Folk dancers in traditional costumes from Kraków (regarded as Polish national costumes)
The Krakowiak is a fast, syncopated Polish dance in duple time from the region of Kraków and Little Poland. This dance is known to imitate horses, the steps mimic their movement, for horses were well loved in the Kraków region of Poland for their civilian as well as military use. It became a popular ballroom dance in Vienna ("Krakauer") and Paris ("Cracovienne")—where, with the polonaise and the mazurka, it signalled a Romantic sensibility of sympathy towards a picturesque, distant, and oppressed nation—and in Russia, a krakoviak is featured in Mikhail Glinka's A Life for the Tsar (1836).
The first printed Krakowiak appeared in Franciszek Mirecki's album for the piano, "Krakowiaks Offered to the Women of Poland" (Warsaw, 1816).
In terms of its choreography, the krakowiak is set for several couples, among whom the leading male dancer sings and indicates the steps. According to the description in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the krakowiak is directed by the leading man from the first pair. As they approach the band, "the man, tapping his heels or dancing a few steps, sings a melody from an established repertory with newly improvised words addressed to his partner. The band follows the melody, and the couples move off in file and form a circle (with the leading couple back at the band). Thereafter verses are sung and played in alternation, the couples circulating during the played verses.