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Pennsylvania 'polka belt' tradition runs deep

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Thursday, March 29, 2012
 

Myna Olshanski-Sadowski wants to bring polka back to Beaver County.

"My dad used to book bands at the Monaca Polish National Alliance Club in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s — back when the Polish culture was very much alive in the Beaver Valley and the Pittsburgh area. They had dances every Saturday," said Olshanski-Sadowski, 65, of Seven Fields , who pronounces her first name as MIN-a.

On Sunday, Olshanski-Sadowski will host a polka dance at the club, ending an 18-year absence of music from "Polka King" Frankie Yankovic or Happy Louie.

She expects hundreds of dancers from Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Connecticut to converge on the borough about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh.

"This is kind of like a rebirth," said Olshanski-Sadowski, the Pennsylvania delegate to the United States Polka Association, a nonprofit based in Cleveland that promotes interest in the music and its traditions.

Polka music and polka dancing fell out of national favor in the 1950s and '60s with the rise of rock 'n' roll, said Deane Root, a music professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Additionally, radio stations "splintered" about the same time, with disc jockeys playing mainstream music on the larger stations, forcing ethnic music onto stations with weaker signals and fewer audience members.

Lenny Gomulka, who will be headlining the Monaca dance with his band, Chicago Push, said there has been a resurgence in pockets across the country, especially in the "polka belt" of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.

"We see a lot of young people coming out and being part of the music they probably missed for a couple of generations," said Gomulka, a 12-time Grammy award nominee.

"The fact that Monaca, especially is trying to revitalize and do it through a polka dance — and if it leads to more programs and activity — then it's a good thing for that club and for that community," said Tim Kuzma, president and CEO of Polish Falcons of America, a Green Tree-based national social organization.

For Olshanski-Sadowski, getting married and having children more than 30 years ago ended nights spent dancing until dawn. Seven years ago, Olshanski-Sadowski got back into dancing and last year retired from Butler Catholic School, where she spent 28 years as an eighth-grade algebra teacher.

She now has a more active social life than many people half her age. Olshanski-Sadowski said she attends about two dances nearly every weekend and has her Friday and Saturday nights booked beyond Easter.

"I always say I'm going until I can't go anymore," she said. "People have no idea what fun we have."

Additional Information:

If you go

Olshanski-Sadowski's dance will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Monaca Polish National Alliance Club, 1725 Pennsylvania Ave. Admission is $13 per person. For more information, call Olshanski-Sadowski at 724-584-0101.

• For more information on the United States Polka Association, go to uspapolka.com .

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