The History of Polka
The following history of polka is taken from the back of an album by the Six Fat Dutchmen, purchased about 1966. It tracks other histories we have seen, but provides some new information too. (By the way, its a great album.)
The polka is a dance of bohemian or polish origin, the name being derived from the Bohemian polka, which is the half-step characterization of the dance. The invention of the step is credited to Anna Slazak, a farm servant at Elbsteinitz, near Prague in about 1830. It was popularly introduced in Prague in about 1835, and in 1839 was brought to Vienna by the musical band of the Prague Sharpshooters, a military unit. There both the music and the dance met with extraordinary acceptance. In 1840 it was received with tremendous applause at the Odeon Theater in Paris and was soon the favorite dance at all the public and private balls. It spread rapidly into every other country in Europe and is now popular all over the world.
Another account begins this way.
"Polka, a lively dance in 2/4 time of Bohemian origin, characterized by three quick steps and a hop. Introduced in Paris about 1843, it became an extraordinary craze in the ballroom and on the stage, sweeping rapidly across Europe and the United States."
So says the Encyclopedia Britannica. But what do they know? Have they danced it, or merely written about it? And how did it get to Texas?
The Czech version is that the polka was first danced by a Czech girl in 1830, and originated in the Bohemian culture. It is named from the Czech word "pulka" which means "half-step." Citizens of Prague danced to polka music some five years later, and the music then spread across Europe. Czech. Polish, Slovenian and German immigrants popularized the music and dance in their homes and festivals.
The Polish version is that the Czechs popularized Polka but the dance actually came from the Poles. A Czech passing through a Polish village saw the dance being performed by a Polish girl. They called the dance "Polka" which in Polish literally translates to "Polish woman."
Regardless, the polka came to Texas with our immigrants and became a part of our culture. (O.K., so it came to the rest of the nation too, in the same way. But this is a Texas Polka web site, after all!). As a result, Texans have for decades enjoyed the music and the dance that makes you smile and feel good all over.
We also have the costumes and ethnic dances of those who have maintained their heritage, the memory-laden dance halls where weekly dances and special events have been celebrated for so many years, the procession of polka bands that have preserved and developed the music, the radio shows, and the tapes and CDs that now help us enjoy the music. Its all part of the polka mystique!
History is important because it helps us understand the present. For those who know and love polka, the message is simple.
Polka adds years to your life, and life to your years!