Polka - dancing around the world

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Polka - dancing around the world

The polka is originally a Czech dance and a genre of dance music known throughout Europe and America. It emerged in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. In many European and American countries, the polka remains a popular folk music genre and is performed by folk artists.

The history of the polka

Origin and popularity

The beginning of the spread of dance and accompanying music called polka is generally attributed to a young woman, Anna Slezáková (née Anna Chadimová). Music teacher Josef Neruda noticed that in 1830 she danced in an unusual way to accompany a local folk song called "Strýček Nimra koupil šimla" or "Uncle Nimra bought a white horse".

She is said to have called the dance Maděra ("Madeira wine") because of its liveliness. The dance was further propagated by Neruda, who put the melody on paper and taught other young men to dance it. Čeněk Zíbrt notes that a popular claim that the events took place in 1834 in Týnec nad Labem, Bohemia, is inaccurate. Zibrt writes that when he published this traditional story in the newspaper Narodni Listy in 1894, he received a lot of feedback from eyewitnesses.

In particular, he wrote that, according to further witness statements, the original event actually happened in 1830 in Kostelec nad Labem, where the dancing Anna Slezáková worked as a housemaid. Zíbrt writes that he published the first version of the story (with a false place name) in Bohemia (June 5, 1844), from where it was reprinted throughout Europe and the United States.

From Kostelec into the world

Zíbrt also wrote that the common Czech people said they knew and danced polka long before the nobility got their hands on it, i.e. it was a truly folk Czech dance.

By 1835, this dance had spread to the ballrooms of Prague. From there it spread to Vienna by 1839 and was introduced to Paris in 1840 by Raab, a Prague dance teacher.

In Paris he was so well received by both dancers and dance masters that his popularity was described as " polka mania". The dance was introduced to America in 1844 and soon spread to London. It remained a popular ballroom dance until it gave way to the two-step dance and the new ragtime dances in the late 19th century.

Polka dance enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after World War II, when many Polish refugees moved to the United States and adopted this Bohemian style as a cultural dance. Polka dances are still danced weekly in many parts of the United States with a significant population of Central European descent. They are also found in parts of South America.

An attempt at word definition

The term polka possibly comes from the Czech word "půlka" ("half"), which refers to the short half-steps of the dance. The Czech cultural historian and ethnographer Čeněk Zíbrt, who wrote extensively about the origins of the dance, quotes in his book Jak se kdy v Čechách tancovalo an opinion of František Doucha (1840, Květy, p. 400) that "Polka" "dance in the should mean "half" ("tanec na polo"), both referring to the half-time 2/4 and the half-jump step of the dance.

Zíbrt rejects the etymology proposed by A. Fähnrich (in An etymological paperback, Jiein, 1846) that "Polka" comes from the Czech word "pole" ("field"). On the other hand, Zdeněk Nejedlý suggests that the etymology given by P. Doucha is nothing more than an attempt to prove the "true Czech folk origin" of the polka.

Instead, he argues that according to Jaroslav Langr ("České krakováčky" in: Čas. Čes. musea, 1835, Sebr. spisy I, 256) in the area of ​​Hradec Králové the melody Krakoviáky from the collection Slovanské národní písně by František Ladislav Čelakovský is very popular became popular, so it was used for dancing třasák, břitva and kvapík, and this way was called "polka".

Nejedlý writes that Václav Vladivoj Tomek also claims the Hradec Králové roots of a polka. The Ecumenical Diakonia suggests that the name may have been derived from the Czech Polka, meaning "Polish" (feminine form, the Polák, the Polish woman).

The word became widely used in major European languages ​​in the early 1840s. It should not be confused with Polska, a Swedish 3/4 time dance with Polish roots. A related dance is the Redowa. Polkas almost always have a 2/4 time signature. Folk music in the polka style appeared in written music around 1800.

Different styles

There are various styles of contemporary polka in addition to the original Czech dance, which is still the main dance at every official or rural ball in the Czech Republic. From there the polka spread all over the world.

Scandinavia also dances polka

The polka also migrated to the Nordic countries, where it was known under various names in Denmark (galopp, hopsa), Estonia (polka), Finland (pariisipolkka, polkka), Iceland, Norway (gallop, hamborgar, hopsa/hopsar, parisarpolka, polka , polkett, skotsk) and Sweden (polka). The beats are not as heavy as those from Central Europe and the dance steps and grips also have variations that cannot be found further south

Gammeldan tradition

The polka is considered part of the Gammeldan tradition of music and dance. While it is nowhere near as old as the older Nordic dance and music traditions, there are still hundreds of polka tunes in each of the Nordic countries. They are played by solo instrumentalists or by bands/ensembles, most commonly with lead instruments such as accordion, violin, diatonic accordion, hardingfele and nyckelharpa.

The polka in North America

One of the types found in the United States is the North American "Polish-style polka", which has its roots in Chicago and is home to large Czech and Polish minorities; two sub-styles are "The Chicago Honky" (with clarinet and a trumpet) and "Chicago Push" with accordion, Chemnitz and star concertinas, double bass or bass guitar, drums and (almost always) two trumpets.

The North American "Slovenian-style polka" is fast and has a piano accordion, chromatic accordion and/or diatonic button accordion; she is associated with Cleveland. The North American "Dutchmen style" has an oom-pah sound, often with tuba and banjo, and has roots in the American Midwest.

"Conjunto-style" polkas have roots in northern Mexico and Texas and are also called "Norteño." Traditional dances from this region reflect the influence of polka-dancing European immigrants. In the 1980s and 1990s, several American bands began combining polka with various styles of rock (sometimes referred to as "punk polka"), "alternative polka," or "San Francisco style."

South American polka

There are also polkas from Curaçao, Peruvian polkas (which became very popular in Lima). In the Argentine pampas, the "Polca" has a very fast beat with a 3/4 time signature. The instruments used are: acoustic guitar (usually six strings, but sometimes seven strings), electric or acoustic bass (sometimes without frets), accordion (sometimes piano accordion, sometimes button accordion), and sometimes a drum set is used.

The lyrics always praise the gaucho warriors of the past or tell about the life of the gaucho campeiros (provincial gauchos who maintain the usual path). The polka was very popular in the south and southwest of Brazil, where it was mixed with other European and African styles to create the choro.

Polka in Ireland

The polka (Polca in Irish) is also one of the most popular traditional folk dances in Ireland, particularly in Sliabh Luachra, a district that straddles the borders of Counties Kerry, Cork and Limerick. Many of the figures in Irish set dances, which developed from the continental quadrilles, are danced to polkas.

Introduced to Ireland in the late 19th century, there are now hundreds of Irish polka tunes, most commonly played on the fiddle or button accordion. Irish polka is a dance music form in 2/4 time, typically 32 bars long, divided into four parts, each 8 bars long, and played AABB. Irish polkas are typically played fast, at over 130 bpm, and are typically played with an unconventional accent.

The polka in the classical repertoire

Bedřich Smetana included the polka in his opera The Bartered Bride (Czech: Prodaná nevěsta) and especially in Act 1.

While the polka has Bohemian origins , most dance music composers composed polkas in Vienna (the capital of the vast Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary, which was the cultural center for music from across the empire) and incorporated the dance into their repertoire at some point in their careers.

The Strauss family in Vienna, for example, although better known for their waltzes, also composed polkas that have survived to this day. Josef Lanner and other Viennese composers of the 19th century also wrote polkas to meet the demands of Viennese dance music enthusiasts. In France, another dance music composer, Emile Waldteufel, wrote polkas as well as waltzes.

The development of the polka

The polka developed into different styles and tempos during the same period. In principle, the 19th century polka has a four-theme structure; Topic 1A and 1B as well as a "trio" section of two other topics. The "trio" usually has an "intrada" to form a break between the two sections.

The feminine and graceful "French polka" (polka française) is slower in tempo and more measured in its cheerfulness. The Annen Polka by Johann Strauss II op. 114, the Demolirer Polka op. 269, the Im Krapfenwald'l op. 336 and the Polka Please! op. 372 are examples of this type of polka. The polka-mazurka is also another variation of the polka, which is at the tempo of a mazurka but is danced similarly to the polka.

The final category of polka form around this time is the polka fast, which is a (who would have thought) fast polka or gallop. Eduard Strauss is better known for this last category, having written the polka "Bahn Frei" op. 45 and other examples. Previously, Johann Strauss I and Josef Lanner wrote polkas called gallop or regular polka, which may not fall into any of the above categories.

The polka was another source of inspiration for the Strauss family in Vienna, when Johann II and Josef Strauss wrote a polka only for plucked instruments (pizzicato), the "Pizzicato-Polka". Johann II later wrote a "New Pizzicato Polka", op. 449, which was created from the music of his operetta Princess Ninetta. Much earlier he also wrote a "joking polka" entitled "Champagne Polka", opus 211, which is reminiscent of the uncorking of champagne bottles.