By Michael Cervin
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January is National Polka Month…betcha didn’t know that.
So what is Polka? Is it a dance? Is it music? Is it sausage? Well, it’s both a type of dance and music (sorry, no meat products) and it originated among peasants of eastern Bohemia (now the Czech Republic, but Bohemia sounds better) and spread into Prague in the 1830s.
It reached Paris (doesn’t everything?) then swept through Europe and the Americas. Typically polka couples circle the ballroom at fast speeds, using a simple step, close, step, and hop technique. The music is in 2/4 time and it’s a very social dance, wildly upbeat and not for heavy-footed people like me. The word polka simply means “Polish woman.”
With very little hoopla and almost no moshing, the far-too-happy polka bands keep the seemingly endlessly energetic all-ages crowd circulating around the dance floor at this event. You’ll hear bands with differing styles like the push, honky, nostalgic, fast and slow waltzes, traditional and modern.
Each band plays about a 40-minute set and with bands sharing two stages and the music and dance never stops, in fact it usually lasts over 10 hours. The large ballroom gets polka-packed, and the event feels more like my big fat Polka wedding than an actual concert. This year’s line-up will include Eddie Korosa Jr. & His Boys From Illinois, Freeze Dried, and Bill Gula & Chicago Image, among others.
In between dances you can check out the bar and kitchen which sells Polish food to keep you giddy and on your feet most of the day and into the night. And if you get tired of dancing you can browse the International Polka Association souvenir table, which features jewelry, T-shirts, CDs…you know, all things Polka!
There is the Polka Music Hall of Fame and Museum which serves as a historical and educational medium for polka music. The Hall of Fame and Museum provide a means for people to learn about the origins and development of polka music in all its styles and forms. So get your dancing shoes on and prep for a pretty powerful polka.
Festival of Polka Bands
Sunday, January 20th
10225 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago Ridge, IL
11:30 a.m. to whenever the last Polka plays
Since you’ve danced your shoes off, maybe it’s time to visit the funny guys at Second City to get a load off, and you’ve gotta get to Wrigley Field. I love the Shedd Aquarium, and the Architectural Foundation offers river cruises with views to the architectural skyline of Chicago.