songs for children, Bogatym from Spisz, Czardasz ŚlĆski, Cięta Polka from Lachy Sûcz, Circle Polka, Fafur from Kurpie, Góralski ze Stoktonu, Jacok from Krosno, Kaczor from Kurpie, Klapok from Łowicz, Kujawiak, Kujawiak for Two, Kujony from Łowicz, Lublin Waltz (non-couple), Mazur Royale, Monopolka from Lwów, Moody Kujawiak, Musi być bogaty Góralski, Oberek od Opoczna, Osa i Mach from Lublin, Polka-Mazur from Opoczno (Tramblanka), Polka na Plecy from Podgórzie Jasielskie, Polka z Nogi from Lachy Sącz, Polonez Royale, Rysiek Fafur, Rysiek Krakowiak, Rysiek Kujawiak, Sarna from Żywiec, Stockton Góralski, Szot z Cieszyn, Szpacyr Polka from Śląsk, Sztajerek from Lwów, Taniec Wielki, Warszawianka (Progressive), and Warszawianka from Lachy Sącz.