Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Sepia Saturday #269: Polka

Polka, Shmolka. Where I grew up everyone seemed to emerge from the womb knowing the polka. At every dance, there was always at least 1/2 hour of uninterrupted polka music. It was normal to dance for the entire 1/2 hour, then to drag yourself off the floor drenched in sweat. Ukrainian weddings were famous for polka dancing and as a bonus, the food was great: pierogis and beer, pierogis and beer and to finish things off - more pierogis and beer. 

The polka was fun for everyone, young and old - easy to do and you could get as fancy or plain as you wished with it. Most of us bounced around at a Lawrence Welk type pace..."a1anda2". LW is the artist I associate the most with the sound of polka music. 

Not only a smart band leader, he made some shrewd investments. Where I live in Fallbrook, California, we are very near one of LW's best, the Lawrence Welk Resort: time share condos, a golf course and a theatre.

While I remember polka-ing and polka-ing at weddings, school and canteen dances, I could find nary a picture of anyone in my family or my friends actually photographed in the act. I'm guessing the dim light and fast action in dance halls would be a problem for photography. I know our little Brownie with flash attachment couldn't have handled it. 

Here's one sepia photo I found in an archived group from Stanford. From the description of these "polka sets" it sounds very much like polka dancing in a square, which would probably be fun. 

Kerry Sets
Fast polka sets from Ireland
"Formation:  Four couples in a square, taking closed waltz position with partners.
The polka step is a fairly smooth leaping two-step, without a preliminary hop, but there are many regional style variations, and a traveling pas de basque in polka time is also seen on occasion."

For serious dancing however, you do have to leave Ireland and visit the Ivory Coast, made easy for you here on YouTube. Perhaps this clip has been around the world a couple of times by now...I just saw it this week and was very impressed with it. My husband caught me trying the dance in the kitchen. He strolled in, saw me and said, "What the hell are you cooking?" I had to talk as fast as I was dancing to keep him from having me carted away. 

Actually I didn't think I was too bad at the dance in 10 second bursts, considering I had no costume. You really have to wear the mask thing and the striped socks to get the full effect.  

I recommend you watch this clip as an antidote to the simple cadence of the polka. This is the Zaouli de Manfla, or Mask Dance, for short, of the Ivory Coast.


  1. That mask dance was a very nice start to my day. I particularly liked his helpers. Wouldn't it be funny if that dance had come down through our history instead of the polka. Can't you just see the drunken wedding receptions!

  2. That was fun and I didn't have to leave the comfort of my home to experience that Ivory Coast dance. I'll have to tell you about the Bufferfly dance that is popular on the iron range of northern Minnesota.

  3. Anonymous10:42 AM

    I love doing the polka. Wish there was some place to do it around here. Oh, my gosh, there is. Lawrence Welk's of course. I wonder if they have weekly dances there.

    I can just picture you trying out your steps in the kitchen. Too bad you were caught.

    Love the Ivory Coast dancer. His legs don't look like they're part of his body.

  4. OMG - how could that dancer move so fast! That was wonderful. Michael Jackson's famous "moon walk" can't even begin to compare! I can just barely imagine what your husband must have thought - seeing you trying to copy that dancer's moves. I was laughing so hard at your description my husband & daughter had to come see what had struck me so funny. :)

  5. What a fabulous Zaouli de Manfla, that dancer demonstrated great leg work, but also an ability to hold the rest of his body perfectly level and still...not an easy thing to do! I wonder what the mask represents. Thanks so much! I'm going to share it, since I hadn't seen it before.

  6. If we can't have a YouTube of you dancing in the kitchen, then I'm happy to settle for this guy on the Ivory Coast. Although I don't have any of the ethnic genes that require me to polka, I did learn that dance. I don't know why. Maybe it was from watching Lawrence Welk all those years.

  7. As you say, a great antidote to the polka. The dancer looks like he has skates on - what amazing movement!

  8. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Reading polka stories certainly sets the toes tapping.

  9. Hmmm, yes, and what WERE you pouring into the pot on the stove? Great story -- your husband sounds like a keeper.

  10. My calves are aching just watching that dancer! Wonderful. I really wish I’d learned to dance and I think I would have loved the polka.

  11. Amazing fast continuous steps there, while pretty much not moving the rest of his body, aside from the shaking tails.

  12. Another of those wonderful examples of how fascinating topics can spin off a theme. A fine dance of a post.

  13. The polka is the only dance I know as I had to learn it for a part in my high school musical production of "Hello Dolly!". I do remember working up a sweat too. The Ivory Coast dancer was terrific!

  14. Interesting post, and I remember my parents watching the Lawrence Welk show!

  15. I was never into polkas, or accordion music, but we were all ridiculously proud of own local Polka King, Walter Ostanek when he was nominated and won so many Grammy's.

  16. Anonymous7:51 PM

    I never learned the polka. Hey, I notice you wrote about Lawrence Welk, too. He displayed such a pleasant persona. It's interesting to know he was a businessman. I didn't elaborate on him. Didn't know much else to say. But we both recalled how he queued up the band. That count was his trademark, wasn't it? Oh, and we forgot to talk about the bubbles! LOL. Great post.