BOHEMIAN NATIONAL POLKA
In 1983, I was on a mission to let more people know about the Czech dance historian František Bonuš (1919-1999), by teaching his dances at my workshops.
My favorite was his Nasim Devam, which was intended to portray the early National Style of polka from Bohemia. However, František's complex and long (3:45 minutes)
choreography was intended for stage performance by his professional company, and it
was too long for the dancers in my group to remember. And it took too many hours to teach at most workshops. And back in the early 1980s,
none of us could find a clean recording of the music for Nasim Devam (we only had František's lo-fi cassette recording of a scratchy record).
I noticed that Josef Strauss' shorter (2:35) Feuerfest Polka had an equivalent sound quality, and a similar profile of crescendos, so in 1984 I modified František's choreography to fit that music,
adding polka variations from my research that weren't in František's Nasim Devam, and I repeated the first three sections to make it easier to remember. My Bohemian National Polka is
still challenging, but is a social form, danced for pleasure, as the original polka was.
The Bohemian National Polka choreography has always been intended, from the beginning, as my tribute to Professor Bonuš.
When František watched it in 1986, he told me that he loved my version. It also inspired him, in 1987, to choreograph a Bohemian Polka Quadrille to Strauss' Feuerfest Polka,
confirming that he thought that Strauss' composition was appropriate for an early Bohemian polka.
You can watch 332 YouTube videos of BNP, from the U.S., Russia, France, Italy, Brazil, Corsica, Uruguay, Portugal, China, the Philippines, Japan and Korea here:
Long polka choreographies like this indeed existed in the 19th century, usually practiced and performed at dance academies.
See the explanation on the first two pages of my Romany Polka description, with several original examples,
including Henri Cellarius' 128-bar polka choreography, which was exactly the same length as BNP.
License plate of a dancer who loves Bohemian National Polka
Music: Josef Strauss' "Feuerfest Polka" at 104 beats/min (not as fast as modern polkas).
An especially good recording is by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra on the CD "Ein Straussfest". Telarc CD-80098.
Note: One bar of music equals the time of two walking steps or one polka step.
Introduction: 4 bars. Taking hands (Lead's R, Follow's L), honor partners: 1) Step back away from partner.
2) Close feet together, stand tall and look at partner. 3) Honor partner (she plies, head still raised, as he inclines
slightly forward, flat back, bending at the waist). 4. Rise and face line-of-direction (LOD).
Position: Side-by-side, both facing LOD, Follow on the right, taking inside hands, raised to chest height. Lead's free L
hand is akimbo (on his L hip). Follow's R hand holds skirt down, or may also place free hand akimbo as shown in the
illustration. This convention of free hand placement is kept throughout.
Take 2 low, heavy Polka steps (step-close-step-hop) forward, beginning outside feet.
Walk forward 2 elegant slow steps.
Rock forward on outside foot, honoring partner; rock back on inside foot.
Repeat this 4-bar sequence a total of 4 times. On the last repeat, replace the rocking steps with two more walking steps,
Lead leading the Follow into the next position.
2. CHASSEZ IN AND OUT
Half-close into open waltz position, without taking hands, both facing into the center. Her left hand is at the nape of
Chassez into the center (slide-close-slide); chassez back out, turning a quarter clockwise so that the gent faces out of the room.
Take two turning Polka steps to revolve 3/4 of a turn, still without taking hands.
Repeat the 4 bars.
Take hands palm-to-palm (closed to waltz position) and chassez in and out as before, except turning a little more than a
quarter because the Lead needs to be in backing position for the following pivots.
Turn as a couple with four slow pivot steps (two full turns, as in a Schottische, but without the hops). Take each step
with a heavy down-up undulation.
Dudacka (doo-DAHTCH-ka) Polka step: Chassez in (slide-close-slide), look toward the outside wall and stamp outside foot to that
side, looking down toward the stamp. Chassez out rotating a quarter CW and stamp toward LOD.
Take one complete turn of a Polka (2 bars), then cast away from partner, walking around in a tight circle four steps (Lead to
the left, Follow to the right), to meet again.
3. PIVOTS AND POLKAS
Quickly take waltz position upon meeting and pivot four slow steps as before, traveling LOD.
Polka two bars (one full turn).
Repeat the four bars. End with the Lead facing LOD, placing his partner to face him.
4. REDOWACKA (ray-doe-VAHTCH-ka)
Position: Drop both hands to face partner at a close distance. Lead's (and possibly also Follow's) hands akimbo.
The Follow backs against LOD as the Lead advances LOD with the opening sequence of steps: Two polkas, two walks and two
rocking steps in place. Twist the body with the steps (not in opposition) during the polkas, and twist somewhat during the
Follow backs the Lead with the same steps. Always begin with Lead's L and Follow's R foot.
Take hands in waltz position: Repeat the 2 twisting polkas, but then pivot two full turns with 4 slow pivot steps, traveling LOD.
Repeat the 2 twisting polkas backing the Follow; pivot once around with 2 steps; then he turns the Follow under by raising his L
(her R) arm as she polkas (not pivots) under with 3 quick steps R L R (to gain her L foot free for the next section).
5. CHASSEZ AND POLKA TREMBLANTE
Push off from the held hands into: Both chassez to their left side (slide-close-slide), and chassez back to the right side,
without touching partner.
The Follow does 2 Polka Tremblante steps turning to her left, traveling LOD. (Polka Tremblante is a polka with small steps
where the body bounces down and up with each step and hop.) Meanwhile the Lead walks forward 4 short steps, clapping boldly
Repeat chassez and polka tremblante pursuit.
The Lead drops strongly to one knee (either one) and claps 15 times (8 plus another 7) as the Follow does 7 polka tremblante
steps in a large counter-clockwise circle around him. He watches her as she encircles him. The Follow only travels
3/4 of this circular path, ending on the outside of LOD, facing him. He rises to face her as he claps the last time and as
she steps two steps in place R L (to gain her R foot free for the next part).
Taking closed waltz position, polka one full turn (2 bars) and cast away with four steps, as done at the end of Part 2.
REPEAT FROM THE TOP
Take inside hands and repeat parts 1 (without the introduction), 2 and 3 only.
Final honors: 1. Release from waltz position, keeping his L (her R) hand, and step back away from partner. 2.
Close feet together, stand tall and look at partner. 3. Honor partner. 4. Rise.
Choreography and description by Richard Powers
© 1984 Richard Powers
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