Another week and another Rhythm Through Diversity, a fun musical trivia section on Metronome Online, where we explore music and dance through the development of cultural and social etiquette, history, and background of people in diverse communities. The cultures around the world showcase many different musical forms and this week we will explore polka, originally a Czech dance, present in cultures world-wide.
The word ‘pulka’, which means ‘half’ is supposedly the origin of the term, describing the short half-steps featured in the dance. After 1835 the dance spread from the ballrooms of Prague, to Vienna, Paris and the Americas in a wave called the ‘polkamania’. Polka’s presence to this day has been supported by many famous folk artists, and developed different styles as per regions found.
After 1835 the dance spread from the ballrooms of Prague, to Vienna, Paris and the Americas in a wave called the ‘polkamania’.
From Polish-style polka (Chicago Honky and Chicago Push), the North American Slovenian-style polka, the Dutchmen-style to San Francisco style, we see differences in instrumentation and tempo. The instruments most commonly used are the clarinet, trumpet, accordion, tuba and even a banjo. But that’s not it–the polka has left its mark in the countries of all the Americas. The Curacaoan, Peruvian polkas and ‘polca’ of Argentina have all left a great mark on the local culture. In Brazil the polka was quintessential in the creation of both samba and choro, where the local musicians were mixing African rhythms with the European cultural heritage. In the early 20th century samba was, for example, synonymous with maxixe, which represented the last Brazilian stage of European polka, before going fully urban.
One of the most popular performers of polka was Frankie Yankovic, the first ever Grammy winner for the category of polka in 1985. He was one of the pioneers of the Slovenian-style polka, which featured the accordion and a fast upbeat tempo. Let’s have a listen of his Too Fat Polka.