Step-Various Forms and Changes
The polka came from. Bohemia. It is a complete and absolute contrast to the valse, Boston, or two-step in every respect. In Bohemia, the pulka was not actually the polka as we know it, but the whole idea and form of the dance, as afterwards performed
Figure 1. First step. The pupil takes a long step forward with her right foot and the teacher with her left all over the Continent, emanated from the light, hopping step so popular among Bohemian peasantry.
The polka first appeared in Vienna, and afterwards with brilliant success in Baden. It was introduced into Paris in 1844 by Cellarius, a famous dancing master. Having established his innovation securely in the French capital, Cellarius crossed the Channel in the same year, and taught London the new dance. The polka owed some of its early popularity to the gold spurs which were considered indispensable to a brilliant male polkaist, a quaint fashion now quite forgotten.
A Revolutionary Dance
The introduction of the polka, in 1844, in Paris and London brought about an extraordinary revolution in dancing. At that time the novelty of the valse was wearing off. A more auspicious moment, therefore, for the arrival of the new dance could not well have been chosen. The polka, by reason of its complete difference to the valse, created a veritable mania among the lower and middle classes, and provided a terpsichorean epidemic which nobody escaped.
Society resisted the onslaughts of the
Bohemian dance for a time; but its fame was so widespread, and its popularity so immense, that at last a certain duchess opened the doors of her reception-rooms to it. Thereafter, the polka reigned supreme in the highest places of the earth.
In the French capital, soon after the debut of the polka, dancers were split into two rival factions. Cellarius had a desperate opponent in Laborde, another dancing master, and each asserted - backed by pupils and followers-that his, and his alone, was the genuine pulka or polka. A comparison of their different methods, given by Delvan, is very interesting, judged in conjunction with the polka as we know it to-day (1911). Says Delvan: "The Labor-dian turns his foot inwards, this procedure giving a markedly foreign stamp to the step. He raises his heel very slightly behind him, and rests more on the point of his foot. The Cellarian twirls round, and stamps furiously with alarming vigour. He lifts his heels as if he intended to put them into the pockets of his coat-a delightful simile. All this would be well enough if the polka were simply a stage dance. Then, the more choregraphic problems, and Cyclopean strides introduced, the better. But as the polka is destined to be danced in ballrooms, I cannot see why, instead of retaining its natural simplicity and original grace, we should rack our brains to transform it into a kind of
Figure 2. Second step. The pupil draws her left foot forward, behind her right, and the teacher her right foot forward behind her left
Figure 3. Third step. The pupil takes another step forward with her right foot, and the teacher with her left. This is a shorter step than the first convulsion-not less dangerous to the joints of the performers than to the sensitive parts of the onlookers." It is strange that these trenchant sentences, written nearly seventy years ago, could be applied word for word to the freak dances of the moment.
Though the polka only reached England in the forties, it must have existed from very early times in the form of the typical Bohemian peasants' dance measure. This fact, though no definite dates can be given, makes the polka one of the oldest of ball-room dances. When Cellarius hurried to London, in 1844, to be the first in the field, the "Times" reported the occasion thus: "The first drawing-room polka was danced at Almack's, and subsequently at the balls of the nobility and gentry all over the country." At the same time "Punch" made much capital out of its absurdities, and for over a year its extraordinary popularity continued unabated.
The vogue of the polka as a ballroom dance for "grown-ups" was maintained for many years; indeed, it is only during the last ten or fifteen years that it has dropped out of dance programmes. At the moment (1911) we have almost forgotten that the polka was once a ballroom craze as great as, or greater than the American Boston is now. The polka, for the time being, is an unknown quantity to older dancers, and is only danced by children at classes and parties. Today, for every ten valse tunes composed, there is only one polka; but when the polka first sent dancers mad, the reverse was the case. As this Bohemian dance js still taught to children, the polka may yet see a big revival.
When a child first learns to dance, there are two ballroom dances that she may be taught at once. One is the galop, the other is the polka. A child of four can be taught this dance with ease. Not only is it easily impressed upon a childish intelligence, but it possesses some extraordinary swing of its own, which carries the baby learner along irresistibly. Once the polka is mastered in the sideways or baby form, it is never forgotten, and the more advanced or straight method is quickly understood. No sight is more charming than a roomful of children dancing a polka. The universal uplifting of their feet and the tripping, dainty steps, danced forward or round, present a delightful picture.
Some parents think it is foolish to teach young children to dance before they are eight or ten years old. With their minds fixed on the supposed difficulties of the valse-which to a baby-learner would be real difficulties -they do not think they had better let the toddlers learn. They make a great mistake. If babies are carefully taught such steps as the polka, when the time comes to struggle with the valse, their tuition is much easier.
To teach the child the polka, the teacher should hold both her hands firmly, the child facing her. Using the opposite foot to the pupil, the teacher makes her extend her right foot sideways, a rather long step, counting "one." Next the child draws her left foot along to touch the right, counting "two." Next another sideways step with the right foot, counting "three," followed by the raising of the left foot with a hop, counting "four," or saying " hop," which often helps a child. That is the polka step with one foot. Having thus travelled sideways to the right, the left foot (which is then raised) takes a sideways step, and the whole thing is repeated, travelling to the left. By this means the actual polka step is learned without
Figure 4. Fourth step. The pupil lifts her left foot forward, and the teacher her right. A slight spring should be given when these steps are taken by children
Figure 5. The turning step when going straight as in step 4. The pupil's left and the teacher's right feet are raised, thus completing half the circle worrying the child to move round a room or turn. The progession is simply backwards and forwards, and the child should count "one, two, three, hop." After saying "hop," she soon learns that she uses the reverse foot, and moves the other way. Two small children are soon able to dance the step together in this way, and it is known as the "Baby Polka." It is also an excellent method of making children turn. When they get thoroughly into the step, going sideways, the teacher can stand behind one of them, and with her hands on one child's shoulders, steer them both slowly round in a circle. They unconsciously continue this step, and in time can turn properly, taking only two complete polka steps to make a circle.
The polka comprises four beats and three steps, the fourth beat consisting of a slight lift on alternate feet. For children this becomes a distinct spring; for grown-ups it only means rising on the toe of the stationary foot. Polka music is written in common time (four beats in a bar), or in two-four time, in which case two bars are needed to complete the step.
The following is the correct polka step for an older child, the teacher holding the pupil's left hand and guiding her round the room:
Step 1 (Fig. 1). The child takes a long step forward with her right foot, and the teacher with her left.
Step 2 (Fig. 2). The child draws her left foot forward behind her right, and the teacher her right foot forward behind her left.
Step 3 (Fig. 3). The child takes another step forward with her right foot, and the teacher with her left. These steps are shorter than the first.
Step 4 (Fig 4). The child lifts her left foot forward and the teacher her right. These steps, for children, are taken with a slight spring, and complete the polka step with one foot only. The whole thing is then repeated, the child starting with her left and the teacher with her right foot. Turning is quite simple; it takes two repetitions of the polka step (one with each foot) to complete a circle.
Fig. 5 illustrates the position when turning, as in Step 4, when going straight. The child's left and teacher's right feet are raised, and they have completed half the circle.
Fig. 6 shows the end of the circle, the child's right and teacher's left foot being raised, and the dancers in their original position.
"Backing" is a repetition of the "forward " step, as illustrated, only the dancers stand face to face, one or the other doing the step backwards. It is more usual for the teacher to back the child, for the step is harder to dance backwards. In the polka the first step is the most important.
There are several variations of the polka-notably, the Berlin Polka. This consists of the step danced forward once, with a sharp turn on the fourth step; it is then repeated, the dancers facing the way they came, and is followed by two complete circles. The Skating polka is danced forward with crossed hands and long swinging steps, followed by the original step, turning. To be continued.
Figure 6. The completion of the circle, the pupil's right foot and the teacher's left being raised, and the dancers in their original position