Delmont woman lands state title at Pennsylvania Farm Show
Darlene Kovach savors the stories her mother shared of dancing to polka music with her girlfriends in a circle in the old country, watching to see whose skirt would twirl out the farthest.
"My mom loved to dance," said Kovach, who learned the steps in her Bentleyville living room listening to the songs of Marion Lush and Happy Louie on eight-track tapes.
"I love the words to all the melodies," Kovach said. "The words are of family, tradition, happy times and sad times."
Now a resident of Delmont, Kovach experiences polka music every chance she gets. She starts and ends the day with polka music. It's on the radio at home, in the car and Kovach's weekends are scheduled solid with polka events.
"We travel far and wide to attend and support many polka celebrations," said Kovach, referring to herself and her dance partner, John Patrick, of Delmont.
"I love to dance and I just love the music," Kovach said. "Polka music is in my blood."
Kovach couldn't be any more passionate about polka music, which is why she was crowned the 2007 Pennsylvania Polka Princess earlier this year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
John Freidhoff, chairman of polka at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, described Kovach as vibrant, passionate and enthusiastic.
"She's all the things you would want in a princess," Freidhoff said. "She's willing to go out and promote polka music.
"She is literally crisscrossing this state, promoting, talking about and doing exhibitions on polka dancing," he said.
Before her father died when she was 7, Kovach, a daughter of the late Mary and Paul Kovach, remembers her parents enjoying polka music in their home.
"I grew to love it," said Kovach, reminiscing about how her mother would speak Slovak to her.
A 1979 graduate of Bentworth High School, Kovach eventually took her dancing steps beyond her living room to Bellevue in Beallsville where polka bands gathered every Sunday. When Bellevue closed, she and her family traveled to Mt. Pleasant on Sundays to dance at Fiedor's Grove where live bands used to perform.
Kovach met Patrick at Fiedor's Grove in the 1980s, and the two became dance partners when they were reunited two years ago.
"When we dance, we just click," said Kovach.
The couple won first place in the senior division polka dance contest at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in 2006 and they also earned a huge trophy and the title of Michigan State Polka Champions, Master Division, in Frankenmuth, Mich., on Aug. 12, 2006.
"In 2006 there were only two weekends that we did not dance," Patrick said. "If there's a dance, we're there."
As the polka princess, Kovach aims to support polka dancing in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation.
One of her goals is to spread the word about local dances in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Polka dances are held at the following locations: Jeannette American Legion, Yukon Slovenian Hall, Uniontown Polish Club, Moon Run Fireman's Club, Latrobe American Legion, Latrobe Elks, Greek Club in Snydertown and the Punxsutawney Eagles. Polka music is also celebrated at church festivals throughout the region during the summer months.
"It would be so nice if more people would come out because it used to be a very, very big thing in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and as the years go on, we're all getting to be an older group and we need young people to take over," Patrick said. "It's a shame. It's a very beautiful thing."
Patrick and Kovach see younger crowds in other states when they travel to dance and are trying to attract younger crowds in Pennsylvania as well.
Kovach, who has an 18-year-old son, Jesse Silver, speaks at all the dances she attends.
"Let's try to keep polka music alive," she tells those who gather for the events.
She also passes out polka ambassador ribbons and ribbons from the farm show that say: "Living a Dream, Dancing a Polka."
Occasionally, she is asked for her autograph.
Patrick and Kovach open themselves up to dance with others who admire their steps.
Patrick claims "the basics are very easy."
"We always called it happy music," he said. "Every dance we go to is just a vacation."
The music and dancing have the power to melt cares away, Kovach believes. "If you do have some problems, it makes you forget about them."
Kovach holds membership in the Polish National Alliance in East Vandergrift, the Cleveland Polka Association and the United States Polka Association.
To welcome her, many polka clubs have presented Kovach with honorary memberships and invitations to visit. She's been invited to the Viennese Ball in Allentown in May and she's doing polka promotions on radio stations, including Frank Powaski's Polka Show on WKHB 620 AM.
Her schedule includes the Fourth of July parade in Latrobe and the Halloween parade in Hamburg. Other engagements are a polka fireworks event at Seven Springs around the Fourth of July and the Johnstown Polkafest set for June 1-3.
She's also looking forward to Polish Day at Kennywood in early August.
Any organization wishing to invite Kovach to an event should contact Freidhoff at 717-766-7068.