Aggies Learn to Polka
Das Ist Lustig went back to college, not to enjoy Spring Break action, but as professors of dance. The Texas A&M Memorial Student Center hosted a program on March 21 designed to assist incoming students looking to become the next generation of leaders in getting a taste of the world they are poised to enter. The world is full of thousands of different cultures and at the least being aware of them is important to succeed.
Ross and Valina of Das Ist Lustig brought their thorough knowledge of German folk dance to the A&M Commons outdoor area where the students had plenty of room to perform a grand march that began as a German conga-type line dance. With Ross and his accordion standing over the dance floor, Valina, along with her two assistants, Kaity and Piper (members of the German dance troupe Das Ist Keine Kunst) began grabbing kids and started the snakelike dance that morphed into a grand march-style promenade. This succeeded in breaking the ice and drawing in participants. The show with Valina describing the hows and whys of the next dance eventually drew at least 100 dancers into her sphere of happiness.
Valina reflects that “Most of them had never been exposed to this music before, and many had never danced the "polka." They started out a little timid, but it didn't take long for the smiles and laughter to take over. Most of them stuck around and danced the Herr Schmidt, the German Cheatin' Waltz, the Schottische, sang Ein Prosit, and joined in for Zumba Aus Tirol.
"There was a lot of peer group pressure from those not afraid to dance in public, but after some coaxing, many a frightened “volunteer” was doing the basic dance steps, laughing, dragging their friends to the floor, laughing, and having fun. Did I mention a lot of laughter and smiles?"
Ethnic and cultural barriers quickly melted away and there were students from all over the world doing the Schottische. After their dance class, Valina, Ross, Kaity, and Piper moved to the Texas Polka News booth. Dozens of inquisitive students from the 400-500 attendees visited the booth, both the newly minted dancers and curious students in the crowd of approximately 400 students.
TPN Editor Gary E. McKee, Valina, and Ross attempted to answer the most amazing questions asked by the students like: “How do you pronounce polka?”, “Is this a Texas dance?”, “Where can I go dancing?”, and “Is this a new dance, “I’ve never heard of it?”.
There were several who had spent time in a dance hall with their grandparents and remember the fun they had. "The students were all sincere, and we got into several deep conversations on the subject of polka and folk dancing reflecting the level of seriousness these future leaders have," Valina said.
She loved to see the light and excitement in their eyes when mentioning the kids could spend a day on the weekend at a dance hall with their parents, grandparents, and younger siblings, listening to music that was lighthearted and happy. They seemed very interested in such a novel thing!
Two final occurrences at the end put a nice cap on the event. A younger man appeared at the table, a little winded. He, between breaths, asked what was going on. After informing him, he grinned real big and told us he was leaving the library a couple of blocks away and heard Ross’ accordion music echoing off the halls of the campus buildings and literally ran towards the music which was completely out of place on the A&M campus.
"He was from Shiner and we talked for quite a while on his dancing experiences in Lavaca County," Valina said.
The second was when a police officer approached Ross and Valina as they were packing up. He asked, "Did y'all have fun?"
“You betcha,” we replied, wondering where this conversation was going," Valina said. "It turns out he grew up in the dance halls (Shilo, Kurtain, and others) of the Bryan area, and had spent many an hour driving to Swiss Alp and New Bielau to go dancing. He thanked us for trying to keep dancing alive.
"We were all uplifted by connecting with the younger generation and seeing their positive response to our mission to preserve the dance hall culture."
Hopefully, the showcase sparked the dance hall interest in a couple of young people and they bring friends to a picnic dance this summer.