Polka is a one-step couple dance of improvisational nature, usually performed by stamping and spinning to a lively 2/4 tempo music. Having arrived to Lithuania in the 19th century, it has quickly founded its place, becoming a popular dance in family, work and calendar celebrations, and has substituted dances of earlier origin by overtaking their functions in get-togethers.
Lithuanian polka and its nearly 50 variants could be considered and researched as an anthology of the forms and variations of polka widespread in Europe. Many types of polka are as following: one-foot polka, polka with squats and stamping, intricate feet movements, spins remaining in the same spot, circle polka when its movements are combined with circle dance figures, and one of the most popular – ‘Polka with Horns’, etc.
In Lithuania, there is also plenty of multi-figure (quadrille) dances and circles that include polka movements. Old tradition bearers give specific titles to Polka: drabnukė, kratytinė or tryptinukė referring to its particular movements of stamping and shaking.
Even though polka combines the Lithuanian traditional dancing characteristics, it has also developed an authentic style that requires particular skills. It is characterised by a free, improvised use of figures, depending less on the musical form and structure and more on the leading male dance partner. The mastery of dancing polka usually implies the skills of incorporating own original movements, spins, turns, raising and shaking hands, other means of expression in order to show the personality and originality of the dancer.
The vivacity of polka prevails to this day, its appeal even grows due to noticeably increased demand for traditional dances manifested in establishing traditional dance clubs, get-togethers and workshops. Specialists, teachers, leaders of folklore groups and their members put their efforts to document and disseminate dances, to organise workshops, get-togethers, competitions at schools, polka contests in Vilnius, Kaunas, Varėna, Šakiai and other places. An exceptional attention to traditional polka is given during the National Schoolchildren Folklore Dance Competition ‘Patrepsynė’, which is held in Šiauliai. The Lithuanian folklore community is keen on practising polka traditions, because it unites generations, strengthen national identity, help to overcome the social alienation and communication problems, and encourage to enjoy dancing both in couple and in group.
Polka by the little ones
Photograph of Lithuanian National Culture Centre Archive, 2008
Presenter – Lithuanian National Culture Centre, 2017