When it comes to polka dancing, the beat goes on

With Pulaski Polka Days coming up, it got me to thinking about polkas and dancing.

I guess polkas and dancing have been a part of my life. As a child, I’d tag along with my parents to wedding or anniversary dances and would get out on the floor and try to move to the proper steps. I recall my mother trying to teach me at home, with the radio for the music.

I did a little quick research on that type of music to find it began in the early 1830s, beginning with the Czech peasants, with the first larger dance taking place in 1835. Soon it spread all over Europe and the Americas, with the first polka dance in France taking place in 1840. It is one of the few dances that has remained popular worldwide all these years.

Once I was in high school, my best friend and I would tag along with my older brother to dances held in the area. My friend and I taught each other how to dance. I remember trying the steps, then sitting and watching others for a while, and trying them out again until we thought we had it right. That was before the Polish hop became popular, so I never got the hang of that.

While my friend and I enjoyed dancing together, we didn’t mind if a couple of guys would cut in and dance with us. Some of the places we went included the Caroline Ballroom, but we also went to the Rustic Resort and somewhere in Big Falls, pretty much wherever there was dancing.

In the end it didn’t matter if we did the steps right, because we were just having fun. Polkas are fun, as are waltzes. And who doesn’t like the Flying Dutchman or the Chicken Dance? At that time, the Bunny Hop was also a favorite. No partners were needed; one person led, and everyone else hung onto the waist of the person in front of them so there would be a long line of hopping people. No harm was done when we danced it, but I heard that some dance halls had floors collapsing.

The polkas have a 2/4 beat and usually have four verses with a chorus. They can be written about love, loss, food and, of course, beer — such as “Beer Barrel Polka.” A favorite waltz of mine has always been the “Blue Skirt Waltz.”

My most memorable dance was in Milwaukee, at an aunt and uncle’s wedding anniversary. Grandpa was there and asked me to dance. At age 14, I wasn’t too sure about dancing with Grandpa, but when we got out onto the floor, I know I grinned from ear to ear with pride.

Another time, the whole family had been at a dance, and my Pa wanted to hear the “Milwaukee Waltz,” so he requested the band to play that tune. Apparently they didn’t know it, so Pa grumbled about that as we drove home.

“The Lawrence Welk Show” was popular nationwide, and it didn’t seem to matter how old the audience was, we all enjoyed watching. Over the years, there were other polka shows, mostly on local TV, and in recent times those who get RFD-TV can watch the Mollie B Polka Party or Jimmy Sturr.

Some of the famous bands of the time my friend and I danced were Dick Rodgers and Frankie Yankovic. I am sure I have forgotten more than I remembered; we mainly liked the music and didn’t pay attention to who was playing.

In 1968, a polka dance at Tilleda changed my life. Once in a while, Alvin Styczynski would come and play there. When I tell the story, I say that it was a cold night in January when I met my farmer husband, and it is true.

A year and a half later we were married, and I moved from rural Clintonville to rural Tigerton. I still would love to polka, but a waltz is more my speed these days. Now I understand how older people can sit and enjoy the music and watch others dance. However, my toes are still a-tapping.

As long as there are young bands, such as Box On, coming up and things like the Pulaski Polka Days keep happening, that style of music will polka on.