Country and Western > Counting a Polka?

Discussion in 'Country and Western' started by Ron AKA, Jun 6, 2011.

  1. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    I'm having a real hard time learning the polka. Here is what I think I know about it:

    - The music has a fast tempo of about 190 beats per minute
    - Time is said to be either 2/4 or 4/4
    - The basic is a series of alternating triple steps forward in the line of dance


    Here is where I'm really confused. I've seen the step count as a simple 1-2-3-2-2-3... But also I've seen it as 1&2, pause, 3&4. Neither would follow a 2/4 or 4/4 time, with the triple steps taking two beats and the pause one beats.

    Can you help me with the real count? This is just not adding up for me.
  2. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Neither is correct, though both are danced; both as the main step, and as alternative steps within the dance. It is not difficult to find internet examples of hwo to do it. It should be 1+2+ 3+4+. 1+2 would equal the triple, and the subsequent +(and) is not a hop as some believe, but a residual skipping action, if you will. It is this that distinguishes a real polka from a simple triple step as described in your op.

    ...and, welcome to the DF.
  3. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    Thanks for the response.

    How do you relate that to beats of music? 1+2 is two beats? And is the + another beat? How many beats before you start to repeat? 6?

    I've done an extensive internet search looking for polka instructions. The one that looks the most like the one I've seen danced at old time dances can be found with a Google search for "ehow history of polka dance". (I can't post links). It gives you the first video of a series.
  4. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Basic 2/4, 4/4, or 6/8 time. 1 and 2 and, 2 and 2 and, etc. respectively. Again, what you have seen danced seems to be a popular variation but not the 'true' old-country polka. No matter, though, as I said it is accepted in all situations, so... no worries.
  5. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "It is confusing to many people when they see the two-step being performed as a Polka instead of the International Polka step"
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I have notes from a 1985 "Social Dance" book that uses a count of

    1 R & L ft is unweighted, hop on R ft (cue - "hop")
    2 L q
    3 R q
    4 L q

    "Most polka music is written in 2/4 or cut-time. It can be performed either fast or medium fast and its timing is cued "and quick 'n quick" or "and 1 'n' 2". The accent should be on the "and"."
  7. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    OK, thanks. I think I'm starting to narrow it down. I found one site which seems to have some consistency with what you are saying. Some excerpts:

    Count (Measure)

    A. Stand with weight on R foot, dance forward with
    1 - Give preliminary hop* on R foot and step forward on L foot
    2 - Close the R foot to the L, taking weight on R foot
    3 - Step again on L foot
    4 - Hold, keeping weight on L foot (1 measure)

    B.Repeat all to the other side with
    1 - Give preliminary hop* on L foot and step forward on R foot
    2 - Close the L foot to R, taking weight on L foot
    3 - Step again on R foot
    4 - Hold, keeping weight on R foot (2 measures)

    Repeat A and B

    * The hop is a little preliminary hop, like a grace note in music. The first step is preceded by this hop. It is a question whether to call it an echo of the fourth beat or the promise of the first beat. Many people reduce the hop to a slight and quick rise and fall of the weighted foot before starting the first step. Some omit it altogether.

    This reference site comes up first on a Google search of "How to dance the Polka".

    Does this make sense?
  8. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member


    Somwhere I've got music for polka, and I believe that they show that "grace note" sometimes.

    It's weird to me, but there are 3 quarter notes per measure, in the and the "hop" is before the first note in the bar.

    Like most things in music, I think it's easier to hear that "polka beat" than it is to understand the written music. (and, you can do "polka" to fast 2 step music, too, if you wish)
  9. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Hi Ron, only memorise 2/4, that´s what it´s ought to be.

    The & is an off-beat, an eighths between 1 and 2. And since you´ve reached the 2 you start repeating, because it´s a 2/4 signature.

    You mean this one, do you?

    Ron, honestly, forget about these teachers: Polka isn´t czech (though there is still the epicentre besides the US midwest) and it doesn´t mean half step, as well. The dance that is shown in their vids may be anything else, but definitely it´s not Polka.

    Just look how the couple in the background of the following vid are dancing from 1:10 on (you do not need the german and czech informations) and try to improvise the rest

    To find suitable music for polka only type chemnitzer. Like the bandoneón is the typical instrument for argentine tango, so the chemnitzer is THE instrument for polka music. Inside chemnitzer (it´s the name of a town in east Germany) and bandoneón look the same, but the button lay out is different.

  10. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    Opendoor, thanks for the detailed comments and links. That is certainly another slant on it. It would seem to be just a left then right chasse, with lots of turns. Also a bit more arm movement than I've seen here. I've a feeling that there are regional twists to the polka. I'm from Western Canada with the population here a real melting pot of UK and European heritage. If I had to attribute the polka popularity to a specific heritage here it would likely be the primarily the Ukrainian and Polish, but I'm sure it is a real mix.

    At an old time dance the polka is sure to be played. Typical polka music is listed below. Also frequently danced besides the waltz are the Butterfly and Schottische.

    I use a Jimmy Sturr CD for practice. He has kind of a big band version of the old time polka band. You can hear a sample of his music if you Google "Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra - 8 min. Promo". Frankie Yankovic is also popular and probably more typical of an old time band of the type you would find in Western Canada. Google "Frankie Yankovic - Who Stole The Keeshka?"

    Music I use to try and practice...

    Beer Barrel Polka, Tavern in the Town, Papa Won't You Dance with Me, Pennsylvania Polka, Tic Toc, Champagne Polka, Yellow Rose of Texas, Lichensteiner Polka, Hoop De Doo, Charlie Was a Boxer, San Antonio Rose, Metropole, Just Because, Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, She's Too Fat for Me, Julida, Helena Polka, & Who Stole the Keeshka.
  11. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Note, that is just the basic step.

    I don´t know if there is anything like an international standardized polka posture and so on, and actually if, it would deeply contradict my concept of this dance. If you know the basic steps, if you know how to lead, if you are able to hear the music and to improvise, if you can enjoy country and folclore meetings, than regional differenced don´t play any role at all.
  12. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    That's how I feel about Two Step and, to some extent, Argentine Tango.
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Looked at the two vids, and, yeah, the ehow one looks like.... We have someone, who shall remain anonymous, that comes to the CW place and dances like that. I guess he and his partner think they are doing polka. It's almost how I feel about "ballroom country western two step".
    The one opendoor posted is what I learned as polka.
    We don't see much polka here in Portland as part of the CW scene. Too bad.
  14. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    The posts have motivated me to do more searching trying to find a definitive answer. I found an eight page PDF document on Polka Basics that seems to be quite detailed. It originates from the 2 Step 2 dance studio in Texas.

    Their claim is that the original traditional polka is German, and the more modern C&W version has been influenced by the ballroom quickstep. The C&W version is the straight ahead alternating triple steps, while the original German version is more bouncy with side to side chasse's. You can find this document with a Google search for "2 step 2 polka basics".

    So there is the original German version that opendoor was good enough to post a video of. There is the forward triple no bounce two step version, which may be the modern CW style. The eHow video is probably a mix between the two, using the straight ahead (and promenade) but with a bounce and kick from the old style.

    The document has a detailed timing/count clock. My interpretation is that the triple step and pause is all covered by two beats, with that corresponding to a full measure of 2/4 or half measure of 4/4.

    This in turn motivated me to try and find some YouTube video of actual Polka events, from family events, to Polka Festivals and Polka competition. What I saw was a real mix of the two styles. Some couples even seemed to switch between the two styles during one dance. One elderly man was interviewed, who said he had been dancing the polka for over 60 years, and that he had changed from the old style to the newer style. My suspicion is that the attraction of the new style is the reduction in physical effort. The skipping/bounce step takes a lot of energy.

    So, where I'm at now is that I think the step timing is the same, but the style of the two+ types is quite different.
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Collect 'em both!

    I hope I have time to look at the doc you mention (there's lots of good stuff at the site you mention), and compare it to other sources back through Lloyd Shaw 1938.
    Gosh, what a hobby. And I can't stop with West Coast Swing!

    There's a dvd out there titled "In Heaven There Is No Beer", and it is totally about polka in the US. The folks there are doing the version I grew up with. There was even a scene from a Polish Club in my home town!
  16. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Let´s keep the things apart!

    What turned out is, that there are two different dances that claim to be Polka. Really interesting was, if it was due to a lack of knowlege, ignorance, or absence of musicality, or if there is an independent long-term tradition of it´s own in the US and Canada that labels this 2step-related swing derivative in 4/4-signature as Polka as well.

    You mean this one, do you? Basic.pdf

    This vid shows original european polka (Ennis, Texas)

    Here only one couple dances original polka. But the music actually is of first choice.

    Only a few couple really dance polka. But I like that the boy at 0:05 plays a Chemnitzer.

    Here an example that a Chemnitzer alone does not make a Polka (no 2/4 signature)

    But in the end only fun counts

    This is the one I really like best..
  17. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    Will the Real Polka Please Stand Up!

    Thanks again for the links. I had found some of the same ones. Here is what I have narrowed down the types to. Names are ones I made up! Copy the line below the name, and paste in Google to find. Should be first hit.

    1. European Old Style Polka (on Red Bull)

    You Tube - UConn 2009 Fun Dance Polka - Finals

    2. Cowboy Style Polka

    You Tube - Polka at Worlds Competition in Orlando

    3. Mixed Style Social Polka (The same one as opendoor posted). I see both styles in this one, with some alternating styles as they go down the line.

    You Tube - 2008 Polka Festival Contest

    4. Russian? Polka - Easily the most professional and very exciting to watch. However, way out of my league and doesn't seem suitable for the typical grandma and grandpa!

    You Tube - Chislov production (polka)

    So what is the "Real Thing"?
  18. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    You Tube - Polka at Worlds Competition in Orlando

    Oh, Man! I used to do "One Step" to that song! (actually it was milonga, but the women bought the One Step thing!)

    And, I have to add, what you are seeing there is competition/ballroom country western polka. What "cowboy" do you know that goes around pointing his arms/hands/fingers out like that?

    Comparing this to what I'm reading about in the books from 1938, and the late 70s and 80s makes it really apparent that the competition people turned things into ballroom style.

    At one time there were many styles of most dances. You might think of the regional styles of swing that are still around as examples of that. Most of the books tha tI'm looking at made a point of the fact that styles varied even from club to club.
    Why would polka be any different?

    "Real Thing" when and where and who?
  19. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Hi Ron, exactly, this is what I was questioning: Is there an independent tradition?
    So if two hundred years ago an illiterate immigrant from East Germany, Czechia, or Poland did not knew better and called every dancing simply Polka, how should his children do?
  20. Ron AKA

    Ron AKA New Member

    So still not sure what the "real thing" is but you sure see a lot of variations. After looking at many, I think I've settled on a style to start with. I was impressed with how smooth most of these couples were, while still keeping a polka look to it. Perhaps they all went to the same dance instructor, but with the possible exception of couple #4, very similar.

    Google the following to see the you tube video.

    you tube - Polka Contest finals at Wurstfest 2009

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