A bill in the Kansas Legislature seeks to name the polka as the official dance of the state of Kansas. If it passes, the popular folk dance will join the western meadowlark, the sunflower, the American buffalo, the cottonwood tree and “Home on the Range” in the list of state “things.”
That was about all a Kansas student had to learn, so far as state symbols went, prior to 1976. That year, the honeybee became the state insect. More than a dozen designations have since been added; the latest, in 2019, were the state red wine grape and the state white wine grape, Chambourcin and Vignoles, respectively.
Things that are not tangible, such as hope and sweat equity and even the willingness to fight for land, do not have state emblems unless one counts the motto on our state seal, “Ad astra per aspera,” translated as, “to the stars through difficulties.”
The cause for a new state symbol in 2020 is the polka, a folk dance worthy of the coveted “state” status. Encyclopedia Britannica calls the polka “a lively courtship dance” that swept across Europe and the Americas in the 1800s.
For 27 years, Great Bend’s Polka Days drew dancers from more than a dozen states to our city for three days of music and dancing. Bands and band leaders from Polka Days included Wes Windholz, the Country Dutchmen and the Blue Notes. But by the end of 2013, the Kansas chapter of the Polka Lovers Klub of America — PolKofA, was disbanded. The group that once held marathon dances in Great Bend held its final Polka Days in August of that year.
However, the polka is more than a memory from our past. Senate Bill 158 — the bill to add polka to the list of Kansas designations — has received support from people all across the state.
Everything from the humble square dance to a stately ballet might have been nominated as the state dance. Our preference would be to ask a representative from the Kaw Nation or perhaps the Kickapoo Tribe to nominate a state dance. But as a symbol that has a place in the traditions of many, the polka will do. Senate Bill 158 says the dance “exemplifies the spirit of the residents of Kansas.” For many, it does. Dance on.