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Polka Artist

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Polka may not be mainstream, but it's losing its long-standing reputation for being square. Around the world, spectators, musicians and dancers are tapping away to snappy tunes and lively dances. They're called polka artists and they're keeping the tradition alive.

Many people wrongly associate polka with large men playing tubas or with a silly song they once heard at a wedding. This, however, is stereotyped polka. Most polka artists agree that, musically, stereotyped polka is pretty bad.

Good polka is a little harder to find. To get off on the right foot, you have to get in with the right crowd and the genuine artists. Once you're in the polka circuit, spending time with talented musicians, you'll become more knowledgeable and may even learn the history of polka culture.

The polka has been around for hundreds of years. Listen to the upbeat, bouncy music for a few minutes or watch an accomplished artist play a tune on an accordion and you'll soon understand why.

Fans of polka say it's some of the happiest music you'll ever hear. They even say it's changed their lives.

Rose Marie Tynski is the founder of the Seniors Polka Association. She is one of polka's biggest fans. Quite simply, says Tynski, "polka music is happiness."

Polka musicians even have their own category at the Grammy Awards, though it's not shown on television. Polka in Paradise, by Jimmy Sturr, was named best polka album at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

But polka isn't just about music. Many people are drawn into the social element of this music scene, which is heavy on the dancing, and spiced up with a variety of hearty ethnic foods. Once a distinctive ethnic musical form, polka music now shows up at festivals, on the radio, at weddings and parties and even on cruises.

Polka musicians usually specialize in one instrument. The most famous is the accordion, which is a one-person polka party when it's in the right hands. Clarinets, tubas and even the piano also figure prominently.

There are two distinct kinds of polka. One, called Slovenian or Cleveland style, features uptempo songs played by smaller bands, usually featuring an accordion player. The other form, called Polish, Chicago or Eastern style, features more brass instruments and a louder, more dance hall sound.

Polka continues to change and evolve. Some bands currently record on small, local labels. But scores more play weddings and less formal occasions -- one of the hallmarks of polka is that it can be played anywhere.

While some polka artists do earn a living through performing and recording, most are hobbyists or moonlighters with other full-time work. Dancers may earn a small income by teaching, but the market is too limited to make a living teaching polka alone.

Polka musicians can play hundreds of shows a year and still have to hold down day jobs. It's tough to make a career out of polka -- but it's definitely not unheard of!

Getting Started

You must first decide if you want to learn the music or the dance -- they go hand in hand, but only polka geniuses can perfect both at once.

Most polka musicians have some formal musical training, usually in the form of private lessons in an instrument. But learning usually happens on the job -- so to speak.

Polka artist Walter Ostanek grew up idolizing Frankie Yankovic, America's polka king. According to Ostanek, the experience of following Yankovic's footsteps was invaluable.

Get familiar with the music. Most record stores have polka sections, with a good blend of the old standards and newer music.

Then you'll have to narrow down your instrument of choice. Accordions are a popular polka instrument. But they can be difficult to learn and they require a certain amount of strength to play. Clarinets, saxophones and other instruments are options. Either way, count on lessons costing around $30 an hour.

Most ballroom dance instructors have some grasp of the polka. Look into lessons through a local recreation center or a private dance school.

The best dancers often learn their moves from others on the dance floor. So, find out where the local events are, grab a partner and polka! You'll step on some feet and pull a few muscles, but jumping right into it is probably the fastest way to learn.

Before you fly off to your first polka party, concerned relatives should know one thing: polka people are notoriously friendly and peaceful.

"You'll never find a fight at a polka dance," says Tynski, "so that must tell you something!"


United States Polka Association
7590 Pleasantview Dr.
Parma , OH   44134

International Polka Association
4145 South Archer Ave.
Chicago , IL   60632


Jimmy Sturr's Official Website
Best Polka Album winner at the 2007 Grammy Awards

The Polkaholics Links
Great collection of their work, plus interviews and more

Polka Connection
Check out polka music around the world

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