Um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa.
    “Listen to the instruments. Feel it, then count it. 1-2-3, 1-2-3.”
    I absolutely love to dance. On a well-powdered wooden dance floor, a smooth cement surface, a chaff-covered haymow floor, the gravel-lined driveway, a flat-rack parked in a rodeo arena, even a barn walk sprinkled with fresh lime. I two-stepped up and down the barn walk with Keith in the early days of our romance when he worked on the farm. I learned how to swing and jitterbug from a dear friend, Dusty Williams, inside the walls of Dan Obert’s haymow on the sweltering days of summer. Then, in turn, I taught Peter and a handful of his friends how to swing and two-step.
    I taught my brother Tony how to polka courtesy of WNFM’s Polka Radio Show on Sunday mornings after church in our driveway. Doors to the ‘Big Brown Bomb’ were thrown wide open, with the radio blaring and Tony (age 6) grumbling. I, at 17, reprimanded him into learning, telling him that someday he’ll thank me. All boys should know how to dance because girls love to be twirled around the floor. Now, at 28, Tony has given his thanks. He can successfully dance a polka, swing, and two-step. That makes him a favorite of all the ladies at a wedding reception.
    I have visions of being spun around the floor of the Cashton Community Hall at a fairly young age, learning the words to ‘Roll Out the Barrel’, as I went. I can see the trademark poufy skirts and hair of the 1980s and early 1990s. In the midst of legs flailing in time to the tuba and concertina are my Mlsna relatives crowding the dance floor. I remember being in awe of my cousin Dale and his wife Char as they glided seamlessly across the floor, with never a misstep. I would be guided into learning the steps by Dad, Grandpa Ike, or my willing Uncle Steve. Box-steps, polkas, fox-trots, waltzes – I would dance them all until my feet hurt. Their patient teaching gave me a lifetime love of dancing.
    Historical records credit a young girl, Anna Chadimova, in the 1830s Czech region of Bohemia, with creating the polka. It is believed that the word “polka” comes from the Czech word “pulka” meaning “half” referring to the fast, jumpy dance that takes place. My Mlsna heritage traces back to Bohemia, part of the Czech republic, and I happen to call the ‘Czech Capital of Wisconsin’ (Hillsboro) my home. It’s no wonder this music speaks to my need to get up and dance.
    This past Sunday, the local Czech heritage preservation organization, Cesky Den, held their annual St. Patrick’s Day dance in town. Is there a better way to usher in spring than spending the afternoon surrounded by all things green, with a soundtrack of the best polkas and fox-trots being played in the background? Brian and the Mississippi Valley Dutchmen are local and Midwestern polka celebrities, hailing from Cashton. Brian and his band have been playing for more than 30 years. Their skills are both top-notch and award-winning. Even his teenage son, Phillip, has the skills of a seasoned trumpet player, and the dance moves of one well beyond his years. I think it’s safe to say he probably has polka in his veins. Brian has been around long enough to be able to call out friendly welcomes to incoming guests by name, and made the entire environment feel like a cozy house party.
    All dressed in their St. Patty’s Day best, my friend Kelly and her four girls met Henry and me in town to shake a leg. Undeniably some of the youngest in the crowd, we were greeted with joyful smiles. A roomful of grandparents always delights in seeing youth take part in something they love. While we didn’t glide across the floor like the couples that had clearly been dancing together for years and years—we had some good teaching lessons. Kelly and I planted the seeds in the little ones for what could possibly become some real polka dancing prowess in their future.
    The hardest part of dancing with children is remembering their legs aren’t quite as long, and therefore, I have to make the steps smaller as I move. Also, kids love to bounce, like giant sized bouncy balls. There were intermittent polka steps amidst the bounces back and forth. There was counting in time to the music. “One, two, three, one, two, three” a million times over. Then we would switch to a foxtrot. “One, two, one, one, two, one” I would count out as I directed them with the pumping of my arms to the right direction.
    I had to snag a three-dance refresher session on the foxtrot with a kind gentleman that whirled me around the floor with grace and ease. He guided me by a gentle push on my back, while telling me about his extensive polka record collection and thanking me for his rehab exercises that day.
    My dance partner mentioned that “babysitters killed the polka.” Looking at the average age of attendance at the dance, I understood what he meant. A generation or two before me would leave their children at home with a sitter so they could go out dancing. Then those children didn’t have the exposure to the dance moves this music requires. Perhaps the minority of us that get ours toes-a-tapping when we hear a good polka can bring it back for the future. Kelly and I and our pint-sized dance partners had a blast. Surrounded by smiles, good food, and pleasant conversation, it was a relaxing spring Sunday.
    As I write at the moment, I have my record of The Six Fat Dutchmen playing, sending me out to the barn with a spring in my step. My boys will learn how to polka, no doubt rolling their eyes as I teach them. If you have the urge to get moving when you hear those unmistakable um-pa-pas—our Cesky Den celebration is the second Saturday in June in Hillsboro. ‘Vitame vas’, ‘we welcome you’. This year Keith and I will reign as King and Queen.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.