The Evolution of the Polka Dance

No one can resist the lively and energetic dance steps and music of the polka dance. The evolution of the polka dance originated in Czechoslovakia and was first a peasant dance. The dance, with its characteristic 2/4 time, originated in Bohemia. The origins and spread of this dance cannot be proven, but they do have an interesting legend surrounding them.

The story associated with the evolution of the polka dance is that a Bohemian peasant girl named Anna Slezak, who lived in Labska Tynice, simply invented the dance and music one Sunday afternoon for her own amusement. This occurred in the year 1834. Supposedly, she composed the dance to a folksong called Strycek Nimra Koupil Simla, or translated, Uncle Nimra Bought a White Horse. Anna originally called the step Madera, because of its quick and lively manner.

The little peasant girl’s dance quickly caught on and was soon being performed in the ballrooms of Prague by 1835. The name polka, or pulka in Czech, means half-step referring to the dancers need to quickly shift from 1 foot to the other. In 1840, a popular dance teacher in Prague danced the polka at the Odeon Theater in Paris. The dance was a quick success, and French dance teachers began teaching it in their own salons and ballrooms. However, the French teachers refined it to their own tastes. The dance was so much fun that French teachers noted that even those who did not like to dance previously quickly and eagerly learned the polka.

Why Did It Become So Popular?

The dance became so popular that dance academies were overburdened with students and desperately hired ballet girls from the Paris Opera as dancing partners for their students. However, this attracted men to the dance academies for something more than the quickstep polka. Unfortunately, the manners and morale in the dance companies declined and many families begin to forbid their daughters from dancing with anyone except family members.

It took until the middle of the 19th century for the dance to be introduced into England. However, the dance was not as popular in England as it was in other parts of Europe. It had also reached the United States by this time. In his book, Philadelphia Assemblies, Thomas Balch noted that a new polka had been composed for the 1849 Assembly.

The Waltz And The Polka

The waltz and the polka competed for top popularity and were quickly replacing the contradance and cotillion. Several other dance forms sprang from the polka that also relied on the quick and lively step. The popularity also led to the spread of older dances from continental Europe. The galop, or galoppade, was introduced into England and France in 1829 and used the same dance position as the waltz and polka. The music was simply a fast polka. The galop was often the last dance of the evening.

While the waltz, Galop, and other dances of the 19th century faded from history, the polka still survives. During the time of Ragtime and jazz polka music seemed to decline. However, after World War II, Polish immigrants to the United States adopted the polka as their national dance. This began a new age of polka. The dance craze was popularized by several postwar bands and Lawrence Welk. The popular TV show had many Americans dancing the polka righted their very own living rooms as a part of family fun and entertainment.


One of the reasons why polka has been able to withstand the test of time is that the music is happy. Some polka steps are more difficult, while others are more suitable for beginner dancers. Everyone can learn to do the polka quickly and easily. Polka still continues to be a part of weddings and other social dance settings. The Beer Barrel Polka is one that almost everyone has heard at some point in their life. The famous conductor, Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra are famous for continuing to carry on the tradition of the polka. The crowd cannot help but to tap their feet when he strikes up one of the lively polkas that are so famous. Polka music is happy music, and that is why it is still popular almost 180 years after its invention.