History of Polka, a popular social and wedding dance

History of Polka, a popular social and wedding dance

Historic ballroom Dance downtown Littleton scavenger hunt

Historic ballroom Dance downtown Littleton scavenger hunt

Polka is a popular dance even today. The polka was so popular that the 1950’s “Polka Dot” was named after it. From dancing polkas at weddings to Oktoberfest, the polka is a popular dance at celebrations.


The polka originated in Bohemia during the Victorian era, and became all the rage. The Czech word “pulka” means half or half-step. The “pulka” or half-step refers to the dance pattern of lightly stepping from one foot to the other.


The polka It is danced with three steps and a hop. Some surmise that the polka is a variation of the Viennese waltz adapted to dance to 2/4 music. That is why it is done with three steps and a hop. The Polka is also like a shorter version of the Galopade, which originated in Germany in 1792. Some say the polka’s roots can be dated back to 1822 when poet Celakovsky mentioned the polka as a local dance.


Most historians agree on the legendary story of the first polka. The story states that in 1834 Anna Slezáková Polka Ballroom Dancers(born Anna Chadimová), danced for fun to accompany a local folk song called “Strýček Nimra koupil šimla”, or “Uncle Nimra Bought a White Horse.” Anna was witnessed dancing by music teacher Josef Neruda, and he put the tune to paper, and taught other young men to dance it in Prague. The polka spread to Vienna by 1839, and in 1840 was introduced in Paris by Raab, a Prague dance instructor.


Dancers and dance masters were so enamored with the polka, that it was nicknamed “Polkamania.”  Dance academies recruited ballerinas to help teach the onslaught of dancers desperate to learn the polka. Many a man wanted more than just dance lessons, so prudent parents restricted dance for their daughters to approved partners.

By the late 1840’s Polka puddle-jumped to England and America, where it remained popular until the early 1900’s, where it was replaced by ragtime dances. Polka dancing enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after World War II, when many Polish refugees moved to the US. States like Chicago, Ohio, Milwaukee, & Polka DancersWisconsin ( where Polka is the official State Dance) still polka dance.

There are 4 main styles of polka in America today. They include Slavic polkas (Polish, Slovenian), Germanic polkas (German, Czech- Bohemian), and southwestern polkas (Mexican and Papago-Pima), and I would include the country western tripple or texas three step.


Polka is danced to 2/4-time music. It is structured around four verses and a chorus. German polka bands can be made up of brass ensembles. Polish polka bands include the accordion and the concertina. There are even some contemporary polka bands, like Texas Polka and punk polka that further blend other instruments and genres with classic polkas. Popular polka tunes include the Beer Barrel Polka, Champagne Polka, and the Bohemian Polka.

Polka is still popular internationally today. So, grab a partner and polka at your next Oktoberfest. And remember to dance with happy feet!

Holly Collins
WEDDING DANCE instruction
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