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Polka Music and Dancing
A Polish Upbringing
I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania that has strong Polish American roots. In fact, my paternal Grandfather actually immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Poland when he was four years old.
"Mutz" as he was known far and wide, was a member of the Slovak Club, which was founded by Czech immigrants but mostly populated in my hometown by Polish American immigrants and 1st generation Polish Americans who grew up in bilingual households with strong cultural ties. One of the things the club was best known for back in the days when I was growing up was holding Polka Dance nights with both live and recorded music.
The Polka tradition continues in my hometown to this day. It's carried on by radio DJ's and supported by private social clubs and dance groups. In fact, it's hard to go to a wedding "back home" without at least one Polka being played whether the couple involved has Polish heritage or not!
Photo is of the Hohner Bravo III 96 Piano Accordion
I'm a 3rd generation American with Polish ancestry. Yes, I've heard every dumb Polack joke that's out there. I'm not at all ashamed of my heritage. I am, in fact, quite proud of it.
I revel in the history, the food and even the music of my ancestors. Yes, I said the music. That, and also the dance. Some people square dance. Some people krump, and some, well, some Polka. Now, I'm by no means good at Polka because I've been too far removed from it for too long living in central Ohio. Still, when I hear it, I enjoy it. I clap along in time. When I'm back home, I may not get up and dance but I absolutely love to watch those that do and the bonafide Polka bands. It's great fun as both a participant and a spectator.
A Bit of Polka History
Polka has its origins in the early 1800s. It's a bohemian form of dance that was popularized in Poland. The steps for the dance can be traced back to about the year 1830 in the Prague area where they were credited to a farm servant, Anna Slazak.
The dance is done in 2/4 time. The basics include 3 quick steps and a hop. Dance partners almost always touch on at least one side. It's common on certain steps to punctuate the movements by having the outside arm upraised. Typically, there are musical cues for those steps.
A traveling military band is said to have introduced the Polish dance craze in Vienna around 1840. It was well received and quickly spread throughout Europe and then to America.
All of that said, Czechs claim the Polka as their own dance too. Thus another reason that it was popular at the Czech founded Slovak Club my grandfather frequented. They claim a Czech girl danced it, alone, around 1830 and it caught on.
Regardless of where it originated, the Polka continues to enjoy popularity among many cultures.
Polka dancing is great exercise and it's great fun too!
Polka is still popular today. In the U.S., it has a huge following in the Slavic culture areas and enclaves of the Eastern Seaboard and all over the Midwest. And, in no surprise to anyone who loves Polka, it also has a huge following in Texas.
Polka is still played by "Oom Pah" bands with accordions and tubas but it's also played by modern bands who combine the old and the new into amazing sound that can be appreciated by both those over 60 and those under 30...and maybe even a few teens. The music and the dance aren't going to fade away any time soon!
Have you ever danced a Polka?
Bobby Vinton - Greatest Polka Hits of All Time - Words and Music
Bobby Vinton was a pretty popular pop singer when I was very young. Interestingly, I never knew he did Polka albums. I suspect my mom knew this as she always smirked when I listened to his pop stuff.
I chose this album to present rather than one from one of the big name players or bands in Polka because it has some of the most loved Polkas and because Vinton sings the words to the songs. 90% of the other Polka albums available on Amazon contain only instrumental versions of these tunes. If you've never heard Polka before, I think it's important that you hear the words too to give you some context.
This is the downloadable MP3 version but, this is also available on CD from Amazon. Just click the link below and then, near the top of the page that comes up, look for the CD link if that's your preference. All of that said, Amazon has vinyl record albums of Vinton performed Polka available too.
Other Polka Music available from Amazon
I wanted to point out that this album features Lawrence Welk. When I was young, he was an every Sunday evening staple on televisions along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest with his orchestra show.
Do you Polka? What's your favorite Polka tune? Have you ever played an accordion? Don't be shy! We'd all love to hear your story!