Polka Club

Goldie Steiglman and Tom Varcalli dance to a polka song at the American Legion Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.

SHERIDAN — On Oct. 17, visitors to the American Legion at 137 N. Brooks St. will see members of the Big Horn Mountain Polka Club enjoying food, music and traditional polka dance. 

The event will start at 1 p.m. and continue to 5 p.m. A lunch will be provided as well as music by Sharon with Mountain Rose. There is an entry fee to the dance, $5 for club members and $8 for non-members. 

Polka is both a musical style and a dance that originated in Bohemia, part of the Czech Republic, in the 1830s. It proliferated through Europe and voyaged across the sea into America in the latter part of the 19th century. In Sheridan, performances of polka date back to an 1890 firemen’s ball organized by the Sheridan Engine and Hose company. At that event, the Sheridan Coronet Band performed polkas and waltzes alongside quadrilles and schottisches. 

Polka grew in popularity among Sheridan’s Polish-American descendants and members of local clubs like the American Legion and The Elks. Many city residents, including Erwin and Virginia Kubsch and Al and Bonnie Lindborg, would travel across the country to attend polka festivals, but in 1986 the two couples had a grand idea: to start a polka festival in Sheridan.

“Polka is an important part of heritage in Sheridan,” said current polka club President Deb Lydic. “I remember Saturday mornings my dad would play polka music on the radio in our home.”

After the success of the first Big Horn Mountain Polka Days festival, which took place Aug. 29-31, 1986, the Big Horn Mountain Polka Club was founded on Nov. 2 1987, with Kubsch becoming the organization’s first chairman. The club continued the Polka Days festival into the 2000s selling as many as 600 tickets and attracting dancers from across the country — and dancers from Canada, Italy and Japan. Kubsch officially retired from his role as chairman in 2000.

Today, the polka club has 23 members. After changing the club name in 2018 to attract newcomers, the club returned to their historical name in 2019. They no longer hold the polka days celebration; instead they host dances on the third Sunday of each month. The dances are informal, and there is no need to wear costumes, unless you want to.

“The whole idea of the polka is to come out and enjoy the music, food and fellowship,” said club Secretary-Treasurer Melba Bennett. 

Music at the dances is not just polka anymore, either. 

“We may have about four to five polkas per dance. Now we do a bit more of waltzes, swings and line dances. Ninety percent or better of what we dance to is country western,” Lydic said. “So many people in Sheridan like to go to street dances or go to Big Horn and dance. I’d like to see people come out and dance with us.”

Don’t know how to polka? That’s no problem, according to Bennett. Club members are experienced dancers and know how to teach the steps. 

“Even if you can’t dance, it’s worth it to listen to the music and feel the fellowship,” Bennett said.

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