How to Dance a Polka

Polka dancing is a quirky and energetic folk dance performed in 2/4 time. It is filled with quick movements and lively hops that give the dance an abundance of personality. The steps of the polka are fairly simple to learn, but the speed and hops can quickly throw you off rhythm. Learn how to polka dance with this free video lesson from Howcast!

History of the Polka

Polka dancing was first performed by Czech peasants during the early 1800s. The name is derived from the word pulka, which means half in Czech and is an ode to the fast-paced nature of the dance. It is rumored that a peasant by the name of Anna Slezak created the dance simply to amuse herself.

After its creation, the dance caught on quickly and became a popular folk dance that ended up in Prague ballrooms. From there, it spread to the ballrooms of Paris and was a sensation with French dancers. Because of this, it didn’t take long for polka to make its way to both the U.S. and England, where it is still performed today.

How to Polka

While the steps of the polka are not that difficult, understanding the hop and time signature can make the dance somewhat confusing at first. When learning how to do the polka, it’s best to perform the it slowly to start, then speed up once you can successfully execute the steps. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Body Position

You should start with ample room between you and your partner. A man’s left hand will extend out at about shoulder level, while a woman’s right hand will extend out to meet it. The man’s right hand should be placed below a woman’s left shoulder blade and the woman’s left hand will rest atop the outstretched arm with the hand on top of the man’s right shoulder.

Counting

Because the polka is done in 2/4 time, counting it is fairly straightforward. This means that there are two beats per measure, and each measure contains three steps. You can count this by just saying: “1 and 2,” repeating this as you dance.

How to Do the Polka Basic Steps

Before you get carried away with fancy twirls and moves, learning the basic steps are important for building a foundation to work with. Using your knowledge of the count and body positioning, you can begin to perform the basic steps of the polka:

  • Stand with your feet together, knees relaxed. If you're the man, hold the woman along her back with your right arm. If you're the woman, rest your left arm along the man's back, pressing your extended hands together.
  • Step and hop. Step to your left, if you're the man. If you're the woman, step to your right. Each person hops the second step with their opposite foot, the other just coming off the floor. Then bring your feet down next to each other.
  • Reverse step. Draw your partner back with you as you reverse the step with a right, and then a right-side hop, setting the left foot down. TIP: Take lessons or buy some CDs to get the rhythm down before trying. 
  • Spin and hop. Turn out slightly by hopping out on your left if you're the man, and spinning yourself 180 degrees. The woman follows, hopping instead on her right. 
  • Swing her. Swing the woman around with you as you hop back now with the right, finishing a circle and bringing her around to starting position as you set both feet down, side by side again. 
  • Start again. Start the steps all over again as you wheel around the floor, hopping on the first notes of each phrase. Remain in sync with the music on each step. TIP: These steps convert nicely to country western standards. 
  • Get crazy. Put in additional steps wherever you choose as you feel more comfortable. The polka is about letting loose and having fun.

You Will Need

  • Partner
  • Dancing shoes
  • Ballroom or beer hall 
  • Music 
  • Dance lessons (optional) 
  • CDs (optional)

Start Polka Dancing!

By now, you’ve likely mastered the polka dance! To learn more dance styles with free video lessons, explore our main How to Dance page

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