By Gordon E. Tracie
The 3/4 beat of the polska constitutes the rhythmic framework for some 80% of all the traditional music of Sweden, both vocal and instrumental! Although its name quite obviously comes from Poland, this unique musical idiom may well have existed in the northlands before acquiring that designation. Långdans (long-dance) music is an example of polska-like rhythm which pre-dates the polska itself. In triple meter but unrelated to the waltz, the polska, as both a musical and rhythmic form, can be traced back to the late 1500s. For some two centuries, it reigned supreme as Sweden's "national dance", finally becoming supplemented - but not completely supplanted - by the waltz in the mid-19th century. Following World War I, however, only the hambo managed to survive as a widespread manifestation of the polska dance in Sweden - though in neighboring Norway, its close cousin the pols, and more distant relatives springleik and springar, were still to be found alive and well in many rural valleys.
In striking contrast to the near demise of the polska as a dance form in Sweden was the remarkable living tradition of Swedish country fiddling. For among the multitude of stubborn folk fiddlers, it was polska music which predominated, yea, virtually overwhelmed, their repertoire. And it is thanks to that phenomenon that the current renaissance in polska dancing in Sweden was made possible.
It happened around 1970. Perhaps it was a part of the search for "roots" by people the world over. In any case, young Swedes discovered their own folk heritage, and found it incredibly rich in music . . . fiddle music . . . fiddle music to which their grandparents and great-grandparents had danced. And what were those dances? Nearly all polskas, of course! Not complicated routines with intricate figures like the so-called "folk dances" that had been performed by the organized folk dance societies for half a century or more, but simple couple-dances with ample room for improvisation, and virtually all in polska rhythm.
So while hundreds of youths took up the fiddle to learn to play the old music, thousands more began to learn the old dances which went along with that music. Workshops, seminars, study circles, and research in the manner of oral history projects proliferated in an intense search for knowledge of the nearly forgotten dance forms. And the results have been phenomenal. Today in Sweden, there are several books on bygdedanser (regional ethnic dances) with both descriptions and printed music, as well as a great number of splendid recordings, available to the general public. And so, after two or three generations of separation, Swedish fiddlers are at last reunited with Swedish dancers to carry on a venerable folklore tradition. Along with this reinstatement of den svenska polskan ("the Swedish Polska"), a renewed sense of ethnic pride is sweeping the land.
It is a privilege to be able to share some of this fascinating material with American folk dancers and musicians.
Copyright © 1986 by Gordon E. Tracie
|Copyright © 1997 Skandia Music Foundation
|You may freely distribute these notes provided you agree to retain this copyright notice and mention that recordings for some Polska dances are on the Viking Skandia CD, available from www.folkdancing.com.