AskDefine | Define polka

Dictionary Definition



1 music performed for dancing the polka
2 a Bohemian dance with 3 steps and a hop in fast time

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /pɒlkæ/, /pɒlkə/ a UK


  1. A lively dance originating in Bohemia.
  2. The music for this dance


  1. To dance the polka.

Extensive Definition

The polka is a fast, lively Central European dance, and also a genre of dance music, familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia, and is still a common genre in Czech and Slovakian folk music. Polka is still a very common folkmusic genre in Poland. In light classical music, many polkas were composed by both Johann Strauss I and his son Johann Strauss II; a couple of well-known ones were composed by Bedřich Smetana, and Jaromír Vejvoda was the author of "Škoda lásky" ("Roll Out the Barrel").
The name comes from the Czech word půlka – literally, "little half" – a reference to the short half-steps featuring in the dance; however the word's familiar form has been influenced by the similarity to the Czech word polka, meaning "Polish woman". The name has led to the dance's origin being sometimes mistakenly attributed to Poland. It should also not be confused with the polska, a Swedish dance with Polish roots; cf. polka-mazurka. A related dance is the redowa. Polkas have a time signature.


There are various styles of contemporary polka. Of the US types, the North American "Polish-style polka" has roots in Chicago; two styles can be classified, as 'Chicago honky', using clarinet and one trumpet, and 'Chicago push' featuring accordion, Chemnitzer concertina, bass, drums, and (almost always) two trumpets. North American "Slovenian-style polka" is fast and features piano accordion, chromatic accordion, and/or diatonic button accordion, and is associated with Cleveland. North American "Dutchman-style" features an oom-pah sound, often with a tuba, and has roots in the American Midwest. "Conjunto-style" polcas have roots in Northern Mexico and Texas, and is also called "Norteño". Traditional dances from this region reflect the influence of polka-dancing European immigrants. In the 1980s and 1990s several bands began to combine polka with various rock styles, sometimes referred to as "punk polka", "alternative polka" or "San Francisco-style". "Duranguense" polka from Durango is another Mexican type of music. This uses electric guitars, violins, drums, saxophones, trombones, keyboards, trumpets and a tuba-keyboard or a bass guitar, it is in a rapid beat. Artists like Grupo Montez De Durango, Alacranes Musical, Horoscopos De Durango, Conjunto Atardecer, K-paz De La Sierra. Irish traditional music has also adopted the polka into its repertory, and there it has come into its own distinct flavor.
There also exist Peruvian polcas. In the pampas of Argentina, the "polca" has a very very fast beat, with a 3/4 compass. Instruments used: acoustic guitar (usually six strings, but sometimes seven strings), electric or acoustic bass (sometimes fretless), accordion (sometimes piano accordion, sometimes button accordion), and sometimes some percussion is used. The lyrics always praise the gaucho warriors from the past or tell about the life of the gaucho campeiros (provincial gauchos who keep the common way).

The polka in the classical repertoire

Bedřich Smetana incorporated the polka in his opera The Bartered Bride () and in particular, Act 1.
While the polka is Bohemian in origin, most dance music composers in Vienna (the capital of the vast Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was the cultural centre for music from all over the empire) composed polkas and included the dance in their repertoire at some point of their career. The Strauss family in Vienna for example, while probably better-known for their waltzes also composed polkas which have survived obscurity. Josef Lanner and other Viennese composers in the 19th century also wrote many polkas to satiate the demands of the dance music-loving Viennese. In France, another dance-music composer Emile Waldteufel also wrote many polkas in addition to his chief profession of penning waltzes.
The polka evolved during the same period into different styles and tempi. In principle, the polka written in the 19th century has a 4-theme structure; themes 1A and 1B as well as a 'Trio' section of a further 2 themes. The 'Trio' usually has an 'Intrada' to form a break between the two sections. The feminine and graceful 'French polka' (polka française) is slower in tempo and is more measured in its gaiety. Johann Strauss II's Annen Polka op. 114, Demolirer polka op. 269, the Im Krapfenwald'l op. 336 and the Bitte schön! polka op. 372 are examples of this type of polka. The polka-mazurka is also another variation of the polka, being in the tempo of a mazurka but danced in a similar manner as the polka. The final category of the polka dating around that time would be the 'polka schnell' which is a fast polka or galop. It is in this final category Eduard Strauss is better known, as he penned the 'Bahn Frei' polka op. 45 and other examples. Earlier, Johann Strauss I and Josef Lanner wrote polkas which are either designated as a galop (quick tempo) or as a regular polka which may not fall into any of the categories described above.
The polka was also a further source of inspiration for the Strauss family in Vienna when it was written only for plucked string instruments (pizzicato) resulting in the well-known 'Pizzicato Polka' jointly written by Johann II and Josef Strauss. Johann II also wrote a later 'New Pizzicato Polka' (Neu Pizzicato-Polka) op. 449 culled from music of his operetta 'Fürstin Ninetta'. Much earlier, he also wrote a 'joke-polka' (German "scherz-polka") entitled 'Champagne-Polka' op. 211 which evokes the uncorking of champagne bottles.

Organizations in the United States of America

The International Polka Association based in Chicago, USA works to preserve the cultural heritage of polka music and to honor its musicians through the Polka Hall of Fame.
The United States Polka Association based in Cleveland, Ohio serves to promote polka music and honor musicians. This organization is similar to the IPA.
The newest polka organization in the USA is Polka America Corporation based out of Ringle, Wisconsin. This newest organization promotes all genres and dedicates itself to supporting all levels in the polka field.
Grammy Awards were first presented for polka in 1985. The first award went to America's Polka King, Frank Yankovic, for his "70 Years of Hits" album on Cleveland International Records, produced by Joey Miskulin and Dragutin Razum in 1986. Cleveland International Records had another Polka Grammy winner with Brave Combo's Polkasonic in 1999. Other Polka Grammy nominees on Cleveland International Records include Frank Yankovic's "America's Favorites" (1986), "Songs of the Polka King Vol. I" (Produced by Joey Miskulin and Slavko Slivovitz, 1996), "Songs of the Polka King Vol. II" (1997), and Brave Combo's "Kick Ass Polkas" (2000).
Polka Varieties was an hour-long television program of polka music originating from Cleveland, Ohio. It was the only television program for this type of music in the US. From 1956 to 1975, Polka Varieties ran solely in WEWS-TV, Cleveland, on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:00, and was syndicated during its later years to 30 television markets. The program featured various popular Polish, Slovenian, Italian, and Bohemian-style bands. America's "Polka King" Frank Yankovic was the original band to perform on the show. Other bands included Richie Vadnal, George Staiduhar, Markic-Zagger, and Hank Haller. Original host Tom Fletcher was replaced by Paul Wilcox, whose presence became an indelible part of the show.


List of polka artists, past and present

See also

polka in Catalan: Polca
polka in Czech: Polka
polka in Danish: Polka
polka in German: Polka
polka in Estonian: Polka
polka in Spanish: Polca
polka in Esperanto: Polko
polka in French: Polka
polka in Friulian: Polche
polka in Italian: Polka
polka in Dutch: Polka
polka in Japanese: ポルカ
polka in Norwegian: Polka
polka in Polish: Polka
polka in Portuguese: Polca
polka in Finnish: Polkka
polka in Swedish: Polka
polka in Ukrainian: Полька
polka in Chinese: 波尔卡
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